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Eating in a foreign country can often be full of surprises with unusual foods and customs. For trouble-free dining in Japan, read the following hints and tips. We cannot help you avoid raw fish though!!

The bowls
Japanese bowls have a little lip under the base which you can hold, along with the rim, to stop from burning your fingers. You can blow on the soup to cool it. Soup is drunk from the bowl instead of being eaten with a spoon. When the soup has something in it such as seaweed, chopsticks are used next to the mouth as you sip to hold the seaweed back so that it makes eating easier. If the bowl contains noodles, it is expected that you will slurp them although it's fine if you don't.

Rather than a knife and fork (and depending on what food is being eaten), Japanese people usually use chopsticks. Unlike Chinese chopsticks which are thick all the way and quite long, Japanese chopsticks are narrow, usually lacquered and taper to a point. Food is prepared in small portions so that cutting is unnecessary although some pieces may be a little too large to eat and can be pulled apart with the chopsticks. When you are not eating, the chopsticks should be placed on chopstick rests, little ceramic blocks which raise the points off the table. Alternatively, you can rest the chopsticks against your plate.

When you are using chopsticks, here are a few points to watch - don't spear food or play drums with your chopsticks. Don't wave your chopsticks around or pull a plate towards you with them. These are not considered very polite.

Eating Habits
When you are eating with a Japanese person or in Japan, you will often sit Western style at a table with chairs. However, sometimes you will sit on cushions on tatami mats. You will have a hot cloth to wipe your hands. Instead of saying Grace before a meal. It is usual to say 'itadakimasu'. Some people remember it by saying "eat a duck I must" which sounds very similar but certainly doesn't have the same meaning! When the meal is finished, it is usual to say 'gochisoosama deshita' which is like a thank you for what you ate. Of course you don't need to say these Japanese terms but it sounds really impressive if you can! Ask a Japanese person to teach you how they are pronounced and everyone will tell you how wonderful your Japanese is!

Drinking Habits
Beer, Sake (Rice Wine) and Whisky are the three main drinks that Japanese adults consume. It is typical (and polite) to not pour your own drink but to pour other people's, and then they will pour yours in return. Leave your glass full if you have had enough or it will keep being refilled again and again. If you don't want to drink, rather than saying that you don't drink, say you're allergic to alcohol. You'll be amazed at how often you will hear that excuse! But, if you are drinking, remember the most important word - 'kampai' - CHEERS!

A word of WARNING
When you are eating Japanese food, there will often be green paste which looks like mashed avocado. BEWARE! This is actually horseradish mustard and guaranteed to kill at 20 paces. A small amount is usually mixed in with soy sauce and then fish is dipped in the mixture. It is NOT compulsory to try and eat it all.

With the assistance above, you should easily be able to survive your first Japanese restaurant or eating experience. In fact, I hope you will ENJOY it!