Why You Should Never Separate Sushi, According To Jiro Ono

It's important to learn the rules of Japanese etiquette if you're planning a trip to the country — or even if you're just checking out the new ramen place that opened up on your block. However, some of the cross-cultural expectations may be surprising. Tripsavvy explains some basics: Don't waste soy sauce, and if you're given a wet towel, use it to clean your hands (but never your face or neck). It's important to learn how to use your chopsticks correctly, too. Don't fidget with them, stab food with them, or use them to point at food or other people. It's especially rude to pass food from person to person with chopsticks, because it recalls Japanese funeral customs.

CNN Travel writes that the customs around restaurant reservations differ in Japan, too. Japanese restaurants can be trickier to get into, requiring connections or special reservations from a hotel concierge service. One such restaurant is Sukiyabashi Jiro — the restaurant owned by the world-famous sushi chef Jiro Ono — (and the subject of the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi), which was stripped of its three Michelin stars in 2019 for being too exclusive. In a statement, the Michelin guide noted that its policy was to only include restaurants that anyone could dine at.

Pulling apart sushi is an insult to the chef

Sukiyabashi Jiro details important aspects of etiquette on its website. The site explains that it's acceptable to pick up sushi either with your hands or with chopsticks, but reminds potential diners to handle the sushi carefully so that it doesn't crumble or spill its toppings. Potential diners are also warned that they shouldn't take photos of the food, let the sushi sit, or cut it in half. However, the website notes that the "greatest insult to the sushi chef" is to pull off the topping and eat the ingredients separately.

Gaijinpot explains that chopping sushi into pieces or pulling it apart disrespects the chef's hard work. Part of the art of making sushi is learning to combine flavors and ingredients perfectly, so taking the ingredients apart is an insult to the chef's abilities. Sushi should be able to fit into your mouth easily. However, if you're at a sushi bar and find that the pieces are too big for you, it's acceptable to politely ask the chef to make them smaller.