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Tips on Dining

There's no taboo against slurping your noodle soup, though women are generally less boisterous about it than men.

Pick up the soup bowl and drink directly from it, rather than leaning over the table to sip it. Take the fish or vegetables from it with your chopsticks. Return the lid to the soup bowl when you are finished. The rice bowl, too, is to be picked up and held in your left hand while you eat from it.

Don't point, gesture, or tap on dishes with chopsticks and don't lick them. Also, never take food from a common serving plate with the ends of the chopsticks you've had in your mouth. Never use your chopsticks to take food from someone else's chopsticks, as this denotes a funerary custom. Don't stick your chopsticks upright in your food when you're done using them as this is also reminiscent of funerary customs; instead, allow them to rest on the side of your dish or bowl.

When drinking with a friend, don't pour into your own glass. Take the bottle with both hands and pour for the other person. She will in turn reach for the bottle and pour for you. The Japanese will attempt to top your drink off after every few sips. If you do not want more, don't refuse when someone pours for you. Rather let the full glass rest on the table to signal you are finished drinking.

The Japanese don't pour sauces on their rice in a traditional meal. Sauces are intended for dipping foods lightly, not for dunking or soaking.

Among faux pas that are considered nearly unpardonable, the worst perhaps is blowing your nose. Excuse yourself and leave the room if this becomes necessary.

Although McDonald's and Häagen-Dazs have made great inroads on the custom of never eating in public, it's still considered gauche to munch on a hamburger (or an ice-cream cone) as you walk along a public street. In particular, avoid eating on trains or you will attract disapproving stares. However, eating bento (boxed meal) is de rigueur on long train rides, especially on the bullet train. Train stations will have shops selling bento and tea.

Updated: 01-2014

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