Cleansing the Palate
The vinegared ginger slices (gari) that accompany your sushi are for cleansing your palate in between different foods. It is not proper to heap the ginger on any food.
Shredded White Stuff
Shredded white radish (daikon) is to nibble on between sushi orders, use chopsticks to eat this. This is commonly served under sashimi and other dishes or on the side as an edible garnish.
The Green Stuff is Hot!
Be careful with the green mound found on your plate with your sushi. It is wasabi and it can be quite spicy if used in abundance. Wasabi is Japanese horseradish translated to "mountain hollyhock". A dab is smeared under most sushi and some people mix bits of it with soy sauce, but the Chef will be happy to add more wasabi to accommodate your personal taste.
Sushi Bar Vocabulary
A special vocabulary is reserved for sushi bars in Japan. Soy sauce is referred to as murasaki (purple) instead of the normal shoyu. This is because most sushi restaurants make their own house sauce. Normally the marinated ginger slices are refered to as sushoga (vinegared ginger), but at the sushi bar it is called gari. Green tea is the national beverage of Japan and it's called ocha. When asking for tea after the meal, you may ask for agari (finished) instead of ocha. And lastly, Arigato means Thank You.
You can tell the sushi chef when you are done, but ask the waitress for the check. In Japan the people who handle food do not handle the money. Also in Japan, the gratuity is included in the bill and you are not supposed to leave a tip. But, in the United States a large tip is OK; consider the personal service and that the chefs share tips with the rest of the restaurant.
What To Say and How To Say It
For an extensive list of phrases, sushi, sashimi, and other sushi related terms and definitions, please go to Vocabulary. You will also find a brief explanation about how to pronounce most Japanese words. Go to our Japanese Numbers page to learn how to count in Japanese.
Bowing represents humility. You elevate, honor, and respect the other person by humbling yourself or lowering yourself. The lower you bow, the more you are honoring or respecting the other party. As a Westerner, you are not expected to initiate a bow, but a bow should always be returned (except from personnel at department stores and restaurants who bow to welcome you, and to whom you can nod in return if you like). To not bow in return is similar to refusing a handshake.
The person of lower status usually initiates the bow, bows the lowest, and is the last one to rise. The most frequent bow is a rather informal bow of about 15 degrees and is held for one or two seconds. A deeper bow is used for a superior or for a formal occasion such as a first meeting. It is usually about 30 degrees and is held for about three seconds. Men usually leave their hands at their sides while bowing, but women usually place them together on their thighs with their fingertips overlapping or touching. Heels should be together. If you rise from your bow and the other person hasn't risen yet, you should bow again. On most occasions, especially when saying good-bye, there are several bows by all parties.