So, how to order. Usually, it will be simple as every Japanese restaurant is very “specialized”. If you go in a sushi place, they won't serve you a hamburger. Also, some restaurants are very basic. Some “kaiten sushi” or “Ramenya” are cheap and don't have any service. You enter, you seat, and you order from the menu.
Talking of specialisation... if your “Japanese” restaurant also cooks “Korean” or “Chinese” food, odds are it's not a real Japanese restaurant, and the staff are not really from Japan. You'll be able to check them for their authenticity with the sentences to come in this article.
In a normal restaurant
The first thing that will be asked to you is : “nanme sama desu ka?” (How many clients ?)
1 : Hitori, 2: Futari, 3: Sannin, 4: Yonnin, 5: Gonin, 6: Rokunin, 7: Shichinin, 8: Hachinin, 9: Kyunin, 10, Junin... After that just count with your hands or let the waitress do it!
You'll also be asked to seat : “kochira desu ka” means “this way”.
The waitress will present you the menu “Go-chuumon okimari deshou ka?” (Did you made your choice?) “Onomino meshiagarimasu ka?”/”Onomimono ha?” (Do you want some drinks?)
If you want to wait : “mada kimarimasen” (I didn't chose yet).
If you are unsure, just ask “kore ha nan desu ka” (What is this?)
If you are unsure about a price, you can ask “Ikura desu ka” (how much is it?).
When you are ready, just call for the waitress with “Onegaishimasu”.
After ordering, conclude with “kudasai” (please). For exemple : yakitôri hitotsu kudasai (one grilled chicken please)
Note : In some restaurant, some refill will be free (for the rice , tea or the soup), the waitress will say “okawari dekimasu”. Just say “Okawari kudasai” to have a refill.
If you go for a coffee, you might have to state the number :
Cohi wo Hitotsu (1 coffe), Cohi wo futatsu, Cohi wo mitsu, Cohi wo yotsu...
When you are finished, just say “goshisousama deshita” (it was very good) or “okaikei kudasai” (the bill, please).
In the “Say it yourself” restaurant
In the ramen restaurant, or in the sushi restaurant, you'll have to place your order yourself.
For a ramen, a soup with noodle and some pork, you'll have variation :
Shouyu ramen (soja sauce ramen)
Shyo ramen (salt ramen)
Miso ramen (fish base soup ramen)
Karai miso ramen (same but spicy)
Other variations of eateries also exist; just go and explore. For example, the “tsukemen”, where the soup is more concentrated and the noodles are served in a different plate, so you can mix them to your liking.
You'll have the choice of “nanimori” (small portion), “chumori” (normal portion), “oomori” (big portion). You might be asked “futosa ha dou shimashou ka”, so you can choose the thickness of the noodle, and you may choose the temperature by saying “atatakai” (hot) or “tsumetai” (cold).
For the kaiten sushi, you'll have to order by yourself too.
If you want, for example, 2 plates of salmon sushi : “salmon nimai kudasai”.
So you want 4 plates of red tuna : “maguro yonmai kudaisai”. Don't say tuna, because this usually refers to the canned tuna.
If you want a refill of tea, ask “oagari kudasai”.
I advise you if you can - even if it looks expensive - to try the “otoro”. It's the best red tuna sushi ever!
Never ever stick the chop stick in the food. And never pass the food between yourselves by touching each other's chopstick. These actions are part of the burial ceremony in Japan, and it is therefore very rude to play with food this way.
Don't be afraid of the people eating their noodle with a big “sluuuurrp”. Some say it's cultural. No, in reality, it's a way of not burning yourself with the hot soup and to not send some soup everywhere on you and the table. Just try to eat the long noodles and you'll see. After three tries, you'll have soup all around the table and your shirt will be done. So don't think it's rude to eat this way. In fact, it's the way of eating it properly!