sushi etiquette

Sushi Etiquette.

64 Comments leave a comment below

  1. i can’t help it, i need to make a wasabi soy sauce mix! i would never make it in Japan!

  2. this is so funny. I’m well aware of the all the proper techniques and etiquette of eating sushi, but I’m guilty of pretty much all the don’ts.

  3. um, shouldn’t it be ok to enjoy it as you wish?

  4. I’m with Alison, I need that high-octane wasabi soy blowout. And I’m soaking that stuff up with the rice.

    Other than that, I can comply with the rest :-) Good tip on reversing your chopsticks for a shared sushi platter, ditto for nixing the splinter check.

    However I’m at a loss as to how I handle volcano rolls. I cannot possibly stuff that whole thing in my mouth without smearing half of the spicy tuna up my nose.

  5. And that’s why I don’t order octopus anymore! Can’t bite it in half, can’t fit it all in mouth in one bite. Besides, without the wasabi kick, what’s the fun of having half the octobite hanging on your chin?

  6. i’m petite and i think i look even ruder when i smash a huge piece of sushi into my mouth rather than biting it in two pieces.

    i suppose i understand “not placing it on your plate,” but how about a compromise – i bite it in half, hold the other end with my chopsticks, chew, then add the second half?

    everything else i am totally on board with @_@

  7. maybe once in a while you should be treated to the wasabi power soup explosion… it’s so good

  8. It’s perfectly fine to grip your sushi with one chopstick against the fish and one holding the rice and dip it into the soy sideways so that you get a little on the fish and a little on the rice, an no chance of losing it all. This advice comes from one of the finer restaurants in Tsukiji.

  9. Eat sushi as you want!
    In Japan I saw the wasabi soy soup, it’s ok for them.
    And if you want, you can dip the rice a little in it…
    YOU eat your sushi, not them…

  10. I really like this illustration. Some people are taking it a bit seriously though, you don’t actually HAVE to eat it like this says.

    It’s just a nice example of illustration and instructional design. Very good!

  11. @mike hillyer – Haha I remember having a young Japanese teacher’s aide showing that video to my Japanese class and being confused as to wether those rules were true or not.

    Soy sauce should never be put on/over rice, as far as traditional etiquette goes.

  12. This is something the European must learn ;-)

  13. I like putting my wasabi in my soy sauce! :)

  14. hold on, I get some of those things and I didn’t know that the ginger was actually a pallet cleanser. What if you really like the taste of it on the sushi?

    Now about stuffing your face with a huge piece. I’m not very familiar with Japanese etiquette, but the Chinese eat like they’ve never seen food before (sorry, I don’t mean to offend, it’s true though). I’m German (born and raised in Gmernay, und natürlich immer mit Knigge!) and used to date a Chinese girl and we used to go to the authentic Chinese restaurants in Toronto (the ones crambed full with tables, no sense of style, no english menu’s). They hunch down to the food (it’s not seen as bad) and if necessary shovel the food directly into the mouth from the plate. Anything is allowed. As far as what I have heard and read Japan is much more proper, but can it be that we are mixing our etiquette with theirs?

    Many of those pieces are in fact way too big, how can a Sushi chef make such a huge delicious piece of art and expect us to eat it in one piece without looking like a douche?

  15. I love this post… very good.

  16. I think this was originally in the NY times, and I remember being embarrassed as I read through it. One of the best suggestions (which somehow I never thought of??) is the fact that you should dip the fish, not the rice, in the soy. Voila! No more decomposing sushi.

  17. If you don’t follow these instructions to the letter, you will be served a piece of fugu with your name on it.

    Just sayin’.

  18. Sushi is typically served with wasabi already between the fish and the rice. For rolled sushi, mixing wasabi into your soy sauce to taste is perfectly acceptable (and widely practiced).

    I’ve also been told to eat the sushi fish-side-down, but that’s so you can taste the fish better. Dipping the fish-side into the soy sauce, as another commenter observed, keeps your rice from falling apart. Too much soy sauce will distract from the flavor of the fish and the rice, though. (Yes, the rice. The Japanese are as fanatical about their rice as the French are about their wine.)

