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I'm having my vacation next week in Japan. The problem is, I've heard that people in Japan use chopsticks, but I've never used those stuff and am not going to learn it.

Do restaurants in Japan provide knife and fork?

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JonathanReez
    Nov 22, 2022 at 22:05
  • Folks - please take your comments to chat. This is a somewhat controversial question and we’re trying to avoid a flame war in the comment section.
    – JonathanReez
    Nov 24, 2022 at 16:11
  • What do you mean you're "not going to learn it"? Feb 18, 2023 at 9:45

6 Answers 6

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Depends on the restaurant. Restaurants serving Western-style food will, of course, have knives and forks, and "family restaurants" that cater to children will also have them (but likely in child sizes). There are also quite a few Japanese dishes eaten by spoon, such as the ubiquitous curry rice, or by hand, like sushi, yakitori grilled chicken skewers, onigiri rice balls, etc.

For Japanese restaurants, you can always ask but it will be hit and miss, and you are more likely to find them at a "proper" sit-down restaurant than a tiny noodle stall where patrons use disposable chopsticks.

I would encourage you to try out chopsticks though, you can pick up the basics with only a few minutes of practice (if you can hold a pen, you're halfway there) and there are many tutorials on the Internet. The disposable wooden chopsticks common in Japan are also the easiest way to learn, since they're light and many foods like rice stick to them slightly.

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    "will, of course, have knives and forks": not actually sure about that! Many yoshoku restaurants only have chopsticks. If you mean actual French/Italian/etc restaurants, then sure, but I've been to lots of yoshoku restaurants that only have chopsticks. It's kind of messy to eat pasta or hamburg steaks with chopsticks, but hey!
    – xuq01
    Nov 22, 2022 at 19:01
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    Many supermarkets and souvenir shops (possibly even 7-elevens?) sell those plastic holders that you can put on top of the chopsticks to convert them into tweezers. Maybe that's an option?
    – AndreKR
    Nov 22, 2022 at 20:50
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    @Kvothe spoons probably, or maybe forks? but probably not knives, to be honest.
    – Esther
    Nov 23, 2022 at 22:30
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    @Kvothe Well, forks are so easy to use, and Japanese dishes don't require knives. Even the steaks are generally pre-cut so that you don't have to cut them (unless you go to a steakhouse). Maybe save for the hamburger steak, which is often served whole, but can be cut easily using a fork.
    – xuq01
    Nov 23, 2022 at 23:10
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    Picking up the basics is relatively easy for most people, but I would not go as far as to generalize that. Besides: There are plenty of people with some form of handicap/medical condition that find them impossible to use and that have no issue with forks/knives. I'm one of those. (I have a genetic disorder that causes rheumatism like effects.) I was able to use chopsticks for years, but since a few years my condition has worsened and using them is extremely painful to me. 1-2 minutes is enough to give me excruciating pain and cripple my hand and that will last for hours afterward.
    – Tonny
    Nov 24, 2022 at 13:27
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When I was in Japan it was fork and spoon more than fork and knife but I do not remember even one place to eat where you could not get an alternative for chopsticks.

On the other hand, I had been using chopsticks a few years before going to Japan. And may not have needed the fork.

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  • Noodle shops, maybe? I cannot imagine how you would eat soba or ramen with forks, the pasta way just wouldn't work...
    – xuq01
    Nov 23, 2022 at 23:11
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    actually the fork and spoon combo is very common in East and South East Asia for things that aren't eaten with chopsticks, and also South Asia when people don't want to eat by hand. Rice is never eaten with fork in Asia, when eating with fork and spoon one is expected to use spoon to scoop rice. If I see someone uses fork to scoop rice I know they're a Westerner immediately
    – phuclv
    Nov 24, 2022 at 2:28
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    @xuq01, at home I eat ramen with a fork and next drink the rest. Just as I eat other pasta with a fork.
    – Willeke
    Nov 24, 2022 at 10:07
  • It might work for thin noodles, I just could never do it. But for thick noodles, I guess we're completely out of luck...
    – xuq01
    Nov 24, 2022 at 10:09
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If a restaurant does not have fork and knife, you could ask for a pair of training chopsticks. Any restaurant that caters to children should have them. They are connected with a hinge and quite easy to use (basically a pair of tongs).

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  • Nice advise! I didn't know that.
    – Michael
    Nov 24, 2022 at 3:49
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    OP can bring his own chopstick helper. It's just a little plastic hinge, that can be attached to any pair of chopsticks. Nov 25, 2022 at 12:34
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My background/qualification for this is across ten years, I travelled to Japan three or four times a year for between a couple of weeks, up to two months at a time, in a medium/large industrial town, 200 miles SE of Tokyo. I don't speak more than a few words of Japanese, learned parrot-fashion. I can also say "I cannot speak Japanese", in Japanese. Whilst there I usually, but not always, was with multiple nationalities which included native Japanese, who managed most of the communication.

