It’s tradition and considered good manners to serve rice on the left side in Japan

We have specific positions for dishes served in Japan; rice is on the left and soup is on the right.
Today I will introduce the position of food served in Japan.

2016-08-23   Culture,

rice


【CONTENTS】
Pay attention to positional relationship of rice and miso soup
When did we start arranging our food in this position?
The ‘higher position of the left’, and manners in Japan

Pay attention to positional relationship of rice and miso soup

Please check the position of rice and miso soup the next time you go to a Japanese restaurant. More than often, the rice is on the left and the miso soup is on the right.
One bowl of soup with three dishes is a great balance of Japanese food, and they are arranged in much of the same position. See the image in below.

The proper position of dishes in Japan
The proper position of dishes in Japan

Japanese people are comfortable with rice on the left side, because rice is the staple diet for the Japanese, and ‘left’ is superior to ‘right’ in Japanese society. Chopsticks are placed in front of you in a lateral position, with the tips facing the diner’s left side.

When did we start arranging our food in this position?

It is said that, the rice/soup position was fixed during the Heian period (794-1185) after Japan had derived the concept of, “left is superior and right is inferior” from the Chinese dynasty during the Asuka period (592-710).

This concept was derived from a Chinese emperor’s seat in his palace. He was sitting, looking towards the south and watching the sun rising on his left and sun setting on his right. During his era, the sun rising was thought to be more significant than the setting sun, and as a result the left was believed to be more worthy than the right.

The sun rising
The sun rising

Japan had assumed the idea that the ‘left’ is a higher position than the ‘right’ in it’s society.

The ‘higher position of the left’, and manners in Japan

The ‘rice on left’ culture is a reflection of the traditional Japanese custom of, ‘the higher position is on the left’.

Let’s see other examples of this custom.
The left collar on a person’s kimono is folded over the right collar, from the point of view of the person wearing the kimono.

Properly wearing a Kimono
Properly wearing a Kimono

The wood-framed sliding doors (Fusuma:襖), paper sliding doors (Shoji:障子) are also arranged the same way (installed as left doors sliding over right doors when you are standing in the inner-most room). This arrangement is also considered proper manners in Japan.

The paper sliding doors (Shoji:障子)
The paper sliding doors (Shoji:障子)

However, there are some exceptions of the Japanese left/right rules. A dish of food positioning at a Buddhist alter (offering food to the spirit of dead person), is usually the opposite of the rule. You should also be careful if you wear a kimono, because folding the right collar over the left is used for the dead.

How about in your country? What kind of concepts do you have for arranging food?

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AUTHOR

kyoami

kyoami

Writer/ Translator

I love Japanese folkcraft article, traditional handicrafts and antiques. I’m seeking the Japanese people’s religious outlooks and its origins that are behind Japanese people’s unique sense and techniques rooted in the ordinary life.