How to Practice Sushi Etiquette

Three Methods:Chopsticks EtiquetteOrdering EtiquetteDrinking Etiquette

Sushi could be thought of as the Japanese equivalent of the Western sandwich––portable, easy-to-eat, available in many varieties and a staple. If you're new to sushi or you're not that well acquainted with the proper methods for eating sushi, this article introduces you to proper sushi etiquette. Put your knowledge to use the next time you enjoy this delicious Japanese treat.


  1. Image titled Practice Sushi Etiquette Step 1
    Eat your sushi in one bite. Two bites is acceptable, however, don't put the sushi back on the plate if you bit it in half already. Once you pick it up, eat all of it and keep uneaten parts in the chopsticks ready to be consumed.
  2. Image titled Practice Sushi Etiquette Step 2
    Go easy on the soy sauce. Soaking your sushi in soy sauce is disrespectful because it implies that the original flavors are not good without soy sauce. Use light amounts only, to enhance the flavor.
    • Always place your "nigiri-sushi" upside-down in the soy sauce and eat it "rice-side up". Don't pinch it too hard, and place it so the fish touches your tongue. (The soy sauce will cause the rice to fall apart.)
  3. Image titled Practice Sushi Etiquette Step 3
    Use the washcloth. This is the oshibori, placed in front of you when you sit down. It's a small, damp hand towel to clean your fingers with both before and during the meal. After wiping your hands with it, fold it and place it back in its container (usually a little basket or tray). It can be reused during the meal and it is even polite to wipe your face with it.
  4. Image titled Practice Sushi Etiquette Step 4
    Feel free to use your fingers as utensils, instead of chopsticks. Even though most people use chopsticks, sushi is traditionally a finger food and it is completely acceptable to eat it that way.[1] Try not to ask for forks or knives. Sushi is not steak. Some restaurants are more forgiving of this request than others, and may have a few forks and knives available. Other people may think you're a little rude for not trying, though, so it's considerate to apologize for your incapacity.
    • Nigiri-sushi (hand-shaped sushi), is usually eaten with the hands. It is not over-compressed, meaning that it could fall apart before reaching your mouth if you use chopsticks.
    • Cone sushi or hand rolls are eaten with the fingers.
    • Rolled sushi and inside-out rolled sushi are eaten with the fingers or chopsticks.
    • Chirashi-zushi (scattered sushi) is eaten with chopsticks. You might also use a fork if the establishment permits.
  5. Image titled Practice Sushi Etiquette Step 5
    Clean off your plate. It is impolite to leave a grain of rice on your plate.

Method 1
Chopsticks Etiquette

  1. Image titled Practice Sushi Etiquette Step 6
    Rubbing disposable wooden chopsticks (waribashi) together is also bad manners. If you do this, you're implying that the chopsticks are cheap and have splinters, thereby insulting your host. Avoid rubbing; if your chopsticks do really splinter, discreetly and politely ask for a new pair.
  2. 2
    If at a sushi bar, place the chopsticks in front of you below the plate, parallel to the edge of the bar. Put the narrow ends on the has-hi oki (chopstick rest). While it is not as polite to place them on the plate, if you do, place your chopsticks across your plate, not leaning on your plate.
    • Do not cross chopsticks when set down; this is no different from not crossing your knife and fork when set down.
    • When the chopsticks are down, the points should face to the left if you're right-handed and to the right if you're left-handed.
    • Never stick your chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice; this reflects a funeral rite and, as such, is disrespectful when eating.
  3. Image titled Practice Sushi Etiquette Step 8
    Use the broad, blunt end of your chopsticks to pick up sushi from a communal platter if no other utensils have been provided. To take sushi from the communal plate with the ends you use to put the sushi in your mouth is as impolite as serving yourself foods from a buffet by using the cutlery from your plate and licking it clean in between each item you put on your plate or as drinking from someone else's glass. Use the broad end also to pass sushi from your plate to the one of another person if you want to share.
  4. Image titled Practice Sushi Etiquette Step 9
    Don't pass food from one set of chopsticks to another. As part of a Japanese funeral ritual, family members pass bones of the deceased to each other by chopsticks. Passing food from one set of chopsticks to another mimics this ritual, and is therefore considered extremely impolite and offensive. If you must pass something to another person, pick it up and place it on their dish. They can then pick it up with their own chopsticks.
    • Passing sushi between chopsticks is only tolerated between parents and children or lovers, as a gesture of closeness.

