Do You Eat Sushi with Your Hands? Learn Etiquette!

Once, I took one of my foreign friends to my favorite sushi restaurants here, in Japan. And the first thing that he asked me was: do you eat sushi with your hands in Japan?

I was like, why are you asking? He said that he was just curious whether the Japanese follow any etiquette.

Well, as culture differs from country to country, it’s totally normal for anyone to be curious about the eating manners of the respective land.

Now, if you are also curious about this matter, then keep up with me to know the proper way to eat sushi.

Learn Whether It Is Okay to Eat Sushi with Hands

If you were wondering whether it is disrespectful to eat sushi with your hands, then let me inform you that it’s not impolite at all.

Eating sushi with hands

The first thing you will be offered in a sushi restaurant is a wet towel.

But, wait!! Don’t mistake the towel for freshening up as you do on a plane!

It is provided so that you can clean your fingers before digging into the sushi.

Wet towel for cleaning hand

In fact, the traditional way of eating nigiri sushi and maki is by using your clean hand. Just lift a piece with your thumb and middle finger, feel the smooth texture, keep the roll together, and stuff it into the mouth.

With the blast of heavenly taste inside your mouth, I guess you won’t be able to say any words and will keep going for more and more.

Lifting sushi with thumb and middle finger

And when you use your hand, the perfect form of the sushi roll won’t be ruined, and you can taste the flavor entirely.

Moreover, I suggest you put the sushi on your tongue with the fish side and the rice facing the roof. In that way, you will be able to taste the freshness of the fish first and then the rice flavors.

Others Way of Eating Sushi

Being one of the Edo Period foods, sushi has been making our taste buds happy for a long time.

And Japanese chefs pour their heart and passion into making them delicious.

So, whether you will dine in a Japanese restaurant or a regular one, it’s essential for you to know the correct way to eat sushi other than using your hands.

Now, it’s time to know those ways along with some courtesy that should be followed.

1. You Can Use Chopstick

Following the right folk, only the sashimi (only a slice of fish) is supposed to be eaten with chopsticks.

eating sashimi with chopsticks

But when it comes to sushi rolls, they are consist of various wrappers. And if you are not mastered in using chopsticks, you may ruin the shape and texture while trying to lift the roll.

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Hence, it’s preferable to use fingers while eating the rolls.

lifting sushi roll with chopstick

However, if you don’t like the smell of raw fish on your hand, then it’s totally okay to use chopsticks instead.

2. Ask for Fork If You Are Not Comfortable with Both Hand & Chopsticks

It’s obvious that not everyone is comfortable with using chopsticks. Especially when you are not used to them, then you may ask for a fork.

And, don’t worry, there is nothing wrong with it. You can freely use the fork for lifting sashimi.

Eating sushi with fork

But, as for sushi rolls, if you poke them with a fork, the shape will be ruined. So, keep this in mind.

Dining Etiquette to Follow While Eating Sushi

There are some etiquette that should be followed. Now, check them out to avoid disrespecting Japanese culture.

1. Only Use A Trace of Soy Sauce & Don’t let It Touch The Rice

Once, I saw a person pouring too much sauce into the bowl. And it’s not the right thing to do at all because in Japanese dining etiquette, wasting soy sauce is taboo.

It is also a sign that the particular person is suspecting the fish’s freshness.

pouring small amount of soy sauce

Therefore, only pour a small amount of sauce as you can always add more later when needed.

Also, don’t dip the rice side on the soy sauce as it will absorb too much sauce. Thus, you need to tilt the sushi fish down and apply a hint of soy sauce.

Sushi dipping in soy sauce

Note that sushi pieces like unagi (eel) and those topped with sauce already should not be dipped into the soy sauce.

2. You Don’t Need to Mix Wasabi into The Soy Sauce

Of course, we Japanese love wasabi. Even we make our own sauce by blending wasabi and soy sauce together. But, we don’t do it while eating sushi.

Following the traditional way, you only need to put some wasabi on the center of the fish and then dip the sushi into the soy sauce. Also, the chef has already applied the right amount of wasabi inside the sushi, so you don’t have to put more in the sauce.

Wasabi on the center of the fish

However, mixing wasabi and soy sauce together is acceptable while you are eating sashimi.

3. Eat Ginger in Between Sushi Pieces

There are some people who eat ginger while still having fish in their mouths. Well, they probably don’t know that ginger is a palette cleanser. 

Sushi gari ginger for cleansing palette

Hence the proper way of eating it is between sushi pieces, not while having a piece inside the mouth.

4. You Should Eat The Entire Piece of Sushi in One Bite

Sushi is meant to be eaten in one bite because splitting it in half will make the shape fall apart.

It is also rude to the chef who worked hard to make a perfect piece for you.

eating sushi in one bite

Yet, if you find the piece too big for your mouth, you can ask the sushi chef to adjust the portion to suit you.

Anyway, till now, I talked about the proper way of eating sushi in general. But, when you are in a restaurant, you should also follow some dining etiquette.

So, from here, I will discuss this matter.

Courtesy to Follow While You Are in A Restaurant

While having a meal in a restaurant in Japan, you should never disrespect the chef or the surrounding people.

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As I don’t want you to make any impolite move, I will mention the proper courtesy that should be maintained when you are at a restaurant.

1. Greeting & Seating Manner

After entering a restaurant in Japan, you should greet the host or hostess as it is considered polite. They may say “irasshaimase,” meaning “welcome” or “come in.”

