In worldwide surveys, Japan is widely considered as among the most polite countries in the world – and it shows even in metropolitan cities like Tokyo! The Japanese emphasize politeness in particular and good manners (mana) in general at home, in the workplace and school, and in public places. Such is the emphasis on good manners that there are rarely instances of public altercations, a fact that foreigners in the Land of the Rising Sun wonder at.
Such high level of politeness can even be observed and experienced in Japanese restaurants in the United States. Enter a Wagamama restaurant, for example, and you will find that the diners truly make an effort to be polite to the staff and to their fellow diners. The staff members are also courteous toward every diner while also performing their jobs in a competent manner.
Why Are the Japanese So Polite?
The Japanese has a word for their politeness – omotenashi, or Japanese hospitality. When the Japanese practice it, the foreigners are astounded by the exquisite politeness combined with courtesy and consideration for other people’s needs accorded to them. The Japanese do so as a way of maintaining harmony, giving respect, and making others feel welcome.
For the Japanese, omotenashi is a way of life that influences actions and behaviors in most, if not all, aspects of life. Even a preschooler already knows its value and practices it in and out of the home! No wonder then that the staff in restaurants, both the hole-in-a-wall and the big-box chains, greet customers with a bow and welcome them with a warm ‘Irasshaimase!”.
When it’s your first time dining out in an authentic Japanese restaurant, you will be surprised by the lavish courtesies accorded by the staff to you and your fellow diners. This is because in Japanese culture, the farther you are outside of another person’s group of family and friends, the greater the level of politeness shown to you!
This isn’t to say that every Japanese is unfailingly polite since there will be individual cases of what the Japanese call impolite but what most Westerners will consider as par for the course. But when you have lived in Japan for a few months, even a few weeks, you will find that being around polite people can be contagious! You will also likely find that seeing the diners being polite at Wagamama also makes you want to be polite yourself – you don’t want the censure of your fellow diners, after all.
There are many theories about the reasons for the exquisite politeness among the Japanese. For one thing, Japanese etiquette is rooted in the formal yet beautiful rituals of both the tea ceremony and martial arts. Both parties in a tea ceremony, for example, appreciate the efforts that the other has applied to make the process so serenely beautiful.
For another thing, the Japanese Bushido, the Way of the Warrior that forms the basis of the samurai’s ethical code, considered compassion, courtesy and politeness as its core values. Even today when there’s no samurai caste in Japanese society, these core values are still emphasized at home and in school, even in the workplace.
There’s also the matter of city living in Japan’s metropolitan cities like Tokyo. In cities where space is a premium, people have to live in close proximity to each other from their apartment blocks to the trains, shops and parks. Being polite to others is a way of maintaining harmony, as well as peace and order, among themselves.
How Can Diners Be Polite in a Japanese Restaurant?
When you’re in a Japanese restaurant like Wagamama, you will do well to keep these tips in mind. You don’t have to worry too much, however, if you have lapses in etiquette since the staff will be too polite to point out your mistakes. Plus, you can always come back another time and do better!
- Say “Itadakimasu!” (I receive this food) when you get your food order. You’re expressing your thanks for the people who prepared your food.
- Use your chopsticks properly. You will find a myriad of rules about it but the main things to remember are never sing it to spear your food like a fork; never stick your chopsticks into your bowl of rice; and never use your chopsticks to move food from your plate to the chopsticks of another person. You can master the use of chopsticks with proper manners over time, fortunately.
- Say “Oishi desu” when you want to express your appreciation for the food during a meal, such as when a staff asks your about it.
- Say “Gochisosama deshita” at the end of your meal as a polite way of thanking the staff for your meal.
Of course, you don’t have to be an expert in Japanese dining etiquette to enjoy dining out in a Wagamama restaurant! You may wing it since you’re in America but it still pays to know these basics. You never know, too, when your politeness will earn appreciation from others.