Itadakimasu! Basic Japanese for Dining Out
One of the benefits to being in Japan is the overwhelming amount of delicious food available. Whether its carefully prepared multi-course kaiseki meals, kaiten sushi, izakaya, comfort foods like ramen or curry rice, and even preprepared convenience store meals, there is no shortage of tasty treats available. While there are quite a few places that have menus in English and other languages as well as places like ramen shops that require minimal human interaction due to technology, there are a few short phrases in Japanese that are helpful to know when dining out.
When you enter the restaurant or bar you will be asked by one of the staff members how many are with you, generally with the question, “Nan-mei-sama desu ka?” (何名様ですか？). If it’s 2 of you, the answer is “Ni-mei desu” and you can change it by putting in whatever number in Japanese at the beginning. If all else fails, you can hold up your fingers. Hopefully, there aren’t more than 10 people? Depending on when you go, the wait to be seated can become quite long. If there is a long list of names that have not been crossed off or staff tells you that the wait will be longer than 10-15 minutes, maybe you should go somewhere else?
Smoking or Non-Smoking?
Many establishments in Japan allow smoking indoors so if you are sensitive to smoke you will need to request to be seated somewhere that is “non-smoking” or “kin-en” (禁煙). The Japanese for “smoking” is “kitsu-en” (喫煙). However, not all places with have the seats separated and some that do will have both sections bordering each other with little to block the smoke from drifting about. Other establishments might have an area for smokers, which is usually right by the entrance or restrooms. For smokers, the Japanese for “ashtray” is “hai-zara” (灰皿), which is literally “ash-plate”.
Japan is famous for its food but it is not easy on people with restrictions due to allergies, health concerns, or religious reasons. Even broths like “dashi” are often made by dissolving dried fish into them. The Japanese for “vegetarian” is “bejiterian”, basically the Japanese pronunciation of the word, which most places should understand. The Japanese for “allergy” is similar in that it is “arerugii”. Don’t expect everyone to understand terms like “ovo-lacto”, “pescatarian”, “gluten-free”, “vegan”, or “keto”, though. Justhungry.com has a few cards which you can print out that explain your situation at a restaurant in case your Japanese may not be sufficient to explain. Perhaps a separate article devoted to this topic would be helpful in the near future?
You can get the attention of restaurant staff by raising your hand and calling out, “sumimasen!” (すみません！) which means “excuse me!” in this case. Other places may have a button that can be pushed to alert them as well but why not practice your Japanese instead? Many restaurants will have menus with pictures of the items on them which makes ordering simple even if they don’t have an English menu. Just point at the item you want and say, “kore kudasai” (これ下さい) which means “I want this” and hold up as many fingers as necessary if ordering multiples. “Shokuji” is “food” and “nomimono” is “drink”, which are helpful to remember as some places will have time limits on how long customers can stay.
Glasses of drinking water are customary but as the size of them is quite small, when asking for a refill, the word to use is “o-hiya” (お冷) when asking for “ice water” but “o-mizu” (お水) also works. If you want to ask for “hot water”, the word for that is “o-yu” (お湯). To order “beer”, the most common terms are “nama” (生) for “draft/tap beer” and “bin-biiru” (瓶ビール) for “bottled beer”. Other drinks are pretty much the same as in English but pronounced with a Japanese accent on them.
Many establishments offer “all you can drink” also known as “nomihoudai” (飲み放題) options which simplify billing when people will be drinking quite a bit. However, this is not a challenge to see how much you can drink, unless you want to potentially end up passed out in the streets! This also goes for places with “all you can eat” or “tabehoudai” (食べ放題) packages. The last thing you want is to be stuffed to the point where you can’t move when riding the packed late-night train back to your place.
Using the Restroom
One of the most useful phrases in any language is, “where is the restroom?” and in Japanese the simplest way to ask that is, “toire wa doko desu ka?” (トイレはどこですか？) or “o-tearai wa doko desu ka?” (お手洗いはどこですか？). Even if you don’t completely understand the answer to your question, staff will usually gesture in the direction of the facilities which are usually marked with red and blue symbols for men and women. In other cases, the doors will be marked “o-tearai” (お手洗い) or “toire” (トイレ) but some places might use “keshoushitsu” (化粧室) which literally means “make-up room”. There are several other words which can be used but those are the most common. Some might simply have the characters for “men” (男) or “women” (女) on the doors. It is not uncommon for there to be some which can be used by either so be sure to lock the door when using them and knock before attempting to enter.
Settling the Bill
When it’s time to leave, make an “X” with your fingers and say, “o-kaikei” (お会計) to request the “bill” or sometimes “check” will also get your point across. In general, the bill is just divided up among the people at the table, regardless of who ordered what. For times like this, the “all you can drink” and “all you can eat” options make things easier than trying to use your calculator to figure things out. If your party is small, (2-3 people) you can ask for “separate bills” by saying “betsu-betsu”. Please don’t make this sort of request if there is a big group.
Whether you can settle the balance at your table or have to pay at a register, place the money on the tray provided and wait for your change. Larger establishments may have the option to pay with a credit or debit card but it is not always guaranteed whether or not they will be able to process it. Once you have paid, do not loiter near the entrance or in front of the restaurant as there may be others waiting to be served.
Were any of these terms helpful or did you already know them? Were there any that you wanted to know that were not included? See this earlier article for more helpful Japanese dining information too!
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