An introduction to the finer details of Japanese dining etiquette.

Delving into the world of Japanese etiquette can take you on a deep, deep dive to places even Japanese people don’t know about. After exploring the ins and outs of adding wasabi to your sushi and the art of eating rice balls, people around the country are now discovering the proper order for picking up their bowl and chopsticks…or should that be chopsticks and bowl?

Here to give us the answer is “refined elegance manners instructor” Chiemi Matsui, who recently published a book called “Otona no Seikatsukan wo Tsukuru Kyouyou to shite no Tabekata“, which translates to “How to Eat in a Refined way to Create an Adult Neatness“.

One section of the book addresses the topic of how one should begin to eat a Japanese meal. Typically, a Japanese meal consists of rice, soup, and a number of side dishes, to be eaten with a set of chopsticks, which is typically placed on a chopstick rest between the diner and the meal.

While it’s common knowledge that the bowl of rice should be lifted with one hand while eating, if you were to ask a Japanese person which they should pick up first, the bowl of rice or the chopsticks, it’s likely they won’t know the answer.

Some people might pick the bowl up first, or maybe the chopsticks, or they might lift both at the same time. Others will even hold the chopsticks between their thumbs while clasping their hands together to say the pre-eating “itadakimasu“.

Others won’t be able to tell you their process as it’s simply a natural movement and something they’ve never stopped to think about when eating. However, Matsui says there is a proper order that should be followed when you want to display refined manners, and it starts with the bowl.

Matsui says Japanese food should be thought of as “vessel first”, due to the fact that tableware is delicate and should be treated with care and respect. Furthermore, traditional dining etiquette adheres to the principle of “upper left and lower right”, which are seen as “top” and “bottom”, where the rice and miso should be placed respectively. This is because rice is deemed to be the most important and respect-worthy part of the meal — each grain is said to hold seven fortune gods, after all — although people in Osaka go against the grain by switching up the positions for practicality.

▼ One small bowl, so many gods.

Although rice is considered to be the most prestigious part of the meal, that doesn’t necessarily mean it should be eaten first. Most people start with the miso soup, not only to whet the palate and avoid the dramatic spike in blood sugar that occurs when rice is eaten first, but to also wet the chopsticks so the grains don’t cling to the dry utensils.

Matsui also suggests starting with the miso soup, treating the vessel with care by using your right hand to remove the lid of the bowl (if it has one) and place it face-up beside it. Then, you should use both hands to lift the bowl and hold it naturally in front of you, shifting it over to your left hand which leaves your right hand free to lift the chopsticks. Pick the chopsticks up, with the back of your right hand facing upwards, part the forefinger and middle finger of your left hand beneath the bowl, and place the mid-section of the chopsticks between the forefinger and middle finger of your left hand. Then, gently slide your right hand around to hold the chopsticks as you would while eating, and you’re set to start using them with the soup. When it’s time to return your chopsticks to the chopstick rest, reverse the above process.

This same procedure is also confirmed in another manners book, Tabekata no Manaa to Kotsu (How to Eat Manners and Tips), pictured below. The process is outlined in the red box, which should be read from right to left.

So if you want to make a good impression on your colleagues, friends, family and acquaintances, remember to lift the miso bowl first before reaching for your chopsticks. It might take some time to get used to the process, but once you do, everyone around you will be suitably impressed, especially if you employ the “sankaku tabe” eating order method during your meal!

Source: Tabekata no Manaa to Kotsu, Otona no Seikatsukan wo Tsukuru Kyouyou to shite no Tabekata8760 via Yahoo! Japan via Jin
Featured image: Pakutaso
Insert images: Pakutaso (1, 2), SoraNews24
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