A Guide to Dining Etiquette In Japan

While traveling abroad, it is important to know the proper etiquette of the country you are traveling to. Traveling to Tokyo is no different. Here are some things you should know before traveling to and dining in Tokyo, Japan.

The Oshibori

Oshibori hand towl
Oshibori hand towl

When in Tokyo, it is important to practice the following dining etiquette. In a restaurant, a hot towel called an “oshibori” will be handed to you. If you wish to wipe your face with it as well as your hands, you must wipe your face first. That is to prevent the dirt from your hands from being transferred to your face. Once finished with the hot towel, it is folded up and kept.


Chopstick Manners When Eating In Japan
Chopstick Manners When Eating In Japan

At a restaurant, it is also important to use chopsticks in the proper fashion. It is important to remember not to leave chopsticks in your food and especially not sticking up out of your rice as this is thought to resemble the way incense sticks are placed at a funeral.

You should also make sure not to use your chopsticks to point at things as this is considered rude or at least inelegant in much the same way, that using a knife to point at a person or objects would be considered bad manners in much of the west.

If you’re eating with a group and need to pick up a piece of food from a plate, you use the end of the sticks that do not go into your mouth. That is to prevent any germs you may have from being transferred to the rest of the meal.


The Rules Of Eating Rice In Japan
The Rules Of Eating Rice In Japan

Even eating rice has specific ways of being eaten. In Japan, the rice bowl is to be picked up and held in the opposite hand as your chopsticks. If you find it too difficult to use the chopsticks, it is acceptable to request a fork instead.

The chopsticks, while not being used, are placed by the side of the plate or bowl next to each other.

How To Use Sauces In Japan


Unlike American culture, sauces are used very differently. When it comes to the sauces that are provided with the main dishes, it is not well mannered to pour the sauce on top of the meal. Instead, the sauces are only used for dipping.

Drinking Manners

Manners When Eating In Japan

Drinking has another custom that will be unfamiliar to Non-japanese. In Tokyo, it is considered impolite to pour your own beverage first. The proper custom is to serve others from the communal pitcher or teapot before serving oneself. Pouring your own drink first is seen to be rude and inconsiderate of others.

Bills And Tipping In Japan

Trying to tip in Japan can cause confusion
Trying to tip in Japan can cause confusion

While dining in a group, the bill is customarily split into individual bills rather than one large check. Tipping is also different. The U.S. custom is to leave money on the table for the person who has taken care of you.

In Tokyo, it is considered rude to leave money on the table because it is unclear to whom it is intended. While tipping is very customary in the U.S., it is hardly ever done in Japan.

It is also considered very rude to take money out of a person’s pocket and hand it to someone. Instead, the tip is to be placed into an envelope and handed off to the person whom you believe deserves it the most.

However, do not be surprised when the person you are trying to tip responds with a polite “No thank you” and bows. This is how the wait staff is trained to respond. Knowing these dining customs and etiquette will help save some embarrassment and allow us to better understand why eating is a bit different in Tokyo.