As you enter the sushi bar, or any restaurant for that matter, the employees will greet you with “irrashaimase”, meaning welcome.
When you’re seated, you will receive a moistened towel, normally hot, to wipe your hands with.
From the server, you may order everything except sushi and sashimi. That’s reserved for the chef at the sushi bar.
When your sushi is served, you may pick it up with your chopsticks or your hand. However, sashimi should always be eaten with chopsticks. When eating nigiri sushi by hand, pick it up so that your index finger rests on top of the fish at the top end, and the rice portion is cradled between your thumb and other fingers.
For nigiri sushi, dip only the fish into the soy sauce that is poured onto a small dish. this is done by dipping only the end of the nigiri sushi into the soy sauce; the part that isn’t covered by your index finger. Then, place the sushi into the mouth with the same end that was dipped into the soy sauce first.
When dipping the nigiri sushi into the soy sauce using your chopsticks, turn it onto one side gently with your chopsticks. Then, with one chopstick against the rice and the other against the fish, turn it upside down and dip it into the soysauce. Place the sushi into your mouth, fish side down.
You can also add a dab of wasabi (Japanese horseradish), though the chef often smears a bit on the underside of the fish in the nigiri, or in the middle of the maki and temaki. However, it is often the case that you will not be given wasabi, as the chef should be able to determine the perfect amount for each piece of sushi.
There is no etiquette for dipping for maki and temaki sushi, though for any sushi, one must never pour soy sauce onto the sushi. The only exception is for gunkan sushi, where the topping (usually fish roe or uni) will fall off if you turn it upside down to dip into the soy sauce. For this, you may pour some soy sauce on top.
Soy sauce, known as “murasaki” in sushi bars.
For the adornments on your plate: Gari, the vinegared ginger slices accompanying your sushi, are for cleansing your palate in between the different types of nigiri. It is also has anti-bacterial properties. Please eat it only after you’ve enjoyed your morsel of sushi. You can also eat the shredded white radish often decorating the plate, with chopsticks. Sometimes, you will also find a green leaf that has been cut into a pretty geometric shape. Now normally made from plastic, they were originally bamboo leaf. Bamboo leaves were used because of their sterilizing and heat insulating properties, as they are high in salicylic and sulfurous acid. They are placed between differing sushi or wasabi to keep the flavours from intermingling. If you do see that your decoration is real, please don’t eat it!
When you’re done, let the sushi bar chef know, but ask for the check from the waitress (you can say “oaiso/okanjo kudasai” . You may also stand up and go to the cash register to pay. No tip is required in Japan!
As you leave, everybody will say “arigato gozaimashita”, meaning thank you very much. You can say “gochisosama deshita” in response, or even before they say anything. This means “it was a great meal!”.