A Crash Course in Japanese Business Dinner Etiquette

Traveling the world for work is exciting but can also be quite stressful as there are so many local customs to understand. If you ever find yourself in Japan for business, the most important thing to remember is that good manners are prized about everything. Also, if you don’t know the rules, you could end up committing a huge faux pas.

Whether you’re visiting Japan for work or are simply interested in learning more, brush up on the following business dining basics. If you want to get in some practice, shop for some top ingredients at a Japanese online store and have a few Japanese-inspired dinner parties at home first.

Make Sure You Dress for the Occasion

Japanese business culture is fairly conservative, but that doesn’t mean you should roll up in jeans and a tee for a business dinner. Far better to err on the side of caution and formality in what you wear.

Keep accessories to a minimum and pick dark colors. Ladies should stick with low-heeled shoes and a skirt rather than pantsuits, as these can sometimes be viewed as offensive.

Remember to Take a Bow

As soon as you arrive in Japan, you’ll quickly realize that a typical Japanese greeting involves a bow. Different situations call for different types of bows. However, for a business meal, the formal bow is what you should be doing. Bend at the waist while keeping a straight back, to a 45-degree angle. Men keep their hands at their sides when they bow, while women usually place their hands together on their thighs.

Business Cards Are Vital

In Japan, business cards are called meishi. They are a must and are always exchanged after the bows. Make sure your business card has a Japanese translation on one side and an English translation on the other. When you present it to someone, hold it in both hands and make sure the Japanese side faces upward.

When you’re given a business card in return, take the time to look at it carefully. If you quickly stuff it in a pocket, you’ll be offending your host.

Beginning and Ending a Meal

Expressions of gratitude are a vital part of a Japanese meal. Before you start eating, join your hands as if you were going to say a prayer and quietly say “itadakimasu.” This means “I humbly receive.” When the meal has finished, you say “gochisōsama deshita.” This translates to “It has been a feast.” This is a way of saying thanks to the host.


Chopsticks are the normal thing to use when eating in Japan. You may have practiced religiously before you traveled, but there’s more to using chopsticks than being able to maneuver them without dropping all your rice. Where you place them during the meal is important.

If you want to pause between bites, you should lay your chopsticks at the edge of your plate, parallel to the edge of the table. Alternatively, place them on the chopsticks holder on your plate. You should rest the ends you’ve been eating with on the holder. The same applies when you’re finished eating.

Never stick your chopsticks into a bowl of rice and leave them sticking up in the air. The reason is that it resembles an image of the Japanese ritual of burning incense sticks at a funeral.

It’s common in Japan to share food and if you want to partake, take a morsel from the shared plate and then pass the rest to another person. Never pass food from your chopsticks to another person’s chopsticks as this is another funeral image. You’re also more likely to end up dropping your food which could be rather embarrassing.

Pouring Drinks

Often there are drinks to share during a Japanese meal. It might be beer or sake. When pouring drinks at the table, always serve others but never yourself. Let your host, or someone else, fill your glass for you. If someone holds his glass toward you, it’s a request for you to pour them a drink. If you want to make a toast, the Japanese word for cheers is “kampai.”

Clean Your Plate

The Japanese are very mindful of food waste. Usually, they eat all the food served on their plates. It will be respectful if you do the same. Don’t stress about not being able to clean your plate. Japanese portion sizes tend to be smaller than those you might be used to at home.

Final Thoughts

Now you know the basics of Japanese dining etiquette, you won’t have to worry quite so much about offending anyone. Knowing what to do during a business meal means you’ll be able to focus on the most important parts of the meal. Enjoying the food and doing business.
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