Posted by: Menzie | May 13, 2009

Feed Me

sumimasenGiven the polite and generally demure nature and customs of the Japanese people, parts of restaurant etiquette are sure to put you for a loop. I’m not talking about how you’re not supposed to tip, which you probably already know. If you didn’t already know, you’re not supposed to tip. The Japanese don’t do that, and it’s kind of taken as an insult. It’s like you’re pitying them and giving them charity, but in a patronizing fashion. What I’m talking about is calling for your waitress.

In restaurants in western society, after being seated by the hostess a waitress will eventually come around to take your order. That doesn’t happen in Japanese restaurants. If you wait for a waitress to come by, you’ll be waiting a very, very long time. This is because in restaurants in Japan you are supposed to call for your waitress when ready. You have to stick your hand in the air and shout (or say loudly) “Sumimasen!” (Excuse me!) A waitress will then hurry over to take your order or bring the check or what have you. While this sort of thing would be rather rude in western culture, it’s perfectly acceptable in Japan. Acceptable and necessary if you want to eat. Just remember to be polite when the waitress comes over.

Of course there are some slight exceptions to the rule. Some restaurants now have buttons to press rather than calling out for your waitress. They look like a tap light, and when you press it a little bell will chime and light up a table number back by the hostess area, sending someone over. And some more western style restaurants and upscale places may have the waitress come to you. Use your best judgement and understand it as a general rule. Consider it practicing the art of polite yelling.

We really need more of that.



  1. You’re right, this is very confusing. It’s such a polite culture, but learning the meaning of “polite” is hard work.

  2. This practice is especially hilarious at the bar, where you can get an entire table of drunk Japanese and foreigners yelling “Sumimasen!” pretty loud in unison.

  3. Those were good times….

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