    If you can’t eat the whole piece in one bite, it’s fine to eat one half while still grasping the other half in your chopsticks, chew quickly, then eat the other half. Yes, octopus and some other fish aren’t easily bitten in half, to my frustration.

    Using the blunt end of the chopsticks when taking food from a common plate is good manners, but don’t be surprised when you don’t see every other Japanese person do the same.

    Definitely don’t rub your chopsticks together. People do this in all the time in the US, but NEVER in Japan.

    You don’t have to eat the ginger if you don’t want to, but when changing from one kind of sushi to another, it helps to ‘reset’ your taste buds, the same way eating saltine crackers helps cleanse your palate between wine samples. Otherwise the new one tastes kind of like the old one.

    And if any Japanese person gives you any flak for your table manners (though chances are very, very small that anyone would), just quiz them on their knowledge of Western table manners. How do you set a table? How do you position your flatware when you have finished eating? Where do you put your napkin while you are eating? When you get up from the table? What’s the proper way to butter your bread? There’s really no reason to feel embarrassed for not having been taught foreign etiquette, as long as you are willing to change when you DO learn. Sure, you can eat sushi as you want… but eating a grilled cheese sandwich with a knife and fork just looks weird, doesn’t it? If your foreign exchange student started to cut up her grilled cheese sandwich into bite-size pieces, wouldn’t you stop her and say, “You just pick it up with your hands”? That’s what eating sushi the “right” way is about. (Of course, if the girl insisted on eating her sandwich with utensils, I would hope you’d quickly give up on the culture lesson and let her be.)

    Sorry, I get long-winded when it’s past my bedtime.

  19. My Japanese friend taught me to add wasabi to the soy sauce… so I don’t feel bad about that. :) Love the drawings, by the way!

  20. thanx Emily :-) much appreciated.

  21. “Definitely don’t rub your chopsticks together. People do this in all the time in the US, but NEVER in Japan. ”

    This is just wrong. Some Japanese do this if the chopsticks are the cheap kind you pull apart, so they don’t find themselves eating splinters. I don’t know why you’d say they never do it so emphatically.

  22. Doing what’s wrong makes it that much better ;) I am guilty

  23. White in Japan I saw people doing all of these, both the do’s and dont’s.

    I personally stick to the “no wasabi in the soy sauce” rule. I put a little dab of wasabi on the fish, then dip the sushi fish side down into the soy sauce very quickly. I want to taste the fish, not the soy sauce.

    I also had fugu sashimi in Asakusa, it was very good!

  24. This may be true in the very high end places, that a typical Japanese person can’t afford. In an ordinary Sushi joint, the locals break most of these “rules”, and you can too. In Japan sushi is a staple. There’s not need to be precious about it.

  25. “I don’t know why you’d say they never do it so emphatically.”

    After three years in Japan and not seeing a single Japanese person rub their chopsticks together–not even when the food was purchased from a convenience store, and there was no one to insult by the rubbing–I jumped to the conclusion that nobody does it. If you have seen it done, then I need to retract my emphatic “never” and replace it with “infrequently,” or “rarely in rural Western Japan.” That I can stick to, and you are still free to disagree.

    Locals break the rules, and so can you, but you may want to know the implications first. A good bit of advice I heard once, regarding moist towels used at many restaurants in Japan: “Use them to wipe your hands; don’t use them to wipe your face. You may see some Japanese men wipe their faces with their cloths, but they know they look like peasants when they do it.” As long as you’re okay with that, then go ahead. Just know who you’re modeling yourself after. You may not recognize right away the fine line between “cool” and “douchey.”

    But I’m just talking about eating sushi in Japan. At US restaurants, pft, do whatever. Unless you’re trying to impress your new Japanese boss/significant other/significant other’s parents.

  26. “In Japan sushi is a staple.”
    I hate to break it to you, John, but sushi is not, and has never been, a “staple” in the Japanese diet. The staple of the Japanese diet, rather, would be rice and/or noodles, depending on the region, much like China, the same way potatoes are the staple of the Irish diet, etc.
    Rather, sushi is and always has been more of a “special” dish, and certainly more expensive. That is, until they created the conveyor belt sushi restaurants, where the fish isn’t nearly as fresh, the chefs as talented, or the patrons as cultured.
    Granted, I will admit that I am not Japanese, and have not spent any extended amount of time in Japan. My mother was born there, though, and lived there for 16 years before her family moved to the US, and despite being 100% Chinese, whenever they gather as a family they speak to each other in Japanese and tend to prefer eating in Japanese restaurants. So make what you will of my knowledge on the matter.

