This article provides an overview of Japanese tableware. We will constantly update the pages and articles dedicated to each specific piece of tableware. Links will be added to this article accordingly. Please visit this page again for any updates.
When we talk about Japanese tableware we include a large number of items of different shapes, materials, and sizes. Some will be easily recognizable while others may be new.
In this list we describe the items, the materials they are made from, and their common uses. However, as often happens in Japanese culture, the line between correctness and personal freedom is so thin, you may find people using pieces of tableware in different ways. As many Japanese artisans would say, "after you know how you are supposed to use it, you are free to enjoy it the way you like”.
Name: gohan chawan (ご飯茶碗) or more often simply ochawan (お茶碗).
Characteristics: This is the classic palm-of-the-hand size bowl oftentimes supported with a fairly high foot. Its profile may have straight lines, creating an almost cone-shaped object, or rounded to look like a half-sphere from the side. It is relatively shallow when compared to other types of similar bowls. Made in earthenware, clay, raw wood, or shikki ware.
Use: Despite the Japanese name, which means "bowl for tea," the ochawan is used for rice. The foot at the bottom is relatively high to allow holding the hot bowl in your left hand when picking up rice. It is not to be confused with the tea bowl (chawan, 茶碗), used in the tea ceremony. The similar name and shape can often lead to confusion between the two.
Common sizes: Less than 10 cm (4 in) in diameter for kids, up to 16 cm (6.3 in) for larger bowls. The most usual size being 12 cm (4.7 in).
Name: shiru wan (汁椀), or more often simply owan (お椀)
Characteristics: Most soup bowls are shikki ware (lacquered wood). They may come with or without a lid. They always have a foot, high enough to hold the hot bowl with your hand when drinking from it.
Use: It is usually the first piece of tableware to be touched during a meal. The custom requires the diner to first take a sip and then pick a small amount of food from the miso soup before moving on to other dishes.
There are no set rules as to the type of soup bowl to use with each soup. Generally, though, more simple ones are used on a daily basis for miso soup. Highly decorated bowls are reserved for special occasions, when other types of soup (e.g. ozōni on New Year) are served. The latter often come with a lid. Although it is usually crafted in the classic shape of a bowl, there are variations depending on the type of soup; for example, a cup-shaped owan with a lid is a common choice for akadashi.
Common sizes: About 10 cm (4 in) in diameter, usually rounded.
Name: donburi (丼).
Characteristics: Similar in shape to a large rice bowl, its thickness and height make it easily recognizable. They can be made in ceramics or shikki ware (lacquered wood), and can come with or without a lid.
Use: The name donburi is used to address two types of bowls, noodle bowls and rice-dish bowls. It is used for noodles (mostly udon or soba served in a soup) as well as those made of rice with food on top, which usually end in the word don. Popular examples are oyakodon (egg and chicken), katsudon (egg and pork cutlet), tendon (tempura food) and negitorodon (maguro tuna and leek), all served on top of rice in a donburi.
Common sizes: About 15 cm (6 in) for smaller ones, up to 18 cm (7 in).
Name: rāmen bachi (ラーメン鉢)
Characteristics: Similar to a donburi, but with significantly straighter lines, and in many cases its decorations and colors are loyal to the Chinese origin of ramen. It is always made in ceramics.
Use: Exclusively for ramen.
Common sizes: About 17 cm (7 in) or larger.
Plate for main dishes
Name: ōzara (大皿, or most commonly just sara, 皿)
Characteristics: None in particular
Use: A plate large enough for a main dish, such as steak, curry and rice, omuraisu (rice served in an omelet) or pasta.
Common sizes: Often size between 23 cm (9 in) and 30 cm (12 in)
Name: Various names. Chōkakuzara (長角皿), chōhōzara (長方皿), sanmazara (サンマ皿) and hokkezara (ホッケ皿) are the most common.
Characteristics: Elongated plate of rectangular shape.
Use: Usually to serve grilled fish or dashimaki tamago (Japanese omelet). Sanmazara is especially long, as the Pacific saury fish (called sanma in Japanese) is served whole.
Common sizes: 15-30 cm (6-12 in) in length and 10-20 cm (4-8 in) in depth
Name: chūzara (中皿)
Characteristics: None in particular
Use: A plate large enough for a side dish, such as potato salad or karaage (deep-fried chicken), and often used as a plate for single servings, called torizara.
Common sizes: Between 18 cm (7 in) and 23 cm (9 in)
Name: kozara (小皿)
Characteristics: Similar to a saucer in size and look.
Use: For foods that come in particularly small portions, such as hiyayakko (cold tofu), burinoterikyaki (teriyaki-style amberjack), and even sweets. It is often used as a plate for single servings, called torizara.
Common sizes: Usually any size between 12 cm (5 in) and 15 cm (6 in)
Name: mame zara (豆皿)
Characteristics: A very small plate, rarely seen on a Western table.
Use: To serve spices, sauces, garnish or any optional seasonings to a meal, such as ginger, wasabi, or pickles (called tsukemono).
