There’s some simple things that you to know about in a real Japanese sushi restaurant. There’s of course a lot more you can learn if visit with a sushi aficionado, but let your orientation to Sushi Restauranting 101 begin here.
1. When you first sit down. Step into the door and look for a young shop assistant who’ll ask how many people you’re dining with, and then he or she will direct you to a place to sit. Near your place is the hot water dispenser for your green tea. Usually at each section along the conveyor are tins with green tea powder. Just put one heaped spoon in your cup and add water. Place the cup against the large round button, and push. Of course refills are allowed.
2. What to do. You’re free to take any plate you like from the conveyor, but once you take the plate etiquette is you keep it. Even if you don’t eat it all, never put a half consumed plate back.
3. Plates are colour-coded. Each plate pattern equals a certain amount of money. There’s usually a chart somewhere on the walls that shows you the value of each plate design. Keep your own plates and never trade with other people, and never put them back on the conveyor. When your finished dining, tell one of the young waiters that you want the bill, “okaike kudasai”, and he or she will tot up the bill based on the number and types of plates you’ve stacked up. Typically plates cost from about ¥220 to about ¥650, and you’d have about six plates to a meal. I’ve never paid more than ¥1,500 for a good meal that gives me lots of energy for the next day.
4. Ordering plates. Yes, even if what you want to try isn’t currently doing the rounds, you can order from the menu. Usually on quiet evenings they don’t put out their whole menu, as it’d be wasted at the end of the night. The menu almost always includes a range of tuna, salmon, octopus, squid, salmon roe, shrimp, and egg servings. Usually sake, beer, and Japanese style deserts are available.
5. This little plate is for your soy and wasabi. It’s not the usual soy sauce, but one that’s especially formulated for sushi. Pour some onto your little dish. Add a small dab of wasabi on the side, and stab at it and mix it into the soy sauce. Gently dab the rice part of your sushi into the soy and then put the whole lot into your mouth in one go. But be aware that usually there’s already a dab of wasabi between the rice and the meat. Oh, and in case you didn’t know, wasabi is hot, and in large quantities it has the magical powers of sinus clearing. So be conservative at first on how much wasabi you add to your little dish.
Bonus. Finally, if you’re unsure about something, do what I do. Just stop and watch what other people are doing. In all my travels, for any new experience, it’s almost always better to be chaperoned by a local who can give you a little guidance, inside info, and interesting personal accounts of something. In short, it’s more fun with friends, especially if they’re locals. Enjoy.