Not only will it depend on the restaurant, it is likely to depend on the town you're in.
I am assuming if you can't use hashi, you also can't speak (or read) Japanese.

This can be more of a problem than you might think.

In Tokyo, you can expect to find a reasonable percentage of English speakers, especially amongst the young.
However, culturally, the best English speakers get the best jobs - which doesn't include waiting tables - so your chances of a waiter/ress speaking English is lower.

Once you get to the smaller towns & cities, this percentage drops off remarkably.

If you can't manage to communicate by speech [& of course, if you can't speak it, you haven't a hope of reading it. Romanji (English alphabet, but not language) transliterations vanish as soon as you leave Tokyo], then very helpfully almost all Japanese menus have pictures. You can point.
This is where the next issue will arrive. They will invariably ask you something at this point. It might be as simple as 'do you want set?'. This is 'with all the trimmings' soup or starter, rice, tea, whatever it is they consider a full meal. If you want set, then just saying 'setu' [that U is as short as you can make it, not setooo] will get you the full meal. There's normally a picture of what constitutes 'set' somewhere on the menu too.

…and that's where communication ends.
No amount of pointing, gesticulating, miming actions or any other type of non-verbal communication will convey that you want a fork. I don't know why this is, but things you could mime in a German/French/Hungarian/Turkish… restaurant don't work in Japan.

There was one restaurant I went to every trip for ten years, always on my own because my flight would arrive long before anyone else's. Every single time I pointed at the same meal, with the same accompaniments, and got it successfully. Every single time they kept asking me question after question that I could only shrug at. To this day I have absolutely no idea what they wanted.

If you cannot point at it, or a picture of it, you cannot order it unless you know the Japanese word for it.
So, if nothing else, find out how to say 'fork' in Japanese. Get the pronunciation right* or you will just get confused stares.

Edit - as helpfully pointed out in comments by Jonathan, these days you could always use Google Translate [or similar]. When I was there it was the 90s, we didn't have such luxury. Even our mobile [dumb] phones wouldn't work because the networks were different.

*Note on pronunciation. Like any language, Japanese has words that sound similar… but they also have words that have inflections or pitch changes that Westerners simply can't hear until they've had a lot of practise. When most Westerners ask for rice wine, to a Japanese it sounds like they're asking for salmon. Sake is spelt [transliterated] the same for both, but the inflection is different to the Japanese, if not to the English. One goes up [like a question], the other goes down [like a statement].

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    OP could always use Google Translate, it works great.
    – JonathanReez
    Nov 24, 2022 at 16:17
  • @JonathanReez - I hadn't actually thought of that - I was there in the 90s… long before such conveniences.
    – Tetsujin
    Nov 24, 2022 at 16:34
  • I was in Japan in 1994 and traveled by train, staying in smaller and bigger towns, eating in cheaper (but not the cheapest) places and always found someone who spoke enough English to help out when needed. Simple English but enough.
    – Willeke
    Nov 24, 2022 at 18:42
  • @Willeke You were lucky;) There were some places, bars I hung out - akochochim - where we did just about manage between the entire bar to vaguely figure out what we were talking about. Long drunken nights with more cameraderie than real communication… but i've spent many nights in all kinds of places where I either pointed at pics or mustered up my best 'birru, onegaishimasu' or 'moipai' & at the end waited hopefully until they brought something with numbers written on it, so I knew what to pay. I had a whale of a time, wouldn't swap it for the world, but sometimes it felt like I was on Mars.
    – Tetsujin
    Nov 24, 2022 at 18:51
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    I used quite a bit of Google Translate on my trip to Japan... with varying levels of success. A good one to be aware of is that Google Translate isn't great for asking for the bathroom as we would in many parts of the English speaking world because it is translated directly and makes it sound like you want to take a bath in Japanese... so make sure to ask where the toilet is instead and Google Translate will get what you need across correctly. And Google (or other) maps is nice for taxis, show them where you want to go instead of telling.
    – ttbek
    Nov 24, 2022 at 19:49
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I've been to Japan about 60 times. I've sometimes traveled with colleagues who struggle with chopsticks. Usually, they have had no difficulty: most restaurants have knives and forks. But I do recall one instance where somebody wound up eating lunch with a large kitchen spoon ツ.

However, while I don't find chopsticks a challenge, I still keep a bamboo knife, fork, spoon, (and chopsticks!) set in my backpack when I'm traveling (not only to Japan). It comes in handy.

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You can get collapsible cutlery; they are small enough to put into your pocket, in case the restaurant doesn't have a set of western cutlery available for guests.

However, you might want to ask before using your own; I'm not a expert on Japanese etiquette to know how to do this politely.

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