By David, long-term Tokyo resident & food-loving traveler
If you like good food, Tokyo is a wonderful city to explore. Here are a few tips for eating and drinking at Japanese restaurants and bars.
Making reservations, standing in line, and taking off your shoes
At places with a first come, first served system, it is normal for customers to stand in line and wait for their turn. Sometimes there are even seats lined up for those who wait.
Japanese culture values punctuality. So if you make a reservation, please arrive on time or cancel in case your plans change.
When you enter a restaurant or izakaya pub, check if you are expected to take off your shoes - and if you get cold feet easily, keep a pair of socks in your bag just in case.
At restaurants, staff will usually take your order at your table. Some izakaya pubs and sushi restaurants have tablets at each table for ordering. Often, they can be switched to English.
Some restaurants like ramen or udon shops use a food ticket system instead. Choose what you want to eat at the food ticket machine, pay, and take the ticket with you. Then hand it to the staff to order. It is similar to buying a train ticket.
Takeaway / takeout
Say “omochi kaeri de” (literally to take home) if you want to order takeaway or takeout.
If you are planning a picnic or will eat on the move, it is best to keep a small plastic bag for trash with you.
Paying for your meal
Say “o-kaikei onegai shimasu” to ask for the bill.
Always make sure to have some cash with you and exchange money in advance. Although credit cards and cashless payment options are increasing, there are still quite a few places that are cash only.
Say “kado tsukaemasuka?” to ask if you can pay by credit card or “_ _ _ tsukaemasuka?” to check for a specific service.
A cover service charge called “o-toshi” is quite common at bars and restaurants. It is usually around 300-500 yen per person and every customer is charged.
It is quite common to pay at the cash register, but at some fancier restaurants you can also pay at the table. Take a look around while you eat what other customers are doing.
Please pay the full amount indicated in the bill. Tipping is not customary in Japan.
Japanese phrases for eating and drinking
Memorizing even just a few words and phrases really pays off. On top of the basics like “hai” (yes), “iie” (no), “arigato” (thank you), and “sumimasen” (excuse me), I recommend knowing just a few words and phrases related to eating and drinking.
When entering a restaurant, you will probably be asked “nanmei sama desu ka” (how many people?).
Ordering is quite simple. Just say what you would like followed by “kudasai” as in “kohi kudasai” (coffee, please). And if you are ordering by pointing at something say “kore kudasai” (this one please).
If you have food allergies or dietary restrictions, I recommend that you look up in advance how to say this and make a note. If possible, have a Japanese speaker write you a note that clearly states what you do not eat or drink and a few examples of what would work for you as an alternative. This can be very helpful for you and the staff and chef.
Before you start to eat, say “itadakimasu” (bon appetit). The phrase used after a meal is “gochisosama” to express gratitude and appreciation.
Ready to try some Japanese food? One exciting place to start are the many shops near Ueno in Tokyo. Click the link below to read this related article you might like: “Shopping for foodies in Tokyo - Ueno’s Ameyoko Market” https://authentic-tokyo.com/news/detail?news_id=647