Weird experiences in Japanese Restaurants

Good morning everyone,

The overnight lows are getting a bit cool-around 9C, but I'm still going to wear shorts for two more days...just so I can say I did! Ha ha! Highs are still in the low 20s-sorry, but back home that is shorts weather, it doesn't matter what season it is. Sunday and Monday are looking rainy, but luckily it'll clear up and be nice in time for the Peace Marathon on Tuesday.

I've lived here for a while now, so it's sometimes hard for me to remember what I found weird when I first came to Japan. Most of my first experiences in Japan were in restaurants and izakayas-mainly because I didn't have a kitchen in my apartment. Here are some of the things that I found really unique/strange compared to back home.

Yelling to get the server’s attention
The most startling thing to experience at a Japanese restaurant may be the shouts of “sumimasen!” (Japanese for “excuse me”) around your table. Unlike in Western countries where yelling at your waiter is a surefire way to get slow or bad service, Japanese wait staff usually expect you to call to them when you are ready to order. This can be quite surprising to first-time visitors to Japan who think of the country as polite and definitely not the type to scream at the help. Even though this is the cultural norm, as an expat living in Japan I still find it hard to shout in the middle of a restaurant.

Small glasses of water

2013.11.30 jpn rest 5

Even in the hottest days of a hellish Japanese summer, the water glasses at a restaurant will still be the size of a thimble. This leaves thirsty foreigners feeling awkward about having to constantly ask to refill their doll-sized cups. It may leave you wondering how normal Japanese people get enough water to hydrate themselves throughout the day. On the plus side, nearly every restaurant gives you water without you having to ask for it and not ordering a drink with your meal isn’t considered strange at all.

Picture-heavy menus
One thing about Japanese restaurants that many foreigners who cannot speak the language love is how the menus are full of pictures and plastic models of food adorn the front window.

▼ Japanese menus: who needs to read when you can point?

2013.11.30 jpn rest menu) 

For the person who has had a tough day of sightseeing among unreadable signs and transportation timetables, sitting down at a restaurant and opening up to see a menu full of food pictures for you to point at feels like heaven. This is one of the things Japanese tourists overseas also miss most: the ability to see your food before you order rather than wading through text-only menus and hoping that the dish you ordered is how you imagined it.

Long waits for some, no waiting for others
Since a lot of the Japanese service industry is dedicated to getting you the fastest service as possible, a lot of times restaurants will bring out your food as soon as it is done. This may sound great, but since a lot of Western chefs pride themselves on spacing food orders to make sure the whole table eats at once, foreigners may find it weird to have a couple of people without food while everyone else is eating. Similarly, early finishers will also find their plates cleared away by restaurant staff long before others on the table have finished eating. For many people this is rather unpleasant, as it makes the quicker eater feel like a glutton and slower eaters feel the pressure to finish. I've also had experiences where I've ordered a salad and a main dish and both of them arrive at the same time, or the main dish actually arrives before the salad! Ha ha!

Now that I've been here for a long, LONG time, I've got used to it, but some of the things still seem 'foreign' to me.

Have a great day!


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