Method 2
Ordering Etiquette

  1. Image titled Practice Sushi Etiquette Step 10
    Know the difference between different types of sushi. Sushi etiquette includes having an understanding of what it is you're consuming. The types of sushi are:
    • Nigiri: pieces of fish, shellfish, or fish roe over rice balls
    • Maki-zushi: rolled in seaweed, sometimes just called "maki". These are large sushi rolls, made by hand. The filling is enclosed in nori-wrapped rice and can be known as nori maki. "Nori" means seaweed.
    • Futomaki-zushi: thick sushi rolls, using a full-sized sheet of nori spread with vinegared rice, fillings, and possibly a dab of wasabi. It's a very versatile form of sushi.
    • Hosomaki-zushi: thin sushi rolls using half a sheet of nori, less rice and only a single filling.
    • Inside-out California roll: the rice is on the outside and can be decorated with fish roe, sesame seeds or tempura flakes.
    • Molded sushi: this is made using a Japanese mold.
    • Temaki: hand rolls or cone sushi. This is shaped like a cone or a log. It is usually made by the person who is going to eat it.
    • Sashimi: sliced/chilled raw fish without rice.
    • Chirashi-zushi: "scattered sushi", sliced/chilled raw fish served like sashimi but over a bed of rice. A mixture of vegetables is also common. This is the easiest form of sushi to put together.
    • Wrapper sushi: sushi wrapped in something other than nori, such as tofu pouches (inari-zushi).
  2. Image titled Practice Sushi Etiquette Step 11
    Ask the chef what's good, and let him pick for you, especially if it's your first time eating sushi. This shows your respect for what he does, and maybe you'll get a good snack. As a compliment, if you're in Japan, buy the chef a drink, like sake or beer.
    • If dining at a table away from the sushi counter, allow the waiter or waitress to be the go between for you and the sushi chef. While approaching the sushi chef for recommendations is welcomed while dining at a table, it is always best to place your order with the server assigned to take care of your party, and this includes regular patrons too. If you prefer to place your order with the chef personally, it is recommended that you sit at the sushi counter to avoid any confusion or delay with your order.
  3. 3
    Learn a few polite Japanese words and phrases. Note that in Japanese pronunciation, all syllables receive equal stress. Learn some phrases like:
    • Thank you: Arigato gozaimasu (ah-ree-gah-toh go-zah-ee-mahs) - this means "thank you very much".
    • Before eating, say "Itadakimasu!" (ee-tah-dah-kee-mahss) and when you're done, say "Gochisousama deshita!". This is what Japanese say before and after they eat.
    • When asking for a waiter/waitress say "Sumimasen" (su-mee-mah-sen). This is the equivalent of saying "excuse me".
    • Note that if you're outside of Japan, the employees at the restaurant may not speak a word of Japanese; use these phrases when you know they'll be understood.
  4. 4
    It's fine to put a small amount of wasabi on your sushi; likewise, it's fine to tell the chef (itamae-san) that you don't want any wasabi––it will never be taken as an insult. Just use the phrase "wasabi nuki de". Some folks just don't like wasabi, and the customer is king - or "god" as they say in Japanese: "okyaku-sama wa kami-sama desu."

Method 3
Drinking Etiquette

  1. Image titled Practice Sushi Etiquette Step 14
    If there is tea available, drink it with one hand holding it, and the other hand supporting it from underneath, using two hands to hold the cup.
  2. Image titled Practice Sushi Etiquette Step 15
    If there is sake for drinking, it is boorish to pour sake for yourself. Pour some into cups for others, and let your companions pour sake for you.
  3. Image titled Practice Sushi Etiquette Step 16
    If soup is served as part of the sushi menu, lift the lid from the bowl and sip directly from the bowl.


  • The Japanese words and phrases are optional; not every employee in a sushi shop will speak or understand Japanese if you're not in Japan.
  • Be aware that sushi and zushi mean the same thing but reflect a vocal change. Sushi is the correct word for a vinegared rice roll but when two nouns are joined together in Japanese, the second noun can change in vocal quality, hence sometimes you may see "zushi" when two nouns are combined, such as "inari-zushi".


  • Don't ask for a spoon. A spoon is not used with sushi (or other Japanese cuisine).
  • Avoid the blowfish unless at a three star or higher restaurant. Blowfish is poisonous and even deadly if not prepared properly.
  • Don't expect the chef to handle the money. Have another employee assist you. People who handle the food never touch the money.
  • Don't play with chopsticks!
    Avoid playing with your chopsticks.

Sources and Citations

  • Judi Strada and Mineko Takane Moreno, Sushi for Beginners, (2004), ISBN 0-7645-4465-9 – research source
  • Hideo Dekura, Sushi Modern, (2002), ISBN 1-86302-744-0 – research source

Article Info

Featured Article

Categories: Featured Articles | Eating Techniques