Japan Data

Rise and Shine with Japanese Breakfast Table Manners

Food and Drink Culture Lifestyle

How to arrange a Japanese breakfast tray, as when having a buffet-style meal at a hotel.

In principle, Japanese cuisine is said to comprise “one soup, three sides” which usually means rice, soup, and two side dishes. But how should the bowls and plates be arranged?

Luckily, there is a logical way to setting the table for Japanese cuisine. And while it is not required knowledge, it can be impressive to onlookers.

  1. Itadakimasu! Start by picking up the chopsticks with your right hand. Set the rice bowl on the front left so you can hold it naturally with little movement needed.
  2. Place the bowl of hot soup to the front as well, so it can be easily picked up. As the rice bowl is on the left, use the space on the right.
  3. The main dish goes at the back right. As a general rule, one should not hold the dish while eating, so if it is on the right it is easier to reach out with chopsticks for the food.
  4. Nimono (food boiled in dashi) and similar side dishes are placed to the back left.
  5. Set side dishes like aemono (dressed salads) and ohitashi (blanched vegetables, steeped in seasoned dashi broth) on the left and in the center.
  6. Pickles, which are not counted as part of the “one soup, three sides,” are placed in an empty space, such as between the rice and soup.

If tea or water is served, place this on the right, so that it is easy to hold with the right hand.

Eating Fish Served Whole

If the main dish served is a whole fish, place it so the fish has its belly toward you, with its head on the left and its tail on the right. Some say that the placing of the rice and the head of the fish to the left is based on an ancient Japanese concept that the left is “superior” to the right (for example, in ancient Japan, the minister of the left ranked higher in court than the minister of the right). Ultimately though, it is easier when eating right-handed to have the head of the fish on the left.

Start eating from behind the head and work your way across toward the tail, loosening the flesh as you go. Flipping the fish over after eating the upper side is considered bad manners. Instead, use your left hand to lightly hold the head in place, remove the backbone with your chopsticks, and then eat the lower side. When you have finished, neatly arrange the head, backbone, and tail at the back of the plate.

If the serving of fish is a fillet, such as salmon or gindara black cod, it is standard to place the wider side to the left, with the skin underneath.

(Translated from Japanese. All photos © Pixta.)

food manners washoku