How to enjoy sushi in Tokyo! (10 don’ts)

How to enjoy sushi in Tokyo! (10 don'ts)

As a Japanese professional and a native of Tokyo, I have often noticed foreign visitors at the city’s sushi bars and restaurants. However, it can’t be easy for visitors to choose which sushi shop offers them the best experience and price, as we Japanese are also sometimes perplexed by what we find. Even when you manage to choose a suitable sushi shop, there may be many things about it that seem puzzling. So, here are my 10 tips for enjoying sushi when you are in Tokyo.



 

How to enjoy sushi in Tokyo! (10 don’ts)

 

1. DON’T EAT SUSHI WITHOUT FIRST CHECKING THAT YOU CAN AFFORD IT!

Firstly, you will need to decide which type of sushi shop you want to visit, as this will certainly affect the price you pay and the atmosphere you experience. The traditional sushi counter, where you can watch the chef preparing the dishes, generally offers good quality sushi, as well as a fascinating cultural insight. However, more high end establishments will probably not display their prices and will be expensive. If you are on a budget, look for sushi counters with price lists clearly displayed and illustrated menus.

 

2. DON’T EAT AT SUSHI SHOPS YOU ARE UNSURE OF

Often, the best sushi shops are those that were recommended by friends or colleagues. If you do not have any such recommendations, you may be tempted to look for shops rated on the internet. However, these ratings are often inaccurate so be careful. When you visit a sushi shop in Tokyo, look at how clean and tidy it is outside and in, and at the attitude of the staff. This will tell you a lot about the standards they adhere to.

 

3. DON’T WORRY IF THE SET MENU CONTAINS THINGS YOU CAN’T EAT

Most Tokyo sushi counters that display their prices offer very reasonable set menus with a balanced variety of individual dishes. However, they are also flexible, so if you see something in the set you don’t like, you can ask them to substitute something you do like.

 

4. DON’T EXPECT TO BE SEATED AT A COUNTER

Both high end and popular sushi bars tend to reserve their counters for regular or special customers, otherwise diners will be seated at regular tables. If it is important for you to enjoy the counter experience, please ask the shop staff if it is possible; they may be able to accommodate you.

 

5. DON’T ONLY ORDER MAGURO… MAGURO… MAGURO!

When ordering sushi at Tokyo’s more up-market establishments, where there is no printed menu, it is advisable to ask the sushi chef for his recommendations (osusume wa arimasu ka?) and he will indicate what is the day’s best dishes, often according to what you are prepared to pay per person. Usually, sushi is served in pairs (nikan) but it is possible to ask for single or multiple pieces. It is probably best to select the items you want to eat as a course, as this will be brought to you in a particular order, starting with shell fish and ending with tuna (maguro). You will also be able to request how much, if any, wasabi you want, and adjust the quantity of rice if it is too much for you. Of course, everyone loves maguro, but ordering that only is not considered good etiquette in Japan! You should also try some of the non sashimi dishes too, particularly the egg or grilled eel, when available. As a rule, the miso soup in sushi shops is especially delicious.

 

6. DON’T OVERSTAY YOUR WELCOME

Observing the correct etiquette is of great importance in Japanese eating establishments. Visitors who can embrace these customs will be highly respected at Tokyo’s traditional style restaurants. Your sushi will be served with a small dish of soy for dipping and some sliced ginger. Sushi is eaten with the fingers. When dipping in soy, do not dip the rice side as it may fall apart! Always dip the fish side and never bite sushi; just pop the whole thing in your mouth and savor the taste experience. The sliced ginger is best eaten between dishes, both as an aid to digestion and to prepare your taste buds for the next dish. Hot green tea will also be provided and adds greatly to the sushi experience. Try to finish each sushi dish as soon as you can and avoid dallying over your meal; it is tacitly expected that sushi shop patrons will finish their meals within an hour. This is a traditional way of thinking that has its roots in the Edo period when sushi was the fast food of its day.

 

7. DON’T RELY SOLELY ON THE PLASTIC!

It is usual in Japan for diners to pay at the door when leaving. Very traditional restaurants are still cash only, though these days, more and more are accepting credit cards. If you are not carrying cash, ask before you are seated if the sushi shop accepts credit cards.

 

8. DON’T FORGET TO COUNT THE PLATES!

Another kind of sushi bar is the ‘kaitenzushi’ (conveyor belt sushi) where diners choose their dishes as they pass by. You will be charged according to the number and colour code of empty plates you have at the end, so keep track of how many plates you have if you are on a budget! Prices are generally competitive but can vary depending on the reputation and popularity of the shop. Although a modern phenomenon, the kaitenzushi have quickly become an iconic symbol of Japanese culture.

 

9. DON’T PICK UP OTHER PEOPLE’S ORDERS BY MISTAKE!

Today, in Tokyo, very modern kaitenzushi utilize a touch-screen ordering system for their customers’ convenience. The screen displays the menu with prices, often with English explanations; you can even tailor dishes to your personal preferences with an option menu, such as with or without wasabi. In some shops, your order will automatically stop at your counter; in others, you will need to keep an eye out for your order as it travels round the conveyor. The important thing is not to pick up anyone else’s order by mistake!

 

10. DON’T WORRY IF YOU CAN’T FINISH EVERYTHING YOU ORDER

There are also some take away options depending on what kind of sushi shop you go to. If you were unable to finish your meal, most shops will pack your uneaten sushi for you to take away. Some traditional type sushi shops offer a take out service, whilst kaitenzushi certainly have take away menus. If you are looking for sushi to take on a picnic or trip, most good supermarkets and department store food halls sell ready made sushi sets at very competitive prices.

Eating out in Tokyo can be great fun, and there is nothing quite like the tastes and textures of well prepared sushi to give the visitor a flavor of Japanese culture, whatever price you can afford to pay.

 

Conclusion

I hope that the above 10 tips will help you to decide wisely which kind of sushi shop to visit, and how to avoid disappointments that might otherwise spoil your enjoyment of the Tokyo experience. Happy eating!

 

How to enjoy sushi in Tokyo! (10 don’ts)

1. DON’T EAT SUSHI WITHOUT FIRST CHECKING THAT YOU CAN AFFORD IT!
2. DON’T EAT AT SUSHI SHOPS YOU ARE UNSURE OF
3. DON’T WORRY IF THE SET MENU CONTAINS THINGS YOU CAN’T EAT
4. DON’T EXPECT TO BE SEATED AT A COUNTER
5. DON’T ONLY ORDER MAGURO… MAGURO… MAGURO!
6. DON’T OVERSTAY YOUR WELCOME
7. DON’T RELY SOLELY ON THE PLASTIC!
8. DON’T FORGET TO COUNT THE PLATES!
9. DON’T PICK UP OTHER PEOPLE’S ORDERS BY MISTAKE!
10. DON’T WORRY IF YOU CAN’T FINISH EVERYTHING YOU ORDER