Table manners are paramount be it here in America or Japan. Us as patrons need to show the respect we were raised with, and you will always be welcomed back if you show correct manners. Japanese culture is no stranger to customs and manners specially in a country with such a long history and rich culture. Although we have already covered overall Japanese table and dining styles, we would like to look a little bit closer to Sushi restaurant manners. The way you interact with the “itamae” which is the main sushi chef will make a difference on future visits. The term is translated as “in front of the board” a clear reference to the cutting board used by chefs.
Seating and Ordering
Upon your arrival, you may be greeted by the host or hostess with the traditional “irasshaimase” which means “please come in”. Be polite and greet them back but keep your conversation to the minimum focused on your dining preference and seating. If you are interested in watching the preparation of your food or just to chatter with the itamae, ask to be seated at the sushi bar. When seated at the bar, only ask the itamae for sushi, all other manners of food such as sashimi and drinks are handled by the waiters. You can ask the itamae what he would recommend but never ask if it is fresh since it clearly implies it may not be. For that reason to ask yourself why you would be dining in a place you don’t think it’s food is fresh.
If there isn’t an item in the menu it doesn’t matter if you go ahead and ask for it. The itamae will appreciate the interest and many times items are not listed for being seasonal. Wasabi should never be put in directly in the shoyu dish as it is often done. Nigiri-sushi (fingers of rice topped with fish or another topping) can be eaten directly with your hand but on the other hand sashimi should always be eaten with chopsticks. The ginger served with sushi is called gari and it is a palate cleanser. It is not meant to be eaten at the same time as the rolls. Drinking Sake is not a custom while eating sushi due to the fact that both of them are rice based. Try some green tea with your rolls instead. You may offer the itamae a beer or sake although this is not required but you may score some extra points for your next visit. Tip the itamae at the end of your meal and use any of the following expressions to show gratitude: “domo arigato” which translates to “thank you” or “gochisosama deshita,” which loosely translated means “thank you for the meal.”