It’s no secret that Japanese culture is rich and abundant. When we visit the country, it’s like stepping into a whole new universe. That includes restaurants and the various types of seatings available.
What do you notice when you walk past the noren (暖簾) curtains at the restaurant entrance? You might notice a few seating arrangements that aren’t available in your home country. Don’t panic yet. Here’s a list of the most common types of seatings you can find at restaurants in Japan!
Counter seating (Kauntaseki)
The most common type of seating arrangement you can find in Japan is the counter seating. It’s known as “kaunta seki” (カウンター席) in Japanese. You’ll find counter seats in various types of restaurants. Both formal and informal dining have them. It’s not exclusive to one or the other.
You get them at fast food chains like ramen shops (ラーメン屋, ramen shop) and izakaya (居酒屋, Japanese gastropub). More formal restaurants include kappo (割烹) type restaurants. This is a kind of dining where the chef crafts your dishes right in front of you.
These counter seatings are effective in a few ways. The first is to accomodate more individual diners, which is common in Japan. Restaurants don’t have to set up entire tables. This saves space as well. Another way is making high-class dining establishments more informal in atmosphere. On top of kappo cuisine, there’s obanzai ryori (おばんざい料理). This type of cuisine offers home-style food in a relaxed atmosphere. Customers are usually seated at counter tables.
The counter seating gives the opportunity for customers to chat with the chef. That’s one of the best ways to get insights about Japanese cuisine and culture!
Table seating (Teburuseki)
Moving on, we have the table seating. In Japanese, you can say it as “teburu seki” (テーブル席).This is a type of seating that’s influenced by the West. And as the name suggests, you’re going to sit at a normal table. Table seating is common in both casual and formal restaurants.
And it’s your standard table seating arrangement. Usually, the staff member will ask the number of people dining in at the restaurant entrance. The staff member will show you to your table afterwards. If the restaurant offers both counter and table seating, they might give you the option to choose.
In some restaurants, you can find a big central table that’s shared by a few different groups of people. I have never dined at a shared table before. But I heard it’s customary to acknowledge the other diners with a nod before sitting down.
Booth seating (Boosuseki)
Our next type of seating is also influenced by the West, and that is booth seating. It’s like those diner seats. In Japanese, it’s called “boosu seki” (ブース席). With this type of seating arrangement, you get a normal table with benches on either side of it.
Booth seating arrangement is common in casual dining places like family restaurants (ファミレス). Some izakayas and stalls offer booth seating, too. Most of the time, Restaurants that specialise in group dining will have booth seating. Yakiniku (焼肉) barbecue or shabu shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ) restaurants definitely have them. That’s when everyone at the table is sharing a single grill or pot in the middle of the table.
Recessed Floor Seating (Horigotatsu)
The next type of seating in Japan is the horigotatsu (掘り炬燵). This is a traditional type of seating arrangement where the table is low to the ground. The floor beneath it is lower than the floor level so people can have their legs there. Horigotatsu seating can be traditional or modernised to cater to the foreign tourists. You can experience sitting on a tatami area without having to cross your legs. It’s like sitting on a chair!
Most of the time, you can get horigotatsu seating arrangements in Japanese restaurants. Those establishments for group dining will have them more than the others.
Heated Table Seating (Kotatsu)
This next type of seating features a heated table. Kotatsu (こたつ) is also used in Japanese homes but also in restaurant. There’s electric heating built into the bottom of the table. Not only that, you’ll be able to find a special type of quilt cover over the table frame. This is so the heat stays beneath the table to warm your legs.
You won’t be eating on the quilt covers, don’t worry. There’s usually a tabletop placed on top of the quilt cover as a surface for eating and drinking. This type of seating was common back in the days before the development of other types of heating. Nowadays, this is less common in homes. There are still some restaurants that offer kotatsu for a unique local experience.
Tatami Seating (Zashiki)
We mentioned tatami seating earlier. In Japanese, it’s called zashiki (座敷). This is a traditional type of seating arrangement that features a low table on top of tatami flooring. You’ll get this type of arrangement in more traditional Japanese restaurants.
Tatami seating is available in open dining and private dining rooms. When dining at a tatami seating, you’re expected to take off your shoes before stepping onto the tatami. It’s customary to place the shoes facing away from the tatami, too. This is so that when you do put your shoes back on, it’s easier. This type of seating arrangement is one of the most authentic Japanese dining experiences.
Private Room Seating (Koshitsu)
Last but not least, there’s the private room seating. We mentioned in the tatami seating section. It’s called “koshitsu” (個室) in Japanese. You can find private room seating in both traditional and Westernised restaurants.
This type of seating arrangement is best for gatherings, business dinners and parties. The most common place you can find koshitsu is at an izakaya. As a group of people can get rather loud and noisy. The private room seating arrangement is good for privacy for the group without disturbing the other guests at the restaurant.
A fun fact to note is that the seat of honour at this type of seating arrangement is the one furthest away from the door!
At Japanese restaurants, you get a mix of familiarity and authenticity. There are some seating arrangements which you can only experience in Japan. Sit on tatami while slurping down a bowl of noodles and much on sushi bites!