What are good sushi restaurants!

You can determine how good a sushi restaurant is just by glancing at the topping box (neta-bako). The toppings should all be bright and shiny. This seafood was selected that very morning throughout Tsukiji Fish Market. Even when marinating in vinegar, it’s clear how lively and fresh the fish is.

Every single good sushi restaurant is small. The maximum counter space for a single sushi master to keep up with each customer is 10 seats. These excellent restaurants also have a number of regular customers and almost seem like an exclusive club.

The master conditions his customers to enjoy the toppings that he believes to be the best and the customers train the master into making the dishes they like. After all, making sushi may be a single profession, but it is a relative business and it takes time to build this deep understanding between the chef and customers.

Good sushi chefs do not play favorites to their regular customers. Good regular sushi customers are well-mannered and don’t make an unpleasant atmosphere for first-time customers. Both the chefs and customers are educated in this way. There is this sense of pure pressure in the restaurant.

Good sushi restaurants close their doors early. They need to get to Tsukiji Fish market first think in the morning.  This means they need to get to bed by midnight. So the regular customers at these restaurants get up to leave when closing time rolls around. Somewhere along the way they’ve been trained to do this.


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Revision date: June 25, 2018

People all over the world tend to be forced to eat sushi with fake or substitute fish!?

Seafood product buyers tend to believe that the products they are purchasing are as described by the sellers. But, that isn’t always the case. Seafood products are sometimes intentionally labeled incorrectly for profit.

This is seafood fraud. Fraudulent actions like this threaten the safety of the food. From the FDA’s “Report on Seafood Fraud”

70% of seafood consumed in the US is eaten at restaurants. The products served at restaurants are generally lower quality than those sold in retail outlets and the sushi is especially appalling. Unless visiting a top-class sushi restaurant (where the prices are, of course, high), you can usually expect to be served the worst of the worst.

There isn’t much a consumer can do about this, but at the very least you can educate yourself on types of fish that are often substituted. If you were to order White Tuna or Red Snapper, you would very likely be served something else. Any shrimp ordered was probably farmed.

There are no laws regulating “Fresh” or “Organic” labels so don’t be fooled by these. In the same way, be suspicious when you see word combinations like “Great Sushi” or “Great Sashimi.” There is no such thing as “Great” in this sense.
By Larry Olmsted, a print columnist for two of America’s three national newspapers, Investor’s Business Daily and USAToday

*FDA・・・Food and Drug Administration


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Revision date: June 4, 2018

What is “Sute-shari”?

Shari (vinegar rice) used for making sushi is kept in a rice tub and normally placed by the hand the chef uses to shape the rice. The chef places his shaping hand in the tub and takes out several hundred grains of rice. It is said that a skilled chef can consistently grab the same number of grains with an error of only a few grains, every time. This is the result of many years of training.

If the chef lacks such training, they may take too much shari and you’ll see them return some to the rice tub. This is called “sute-shari” or “discarded shari”. This sute-shari is not a very appealing sight. But the reality is that even the world-famous Jiro* can be seen discarding shari in this way.

*Jiro Ono is the owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a sushi restaurant in Ginza that has earned the status of a three Michelin stars for 11 consecutive years.


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Revision date: May 14, 2018

Does the taste of wasabi differ depending on the grater?!

There are two tools used to grate wasabi, one is a metal grater and the other is called “Samegawa” (sharkskin), which has a layer of shark skin. When something as fine as shark skin is used for grating, the spicy flavor is enhanced and when a coarser metal is used, the sweetness is enhanced. The taste of the wasabi even changes depending on whether it is turned clockwise or counter-clockwise while grating.

Learn about wasabi


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Revision date: April 23, 2018

Strong belief that fish is only about freshness

In some cases, the strong belief that fish is only about freshness, may prevent you from tasting the true value of the fish. For example, slicing up a fish that was just swimming, in front of the customer. The umami flavor is weak at first so while the texture is tough (a unique, crunchy feeling), the flavor is lacking. But the idea that freshness is equivalent to deliciousness continues still. This is a typical case of faith in freshness overtaking the actual taste.


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Revision date: April 16, 2018

What is the difference between the taste of marbled and lined fatty tuna?

Marbled tuna is the part in which it looks like the fat has fallen like a frost and melts like snow on your tongue then leaving only the umami taste.

The lined fatty tuna (jabara) is the part that has white fat lines running through it and distributes a surge of aroma and umami flavor throughout the mouth. After that the potent fatty umami fills your mouth. The way the fat melts in your mouth differs, so everyone has their own preference.


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Revision date: April 9, 2018

Can’t-miss Tokyo sushi toppings (Meji Maguro)

Meji Maguro (AKA: Meji) caught in fixed net fishing is one type of sushi topping that you really should try. Meji is the larval fish of Pacific bluefin tuna, made and served at expensive restaurants, but not usually available as Edo-style sushi. Its fat is lighter and it doesn’t have the impact that fatty tuna has. Efforts are put into seasoning to avoid this. Using a pinch of ginger, Japanese basil or onion between the topping and rice, along with the wasabi, really brings out the fresh flavor of the young fish as well as the sweetness of this fatty part.


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Revision date: March 26, 2018

Why doesn’t rice stick to the sushi chef’s hands?

One of the pleasures of sitting at a sushi counter is watching the sushi master work his craft.

