Bad Japanese Table Manners Top 30

November 18, 2008

This is a list of things people in Japan claim they can’t stop doing even if people tell them to. If you’ve been around people eating here in Japan, I’m sure you’ve seen them all!

If you haven’t been to Japan, I hope this provides food for thought or questions or comments about the culture as a whole. Table manners is a fine window to look through if you want to see what your neighbors hold important.

Some of them may surprise you, some of them may make you say, “I don’t see anything wrong with that!” Keep in mind these are things that are considered wrong in Japanese table manners so there are probably even things that people in Japan do that are not on this list, but would be considered discretions in other countries!

So here we go with the list then taken from this Goo Ranking (link is in Japanese).

  1. Eating while reading a newspaper or magazine
  2. Saving the thing you like the best for last.
  3. Licking the cellophane wrapping of a cake.
  4. Talking with your mouth full.
  5. Pouring miso soup over rice and eating it.
  6. Cracking a raw egg directly over rice (without putting into a separate dish first).
  7. Eating with elbows on the table.
  8. Wandering Chopsticks. (Thinking about what to eat next while holding your chopstics over the food.)
  9. Pushing things you don’t like over to the side.
  10. Smelling everything first.
  11. Pulling the paper at the bottom of sponge cake off with your teeth.
  12. Not eating “triangularly”… meaning not eating things in turns… meaning eating all of one thing and not eating everything together in turns.
  13. Licking remaining sauce off the plate.
  14. Dipping bread into the remaining jam or butter container to scoop out the last of it.
  15. Licking your chopsticks.
  16. Putting too much spice or pepper onto your food.
  17. Eating ramen directly from the pot.
  18. Going to the bathroom during a meal.
  19. Stuffing a lot of food into your mouth.
  20. Moving your mouth toward the chopsticks or spoon (as opposed to properly bringing the utensil to your mouth).
  21. Setting your chopsticks directly on the table.
  22. Eating noisily.
  23. Noisily slurping spaghetti. (Note that eating ramen noisily is supposedly OK.)
  24. Putting spices on food before even tasting it.
  25. Leaving the crusts of bread or pizza.
  26. Chewing with your mouth open.
  27. Putting mayonnaise on everything.
  28. Making noise with your knife while cutting.
  29. Passing food from person to person using chopsticks.
  30. Sucking on a toothpick while eating.

I could comment on a lot of the things here, but I’d like to point out number 27… people who have never been to Japan will be very surprised when they get here and see just how much mayonnaise is used here. I’ve even seen people drink it straight from the squeeze bottle!

Number 29 is one of the rules about Japanese table manners that I was warned about before coming to Japan… but notice that it’s way down at number 29. Also notice that a lot of the things that would be considered cardinal sins in the United States are pretty low down on the list, things like numbers 19, 22, and 26.

Lastly, please notice number 3 up there. There are a half a zillion cake shops in Japan and they make all these little individually wrapped, overpriced little cakes that people bring when they visit friends or want to celebrate something. These cakes are all wrapped in a little bit of cellophane, which, through no fault of its own tends to accumulate a little bit of icing and deliciousness. The result of course is a whole lot of cellophane licking, although I’ve also seen people who wanted to be a little more couth about it swipe off the goodness with a finger and then lick that.


1 Rhea November 20, 2008 at 8:58 pm

I took a trip to Japan a few years ago and was lucky enough to have some natives show me around. I remember when they told me to slurp my soup. It’s was so hard to overcome my Western conditioning NOT to slurp, that I couldn’t do it!

2 jay November 20, 2008 at 11:32 pm

I can’t slurp up ramen either. I was once the only customer in a ramen shop in a small town on Shikoku island. The ramen was delicious but I ate it my way… as quietly as possible. I remember the guy and girl at the shop standing behind the counter saying, “He’s eating SO quietly.”

The upside to slurping is that the slurping cools it off so you can eat it when it’s boiling hot. The downside is, well, the slurping sounds and splashing ramen soup and other such carnage.

3 Dave December 2, 2008 at 12:58 am

Well I’m glad to say I don’t think I do any of those, at least regularly. I do see it a hell of a lot though from my co-workers and others when I am out and about.

4 jay December 2, 2008 at 9:57 am

I say there’s nothing wrong with number two! I’m a proud saver of the best for last. I think it’s at least OK if done while properly eating “triangularly”!