8 Things you NEVER Knew about Eating in Japanese Ramen Shops

Last Updated on March 31, 2024 by Christine Kaaloa

Visiting a ramen shop with a Tokyo Ramen Expert, tokyo ramen expert
Visiting a ramen shop with a Tokyo Ramen Expert


Ever wanted to eat in a Japanese ramen shop? I have.

Pre-pandemic, I  met up with my friend Brian of Ramen Adventures, a fellow YouTuber and ramen expert who gives food tours in Tokyo. As Japanese are proud of their ramen, being a ramen expert is a real thing in Japan.

Brian is well-known amongst this ramen expert peers. He explores anything “noodle” around Japan and anywhere else in the world. But living in Japan for years, he started crafting his passion into an expertise.

When I met up with Brian for my Tokyo ramen shop tour experience in Shinjuku, first thing was first… he knew I was going to film my experience and there was a possibility I might make …western mistakes. Japan culture is very polite and specific about certain traditions and westerns won’t know that. As we ate, Brian shared etiquette tips for eating at a Japanese ramen shop. They weren’t what I expected

Watch the experiential version of eating in a Tokyo ramen shop

The Art of Ramen in Japan

Like many things in Japan, ramen making is a craft. Brian explained that making ramen is not taken lightly like making instant noodles or even noodles, but there are “ramen masters” and shops which pass on their tradition of ramen making to apprentices who train and continue the lineage of their master. It is a proud craft.

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8 Things to Know about eating in Japanese Ramen Shops

Here’s eight unexpected etiquette tips for eating in a Japanese ramen shop that may you may find surprising.

1. Loud slurping is okay

Loud slurping and burping might be considered rude in the West, but in Japan, it is alright. Some sentiments claim that this is a sign of tasty food and a compliment to the chef.

According to Brian, tasting ramen is a bit like tasting wine. The air helps cool the hot broth for your mouth and it also helps you taste the ramen and broth better.

2. Eating ramen is not a social affair

Eating in a Japanese ramen shop is not going to be like social time hanging out with girlfriends in a western cafe and you certainly don’t want to take your laptop in and treat it like Starbucks. It is not a joint to chit chat or play on your mobile phone. Eating in a ramen shop is for eating ramen and then leaving.

Brian told me that as seating is limited and the cost of the ramen is relatively inexpensive, customers are expected to slurp their bowl and leave to make space for other customers. Even filming my experience, Brian urged me to get my shots quickly, keep eating and we’d have time to chat once we left. Watch my video interview with Brian below where he shares these tips!

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3. Japanese ramen shops in Tokyo have limited seating

Ramen shops are often in small shop spaces, as there is little that is required in making ramen. Thus, there is limited seating. I’ve been at ramen shops where it was a small shop with only standing bar room. The ramen shop that Brian took me to was a little bigger than a standing joint but the space was still small. It held one long bar table seated alongside the kitchen so you could watch your food being prepared .

Note: traveling Japan in general, you will always find limited seating. Anything with seats generally means you have to buy something.

4. The “special dish” button

Many times, when ordering ramen, you’ll be exposed to a type of vending machine where you pay for your ramen, get a ticket and hand it to the cook. My ramen expert Brian of Ramen Adventure said that the upper left button is usually the special dish of the house.

Note: In some YouTube videos, I’ve seen customers take a ticket and stand in a queue outside. Some restaurants are like that as well.

5. Ramen shops come from a master to student lineage.

What makes ramen shops special is that like many things in Japan, there is a proud lineage behind its schooling. The cooks of the ramen shop apprentice from an overseeing ramen master.  These ramen jedi knights continue his style and tradition as they grow their own business.

6. The quality of the water can affect the ramen taste

Did you know that although Tokyo is the international hotspot of Japan, some ramen masters refuse to open their shop in Tokyo?

Also, the water quality is different throughout Japan and it can change the flavor of ramen. So a popular ramen shop in a region with higher quality water might not want to create a chain of their brand in Tokyo if there is a drop in the quality of water.  Tastes and crafts in Japan are specific.

My Izakaya cooking host told me a very similar thing about the quality of water affecting the taste and food business. High quality foods are what Japanese cuisines and chefs aspire to.

7.  Do not rub your chopsticks together as if you’re about to start a fire

I’m half Japanese and I’m not sure where I actually picked this up, but I’m pretty sure its been through watching friends more than family… never place your wooden chopsticks together in your palm and rub them together as if you’re trying to start a fire. Often, this is done by westerns with the thought of brushing off any excess hairs of wood from the chopstick.  I did this just before eating and Brian caught me. It’s just not good etiquette. He said the chopsticks don’t have splinters but if you want peace of mind, then use a more polite technique.

Instead, you must brush them off by holding them in an “X” and brushing them against each other one by one.

8. Never stick your chopsticks upright in your bowl

It’s considered impolite to stick your chopsticks upright in your bowl when you are done. Instead, lay your chopsticks on top of your bowl as a sign that you are finished with your meal.

What do you think about eating in Japanese ramen shops? Is it on your Japan bucketlist?

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