by Jes Stayton, Greenheart Travel High School Abroad Participant
My previous host family in Japan taught me some interesting words and phrases used in Japanese restaurants. ‘Higawari’ comes from the words ‘hi’ (day), and ‘mawari’ (turn, go in circles). It means the special of the day. Another useful word is ‘osusume‘ (especially tasty food). It is used in the sense of ‘What is especially good today?’ (kyou, osusume wa nan desuka?).
However, the most useful word, in my opinion, is ‘omakase’. The verb ‘makaseru’ means entrust, so ‘omakase’ means something like ‘chef’s choice’. (‘o’ is sometimes added to the beginnings of words to makes them more polite) When you say ‘omakase’, it means that you are letting the chef and other people working at the restaurant choose for you. This may get expensive in sushi restaurants, however, so you can say ‘shimesaba’. Saba (mackerel) is one of the cheapest kinds of sushi. (Saba is my favorite type of sushi, so I laughed when I heard this.) This statement basically means ‘cheap sushi only.’
Japanese restaurant customs are also slightly different. Unlike America, in Japan the diners discuss what they want to eat beforehand, and one person tells the waitress or waiter the order. The person doing the ordering also says how many of each meal is being ordered, even if they are only ordering one.
There is also usually no reservations and no tipping. If you go to a popular or famous restaurant in Japan, expect to wait outside for a while. Also, diners do not usually pay at the table. At most restaurants, there is a counter or podium near the door where you pay.