The Etiquette of Eating Sushi in Japan: Essential Do’s and Don’ts

As one of the richest culinary strongholds in the world, Japan and its cuisine have become increasingly popular throughout the world. But, as is with any foreign culture, part of appreciating the beauty of the cuisine comes understanding the deeply entrenched cultural foundations and customs that come along with it. Eating Sushi in Japan is one such custom that requires a certain degree of cultural understanding and respect.

The etiquette is a little different in the USA

From the right order in which it should be eaten, to the types of condiments that should never touch the sushi, there are etiquette rules that have been passed down for generations. As a visitor to Japan or a sushi devotee, having respect for these rules can make the dining experience much more enjoyable. In our post today, we’ll explore the etiquette of Eating Sushi in Japan, from the essential Do’s and Don’ts, to the profound cultural significance of the cuisine. So, without further ado, let’s dive in!

Quick Review of Key Points

When eating sushi in Japan, it is polite to use chopsticks, refrain from putting wasabi directly onto your sushi, and politely refuse a third helping. It is also considered rude to leave pieces of sushi on your plate or place soy sauce directly onto your sushi without tasting it first.

Introduction to Eating Sushi in Japan

When newcomers to Japan attempt to try eating sushi, they often find the experience quite different to that in other countries. Due to its long history, tradition and culture, there are certain unwritten rules governing sushi etiquette in Japan that must be observed to prevent cultural misunderstandings. These rules and etiquette can sometimes be tricky for those new to Japan, but such knowledge can help newcomers enjoy their sushi experience that much more.

One of the most important things that must be taken into consideration when eating sushi in Japan is respecting the methods of food preparation, as well as traditionally accepted eating techniques. Eating in a traditional Japanese manner will show respect for the chef’s craftsmanship and also make dining an enjoyable experience for all involved.

On the other hand, some observers may argue that being forced to adhere to traditional customs when eating limits their freedom of expression and pleasure. Those who simply wish to eat without worrying too much about manners or old-world traditions may feel oppressed by having to adhere strictly to certain guidelines.

Respecting both sides of the argument, it’s essential to recognize which scenarios require restaurant-level etiquette and which don’t before making assumptions about how one should act or perform during a sushi-eating session. Before moving on to the necessary rules and etiquette of eating sushi in Japan, it is important for newcomers especially, but all diners alike, to understand the underlying principles that drive these customs so that everyone can fully appreciate this traditional cuisine in a respectful atmosphere.

Now let’s learn about some of the essential rules and etiquette for enjoying sushi in Japan – covered in the following section!

Rules and Etiquette

When eating sushi in Japan, one must remain cognizant of the rules and etiquette specific to the tradition. For example, while tourists to Japan may be used to slathering soy sauce or wasabi on their food before tasting it, this is actually considered disrespectful in some traditional sushi restaurants. Unless explicitly offered by the chef, diners should never add soy sauce or wasabi to sushi.

When enjoying nigiri sushi—or fish served atop pressed vinegared rice—it is recommended that sushi is eaten as one entire piece, rather than being cut into multiple pieces with a knife or chopsticks. This is a sign of appreciation for the chef’s work; cut up tuna or salmon sashimi appears more of an afterthought.

If enjoying maki-zushi (rolled sushi), it should be consumed with hands instead of chopsticks. It has been suggested that, when faced with this food item in particular, Westerners should not feel any guilt about not following Japanese etiquette and instead go ahead and consume it as they would at home.

On the other hand, for other types of sushi it may be more polite to use chopsticks instead of hands so as not to touch the rice with your fingers. This custom also maintains the integrity of the fish before it enters your mouth since oils from human skin can ruin its flavor.

It is customary to dip the neta (the toppings) into the soy sauce instead of the rice itself. When finished eating, use an oshibori given by server to wipe hands off (not face, neck, etc.), because many traditional restaurants don’t provide napkins.

