I hope you print this question, because like you I spend lots of time in Japan. I know that the dining customs vary (for example–no pointing with chopsticks), but exactly how does one manage when eating in a group? Western manners are pretty clearly cut in Western restaurants, but how ’bout on the town?’ When do you dive in? Starved.
Let me introduce you to your Mini Bar. For $47, you can eat that package of Ritz crackers and have the peace of mind knowing that no matter what pops up on your plate (and yes, sometimes, it is more literal than figurative) you can cope. It will also enable you to break the perception that all western people eat like hungry wolverines.
Japanese meals are in my opinion more about the experience than nourishment. I’ve heard of celebrities getting tossed out of sushi places in LA because the chef decided that they had eaten too much. We’re talkin’ groovy southern California kids. The stakes rise as you cross that dateline.
Once you are seated en masse, nod with all the certainty of a lemming to whatever those around you order. There will be many ‘ne?’s’ thrown in for good measure. Smile again. Think about that last cracker you nestled in the folds of your purse (for later)–the vision of which will sustain you as they wheel out the UNI (raw sea urchin).
When the meal arrives, murmur ‘Itakimasssss(u)’ Sort of like saying ‘Grace,’ but not really. It is considered ill-mannered to serve yourself, so you will follow their lead (they’ve been doing this longer). That should get you through it. Besides, as a western oaf, how many table manners could you really have anyway…..Whoever you are-san?
On the bright side, there is still the $65 package of peanuts awaiting you in your room. Best $65 you ever spent.