Inugui (eating like a dog) (犬食い)

Inugui refers that 'people eat like a dog' in Japanese food culture and means that people move their faces (mouths) closer to the meal on the table in an extreme stooped position, and eat them as if they put their heads into the food. Basically, it is considered that Inugui is against eating manners in Japan.

In Japan, although it is common that people raise eating utensils to their lips to enjoy the smell of meal, in some regions, they don't have a food culture that 'holding dishes such as plates and bowls in their hands,' or Japanese eating manners are considered to be rather lack of manners (in South Korea and North Korea). As an extension of it, there are many cultures that eating in a stooped position is not against manners (refer to Inugui, Inugui and food cultures excluding Japan).


In 1970s to 1980s, the displeasing image of students who brought their faces closer to eating utensils and ate them at school lunch was reported by media as a social issue in Japan. The spork with spoon and fork (eating utensils) function and the lunch plate with a number of dent for displaying several food were considered to be the causes of this issue.

In Japanese food culture, eating style that people hold dishes in their hands and bring dishes closer to their mouths with their back ramrod-straight are considered to be good manners, therefore, bending their back and bringing their faces closer to eating utensils is avoided. And also, in Japanese food culture, eating utensils such as spoon (or chirirenge [ceramic spoon]) are not used when they eat food with a high water content, therefore, this eating style causes them to drop food more often. Therefore, Japanese people have meal with holding the bowl up.

Although it is not certain when spork has been started using at school lunch, these eating utensils which can be mass-produced by press copies from the master came to be used at school lunch in schools such as elementary school from 1950s to 1960s. These were used as a single all-round eating utensils at school lunch in which a variety of foods are provided.

At the time when spork was first used, the anodized, press-worked eating utensils such as bowls and plates were used at school lunch.
Therefore, since students were able to follow the standard eating style of Japanese food such as 'bringing eating utensils closer to their mouths and getting food down with their throats directly from them,' the scene of their school lunch was not so displeasing, despite they still had some problems such as 'the soup dishes spill over' or 'noodles are difficult to eat.'
However, it was hard for students to hold and bring anodized bowl filled with hot soup dishes to their mouths, because its heat was spread directly to their hands, and this sometimes induced Inugui, and the bud of later Inugui issue arose at this point.

Moreover, in 1980s, as displaying meal on the lunch plate like kiddies' lunch is more convenient instead of using several dishes, the lunch plate was started to be adopted all over the schools in terms of convenience of clearing the dishes at school lunch, and Inugui issue became more acute. Since students were not always able to stick diversified accompanying dishes of school lunch and bring them closer to their mouths with spork, and in addition, they spilled soup dishes from its fork-like tip and were not able to pick up noodles and bring them closer to their mouths, therefore, they had no other choice but inevitably to eat dishes as if they put their heads into the food.

Now, they are very much like dogs or cats those put their heads into the plate of pet food and looked awful, and this came to be seen as a problem, so called 'Inugui.'
Also, when eating in a stooped position, foods didn't come into sight and they sometimes spilled them, therefore, this was also seen as a problem, 'mottainai' (That's a waste).

In this situation, there was a move to reconsider using chopsticks at meal, while parents asked for stop using the lunch plates, because free-floating anxiety that heat-resistant plastic (melamine resin or polycarbonate) lunch plates might produce endocrine disrupting chemicals spread among parents, therefore, this problem gradually came to an end.

Inugui and other food cultures excluding Japan

In Japan, people bring the bowl and other eating utensils closer to their mouth, however, holding eating utensils is often considered to be bad from the point of view of manners in Asia and Europe. In these regions, eating in an extreme stooped position is not always considered to be bad manners. In cultural areas where people don't hold dishes such as plates, Japanese people have to be careful that if they hold eating utensils carelessly and bring them closer to their mouths, that is against good manners.