Overall, while rules may vary between different restaurant settings and cultures outside of Japan, it is ultimately wise and respectful to abide by local customs when partaking in sushi meals abroad. And now we will move on to explore how one should properly use chopsticks for consuming sushi dishes.


When eating sushi in Japan, it is important to be aware of the specific rules and etiquette related to the traditional feast. For example, adding soy sauce or wasabi before tasting noodles should not be done unless explicitly offered by the chef. Depending on the type of sushi being enjoyed, either chopsticks or hands may be acceptable; sticky-rice maki-zushi is typically eaten with hands while other types are better consumed with chopsticks. Additionally, dipping neta (toppings) into soy sauce rather than the rice itself is a sign of respect. Lastly, it is wise to abide by local customs when eating sushi abroad.

Using Chopsticks Properly

Using chopsticks properly is an important part of sushi etiquette in Japan. Eating with chopsticks requires a certain level of respect and delicacy, so it goes without saying that one should take their time and learn how to do it correctly.

Firstly, pay attention to the manner in which you hold them. Make sure both chopsticks are of equal length, and held together in your dominant hand. Secondly, pick up food items gently, avoiding rapping or drumming on the plate, bowl or table with them. Thirdly, never pass food directly from one person’s chopsticks to another person’s – this can be considered rude as it recalls a funeral custom where ancestors’ bones were passed in just this way. Fourthly, never point at someone or something with your chopsticks, nor wave them around above the food. Fifthly, never leave your chopsticks stuck upright into your rice bowl – this too is a symbol at funerals. Finally, remember to rest your chopsticks on the side of your bowl or plate when taking a break from eating.

These few simple steps all speak volumes about the decorum necessary for enjoying sushi in Japan. Eating with respect not only for oneself but for the surroundings and the people who have prepared and served the food is of utmost importance in Japanese culture, and mastering these basic sushi etiquette rules are the best way to start becoming familiar with it.

With proper use of chopsticks out of the way, let us turn our attention to the next facet of sushi etiquette: eating with respect.

Eating With Respect

Eating with respect is essential when enjoying sushi in Japan, and understanding the proper protocols of setting the table and consuming sushi can show your respect for the values and culture of the country. When preparing to eat, it is important to remember that the nori side of the sushi should be facing up. Whether you are eating nigiri or rolls, having the nori side up helps keep any toppings on the sushi, rather than having them all over the plate. It is also important not to place any utensils, such as chopsticks, directly onto the plate, as this can be seen as disrespectful. Additionally, mix together some wasabi and soy sauce before consuming nigiri or pieces of sashimi. Placing a large heaping of wasabi onto your order is considered uncouth by native Japanese people.

Furthermore, do not ever cut sushi in half with a knife or even use a knife at all while eating – sushi should always be consumed whole and with chopsticks or fingers. Cut sushi appears unappetizing and suggests that it was not fresh enough to be eaten whole anyway. On the other hand, some sushi is imperatively served pre-cut because its shape does not permit it to be eaten with chopsticks at all – for example, a dragon roll. Therefore, if you find yourself presented with cut sushi at a restaurant in Japan, do not hesitate to go ahead and consume it.

The etiquette of eating sushi respectfully goes beyond one’s behavior at the table; shared dishes should never be taken from in between two people sitting close together without asking permission first. Moreover no matter how delicious your last bite may have been, refrain from licking your fingertips after consuming sushi – this can come off as quite impolite!

Now that we’ve laid out some key points surrounding eating with respect in Japanese cuisine, let’s move on to considering some key soy sauce considerations when eating sushi in Japan.

Soy Sauce Considerations

Soy sauce considerations are an important part of sushi etiquette in Japan. Traditional Japanese cuisine makes use of the flavor enhancing qualities of soy sauce which adds flavor without overpowering the taste of the fish or other ingredients. Depending on preference, some people prefer using a light amount of soy sauce while others prefer to liberally douse their sushi with it.

