The Facts and Hacks of Japanese Table Setting

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If you are in Japan, or have visited Japan, you may have noticed how Japanese people seemingly pay attention to minute details in anything and everything. It’s hard not to wonder how they make everything look so perfect. Even the Japanese dinner table is done with the utmost perfection Japan is known for. 

If you happen to visit a Japanese home or a traditional Japanese restaurant for a meal, you will see the rich variety of Japanese tableware, all in different sizes, patterns, and colors. The Japanese traditional table setting, while also very aesthetic, is interesting because everything has a purpose, and nothing is out of the way from the other foods. 

Let’s learn about traditional Japanese table settings.

Setting The Tableware

Gone are those days when people would visit a restaurant just to satiate their hunger, with ambience, decor, and setup playing a very important role today. Everyone loves a restaurant that offers a fantastic meal alongside both great ambience and a beautiful table setup. 

Because the atmosphere and tableware can add to any fine dining experience, the color, size, shape, and texture of the tableware (and table decor) are all important. Japanese tableware uses each aspect to create an aesthetic dining experience for all to enjoy.  

A woman hands holding rice in front of a spread of Japanese food with another person sitting across also holding rice.
While the food itself looks tasty, a Japanese table spread brings an added ‘wow’ factor to any meal. Image via Shutterstock

The way Japanese people set up the table for a meal is both exceptional and unique. It’s an art that many love to see. According to Japanese culture, the way of laying out food on the table is as important as the taste of the meal.  

Looking for something to test your table setting skills with? Sakuraco has you covered with authentic Japanese snacks and sweets sent straight to your door, perfect for tea time.

Chopstick Rests and Chopsticks 

Hashi (chopsticks) and hashioki (chopstick rests) are the most essential items for a Japanese dining table, since you can’t eat a traditional Japanese meal without them. They are also two of the most recognizable eating utensils in Asian dining. 

However, not all chopsticks are the same. Japanese chopsticks are shorter than Chinese chopsticks and longer than Korean ones. When resting chopsticks on a chopstick rest, it should be placed parallel to the table with the eating tip facing to the left, one of many Japanese table manners that visitors tend not to know.

Japanese Plates and Bowls

Japanese plates and bowls generally have cute designs or prints on them to make your dining experience more beautiful. The exceptions are those made with traditional Japanese ceramics, such as gorgeous raku ware. Japanese tableware consists of soup bowls, stew bowls, rice bowls, flat rectangular plates to serve meat or fish, saucers, and trays. 

These traditionally ceramic or wooden tablewares are generally smooth in texture and round in shape. They are made in small sizes so that it can be held easily in one hand. They come in different shades and hues, even using seasonal colors and prints sometimes. Trays and placemats are used for serving, carrying, or presenting food.   

A family of four, (a father, mother, daughter and son) sit down to a traditional Japanese salmon meal.
Placemats or trays are used in Japanese meals, adding a neat finish to a meal’s presentation. Image via Shutterstock

Japanese Flower Vase

Japanese flower vases have intricate designs on them and they are small in size, perfect as an accent piece for a dining table. It can hold a single flower to make the table look both gorgeous and simple at the same time. It serves as a good gift option too. 

Japanese Sushi Sets  

The traditional Japanese sushi sets consist of a sushi plate to hold the sushi and ginger, a pair of chopsticks, and two small dishes to hold soy sauce and wasabi respectively. 

Japanese Tea & Sake (Japanese rice wine) sets

Japanese tea sets are way smaller compared to the rest of the world. Though the teapots feature a bamboo or ceramic handle, the cups don’t have a handle at all. The teapots consist of a strainer inside the pot and it is often flat on the top with a rounded body. 

Sake pots are more cylindrical in shape. An entire set consists of a sake pot and four cups. 

How To Plan A Japanese Meal 

Of course, tableware and ambience is important, but there’s no substitute for good, healthy and tasty food. Japanese meals, or washoku, have gained international attention, mainly because of its many health benefits as a completely balanced diet. 

In 2013, Washoku was recognised by UNESCO and added to the intangible cultural heritage list. It is served according to the Ichiju Sansai Principle, which literally means ‘one soup and 3 sides’. It is believed that soup helps fight any kind of illness. Hence it should be taken everyday. 

The other dishes include food items from 3 different categories based on their contents and health benefits. One meal should contain a starch like potatoes or noodles, steamed or boiled vegetables, and some protein like fish, meat, or eggs. 

A traditional Japanese meal featuring ichiju sansai, with a balance of fish, soup and vegetables.
Ichiju Sansai is a fundamental part of both traditional Japanese meals and Japanese food culture. Image via Shutterstock

How To Set a Japanese Table

The arrangement of the food itself also holds a special place in Japanese culture and cooking. So, if you are serving food to guests in Japan, it has to be done in a certain way from the guest’s point of view. 

Place the rice to the front left, followed by soup on the right of it. Place the two side dishes towards the back left and right of the tray. The third side is placed at the back center. Finally, you need to place the chopsticks in front of the tray with the points facing left.    

Like it is commonly said, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. Similarly, if you are in Japan, or if you feel a strong connection with this archipelago nation, why not plan a full traditional Japanese meal for your guests or just for yourself?

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2 Responses

  1. Thank you. I really enjoy learning new things and I appreciate the time and effort you make to teach me (and others) about different aspects of Japanese culture.

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