Common sizes: Between 5 cm (9 in) and 9 cm (3.5 in)
Name: kobachi (小鉢)
Characteristics: The name covers a large number of bowls with no specific function, often beautifully shaped to resemble flowers, and usually thin.
Use: Smaller ones are the most common vessel used at restaurants and izakaya for the hors d'oeuvre, called otōshi, tōshimono, sakizuke, or tsukidashi. Medium-sized kobachi are used for single servings of soup- or stock-based dishes, such as nabe or agedashidōfu (deep-fried tofu). Larger sizes are used for extra dishes, such as simmered food (called nimono).
Common sizes: Any size between 7 cm (2.7 in) and 20 cm (8 in)
Name: sobachoko (蕎麦ちょこ, そば猪口, or also in hiragana そばちょこ)
Characteristics: With shape and size very similar to a teacup, it is differentiated by slightly straighter lines, larger capacity, and classic "sobachoko" decorations. Nonetheless, it could easily be used as a teacup without the diner noticing. Made in ceramics or porcelain. It often comes with a saucer-shaped lid where optional seasoning such as wasabi and sesame seeds are placed.
Use: It is a dipping bowl for the condiment (tsuyu, based on soy sauce) used to dip cold noodles served on a draining basket, usually zaru soba or zaru udon. The variation used for sōmen (thinner noodles) is often made in glass. It has a more recognizable shape.
Common sizes: about 8 cm (3.1 in) in diameter, tall enough to hold about 200 ml of condiment.
Name: mushi wan (蒸し碗)
Characteristics: The traditional shape is like a cup with straight lines when seen from the side. It always comes with a lid. When the lid is removed, it could easily be mistaken for a tea cup or a dipping bowl.
Use: To prepare chawan mushi, an egg-based dish made by steaming the ingredients directly in the serving bowl. The bowl is most often made in earthenware.
Common sizes: about 8 cm (3.1 in) in diameter, tall enough to hold about 230 ml of chawan mushi.
Name: yunomi jawan (湯呑み茶碗)
Characteristics: A simple cup with no handle, made in ceramics or porcelain, or sometimes in shikki ware.
Use: It is used to drink Japanese tea of any kind, except during the tea ceremony.
Common sizes: Between 5 cm (2 in) and 8 cm (3.1 in) in diameter, tall enough to hold 100–180 ml of tea
Name: nabe (鍋, also donabe, 土鍋)
Characteristics: A large clay pot with side handles and a lid.
Use: To prepare and serve food that is cooked directly at the table, with diners helping themselves and others with single servings. The most common dish prepared this way is the Japanese hot pot, simply called nabe, or sometimes nabemono (鍋物, lit. "nabe things"). Other popular dishes include yudōfu, shabu shabu and oden.
Common sizes: Between the size of a donburi bowl and a large pot, depending on the number of diners.
Name: ohashi (お箸)
Characteristics: The regular chopsticks we all know. They are usually made in shikki ware, plain wood, or bamboo.
Use: Ohashi are used by each diner to pick up food from plates and bowls.
Common sizes: Any size that is comfortable to the diner, usually between 20 cm (7.8 in) and 25 cm (9.4 in) for an adult.
Name: hashioki (箸置き)
Characteristics: Made in several materials and shapes, yet easily recognizable because its only function is to have chopsticks laid on it.
Use: To lie chopsticks on, so that they don't touch the table. Many households have different chopstick rests to use depending on the particular type of food served, the diners, the season, or the mood.
Common sizes: Any reasonable size.
Name: hashibako (箸箱)
Characteristics: A long, narrow case
Use: To store chopsticks
Common sizes: Any reasonable size
Name: saibashi (菜箸)
Characteristics: Very long chopsticks, often beautifully colored and decorated. Made in wood, bamboo or shikki ware.
Use: To serve food from a large plate or nabe pot containing the main dish, such as nabemono, tempura, fried vegetables and others. They are to be used by all diners to place food on their own and other diners' smaller plates, and not meant for personal use.
Common sizes: Any size that is comfortable for the persons serving, but usually more than 27 cm (10.6 in) and less than 35 cm (13.7 in), although they can be as long as 40 cm (15.7 in).
Name: saibashi (菜箸) and manabashi (真魚箸)
Characteristics: Very long chopsticks, often in raw wood or bamboo.
Use: To cook food, with saibashi being used for vegetables and manabashi for fish and meat. Because they are made of raw wood or bamboo, they can be used to prepare food at very high temperatures, such as in deep-frying.
Common sizes: Any size that is comfortable to the cook, but usually more than 27 cm (10.6 in) and less than 35 cm (13.7 in), although sometimes as long as 40 cm (15.7 in).
Did you know?
Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as a table mat in Japanese traditions. In fact, this is called a “luncheon mat” (in Japanese-English, ranchion matto) in Japan, showing there is no local history related to it. What is often presented as a "typical Japanese place mat" made of bamboo strips is actually more like a zaru, a type of strainer used to serve noodles. Instead, bowls and plates, such as the ones in this article, are placed on a large tray in front of each diner.