Traditional Dining


BackdropThe Kaiseki meal is part of the first tea ceremony of the year. It is presented with a special touch of gaiety and grace. This meal is a fairly substantial feast prepared by the host that usually begins promptly at noon. As a matter of fact, the menu for formal Japanese dinners has evolved from the traditional kaiseki meal, and the rules of etiquette which must be followed at a formal dinner were also derived from the tea ceremony meal.

The kaiseki meal begins when the host opens the sliding door connecting the tea room and the preparation room, and carries the first tray to the principal guest. This tray contains a bowl of rice, a bowl of miso soup, a dish of food, and a pair of chopsticks. The host presents the tray to the first guest, and they bow to each other. Trays are then brought in by the host to each of the other guests. The host bows to the guests, inviting them to start the meal. The guests then bow to the hosts, saying that they will begin eating. The guests then remove the lids from the rice and soup bowls, placing the lid of the soup bowl on top of the rice bowl lid. The lids are placed to the right of the tray. When the guests have finished their rice and soup, the host serves them warm sake. The principal guest is served first, followed by the other guests. The guests then eat the food from the tray. More rice is brought in, but the guests serve themselves. A second helping of soup is offered, if the guests desire more. Next, the host brings in a bowl of delicacies in a broth. Each guests receives their own bowl; they bow to thank the host and after removing the lid and savoring the aroma, begin to eat. More sake is served by the host at this time.

A dish containing broiled fish is then brought in by the host. The principal guest takes some of the fish, and passes the dish onto the other guests, who each take a portion. The host then offers more rice, which the guests will serve themselves, and more soup, which the guests will decline. Third bowls of soup are not customarily accepted. The host then exits to eat his meal alone in the preparation room. When the guests are done, the host removes their dishes and brings out bowls full of clear soup for each of the guests. When the soup is gone, the host serves more sake. He then places ocean delicacies in the soup bowl lid of each guest. The guests then serve sake to the host, and the host gives each guest some mountain delicacies. When the guests have finished, the host brings out hot water and a tray of pickles. Each guest puts hot water and rice into his empty soup bowl, and eats the pickles. When all of the food is finished, the guests each wipe their bowls and chopsticks. The host bows to each guest and removes their trays, ending the kaiseki meal.

Each of the dishes in the picture below is a separate course, and all might be served at a typical kaiseki meal.


First Course
Oshiki tray, Mukoozuke dish (sea beam sashimi, day lily stems {piled-up style}), Four nested bowls (black lacquer), Rikyuu-bashi chopsticks
Food: rice; miso soup with ebi-imo yam cut in tortoiseshell (hexagonal) pattern, azuki beans, and mustard

Second Course
Kannabe Sake server, haidai stand, sake cups, lidded bowl
Food: a thick clear soup with shrimp, yuzu citron, carrot, lettuce hearts, and oyster mushrooms (wanmori course)


Third Course
Yakimono (grilled or broiled seafood prepared directly over a flame); square dish; a covered rice container w/ a round tray and rice paddle
Food: Grilled pompano {piled-up}

Fourth Course
Azuke-bachi (two kinds), azuke-tokkuri, guinomi; Chinese bellflower-shaped bowl; Sake bottle;hexagonal sake cup
Food: sunomono – vinegared crab, suizenji nori garnished w/ boofuu {jumbled style}; Bowl carrys simmered turnips, shrimp, yuzu citron zest slivers {two-ingredient nestled style}


Fifth Course
Hashiarai [rinse and refresh one’s mouth after eating, signify essential completion of the meal]; Sake server, hassun tray made of cedar wood, green bamboo serving chopsticks

Food: tiny green pickled daikon radish and mullet roe arranged together in scattered style

Sixth Course
Yutoo, koonomono (pickles) [marks the end of the meal]; Hot water ewer, dipper, and rectangular tray.

Food: hot water and yunoko scorched rice; Small bowl containing pickled sliced turnip stems rolled in thin pickled turnip (or daikon) slices, turnip greens, takuan daikon pickles; green bamboo serving chopsticks


fuchidaka, higashibon, teabowl; Box (fuchidaka) contains a sweet bean paste (soft) confection Teabowl

Food: Tray of dried (hard) confections- plum blosson, pine needle, and noshi banner shapes arranged in three-variety scattered style

Ultimately, the kaiseki meal should leave a lasting impression among the guests. The combination of the diverse food, eating utensils, and their mutual balance and interplay help set the ambience of the dining event. In addition, there is a delicate application of empty space as a vital component of each food arrangement, the tranquil setting of the surrounding tea ceremony decor (hanging scroll, tearoom architecture, and garden layout), and a focus on the harmony of the human spirits. Such a meal enlivens the mind and senses, not just fill people’s empty stomachs.


[Formal Dinner at a Japanese Restaurant]

To celebrate an auspicious occasion, such as a wedding ceremony, a formal dinner called a honzen is usually conducted in a Japanese restaurant. In a matted room, each guest is served dishes arranged on a shallow, square meal-tray of lacquered wood or on a small, four-legged table. Nowadays, chinaware is used mostly to present the food (instead of traditional lacquerware of all shapes and patterns). As a result, multiple trays or tables are set in front of the guest if the dinner is a sumptuous one. An illustration of a festive three-tray formal dinner consisting of two kinds of soup and five complementary dishes.


Main Dinner Webpage

All photos in Kaiseki section are taken from A Feast for the Eyes.