Are you interested in learning how to properly serve in the Japanese style (known as Washoku 和食) or are you just trying to create a Japanese setting? It would be wonderful to re-creating those memorable moments from an evening at a Japanese restaurant in your own home. Below is a primer on the tableware typically used in a traditional Japanese meal. This is meant as a general guide to help inform those interested in collecting a set of Japanese tableware which items you might want to consider from our collection in order to build a place setting that fits your needs. By the end of this guide, you will feel confident that you can pull this off and introduce some culture and variety to a meal or a party.
Trust me, everyone can pull off a Japanese-style table setting with ease and confidence. Also, keep in mind that Japanese cuisine focuses on seasonality, you may change up the settings based on the seasons. I know you’re excited so Let’s get to it!
Key Items for a Place Setting
1. Rice Bowl (Ochawan or Chawan) お茶碗
The most “personal” element among the Japanese tableware is the rice bowl. In Japan, each family member may have their own personal rice bowl dish with different sizes and materials. Our collection has a standard-sized bowl but you may use other bowls as substitutes in the case of children etc..
- 12 cm/4.7″ (4寸) in diameter, 6 cm/2.4″ in height, contains 150 g/5.3 oz of steamed rice.
- 11.4 cm/4.5″ in diameter, 5.7 cm/2.3″ in height, and contains 130 g/4.6 oz of steamed rice (for a female bowl of Meoto Chawan)
2. Soup Bowl (Shiruwan or Owan) 汁椀·お椀
Since shiruwan or owan is used to serve hot soup, it can be made of wooden material. Unlike rice bowls, everyone in the family typically uses the same type. On a special day or holiday, soup is served in a shiruwan/owan with a lid (you can find a matching lidded Soup Bowl in the collection). It is usually lacquered and has beautiful designs.
- 12 cm/4.7″ (4寸) in diameter, 6 cm/2.4″ in height, contains 220-280 ml/roughly 1 cup of liquid.
3. Medium Plate (Chu-zara) 中皿
This plate is mainly used to serve the main dish (主菜). When you have a table with big-serving plates and bowls in the middle, these medium plates can be used as an individual plate. This plate is very helpful so it’s nice to have variations of designs, shapes, and materials for different seasons and table settings.
- 21 cm/8.3″ (7寸皿) – A perfect dish for Ichiju Sansai’s main dish. A serving plate for a la carte.
- 18 cm/7″ (6寸皿) – A dish to fit Shokupan (Japanese Pullman loaf). Good size for a single serving salad and side dish.
Side Notes for Big Plate (Oh-zara 大皿):
- 30 cm/11.8″ (10寸皿·尺寸皿) – A serving platter for a big party, sashimi platter.
- 27 cm/10.6″ (9寸皿) – A serving platter for 4, great for plating ingredients for hot pot.
- 24 cm/9.4″ (8寸皿) – A one-plate dish for pasta and curry.
4. Small Plate (Ko-zara) 小皿
These small plates are perfect for side dishes, desserts, and snacks, or you can use them as an extra plate to share.
Smaller plates can be used as an accent for the table setting. Have fun collecting different colors and shapes to spice up your table.
- 15 cm/5.9″ (5寸皿) – Goof size for an extra plate to share or a slice of cake.
- 12 cm/4.7″ (4寸皿) – Good for small dishes like Cold Tofu, pickles, and Japanese sweets (wagashi).
5. Tiny Plate (Mame-zara) 豆皿
Mame-zara is used for soy sauce for sashimi, spice/condiments, or garnish (green onion, grated ginger) for Cold Soba, or small ingredient.
- 9 cm/3.5″ (3寸皿) – Good for bite-size dishes or condiments like soy sauce.
- 6 cm/2.4″ (2寸皿) – Good size for putting a garnish. It can be used as a chopstick rest.
6. Small Bowl (Kobachi) 小鉢
Kobachi is a small bowl normally used to hold Sunomono (vinegared salad), Aemono(dressed dish), Nimono (simmered dish), or Chinmi (special delicacies). It also can be used as an individual dish for hot pot.
There is no “specific” size for kobachi bowls, but there are three rough sizes listed here.
Size for Small Kobachi: Roughly 12 cm/4.7″ in diameter.
Side Notes for Medium & Big Kobachi Bowls:
- 15 cm/5.9″ (5寸) in diameter (Medium Bowl, 中鉢) – Perfect for a two-serving main dish (with soup/sauce) or single-serving soup and donburi dish.
- Roughly 22 cm/8.7″(7寸) in diameter (Big Bowl, 大鉢) – Perfect for a four-serving main dish (with soup/sauce) or single-serving noodle soup dish.
Bonus: Nice-to-Have Tableware
These are not essential, but they are a great add-on for those of you who cook Japanese dishes regularly. If you have the kitchen space, you should consider getting them:
1. Rice/Noodle Bowl (Donburi) 5寸深丼
A large bowl used for soba or udon noodle soup as well as rice bowl (donburi) dish.
Size: 15 cm/5.9″ in diameter, 8.5 cm/3.3″ in height contains 900 ml.
2. Ramen Bowl (Ramen Bachi) ラーメン鉢
A large bowl used for ramen.
Size: 18 cm/7″ in diameter, 9.5 cm/3.1″ in height, contains 1400 ml.
3. Soba Dipping Dish (Sobachoko) 蕎麦ちょこ
A tube-shaped dish used for soba dipping sauce and small dishes.
Size: 8 cm/3.1″ in diameter, 7 cm/2.8″ in height, contains 180-200 ml.
5. Teacup (Yunomi Jawan) 湯呑み茶碗
A cup used for Japanese green tea.
Size: The size varies depending on the occasion.
How to Set the Table
Understanding the elements of a Japanese meal is important when knowing how to set up the place setting. Known as the Ichiju Sansai, a typical Japanese meal at home involves one rice bowl with several side dishes and a soup. Without getting into it too deeply the location of each dish is set for Ichiju Sansai: Steamed rice on the left front, and soup on the right front. Then the main dish is behind the soup, and side dish 1 is behind the steamed rice. Side dish 2 and pickles are located in the middle space.
When you serve a meal in a Japanese table setting, chopsticks and chopstick rest (hashioki) are a must-item. You may ask if chopstick rests are necessary. Well, chopstick rests are there for cleanliness reason so the used chopsticks and the clean ones don’t touch the table. There are a variety of designs of chopstick rests and many Japanese tend to collect them and switch them up often
Additional Tips & Resources
1.Mix & Match – When comes to table set up, you don’t have to follow the strict rule of using only Japanese designed tableware. Some of the western-style plates and bowls can work to complement the table. Consider white or earth tones when choosing your colors. Handmade ceramic bowls and plates by your local artisans make an excellent choice too. You may be able to pick out designs that are very similar to Japanese tableware or in symmetry with Japanese elements.
2. Think harmony – In addition to colors, shapes, and textures, you will learn that the Japanese dining aesthetic places an emphasis on harmony. Everything has a place and purpose. When selecting your tableware, you don’t have to look for overly ornated choices but work on creating a balance to guide your artistic arrangement.
You can choose your settings from our Japanese Ceramic Collection here