You just need to accept their greetings and are not required to say anything back. Don’t feel like it is impolite to not respond with words. But an exchange of smiles is preferable because it shows gratitude.

Now, if you are interested in watching the food preparation or having a conversation with the sushi chef, you may ask for a seat at the sushi bar.

Sitting at the sushi bar

Otherwise, you can sit at the table.

2. Ordering Process

In case you are seated at the sushi bar, then ask the chef for sushi only. Drinks, soup, or other items are given by the waiter/waitress.

Waiter serving drink

You may ask the chef for a recommendation on the food but never say whether the item is fresh or not. It is considered insulting to question the quality.

Besides, you should respect the itamae (chef). For example, if he is busy with work, don’t engage in conversation. Instead, try to talk when he is available.

chef making sushi

Moving to the ordering, you can keep your preferred palate in mind and order accordingly.

3. Etiquette to Follow While Eating

  • You already know that a wet towel will be offered to clean your hand. So, wipe out the dirt of your hand with it, and then fold back as it was offered to you.
  • Don’t rub your chopsticks together as it is something which you do with cheap wooden chopsticks. And when you are not using them, they should be placed parallelly. Never put chopsticks vertically on a rice bowl because such a thing is left at a funeral in Japan.
parallelly placed chopstick
  • As I said earlier, it’s okay to eat nigiri-zushi (sushi) with your hands, but use a chopstick while eating sashimi.
  • Never pass food from chopsticks to another person’s chopsticks. It is the way of passing the bones of deceased people during a traditional Japanese funeral. Instead, you may pass the plate allowing the other person to take the food themselves.
Passing sushi with hand
  • Unlike some other Asian cultures, burping is considered impolite at the Japanese table.
  • If you are at a conveyor belt restaurant and by fault grab something that you don’t like, then don’t put the plate back on the belt, even if you haven’t touched it. In the same manner, don’t put empty plates back either.
Sushi on conveyor belt
  • It is commonly said in Japan that you should start with a white fish and finish with sushi that has bold flavors. But, it’s not true, and you don’t need to follow it. You can eat whatever you prefer. Just make sure to cleanse your stomach by drinking something like tea. It will help to refresh your taste buds.
  • Never leave leftovers, as it is extremely rude not to finish your sushi.

And of course, you have to follow all the eating courtesies that I mentioned before.

4. After The Meal Approach

After you finish the food, you may compliment the chef for such a heartful meal.

Although the fish is the main item of the sushi, you should also appreciate the rice.

Appreciate the rice in sushi

In fact, the fish tastes delicious because of the vinegared rice. As the chef spends much time creating the perfect vinegar flavor and texture to compliment the rice, you must praise the whole dish and tell it to the chef.

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Lastly, no matter what, you should never tip the sushi chef. You probably heard that tipping is considered rude and insulting in Japanese custom. Most restaurants in Japan require paying the bill at the front register.

Also, you shouldn’t leave money for the waiter/waitress as well.

If you are highly impressed with the sushi chef’s work and want to show gratitude, you can buy him a drink. It’s the best way to appreciate his culinary arts.

offering drink to sushi chef

By the way, do you even know the price of sushi in Japan? If not, then you may check this writing. It will be helpful for you to know about the cost beforehand.

Okay, besides sashimi and sushi rolls, there is another form of sushi called “Temaki” (hand roll sushi). It looks quite different from traditional sushi.

Temaki or hand roll sushi

And, now, I will talk about the proper way of eating them.

How to Eat Hand Roll Sushi (Temaki)?

Sushi was meant to be eaten on the go, with your hands.

Nigiri was the first form which was salted fish placed on top of a rice ball, squeezed together, and then served to the customer on the street. And the hand roll sushi is an evolution of this.

hand roll sushi

You may already guess by the name that it is supposed to be eaten by hands. You shouldn’t use chopsticks, knives, or a fork.

The entire piece is wrapped with seaweed in the shape of a cone which makes it easy to handle and eat with hands. If these are made well, then they won’t fall apart when you take a bite.

By the way, while taking the bite, you should start eating from the top down. The easiest way is to hold the hand roll on its side and bite into the wide-open section.

You need to keep holding them to prevent the filling from falling out. And, of course, don’t forget to dip in soy sauce between bites to enhance the flavor.

Alright, I have nothing left to inform you regarding today’s topic. Hence, It’s time to finish off the discussion.

Conclusion

Now, if someone asks, do you eat sushi with your hands, then simply say yes with the proper explanation of why it is the right way.

Now, what are you waiting for? Just go to a restaurant or order a sushi platter at your home, roll up your sleeve, dig into them, and enjoy the flavors.

And I hope we will meet through another writing. Till then, have a great time.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Yes, pregnant women in Japan do enjoy eating sushi. Even many Japanese pregnancy books recommend eating sushi to maintain a healthy, low-fat diet.

Also, postpartum women get certain kinds of sushi during recovery in the hospital.

But, if someone faces digestive problems, particularly after eating sushi, then they avoid eating them.

Although there are different types of sushi available, most are wrapped in a large roll. These rolls are then cut into small bite-sized pieces.

Generally, 6 to 8 pieces are cut from one sushi roll.

As per a registered dietician, healthy adults can consume 2 to 3 sushi rolls (10-15 pieces) per week. But the quantity differs for the elderly and people with digestive problems.