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Things to Remember When Eating Outdoors in Japan

In Japan, there are lots of fun foods you can enjoy outdoors, such as bento boxes and foods from yatai stalls, but there are some situations where it might be better to avoid eating or drinking outside. Here is a look at the manners in Japan for eating outside.

1. Public benches, etc. in parks are generally ok places to eat (although there are some exceptions to the rule)

Benches or other seats in parks or public spaces are generally fine to eat on, although there are some places where eating or drinking is forbidden, so it's a good idea to check in advance. But you should try and avoid any behavior that might bother people around you, such as occupying a place for a long time during a busy period, or being noisy close to a residential area. It's also good to note that theme parks such as Tokyo Disney Resort usually don't allow you to bring your own food or drink into the park, but there are places to buy food on site and you are allowed to eat any food you bought as you walk around the park.

*Photo is for illustration purposes.

2. Only eat food you have bought on the premises at a yatai stall

At tourist spots, in downtown areas, and at shrines around Japan, you will often find stalls called yatai lining the streets. These are great places to enjoy local specialties and gain a deeper understanding of Japanese cuisine. But one thing to remember is that eating food or drink bought from somewhere else while at the yatai is considered to be bad manners, so be sure to enjoy something from the yatai's menu. On top of this, as stalls usually have fewer seats than a regular restaurant, be prepared to make room for other customers and swap seats. Also, yatai are usually on the sidewalk so being noisy or gathering in groups can be a nuisance to other people, so be careful. One of the most enjoyable parts of the experience of eating at a yatai is the communication between the owner and the customers, so even if you can’t speak Japanese, try asking questions about the food. Even the shy Japanese people will do their best to answer you.

*Image is for illustration purposes.

3. Eating while walking is only permitted in certain places

Japanese manners place a great emphasis on “ikkai ichi dousa,” a phrase similar to “one thing at a time.” So eating while walking is seen as impolite. Also, in sacred places such as temples and shrines eating and drinking is considered to show a lack of common sense and bad manners. However, eating while walking where the stalls are out in the shrine during festivals or other celebrations has been an exception since ancient times. Nowadays, there are some tourist spots where it is recommended to eat while you walk, but for other places, it is probably best to find somewhere close to the store where you bought the food and stop and eat there. Also, you should also be careful when eating while walking in crowds where you might bump into someone, even in places where it is okay to walk while eating.

*Image is for illustration purposes.

4. Eating on public transport should be avoided, and strong smelling foods are out of the question

It’s fine to eat bento boxes or other foods bought from the onboard service on trains like the shinkansen, but eating and drinking on other public transport is often thought to be impolite. Drinking from a plastic bottle or eating candy or gum are fine, but anything larger, like snacks or onigiri or sandwiches, might be thought of as unpleasant by the other passengers. Fast food and other strong smelling food should definitely be avoided. You should also avoid eating on busy trains as there is a chance that you might accidentally spill your food or drink on someone if the train shakes. This is especially true on the city trains, which can become unbelievably packed.

*Photo is for illustration purposes.

5. Wherever you eat, make sure to take your rubbish home. You can even ask the people in the store to dispose of it.

One thing to remember in Japan when eating while walking is not to litter. In recent years, foreign tourists have been criticized for littering. There are even sightseeing spots who have responded to the bad manners of visitors by requesting them to refrain from eating while walking while there. Littering affects the environment and makes it unpleasant for people. Places where it is okay to eat usually have bins installed, and if you can’t find a bin, you can ask the staff in the store where you bought the food to dispose of it for you. So let’s stop littering and enjoy the sightseeing and delicious food!

*Image is for illustration purposes.

What did you think? If you understand the rules, you’ll have a great trip and be greeted with a warm smile wherever you go. While the manners for eating outdoors aren’t really strict, you should keep them in mind and enjoy Japan’s delicious food to your hearts content!

*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.

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