  27. By the way, proper etiquette and “I saw some japanese people doing that so it must be ok” is not the same!

    Proper etiquette is what you would do when dining with the emperor. This does not generally mean it is the way most people eat sushi; even in japan.

    Not everyone in England drink their tea in the “upper class” way, but that does not make it any less of the “proper way to do it, according to established etiquette”.

    The same way that the above instructions, while correct, are not necessarily the way you would choose to eat your sushi. It is just what one could aspire to..

    Just my 2 cents…

  28. Great! Genial! Wow!!

  29. Is a dead fish.

  30. The Japanese people I go out with don’t care about at least 50% of these rules above. They apply to very formal meals only, if at all.

  31. Go live in Japan for a while. And do as they do; you learn fast. I
    ask the server to make sure the pieces are cut thinner that they usually serve. Saves a giant lump in your mouth. Also, never put your hashi (chopsticks) sticking up out of a bowl of food. Only done when the contents are someone’s ashes.

  32. As far as rubbing your chopsticks together, at least if you’re eating in NYC at a non-superlative place, ignore this advice, or be prepared to go home with lip splinters.

  33. My wife is Japanese. I live in Japan half the year. I’m at our mansion (that means condo) outside Tokyo right now. New Year’s Day in Ginza was cool.

    Many many people here put wasabi into the soy sauce.

    Also, there’s no need to choke yourself stuffing the whole thing in your mouth.

    And if there are splinters on your o-hashi (chopsticks), you can discreetly rub them off. (It’s true, better places won’t give you cheapo sticks, but there’s no need to swallow splinters.)

    Those parts of the cartoon are whacked.

    The rest pretty much matches my observations of the past 15 years.

  34. Never,ever go to Japan to each sushi unless on business. Best to make your own (but use traditional recipe) and eat as you please. Cultural norms are a box to live in, pick your box!

  35. Fantastic, fun post. One point of disagreement, however:
    I learned to mix my wasabi and my soy sauce in Japan, and saw it happen at some reasonably classy places there…though as another commenter has suggested, perhaps I was just dining with Japanese folks who don’t have upper-class etiquette.

  36. Pfft…I live in Japan and have eaten at plenty of sushi places. I’ve broken the etiquette plenty of times and I’ve seen Japanese people do the same. It’s not strict unless you’re at a really super fancy restaurant or something. The only thing you’ll always get yelled at for is if you leave your chopsticks sticking up in a bowl of rice. It’s very taboo.

  37. A Japanese friend told me when I was living in Tokyo that putting soy sauce on rice is akin to using the salt shaker on a slice of plain bread.

  38. What ? I live in Japan and every japanese person I’ve eaten with stirred the wasabi into the soy sauce. What gives ?

  39. Apparently we’re supposed to be learning how to have dinner with the Emperor or with an educated family in west coast rural Japan.

    …Never engage in ‘Edokko’ practice.. you know, the fun stuff.

  40. hey, japanese don’t follow that rules! ( at least not lots of them )

  41. I have to bit the pieces in half, although I hold the second piece in my hand as a chew. However, octopus and tobiko are impossible to bite in half and I end up chewing, looking like a chipmunk for 4 minutes.

    I eat with my hands too. I see many who do not. Sushi is, after all, finger food. Delicious, wonderful finger food.

  42. if the sushi chef would be so kind as to refrain from making Giant pieces, i will refrain from biting it in two.

    if the sushi restaurant would kindly stop buying the shittiest splintered chopsticks, i would kindly stop rubbing them together to avoid pulling splinters out of my mouth.

  43. I am reminded of the scene in Tampopo in which a teacher is teaching a group of girls in a restaurant that, on the Continent, people never slurp their noodles. Then they see a European slurping his spaghetti, and one by one start slurping too.

    I did make the the rubbing chopsticks mistake in Japan, was duly laughed at, and thereby missed my chance to be mistaken for Japanese.

