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Japanese culture is very polite, refined, and intricate. The Japanese are a people that value tradition, cleanliness, and politeness, but many cultures around the world find different manners polite or impolite and can vary greatly. In fact, some things we may find to be very rude, may not be rude in Japan; this may make you wonder: is it polite to burp in Japan?
It is not polite to burp in Japan; noises from bodily functions such as passing gas, burping, and blowing your nose are considered rude. The notion that burping in Japan is polite may come from those who confuse them with their neighbors in China, who do consider burping at a meal to be polite and even a compliment to the chef.
Manners vary throughout the world, and what’s taboo in one country may not be so in another. When it comes to burping, Japanese culture sides with most of the world that it is rude. But why is burping considered rude, and what other manners do the Japanese find rude that may be surprising to others?
Why is Burping Not Polite in Japan?
Due to the nature of the Japanese culture and their desire to be as polite to those around them as possible, noises from bodily functions are just not done in public. Keeping these functions as private as possible is a sign of respect for others.
Of course, there are times when a burp may slip out, and the Japanese are, of course, very understanding. The important thing to remember is to try to keep them in!
Cultures that Do Find Burping Polite
In many places—such as Japan—burping at the table is rude. But some countries and cultures around the world not only find burping polite, but it’s encouraged, and even considered to be a compliment to the chef. So, just what countries find burping polite?
- China – Chinese culture is perfectly fine with burping at the table as they see it as a natural body function. They also find burping as a way to express to your host that you enjoyed your meal.
- India – While some areas in India are okay with burping, it is not that way throughout the whole country. If you’re traveling through India and not sure if you’re in an area that finds burping polite, it’s probably just best to keep them in.
Because these neighboring cultures find burping to be polite, it is common for visitors to Japan to assume the same is the case for the Japanese, when it is actually not.
Other Impolite Manners in Japan
Now that we know that burping is considered rude in Japan—and in many other cultures as well—there must be other things that are impolite at the table; so, what other table manners are deemed offensive in Japan?
- Don’t blow your nose at the table. Along with burping, blowing your nose at the table is seen as rude and shouldn’t be done. Excuse yourself and head to the bathroom to blow your nose, or burp, in private.
- Drinking too soon. When you’re at a table with others, it is considered rude to start drinking your beverage before everyone has a full glass. Once everyone has a full glass, there will often be a toast with drinkers raising their glasses and saying “kanpai.” Then, drink away.
- Don’t bend to your food. For soups and dishes served in small bowls, drinking directly from the bowl for soups and lifting the bowl closer to your face to eat rice instead of bending down to the bowl is proper etiquette. You should also hold smaller bowls of rice and food in your hand while eating.
- Loud chewing. Along the lines of bodily functions like burping and farting, chewing food loudly is looked down on in Japan. This also means that talking with your mouth full is considered to be impolite.
- Don’t double-dip. Many meals in Japan will be served family-style, meaning lots of communal dishes and sauces. While it’s fine to dip your food in a sauce, make sure you only do it once! Double-dipping is considered unsanitary and rude.
- Don’t carry in or out. Most restaurants in Japan frown on carrying in outside food or drink. It’s also looked down on to ask for any food to be wrapped up to take with you.
- Tipping. If you’re from the US, not leaving a tip for your server is considered extremely rude, but not so in Japan. The Japanese do not tip, and tipping can even be seen as rude, so fight the urge to leave one.
- Eating on the go. In Japan, it’s seen as rude not to stop and eat your food. Even when you’re eating from a market stand outdoors, proper etiquette says you should stand and eat at one of the provided tables rather than walk and chew.
Polite Eating Manners in Japan
When you’re traveling to a foreign country, being polite is a sign of respect. Now that we know what is considered impolite at the table in Japan, what can we do to be polite?
- Slurping. While Japanese culture considered burping at the table as rude, slurping is a whole different story. When enjoying a bowl of soup or some delicious noodles, slurping is encouraged. Of course, recognizing the Japanese emphasis on politeness, try not to slurp too loudly.
- Finishing all your food. The Japanese place a high value on not creating waste. This means that leaving food on your plate is a no-no. So, make sure you only take what you know you can eat and finish it all.
- Use proper chopstick etiquette. Chopsticks are an essential eating utensil in Japanese cuisine. Because of that, there are plenty of cultural rules, and knowing how to use chopsticks properly will help you be a polite dinner guest.
- Pour drinks for others. When it comes to serving drinks, it is seen as polite to pour your companions drinks first. And while you may want to finish by pouring your own drink, the polite etiquette is to let someone else pour your drink for you.
- Give thanks before and after a meal. Japanese culture values showing gratitude both before and after a meal. The term “itadakimasu,” which translates into “I humbly receive” is said before the meal as a way to give thanks to those who prepared the meal, even extending to those who grew the food. After the meal, you can say thank you to the chef by saying “gochiso sama deshita” or “arigatou gozaimasu.”
- Learn the correct way to use the oshibori. The oshibori is a wet towel that is provided before a meal. The proper way to use this towel is to wipe your hands before eating and only that. Don’t continue to use the oshibori throughout the meal. Once your hands are clean, just fold it up and set it in the dish it came in.
- Enjoy the meal! For the Japanese, a polite dinner guest will take their time to enjoy and savor their meal, so no gulping down food!
Learning about different cultures and what is or isn’t considered polite is a great way to expand your mind and show the foreign country your traveling to that you respect their people and traditions. Wherever you go, you’ll have to eat, and knowing the culture and what table manners are considered polite or rude will help you not offend those around you. With just a little bit of research, you can learn what you can and cannot do to be a respectful traveler. Just remember, when in Japan, no burping!