When I first moved to Asia, my chopstick skills were not the best. I’ve gotten a lot better over time, but at first, it was tempting to use a fork instead. But would that be rude, specifically in Japan?
It is not rude to eat with a fork in Japan. In fact, at many restaurants, your server may politely offer you a fork and knife if you don’t look Asian. However, at some restaurants in less tourist-friendly areas, they may not have any forks, so you might actually have to bring your own.
Below, I’ll share all the details on how it’s viewed to eat with a fork in Japan. Although it’s not rude, it could potentially be a little embarrassing depending on the setting. I’ll also share some overall Japanese table manners that will help you out greatly.
Can You Eat with a Fork in Japan?
It is not considered rude to use a fork instead of chopsticks in Japan. Restaurants that get a lot of tourists are used to accommodating for that.
In fact, if you don’t look Asian—or if it looks like you’re struggling with your chopsticks—your server may even politely ask if you want a fork. They don’t necessarily expect foreigners to be comfortable with chopsticks.
That said, smaller restaurants outside of tourist areas may not even have a fork on hand! Spoons and knives are more common, but in some restaurants, forks may be nowhere to be found.
Another thing to consider: Some people may possibly judge you for not knowing how to use chopsticks. It will not be considered rude or impolite to use a fork. But the risk is just that it might be embarrassing for you, depending on the setting.
So, if you’re trying to make a good impression on a Japanese business contact or someone you’re seeing on a date, you may want to learn how to use chopsticks. But you won’t be offending anyone, in any case.
Should You Bring Your Own Fork?
You can always bring your own fork, knife, and spoon to ensure that you have access to them. Some people do that.
You may get a surprised glance or two. But it won’t be considered rude or offensive, unless it’s a very high-end or traditional restaurant.
There is one thing you should be careful about, though: Japanese restaurants sometimes use lacquered bowls that can be damaged by metal silverware. So you may want to check to make sure it’s okay to use your outside cutlery.
Using “Chopstick Helpers”
This is another option if you struggle with chopsticks. There are products called “training chopsticks” or “chopstick helpers” that are often given to children. Sometimes they are available at restaurants, so you can ask for a pair.
But you can also make your own “chopstick trainers” on the spot. All you need to bring is a rubber band! Check out the guide here. Once you learn how to do it, you can build your chopstick helpers in just a few seconds.
Chopstick Manners to Know
If you’re new to chopsticks but you’re willing to give them a try, then here are some chopstick etiquette tips you should know.
First, there are a number of things you should avoid doing with your chopsticks, such as lying them down in a crossed position or sticking them upright in your rice. The reason for this is a similarity to what is done at funeral ceremonies. (source)
Other things to NOT do with your chopsticks:
- Passing food from your chopsticks directly to someone else’s chopsticks.
- Waving chopsticks over serving dishes while you decide what to grab.
- Using your chopsticks to point at someone.
- Using your chopsticks to stab into food like a kebab.
- Eating food directly off a shared plate (move it to your plate first).
7 More Tips for Japanese Table Manners
Finally, here are some more table manner tips to be as polite as possible and enrich your experience dining in Japan:
- Saying thanks before the meal: Before a meal, you say “itadakimasu” (the “u” is silent). For me, it feels similar to saying “cheers” before drinking. Of course, Japanese have their own word for “cheers,” too (it’s “kampai”). But “itadakimasu” is said before meals.
- Saying the food is delicious: If the server or chef comes around and asks how the meal tastes, a great Japanese word to know is “oishi!” It means “delicious!”
- Saying thanks after the meal: After a meal, it’s polite to say “Gochisousama” (pronounced “go-chee-so-sama”). This expresses gratitude to those who made the food.
- Not being wasteful: It’s considered wasteful to pour a lot of extra soy sauce for yourself, beyond what you will actually use. So just pour the amount you think you will need.
- Raising bowls close to your mouth: For small bowls, such as for side of rice, it is okay to pick up the bowl and hold it closer to your mouth. Then you can use your chopsticks from that closer distance.
- Sipping and slurping soup: If you’re not given a soup spoon, it’s expected to raise the bowl to your mouth and drink the broth that way. This is common with small soups like miso. Slurping is proper, although chewing and eating other foods loudly is rude.
- How to eat sushi: Sushi is actually supposed to be eaten with your hands, although you can use chopsticks if you prefer. It’s also okay to use your chopsticks to break the food into smaller bites. In a more traditional sushi bar, it may be frowned upon to eat sushi with chopsticks.