  44. “if the sushi chef would be so kind as to refrain from making Giant pieces, i will refrain from biting it in two.
    if the sushi restaurant would kindly stop buying the shittiest splintered chopsticks, i would kindly stop rubbing them together to avoid pulling splinters out of my mouth.”

    Um, if you would be so kind as to not pick the the worst restaurants…

  45. I was taught to eat sushi by Japanese people, in Japan. Some of this information is incorrect, notably the chopstick-rubbing and the wasabi-soy mixing.

    I suspect the latter is based on the common practice outside of Japan of using too much soy sauce in the dish. This leads to sloppiness and horrifies most Japanese. A small amount of wasabi mixed with a small amount of soy sauce is acceptable and commonplace.

  46. why does there have to be one right way to eat sushi? i feel like as long as you’re not being rude or a slob, these small details don’t matter.

  47. I think the whole point is that this being Japanese culture, the right way to do it is EVERYTHING.
    Keep in mind, this is the very same culture that brought us the samurai and seppuku, along with a myriad of other things that have a distinct “right” way of doing things.
    Yes, they opened up to the West and have become generally more lenient as a culture in general, but there is still the right and wrong way of doing things.

    As for small details, have you seen anything that’s been made and packaged in Japan? They care about the smallest of details in everything.

  48. hey i wanna eat sushi i lyv in ashok vihar plezz tel me any nearby restauran were sushi is found

  49. hey i wanna eat sushi i lyv in ashok vihar plezzz tel me any near by restauran were i can order sushi

  50. Is everybody over-reacting? I am half-Japanese and have lived in Japan. I think the sushi eating etiquette posted is correct and there IS a proper way of doing things. That said, if you don’t like to do it that way, don’t. Most Japanese people don’t expect foreigners to know how to eat Japanese food the correct way anyway.

    Love the illustrations. :)

  51. This is really interesting. I had no idea there were so many etiquette rules when it came to sushi. I will have to be sure to try them the next time I am enjoying sushi.

  52. I’ve read etiquette rules like this here in the US for years…and the one thing I want to point out-even though everyone tells you its “correct” to eat either with your hands or with chopsticks, I’ve NEVER seen businessmen eat with anything but chopsticks during lunch in Tokyo. No one eats with their fingers…although they will tell YOU its “ok” :p

  53. Having just one bite at those big sized sushi pieces is something designed for GODZILLA or the chipmunks mentioned by another reader. If that is the etiquette for japanese citizens who do not tend to have big mouths or ample cheeks, the give me a break for that nonsrnse rule of “etiquette”

  54. The “typos” were caused by my frantic efforts to manage what I sensed was a fatal result of trying to masticatel, in one single bite, a humongous morsel of spicy shrimp sushi with its attendant sea leaves. I love sushi but this “sushi etiquette” stuff is nonsensical at best.

  55. Saw that surplus ” l ” ? It was fingered before I recovered conciousness.

  56. The missing “s” is attributable, I guess, to this wasabi-laden soy sauce I now face on my table, and for which I shall repent !!!

  57. I don’t like a huge mouthful of sushi, so I always ask that the roll be cut into smaller pieces. No chef has ever objected.

  58. “Respectable” chefs at respectable sushi bars will not voice objections as to size specifications, but they might infuse unwanted curses into the dish during its dish preparation. Better be cautious as to these serious things!

  59. I put a little dab of wasabi on the fish, then dip the sushi fish side down into the soy sauce very quickly

  60. Why is there so much fuzz as to chopsticks handling etiquette when we deal with raw fish placed on rice (or standing-alone) by guys who just came out of hidden urinals and blow their noses clean with those same hands. Come on, enjoy “clean” Japanese food as you chew on an equally “clean” burger by Wendy’s–the latter is easier to bite without chipmunks cheeks and minus chopsticks.

  61. Sushi “etiquette” is not a valid subject–if it ever was–nowadays..

  62. The using the blunt back end of the chopsticks rule is sometimes frowned upon, as some people would rather risk the germs from your mouth than the germs from your hand and everything you’ve touched. It’s best to see what others in your group are doing first and follow their lead.

    I have never needed to rub cheap chopsticks together to remove splinters. My fingers work just fine.