Sushi Etiquette – what you don’t know might surprise you!

Posted on April 15, 2013 by Joanna


You have been eating sushi your whole life? Well, what you might not know about sushi etiquette could just surprise you. Like many things Japanese, it’s all in the details. Confession: when my Japanese friend (who is also a sushi chef) gave me these tips, I realized I had been doing several things wrong for years! So here is a quick cheatsheet on the Dos and Don’ts of proper sushi etiquette.

– Actually, it is traditional to eat sushi with the hands, not with chopsticks (with the exception of sashimi and some rolls). But it’s OK if you prefer to use chopsticks. Either are fine.
– Turn the sushi roll over and dip the fish (not the rice) into the soy sauce.
– Put the whole portion into your mouth, fish side down toward the tongue.
– Use the fatter back end of the chopsticks when taking food from a shared plate.
– When not using your chopsticks, the should be rested across your plate or on the chopstick rest, parallel to the sushi bar.
– Signal you are finished by resting your chopsticks across your sushi saucer.

– Never rub your chopsticks together after snapping them apart! Apparently this is the height of rudeness.
– Never mix wasabi in with the soy sauce. Sushi should be prepared with the proper amount of wasabi directly on this fish. If, however, you would like more, simply apply it directly to the fish.
– Never rest your chopsticks with just the tips on your plate. And never, ever leave your chopsticks sitting in a bowl with the ends jutting out.
– Do not put the ginger on your sushi and eat it together. Ginger is meant to be consumed between bites to cleanse the palate.
– If eating in a sushi bar, never hand money to the chef. It is considered to be the height of rude.

So never unknowingly offend your sushi chef or fellow diners again. Become a sushi sensai with these sushi etiquette tips.


About Joanna Hutchins

Joanna Hutchins is a culinary travel blogger based in Shanghai, China.. In 2009, Joanna founded Accidental Epicurean, a culinary travel blog focused on Asia. Joanna is also a contributor to CNNGo, Look East magazine, SE Asia Globe and Two magazine.

What Others Are Saying

  1. Peech April 15, 2013 at 1:08 pm

    If you are dining at a decent establishment, the chopsticks they use should be of high enough quality that you wouldn’t need to rub them together to remove splinters.

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  3. Joanna April 18, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    Peech, you are totally right! Most places would use decent enough chopsticks not to have splinters. It seems it is just a “habit” of many people to do the rubbing together, but mostly it is not necessary :) Happy sushi eating!

  4. pL April 22, 2013 at 11:42 am

    “Signal you are finished by resting your chopsticks across your sushi saucer.”
    Sorry, which are you referring to as the “sushi saucer”?

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  6. Belinda @zomppa April 24, 2013 at 4:45 am

    Thank you for these great tips! Oops to a few of them!

  7. Chris Hockley April 25, 2013 at 6:02 pm

    If a sushi place gives me chopsticks that I have to break apart then they will have to deal with my rudeness when I rub the splinters off…any reputable sushi place would give you decent chopsticks and even then I’d probably wash them in my tea. Just saying….

    • Liza April 25, 2013 at 11:45 pm

      Ha! Thanks Chris! I would do and will continue to do the same!

  8. Sushi Boo Boo Gal April 25, 2013 at 10:04 pm

    I have committed almost every sin on that ‘Don’t’ list.
    Makes me think that me and sushi are not meant to be :(

    I like sashimi more anyway.

  9. Sol Squire April 25, 2013 at 10:50 pm

    There are reasons for these rules, too! Tasting the fish is the primary part of sushi, not finding the fish through a mouthful of rice. The rice as been blended with other things to have the consistency and texture and soaking it with soy-sauce both totally overwhelms the flavor of the fish and causes the rice to fall apart.

  10. Rebecca April 25, 2013 at 10:57 pm

    Ok, call me a rude and ignorant Sushi bumpkin but…

    I eat Sushi in Southern California ALL the time, and I never see anyone obeying these rules! Ever! Maybe we are all just collectively rude here, but I’ve never seen anyone eating their sushi fish side down, and I’ve never been frowned on for doing the “wrong thing” with my chop sticks. If figure if you are going to serve me a roll topped with jalapeno or stuffed with cream cheese, it’s ok if I put wasabe in my soy sauce, because that’s how we roll here (get it??? :)

    These might be rules to worry about in say, Japan, but I wish people would just CALM DOWN about the sushi etiquette over here. Obviously, the rules are different stateside. And there’s really nothing less fun than tucking into your favorite roll and being told you are “doing it wrong.” Like that isn’t rude too :)

  11. Kathleen April 26, 2013 at 11:10 am

    What about crossing your chopsticks when they are resting? I was told not to do that, but it’s not on your list.

  12. John Smithe April 27, 2013 at 9:35 am

    You forgot another “DON’T”:

    Don’t leave a TIP. It is considered rude. The best way to show gratitude to the chef is by going back again to visit the restaurant or referring it to your friends.

    However in some cases, you can leave a tip but it is not expected.

    I agree with the other posts that a decent restaurant won’t give you chopsticks that you have to snap apart.

  13. Joanna May 4, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    Love the passionate commenting and debate :) I will say this…..if you have ever been to Japan, one of the first things anyone notices is the preciseness of the etiquette for every interaction. From simple greetings depending upon the age of the person giving / receiving, from how to exchange money during a retail purchase (money never changes hands, it is placed on a tray), to restaurant manners, like those I detailed in the sushi article. Another example is that it is customary to slurp soup in Japan, whereas this would be viewed as disgusting and rude in America. These cultural nuances are what personally fascinates me. But like anything else, once you leave a country, in this case Japan, and you translate the food / culture into other cultures….new habits and new behaviors emerge. :) But if you are interested in doing it properly and respectfully in the customary Japanese manner, these are the do’s / don’ts. Again though….like anything in the modern world where cultures blend, all is open for interpretation. Happy sushi eating!

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  15. S Lloyd May 25, 2013 at 3:46 pm

    Very useful infos that will certainly come handy. The chopsticks advice in particular is novel to me.

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