Hi, I’m Sergio.
I’m from Spain, lived in the UK for seven years and came to Japan in 2012.
I majored in journalism in London and have been teaching English in Tokyo.
I like traveling, cycling, photography, movies, and spending time with friends.
I wrote articles about life in Japan as a foreigner and anything that I might find interesting.
Eating out in Japan without making a fool of yourself
Among the many cultural differences visitors might find in Japan, one they will inevitably face is restaurant manners. Surprisingly, eating out can be quite a different experience here.
First of all, many restaurants have buttons to call the staff, funnily called pin-pon, after the sound they make when you push them. In these restaurants, you don’t need to call the waiter, just press the button.
Some places have adopted screens you can use to order. Just select the foods and drinks you want and these will be delivered to your table. In many cases these also include English menus, so they are particularly convenient for tourists. Conveyor belt sushi restaurants are a safe bet if you struggle with the language.
Other places, like some ramen restaurants, have vending machines where you select what you want and insert the cash. Here you’ll get a ticket you have to give to the staff.
In places where calling the staff is still common, you can just raise your hand. You can also say “sumimasen” (excuse me), if you want to call the waiters’ attention.
There are some things that, while seemingly rude to people not used to the local culture, are perfectly acceptable in Japan. Keep in mind in traditional Japanese bars, or izakaya, it is not rare so yell “sumimasen” at the top of your lungs. While no one would yell “excuse me!” in English, don’t be afraid to do so in Japanese! Slurping noodles is also totally OK, so don’t be surprised if you hear the noise. Also, it is standard to get the bill without asking for it, and before or while eating, rather than at the end. Ignore it and pay when you’re ready at the register. Paying at the table is not too common in Japan.
Finally, there are some faux pas someone who’s not from Japan might commit. You must always take your shoes off if you’re going to step on tatami, common in traditional Japanese restaurants. Another thing to keep in mind is that sticking your chopsticks straight up in rice will make people uncomfortable, as this is a practice reserved for funerals, where rice is offered to the deceased.
Something that might surprise visitors, especially those from the US, is that tipping is not customary in Japan and in fact you will have a hard time finding someone who would accept a tip, as the Japanese thinking is that the price you pay is fair for the service given. Simply don’t tip.
As a foreigner, Japanese people will generally understand you don’t know all the rules and be respectful to you regardless, but it’s always good to know how not to stand out. Keep these things in mind and enjoy some of the best cuisine in the world!