Meals in Japan traditionally begin with the phrase "itadakimasu" (いただきます?) (literally, "I humbly receive"). The phrase is similar to "bon appétit", or saying grace to give thanks before a meal. It is said to express gratitude for all who played a role in preparing, cultivating, ranching or hunting the food. This also acknowledges that living organisms have given their life to human beings as Dāna. Upon finishing a meal, the Japanese also use the polite phrase "Gochisosama-deshita" (ごちそうさまでした) (lit. "Thank you for a good meal") or - more informal/simple - "Gochisōsama". Gochisōsama is based on the religious belief where chisō (馳走;ちそう?) means running with efforts (by riding a horse, thereby indicating expedience) to cater foods for the guest.
General Eating Etiquette
- Before eating, most dining places will provide either a hot towel or a plastic-wrapped wet napkin (an oshibori). This is for cleaning hands before eating (and not after). It is rude to use them to wash the face or any part of the body other than the hands.
- The rice or the soup is eaten by picking up the bowl with the left hand and using chopsticks with the right, or vice versa if you are left-handed. Bowls may be lifted to the mouth, however should not be touched with the mouth except when drinking soup.
- Sushi Etiquette dictates that when eating nigiri-zushi, one should dip the sushi topping-side down into the soy sauce to prevent the rice from soaking up too much sauce; leaving stray grains of rice floating in the sauce is considered uncouth, but can be hard to avoid for those who have difficulty with chopsticks. In sushi-only restaurants, it is acceptable to use fingers instead of chopsticks to eat the nigiri-zushi.
- Soy sauce is not usually poured over most foods at the table; a dipping dish is usually provided. Soy sauce is, however, meant to be poured directly onto tofu and grated daikon dishes, and in the raw egg when preparing tamago kake gohan ("egg on rice"). In particular, soy sauce should never be poured onto rice or soup. It's considered rude to waste soy sauce so moderation should be used when pouring into dishes.
- Chopstick Etiquette is very precise and important.
- When taking food from a communal dish, unless they are family or very close friends, turn the chopsticks around to grab the food; it is considered more sanitary. Better, have a separate set of chopsticks for the communal dish.
- If sharing food with someone else, move it directly from one plate to another. Never pass food from one pair of chopsticks to another, as this recalls passing bones during a funeral.
Eat what is given
- It is customary to eat rice to the last grain. Being a picky eater is frowned on, and it is not customary to ask for special requests or substitutions at restaurants. It is considered ungrateful to make these requests especially in circumstances where you are being hosted, as in a business dinner environment. Good manners dictate that you respect the selections of the host.
General Drinking Etiquette
- Even in informal situations, drinking alcohol starts with a toast (kanpai, 乾杯) when everyone is ready.
- It is not customary to pour oneself a drink; rather, people are expected to keep each other's drinks topped up. When someone moves to pour your drink you should hold your glass with both hands and thank them.
- With sake as with beer, pouring for others is a common custom in Japan that takes a bit of getting used to but has a wonderful charm and appeal once ingrained. Small cups (called ochoko or guinomi) and a larger serving flask or vessel (tokkuri) allow for frequent refill opportunities, each of which is a miniritual of social bonding. In formal situations, the tokkuri is held with two hands when pouring. Likewise , the person receiving should lift his or her glass off the table, holding it with one hand and supporting it with the other. Pouring for yourself is known as tejaku.