How to Eat Like a Local at a Sushi Restaurant in Japan

Updated on June 20, 2018
poppyr profile image

Poppy lives near Tokyo with her husband and likes to read novels and play video games, especially fantasy RPGs.

If someone asked you to think of Japanese food, no doubt sushi would be one of the first things to come to mind. This simple dish involving rice, flattened nori seaweed, and a variety of fillings has spread throughout the world as a healthy and filling dish.

A common misconception about sushi is that it is just raw fish. Though the "sashimi" variety is common, there are also non-fish types such as egg, cucumber, fermented soybeans, and even mini hamburgers.

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Trying real, authentic sushi is a must-try experience in Japan. Like many other aspects of this unique and fascinating culture, there are certain things you should remember when eating sushi and dining at a specialty restaurant.

There are regular sushi restaurants, often with chefs that have been preparing this traditional dish for decades. Another cheaper, but also delicious, option is the kaiten-sushi type, the famous conveyer belt sushi that has gained popularity in other countries too. Here are things you should remember when eating at a sushi restaurant in Japan.

How to Order

A large, busy conveyer belt restaurant such as Hamazushi or Genki Sushi will have an iPad-like screen available on which you can order your food. Most of these will have an English option, so look out for the American or British flags.The staff might also change it to English for you.

Browse the items on the screen and order whatever you want. If there is no screen, you can shout "sumimasen!" to get the waiter or staff's attention.

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Useful Phrases

Here are some useful phrases for ordering in a sushi restaurant.

  • Wasabi nuki - without wasabi. This is recommended if you want to try sushi without the spicy horseradish. This is ideal for children.
  • Shoyuu - soy sauce
  • Hashi - chopsticks
  • Sumimasen - excuse me
  • Kaikei - check/bill
  • _______ o kudasai - ______, please
  • Kore - this
  • Menyuu - menu

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Don't Order Too Much

It can be easy to get excited in a sushi restaurant and order many kinds at once. After all, the pieces are only small, right?

Sushi is actually more filling than it looks! Most people are satisfied after around five to ten plates, though there are people who can eat more. Order one or two dishes at a time and finish them before ordering more. Wasting food is considered rude in Japan, and you might be charged extra.

Taking Sushi From the Conveyer Belt

If you are at a kaiten-sushi restaurant, you will see plates of sushi moving past you on the conveyer belt. Feel free to take these instead of ordering them, but do not take plates that are on top of small platforms. They have been ordered specially.

Bear in mind that readymade sushi might contain wasabi, so if you don't like wasabi, be sure to order some of the wasabi nuki variety on the screen.

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How to Eat Sushi

Sushi might be a completely different dish to what you are used to eating at home. Here is how to eat sushi properly.

  • You can eat it with your hands or with chopsticks. Either way is fine.
  • Pour a small amount of soy sauce onto the plate (or the smaller plates if they are provided). Dip the sushi, fish side down, briefly into the sauce and eat it.
  • Eat the piece whole.

It might be better for children or those with infirm hands to use their fingers when eating sushi as that is actually the traditional way of eating it. Just be sure not to get soy sauce on your fingers.

You may find various types of soy sauce available, some of which go well with certain types of sushi. Don't be afraid to get creative.

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Stack Your Plates

Sushi almost always is served two pieces at once, each on its own small plate. Most people order a couple of plates for their meal. When you finish a plate, stack them on top of each other. This will make it easier for the staff to count and work out how much you owe.

You may notice that the plates are sometimes different colours. Some pieces of sushi are more expensive than others, and are colour coded.

Never leave a mess of plates all around you!

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Ordering Drinks and Other Items

For kaiten-sushi restaurants, you can usually get your own water and hot green tea using the taps provided. Things like juice and alcohol can be ordered on the screen. In some restaurants, you can also order noodles or cake.

Make sure to take the small platform the drink comes on so the staff know that you have bought it.

Recommended Dishes

Feel free to try whatever type of sushi you like, but definitely give these ones a try!

  • Maguro, or tuna. This is raw, high-quality tuna fish and is my absolute favourite kind of sushi.
  • Salmon. Sometimes served with radish or mayonnaise, salmon is easy to eat and incredibly more-ish.
  • Cucumber. A crunchy and refreshing rolled sushi that can be enjoyed even if you're vegetarian or vegan.
  • Ebi-ten, or deep-fried shrimp. This guilty pleasure is worth a try for shrimp lovers.

Don't be afraid to try many kinds of sushi and find out your favourite flavour! The versatility of this famous dish is one of the reasons it's so popular.

Be sure to try sushi at least once during your trip to Japan. It is a delicious and well-loved dish that has been enjoyed for hundreds of years and continues to satisfy hungry customers today! With these tips, you'll be dining like a local in no time.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Poppy

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      • Mamerto profile image

        JR Mamerto 

        4 months ago from Cabuyao

        Nice and informative article! I actually love sushi and reading this makes me feel like hitting the local restaurant tonight.

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        4 months ago from UK

        Thanks. Your article explains the whole sushi eating process to me in an easily intelligible way.

      • poppyr profile imageAUTHOR

        Poppy 

        4 months ago from Tokyo, Japan

        I really hope you get to come and taste authentic sushi one day!

      • poppyr profile imageAUTHOR

        Poppy 

        4 months ago from Tokyo, Japan

        I love Manchester! Thank you for taking the time to comment on this article.

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 

        4 months ago from USA

        This is extremely useful for those who love sushi or want to travel to Japan. My husband loves sushi and one day perhaps I’ll get the chance to travel with him to Japan where he can taste the real deal.

      • Iammattdoran profile image

        Matt Doran 

        4 months ago from Manchester, UK

        Hey Poppy. Cool article! I love sushi - although I've never been to Japan. We have a diverse culinary scene here in Manchester though.

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