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Sushi Etiquette

How to eat sushi

Never & Must

Here is a brief description/instruction on how to eat sushi
from the beginners to experts.

To enjoy the true taste of the sushi as much as possible,
you are recommended to follow in a manner,
which is also requested by almost sushi chefs.

Kozara w/ soy sauce     Shoyu-sashi (soy sauce pitcher)


Never dip sushi in soy sauce from the rice-side and suck up too much amount.  It will be too bitter to eat, and will damage the taste of sushi seriously.

Reason: Sushi rice has been seasoned with vinegar carefully and finely enough, and you need not to add any soy sauce at all, otherwise it breaks the balance of the taste of the rice.  In any case, Shari (sushi rice) determines the taste of the whole sushi after all.  The truth is here.

Like you always surely do as;
Food Sauce Main Base (seasoning)
Hot dog
put   mustard / ketchup on   the sausage / hamburger beef not   to the bun (well-buttered)
Sushi soy sauce fish       rice (well-vinegared)

You must first turn the sushi (nigiri) sideways by 90 degrees, then make it inverted by twisting your wrist and dip it from the fish-side.  Preferably, only the fish's surface must be soaked - but it depends on your likeness to allow to the rice a little.
1st  Next  2nd  Next  3rd  Next  4th
When you eat by your fingers, pick up a piece of nigiri at the both side with your two fingers, thumb and middle, and simultaneously lift up the far side top to this side by the index finger, and turn it upside down.  Then dip the fish side to soy sauce, and next, twist your wrist to turn the fish side up and face to you. Alternatively do as the same way as by chopsticks.  To eat, bring the nigiri to your mouth, throw it into your mouth in a way that the fish side touches on your tongue, and this is a recommendable direction in nigiri-eating.
Sushi by fingers1   Next  Sushi by fingers2   Next    Sushi by fingers3   Next  Sushi by fingers4

Reason: Fish fillet must be flavoured with soy sauce to give a relish.  Especially for fresh, raw and unseasoned ones, they are less tasty or do not taste good without soy sauce.  And primarily, sushi rice itself is not prepared to use the soy sauce.
Consideration: A good sushi rice ball of nigiri should not be made stiff, should be loose as much as possible and include much air inside, to dissolve once it is in the mouth. This is the critical point of the taste of sushi. Skillful sushi chef well controls the stiffness of his nigiri-rice molding depending on how customer's eat. If you use chopsticks, he makes the rice ball stiffer than that for fingers, with which one can easily hold looser nigiri rice ball. Not only because sushi is eaten with fingers historically, but this is the real reason, to eat with fingers, in order to enjoy sushi at its maximum. It is well worth thinking over, with fingers or chopsticks.

(For Ladies)
If the size of nigiri is too big to one bite and does not fit to your mouth, you can ask the sushi-chef to cut it into two pieces when it is served, or ask to make it smaller from the next.  This is not an unusual situation at sushi bar counter and for sushi chefs, especially for ladies or children.  Do not hesitate to do so.

(Tip:  In the old times, the size of sushi was normally so bigger - and might be stiffer than today's, that was in a size of one and a half bite, and people ate it in two bites anyway, like as shown in a illustration of Hanaya Yohei's.)

Never and Recommendation:

It is regarded as the most impolite and bad manner, and almost a taboo at any sushi bars (except at conveyer belt kaiten-zushi, at least) that the sushi-dane (fish-topping) is peeled off from the rice in order to dip it in soy sauce, and then put it back on. Because this brutality means a complete denial of the chef's job and the art that he acquired after a long experience. You could easily feel an uncomfortable atmosphere around, that the sushi chef in front of you is looking at and casting an eye of unhappiness on you.

If it is difficult for you to take the right way in the use of soy sauce, you are definitely advisable to ask the chef to do when serving. He is always willing to help and want you to taste his carefully prepeared hand-made sushi in a better condition. Actually, he will give a brush of soy sauce (or specially prepared nikiri-soy sauce) on the fish surface.


Now you can easily handle sushi and use soy sauce in the right manner.
Then, how do you carry the sushi into your mouth?
- After restoring the position as it was?
- As it was reversed?
There are two recommendations:
One says that sushi should be eaten with the fish-side down, this means that the fish must touch first with your tongue, so that the taste of the material can be appreciated well, and this is the best way of sushi eating.
Upside down

The other says, with a very theoretical or tactical analysis and agreeable method, that the 'Kanji' character of 'Sushi' is consisted of two parts with the meanings of  'Fish' on the left and 'Delicious' on the right, side by side, as seen below:
Sushi in kanji   Left part Right part   Vertical/sideways method
Sushi Fish Delicious Vertical/sideways method