He holds the topping between the index finger and thumb of his left hand while simultaneously grabbing the shari (vinegar rice) with his left hand. He gently squeezes the shari and then moves the topping from his left hand to the top of that shari in a fluid motion. This entire process of shaping the shari to the finished piece of sushi takes less than six seconds. Every movement is precise and purposeful.

However, no matter how many pieces the chef makes one after another, you’ll never see a grain of rice stick to his hands. If you or I were to make even one piece of sushi, our hands would be covered in rice. So why doesn’t it happen to them? Their hands don’t look oiled. Perhaps sushi chefs have especially smooth or slick hands compared to us average Joes?

Of course not. This is actually thanks to the vinegar.

The chefs keep a bowl of vinegar close by, which they constantly use to wet their hands. This procedure is called “Tezu” or vinegared water, which both disinfects the hands and cools their palms. When the vinegar evaporates, it takes the heat from the hands with it.

Normally hands reach temperatures of 33-34 degrees Celsius (91-93 degrees Fahrenheit), but sushi chefs cool their hands to approximately 30 degrees Celsius (86 F). This transfers the heat from the hands to the shari, keeping it from getting sticky. In other words, not a single grain of rice sticks to their hands.


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Revision date: March 19, 2018

Why is freshly-caught fish allowed to age?

The most delicious time to eat fish differs depending on if it is served as sashimi, as sushi, or boiled. Fresh does not necessarily mean delicious. For example, Japanese Amberjack should be used in sashimi 3-5 days after being caught, in sushi a week after being caught and it can be used in a stew or boiled once it turns black around the edges. This is because the inosine acid, which is responsible for the umami taste, increases after rigor mortis ends and understanding the timing of the peak in flavor is up to the skill of the sushi chef.


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Revision date: March 12, 2018

Why does the bill more when ordering sashimi at a prestigious restaurant?

Thicker cuts of fish are used for sashimi than for sushi. Depending on the restaurant, the equivalent of three pieces of sushi may be used in one cut of sashimi. In other words, two pieces of sashimi is the same as six pieces of sushi. At a restaurant where one piece of medium fatty tuna sushi is priced at JPY 1000, simple arithmetic prices medium fatty tuna sashimi at JPY 6000. Just a small order of assorted sashimi often costs more than JPY 10,000. Be careful.


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Revision date: March 5, 2018

Why are two pieces of sushi made at once?

One theory is that this practice is leftover from back when pieces of sushi were made larger and then cut in half. But, there are also some toppings that are better to eat in pairs.

For example, conger eel tastes completely different when one piece is eaten with salt and the other seasoned with sweet sauce. Serving the piece with the head skin-up and the piece with the tail belly-up also offers different textures. Since the back and belly of bonito have different fat content, it can be better to order two pieces at a time in order to fully experience each of the individual qualities of the fish.


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Revision date: February 26, 2018

Why don’t I notice the fishy smell in sushi restaurants?

Many overseas visitors who aren’t used to eating fish have an aversion to fishy smells. This is actually the smell of a substance called trimethylamine and is generated by the breakdown of the umami component called trimethylamine oxide found in large amounts in fish by bacterial growth. The smell also gets stronger with the generation of ammonia as more time passes.

Bacterial growth can be controlled with refrigeration so toppings at sushi restaurants are kept cold. Trimethylamine is an alkaline, so smells can be eliminated by washing with vinegar, which is acidic. It is also possible to kill bacteria on the surface of the fish by soaking it in vinegar, reducing the number of bacteria. Basically, sushi restaurants are constantly taking measures to prevent bacterial growth and avoid fishy smells.


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Revision date: February 19, 2018

Is sushi eaten with your hands? Or should you use chopsticks?

Sushi was originally a food eaten with your hands. Even, for example, if you are in a prestigious sushi restaurant in Ginza, you can still eat with your hands. You can actually use your hands to eat the ginger too. Restaurants that prefer you to eat with your hands will provide an extra, smaller towel for cleaning your hands between sushi, along with the normal hand towel. Even then, feel free to use chopsticks if you prefer.


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Revision date: February 12, 2018

Why is sushi with tuna topping so expensive?

A purchase of raw tuna costs at least JPY 30,000 per kilogram. Furthermore, good tuna is judged not only by taste, but appearance is also highly regarded.

The surface is gradually oxidized by letting it sleep (mature) and the sushi chef makes sure that parts are cut of as they change color, when the timing is perfect for both the taste and appearance. In other words, skin is taken from the freshly purchased tuna, the meat of the fish darkened by blood (the blackened area that can’t be used as sushi toppings) is removed, the parts that have changed color are shaved off and then only the remaining, best parts used as toppings are left.

This is why the price is high.


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Revision date: February 5, 2018

Prior to WWII, there were chefs whose only job was making vinegar rice!

From the end of the Edo period through the Meiji period, rice was cooked using firewood and a pot. It is not easy to get the fire at the right temperature and the rice has to be cooked to the same texture regardless of where it came from or the size of the grains, so at the time the task required a skilled chef. Therefore, there were “Shari-ya” employed by sushi restaurants who specialized in cooking rice. “Shari-ya” focused on this single task and were not involved in the actual making of the sushi after the rice was passed on to the chefs.


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Revision date: January 29, 2018