It is not necessarily the case that Inugui, eat in a stooped position as if they put their heads into the food, is recommended in food culture where people don't bring bowls and plates to their mouths when they eat, and putting their mouths directly to plates and other utensils is also avoided. There is also a manner that they only put their mouths to special eating utensils (such as spoon and fork) used for lifting food to the mouth, and in both cases, they don't hold dishes except eating utensils such as individual plates regarded as special status. Of course, eating utensils such as a cup of drink is another thing and they are brought to their mouths.

Wandering from the subject "Inugui," but in food culture of Korea adjacent to Japan, scooping food with spoon from the plate without holding plates and move mouth (inevitably, face as well) closer to the spoon is considered to be a good manner. In this case, besides eating in a stooped position, they also bring their heads on the plate, therefore some of the Japanese people dislike Korean's way of eating and comment that they eat like a dog (exaggeratedly). However, when Westerners compare eating style in Japan with that in Korea, they consider that Japanese style eating manners such as holding bowl and bringing mouth closer to them is displeasing, while they praise that eating style in Korea such as bringing food to their mouths with spoon is decent.

If they try to eat soup dishes with spoon without holding eating utensils, they can't help but dropping the soup from spoon. Therefore, if they carelessly bring spoon closer to our mouths with our back ramrod-strait, they tend to spill the food on front of clothes. In this regard, if they put food in their mouths on the plate, they don't have to worry about getting a stain on front of cloths.

For your information, in the United States, the situation that a half-eaten food comes out of the mouth is considered to be very bad manners, therefore, according to an extension of the idea that people should bring food to their mouths mouthful by mouthful, they cut them into small pieces on the plate and scoop by spoon. Even noodles are no exception, and spaghetti is also cut into short pieces. Although Inugui became a problem at school lunch where lunch plates were used, and another problem that students had difficulty in eating noodles (e.g. soft type noodles) with using spork only they had, and they were forced to put their noses into the meal arose. However, if they eat in American style, Inugui posture might be improved in some degree.

Concerning Inugui issue in Japan

Although a variety of food from a variety of regions are provided in Japan, excluding eating places (specialty restaurant) which provide meals of specific regions, they still often hold eating utensils such as rice bowl or china bowl, on the other hand, they avoid eating in a stooped position. When Western food is served at home, it is still the same as written above. For these reasons, Inugui has a tendency to be disliked and avoided.

Movement except school lunch

When it comes to bento (lunch box), children, who are not able to use chopsticks skillfully, eat like a dog, because staple diet, accompanying dish, and in some cases even dessert are still contained in one eating utensils all together. If they can use their hands skillfully to some extent, holding the lunch box is possible, however, small children who go to kindergarten or nursery school sometimes can't hold the lunch box skillfully.

Concerning this issue, Fujicco Co., LTD. released portable two-tiered food box, 'Obento maru kun,' in October 2006 as 'the lunch box to avoid Inugui.'
Rice is contained in hemispheric part at the bottom of the lunch box which is just like the shape of rice bowl (see, rice bowl) used at-home dining table, while accompanying dishes are contained in the cylindrical part at the top of it, and they pick up food from them with chopsticks.

Like these improvement of eating utensils can be seen in many fields, and there is the spork modified to 'shape easier to use.'
On the other hand, 'children's chopsticks' finished with non-slip treatment is also used.

In case that people are forced to eat like a dog.

As seen from the above, Inugui is avoided in terms of education such as manners, however, some people with medical model of rehabilitation disorder such as paralysis or loss in muscle strength are forced to eat like a dog. These situations are also related to the quality of life, and the problems that the person is overwhelmed with shame and daunted or gets a bad rap from his or her environment should be solved.

For instance, in these problems, chopsticks are difficult to use for people who have disturbance of consciousness or motility disorder of fingertips, here, if they use spork (particularly, they use the spork with fork-like tip), it is easy for them to bring food to their mouths without moving their faces to eating utensils in unnatural posture. In addition, eating utensils with tweezers and spoon function are developed and they are found in stores handling rehabilitation goods.

Using these well-devised eating utensils is one of the solution for Inugui, however, on the other hand, it is important for us to understand that 'some people are forced to eat like a dog' because of individual unavoidable reasons.

[Original Japanese]