There is no right or wrong way to add soy sauce when eating sushi in Japan as it often depends on personal taste. However, there are some who believe that allowing sushi to sit in a pool of soy sauce can be detrimental to the dish, resulting in soggy rice or overcooked fish. As such, they recommend adding small amounts of soy sauce at a time before checking for flavor and then adjusting accordingly.

On the other hand, those who enjoy stronger flavors, may prefer to generously add soy sauce to their sushi rolls before consuming them. Slivers of fresh ginger are often eaten alongside sushi and provide a refreshing contrast to the richness of the soy sauce, helping to create balance in flavor.

Regardless of your preference, think carefully before you start pouring since it is considered rude to refill your own bowl with soy sauce. Instead, ask the waitstaff for more soy sauce if needed and show gratitude by saying thank you when they offer it.

Now that we have discussed proper soy sauce considerations, let’s move on to our next topic which will focus on whether or not it is acceptable to eat bones in sushi.

Eating Bones in Sushi

Eating bones in sushi is a matter of personal preference and cultural etiquette. Some consider it part of the experience while others may find the idea strange. However, a basic knowledge of the types of fish commonly found in sushi can be useful for those who are unfamiliar with eating the bones.

Sushi often contains bones from small-bodied fish, such as mackerel, salmon, snapper, or flounder. Bones from these types of fish traditionally comprise the majority of commercial sushi offerings. These bones are generally thin to non-existent and will not interfere with the flavor or texture of the fish. Many people believe there are beneficial components to consuming these fishes’ bones that can be absorbed through ingestion.

In contrast, some large-bodied fish like tuna, swordfish, and shark contain larger bones that may hinder the overall experience. These thicker bones tend to have a more pronounced ocean taste and crunchy texture that are quite different from the traditional sushi experience. Additionally, these thick bones can be difficult to chew and swallow without causing harm to oneself or damaging any accompanying utensils.

Whether or not one chooses to eat sushi with bones is entirely up to them — both options should be respected equally. However, when consumed with caution and awareness of size difference between species, eating bones has experienced culinary benefits that can further heighten one’s understanding of traditional Japanese fare.

To further explore Japanese cuisine, let’s take a look at some traditional dishes one can try. The following section will discuss: “Traditional Dishes to Try”.

Traditional Dishes to Try

In Japan, sushi is the darling of the culinary world, but there’s much more to taste and explore. For those wanting to get a true taste of Japanese culture while they’re here, sampling some of the other traditional dishes can be a memorable and transformational experience.

One of the key staples of Japanese cuisine has to be soba noodles, which are thin buckwheat noodles served traditionally in a hot broth. Soba is associated with zen-like simplicity: there are few ingredients used in this dish, yet it packs extremely complex flavors. There’s also no sauce added; instead, the broth is flavored with ingredients like green onions and radishes — plus a dash of soy sauce — for an almost mystical flavor profile.

Udon noodles are a good choice for the uninitiated diner; these thick wheat noodles come slathered in a savory bonito soup or served cold with dipping sauces. Udon can vary greatly depending on where you eat them; try experimenting with different types until you find your favorite.

For great grilled options, look no further than yakitori (meat skewers). Most yakitori restaurants offer multiple varieties so it pays to ask about each skewer before ordering. For non-meat options, takoyaki (octopus balls) is universally beloved and widely available at food carts across Japan. It’s also a perfect street snack! The best takoyaki are crispy on the outside while still maintaining chewy textures and a deliciously gooey center.

Finally, one must-try dish has to be tempura. These delectable dishes use seasonal vegetables that have been lightly battered before being fried quickly in hot oil: it’s easy to see why tempura is one of Japan’s most loved dishes!

No matter what your tastes are, it pays to experiment when eating in Japan — if you dive in and give these dishes a try, you won’t regret it! With these tips, your next meal could be a gateway into an unforgettable experience of Japanese traditional cuisine.

Ready for more tips? Next we’ll discuss how to make sure your cultural experience is as enjoyable as possible — let’s find out what tips you need for a great time in Japan!