And sushi is a food, to eat the fish deliciously, and according to the formation of the kanji character of 'sushi,' it would be better to eat in a position that the left side is fish and the right is rice (vice versa) in the mouth.
This is an episode appeared in an old sushi book(*) written by a sushi-connoisseur. So this manner is fully agreeable, isn't it?
(*)NAGASE Ganosuke. Sushi-tsu, Yonroku Shoin, 1950.05.13

Actually, this has a reason from the following considerations:
  1. The first touch of the fish (and soy sauce) with the tongue is better than the rice, but the taste of the sauce will be sometimes overwhelming rather than the fish.
  2. Rice side down & fish side up - rice does not taste so much (only sour) and the fish only sticks to the palate (tastelessly.)
  3. With the vertical position (fish fillet,) it has an advantages that the fish and rice can be tasted at the same time, without a delay, and
  4. Also the rice (nigiri rice-ball) dissolves as soon as it was in the mouth -- this is one of the essential and most important points for Nigiri, and the way how to eat sushi deliciously.
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            Sushi Sample Pictures
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Next step:

How to eat 'Gunkan's like Ikura (salmon roe) and Uni (sea urchin,) or 'nigiri' with toppings/condiments like grated ginger, shallot, etc.

It is hard or impossible to turn over Gunkans, because the materials on the rice/fish will completely fall down by the gravity (Natürlich!)

A smart way(s) to use soy sauce:
Just use a piece of 'Gari' (sliced vinegared ginger, usually served aside.)  Dip this small piece in the soy sauce and transfer the liquid to the surface of the Gunkans several times. A tactical way is to use only chopsticks, utilizing the capillary attraction between the two sticks.
(You should never dip the rice part of gunkan into soy sauce! - too bitter to eat.)
(Or directly pour some from soy sauce plate/canister - but this is not a good looking.)

1st  Next  2nd  Next  Ikura   Uni


It is always said and advised frequently as the truth that sushi must be eaten as soon as possible when it is served (in sushi restaurants, in particular.)  Never leave it more than a minute (a strict sushi chef might get anger...)

But some exceptions can be allowed:

An old style sushi ('Nare-zushi or 'Funa (crucian carp)-zushi') is made from salted and/or vinegared fish and rice, and they are put together for a maturation/fermentation for a certain period.

In a same manner, some of seasoned 'hikari-mono's, such as 'kohada' (gizzard shad), 'aji' (horse mackerel) or 'saba' (mackerel) could be eaten after a few minutes interval, supposing they are getting more tasteful somewhat eventually(*).

You may happen to find a change between the two pieces of sushi that usually served in pairs customary, that the second one is better than the first.

As a proof, usually 'saba-oshi-zushi' (vinegared, mackerel-pressed-sushi) is kept for hours or days before it is served.

Saba-oshi-zushi (Bateira)

· UCHIDA Eiichi. Edo-mae no sushi [image], Shobun-sha, 1989. ISBN: 479495803X (Japanese p104, Chapter 2)
· MIYAO Shigewo. Sushi Monogatari, Inoue Shobo, 1960.
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How to order:

  1. At the counter of sushi bar, they will first serve 'agari' (a cup of hot green tea) and 'oshibori' (a small hot/cold damp towel), so you are ready to begin with by refreshing your mouth with a drink.

  2. During such preprocess and your tuning-ups, you can enjoy many kinds of fish they are offering on the day by looking around the displaying in front of you and examining their qualities/freshness.

  3. Taking a very good timing, a chef would ask you how do you like to begin with.

    Usually you can reply to in two ways:

    Saying 'O-ma-ka-se'
    The order will be decided by the chef and his recommendations because surely he knows well what is the best today and from which to start.  He will then ask you again what kind of fish you dislike, etc.

    Saying 'O-ko-no-mi'
    The order is decided by yourself according to your preferences.  Time to time, you can ask chef's recommendation of the day, or request to add/reduce the amount of wasabi or size of the 'nigiri' (piece of sushi rice.)  In the middle, you can also ask and enjoy chef's recommendations too.

    (Or you can select and order a fixed price set menu/table d'hôte, from
    'Matsu' - 'Take' - 'Ume' grades, or
    'Toku-Jyo' - 'Jyo' - 'Nami'
    -- they are corresponding to 1st-2nd-3rd, top-middle-ordinal grades.)

  4. There is no rule in placing orders at all.

    Generally it is recommended to start with light taste ones to heavier/fatty, and repeat this cycle, occasionally refreshing your mouth with 'gari' (ginger) and 'agari.'
    For an example, one prefers first to taste 'kohada' (gizzard chad) and ends with 'gyoku' (sweet omelet) as a dessert.

    Foreigners tend to or like much wasabi-taste, so that do ask 'wasabi motto!' (more wasabi!)

  5. In the end, you can make a notification by saying 'O-ai-so' that you have finished your dishes and would like to check your bill.

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Updated on: 2007.05.19
Created on: 2003.03.20
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What the People Eat,
Customs and Etiquette

A Guide to Ordering,
Eating and Enjoying