Eating out in Japan is the same as it is anywhere in world…except for all the amazing sushi, ramen, takoyaki and what not. On top of that there a few other things you should know that might be different depending on where you are from.
First of all, as soon as you are seated, you will be brought a glass of water. This is of course free of charge. It’s tap water, but the tap water in Japan is safe to drink. In some places they even offer unlimited free green tea (usually at kaitenzushi on a tap).
Now that you’re sat at your table and feeling refreshed from your free glass of water, all that’s left to do is order your food. This is when you may start to wander where your waiter had gone and why haven’t they taken your order yet?! In Japan the waiting staff will not automatically come to you after you’ve been sitting there for a while (of course I doubt they’d leave you waiting there forever). Instead it’s up to you to call them when you are ready to order by yelling out すみません (sumimasen – excuse me)! Now this may seem as rude coming from a western culture, but it’s normal, perfectly acceptable, and required if you want to eat.
On my last visit to Japan, my friends and I found ourselves at a restaurant where we really needed to do this to get the staff’s attention. Unfortunately the three of us were rather shy, and although we thought we were yelling out loud enough, we really weren’t. (^◇^;) So be confident and loud when you yell out sumimasen. Or if you really can’t do it, why not download this free app (honestly there’s an app for everything these days!). The app comes with different pre-recorded sumimasen, or suimasen (a contracted version of the same word).
Once you’ve ordered your food, and it arrives, you’ll also notice that the bill has arrived with it too! No they’re not trying to kick you out (or maybe they are). The bill is usually placed on a small round plate ready for you to pay when you have finished your meal.
At the end of the meal, don’t yell sumimasen to get the staff’s attention because you would like to pay. Instead take the bill to the cash register on your way out and pay there.
And there you have it for a few minor differences I noticed while eating out in Japan. Other things may include removing your shoes in certain types of restaurants, smoking being allowed and so forth.
What tips do you have for eating out in Japan?