Tips for a Great Cultural Experience

When enjoying sushi in Japan, embracing the cultural experience is key to having a rewarding time. From understanding the etiquette of ordering and dining, to familiarizing yourself with common dishes and regional specialties, there are lots of ways to ensure you have the best possible experience.

For starters, it’s always a good idea to include the locals when ordering and dining. If you are dining with a group of Japanese friends, take their lead and order what they do – after all, they know best! Be sure to also express your thanks when you receive your food. You can do so by saying “Gochisou-sama deshita” which roughly translates to “It was a feast.”

Another way to increase your cultural immersion is to check out some authentic sushi restaurants such as those that specialize in Kyoto or Osaka style preparations. These types of restaurants offer unique dishes and presentations that are very different from traditional American-style sushi. Finally, don’t be afraid to venture off the beaten path; rural areas often showcase traditional foods that can only be found in that region.

These tips for a great cultural experience will help you get the most out of your visit to Japan. Keep in mind that trying new dishes is highly encouraged – no one will judge you for experimenting! Now let’s move on to our conclusion….


When it comes to eating sushi in Japan, there is an array of etiquette and social norms that should be adhered to in order to show respect for the culture and the people. While some of the do’s and don’ts might seem like common sense, many outsiders are not aware of these customs. It is important to learn about them before visiting a Japanese sushi restaurant or bar or interacting with Japanese business contacts while dining out.

In conclusion, the etiquette associated with eating sushi in Japan may seem perplexing at first, but the unspoken nature of the country’s traditions generally dictate how people should behave when having a meal. As such, it is advised that visitors familiarize themselves with proper behavior to demonstrate respect for their host and for their culture. Some key do’s and don’ts include showing appreciation for the food, being attentive to the setting and atmosphere, pouring sake carefully, avoiding making loud sounds while eating, not pouring soy sauce directly on the rice beneath your sushi, using your hands instead of chopsticks if necessary and treating everyone around you with politeness. Abiding by these guidelines can help ensure that you enjoy a pleasant and memorable experience while dining out in Japan.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it customary to use chopsticks when eating sushi in Japan?

Yes, it is customary to use chopsticks when eating sushi in Japan. The traditional way to eat sushi is by using chopsticks, as they are the most efficient way of transferring food from the plate to your mouth without damaging the delicately constructed pieces of sushi. It is true that using hands can be an acceptable practice with some types of sushi, but ‘Nigiri’ and other classic sushi pieces require precision that using chopsticks make possible. In addition, using hands when eating sushi can be seen as improper or impolite.

Are there any customs that should be followed when ordering sushi?

When ordering sushi in Japan, there are several customs that should be followed. Firstly, it is considered polite to order more than one piece of sushi as it shows respect for the chef’s craftsmanship and hard work. Secondly, when ordering sushi from a conveyor belt or bar, respect the hierarchy by opting for pieces from the bottom up, making sure to take alternating pieces from each side. If you have a preference for any particular type of sushi, make sure you communicate this with your server before they bring it to the table or countertop. Lastly, avoid using chopsticks to mix together pieces of sushi on your plate as this is considered disrespectful towards the chef’s creation.

What types of sushi should be eaten in Japan?

In Japan, there are many types of sushi that can be enjoyed. Most popular among them are nigiri (a type of sushi consisting of a slice of raw fish atop molded clumps of vinegar-seasoned rice), maki (sushi rolls wrapped in seaweed), chirashi (rice bowl topped with various ingredients), and oshi (a type of pressed sushi). Of these, nigiri is considered to be the most traditional way to enjoy sushi. Beyond this, there are also unique regional variations of sushi around Japan, such as sakura-meshi (cherry blossom sushi) in Toyama prefecture or unconventional combinations like teriyaki sushi. When eating sushi in Japan, it is best to enjoy freshly prepared items, as they will taste quintessentially Japanese and demonstrate the exquisite culinary art of sushi making.