Eating Sushi With Hands Or With Chopsticks?

When it comes to sushi etiquette, there’s a question that many people may want to know the answer. That is “Eating sushi with hands or with chopsticks? Which way is considered proper?”. In order to find out the answer, you shouldn’t miss reading this blog. Now, let’s check it out!

Sushi Etiquette

In fact, there are no absolute requirements for eating sushi, but there are certain behaviors that can help you avoid rude or awkward moments as well as make your dining experience more pleasant. Learning sushi etiquette is not a struggle, but it’s really simple and fun. So as to show your politeness when eating sushi in Japanese traditional restaurants, you should bear in mind the following guidance.

eating sushi with hands

Learning sushi etiquette is not a struggle, but it’s really simple and fun

Before Eating Sushi

When you arrive at the restaurant, the host or hostess will greet you by saying “Irasshaimase” which means “Please come in”. It is polite to greet them back, but don’t think it’s impolite if you don’t respond to their greeting. Just a smile back can also be considered polite. After greeting, the host or hostess will ask you questions about your meal (seating or something else).

If you would like to watch how the sushi chef (the itamae) prepare your food and make conversation with him, you can ask to have a seat at the sushi bar.

When you are seated at the sushi bar, only ask the chef for sushi. Other food items such as soup, sashimi and drinks are served by the waiter or the waitress.

eating sushi with hands

Sitting at the sushi bar and watching the chef prepare your sushi can be a nice experience

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While Eating Sushi

In this part, you will know the proper way to eat sushi.

Here comes the guide that you should follow:

  • Firstly, use the offered hot, wet towel (oshibori) to wash your hands and then neatly fold it back the way it was offered to you before returning it.
  • When it comes to chopsticks, you should never use them to point at anyone or anything. In addition, do not rub your chopsticks together. When you don’t use them and when you finish your meal, put them on the holder or on the soy sauce (shoyu) dish parallel to yourself.
  • When moving food from one plate to another, do not use the end of the chopsticks you put in your mouth. Instead, using the end you hold and this is the polite way.
  • Feel free to ask for an item not on the menu as the restaurant may have special or seasonal items that are not listed.
  • Eating sushi with hands is perfectly acceptable as sushi started off as finger food.
  • It is ok to eat sushi with chopsticks, but you should handle the sushi with care. Don’t squeeze it too hard.
  • Do not use your hands to eat sashimi. It is only eaten with chopsticks.
  • Eat sushi and sashimi in one bite. If you cannot do that with the whole big piece, don’t be afraid to ask the chef to cut it in half for you.
  • Don’t put wasabi directly into the soy sauce dish.
  • When eating sashimi, firstly you apply a small amount of wasabi directly onto the piece of fish. Then, pick it up with your chopsticks and lightly dip one end of the fish into the shoyu. You shouldn’t submerge the fish because a small amount of sauce is enough to enhance its flavor.
  • When eating sushi, dip the fish into the shoyu, not the rice as the rice will soak up the sauce and fall apart.
  • In more traditional sushi-ya, do not ask for a spoon to eat the soup because you are expected to pick up your bowl to drink it and use your chopsticks to direct solid pieces in the bowl to your mouth.
  • Offering a beer or sake to the itamae is nice and he may remember you and treat you well upon your next visits.
  • Eat your fresh sushi immediately after it is prepared. Do not let it sit for a long time since its flavor will deteriorate with time.
  • Never leave food on your plate as this is very impolite.
  • Gari (pickled ginger) is a palate cleanser. It is considered to be eaten between bites, not together with your sushi or sashimi.
eating sushi with hands

Here is the guide on eating sushi in the graphic form. Source: Tripsavvy

After Eating Sushi

  • If you sit at the sushi bar, it is polite to thank the itamae. If you want to try Japanese, you can say “domo arigato” which means “thank you” or “gochisosama deshita” which is translated as “thank you for the meal”.
  • In Japan, tips are included in the bill, so you don’t have to tip.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the proper etiquette for eating sushi?

So, eating sushi with hands or with chopsticks? Which way is proper?

The answer is both are fine. When using chopsticks, you flip the piece of sushi gently 90 degrees to its side so that the fish is facing the left and the rice is facing the right. Then, grab the piece with your chopsticks with one chopstick on each side and lightly dip the fish into the soy sauce. When using hands, you also flip the sushi 90 degrees to its side, after that use your fingers to grab the piece and lightly dip the fish into the soy sauce. Remember not to dip the rice into the soy sauce because it will soak up the sauce and fall apart, which is not a good way to eat sushi.

2. Should you eat nigiri with your hands?

When eating nigiri sushi, which is rice topped with fish or sushi rolls, you should use your hands, not your chopsticks. That is because if the loosely packed rice in well-made sushi is pinched, it will fall apart. You’d better only use chopsticks to eat sashimi.

3. Do Japanese people eat sushi with fingers?

Well, the answer is absolutely yes.

Most Japanese people use their hands to eat sushi in high end restaurants. However, in low end sushi places, you can eat sushi in any way you want and in mid-range restaurants, you can either use chopsticks or your fingers to enjoy sushi.

4. Is it rude to eat sushi with a fork?

If you find using chopsticks uncomfortable, it’s fine to ask for a fork. It’s also perfectly acceptable to eat sushi with your fingers, but sashimi should be enjoyed with chopsticks or a fork.

If you don’t find using chopsticks comfortable, it’s fine to ask for a fork

Conclusion

Eating sushi with hands or with chopsticks are both proper. Hope that this blog has given you some insight into the sushi dining etiquette. Now, you have known how to eat sushi right? If you have any other experience in eating sushi, feel free to share!

About Haruto Suzuki

Haruto Suzuki is a senior food and drinks blogger at Question Japan. He has a background in F&B industry and also experience of running his own Japanese restaurant in Tokyo for over 10 years. Therefore, he has a great knowledge of Japanese cuisine. So if you want to discover Japan through its unique traditional cuisine, Haruto Suzuki’s blog will be a great source of information for you.