There are different types of sushi. One is Gunkan or “Warship shape” because of the white rice underpinning, a touch of wasabi in the middle and then the yummy raw fish laid on top. Another is Temaki “Hand Rolled” style with your rice and fish combo rolled inside a larger piece of dried seaweed.
For both types, it is fine to use your fingers to dip them gently in the soy sauce dish you’ll find upon arrival. Take a little dish and put a touch of soy sauce there to prepare for the upcoming Sushi spread. Actually, some sushi types don’t require soy sauce at all so before dunking your freshly made sushi in your pond of yummy soy sauce, you might want to catch the eye of your sushi chef and motion with your sushi towards the waiting liquid as if saying “To Sauce or Not to Sauce…that is the Question”. He will nod yes or adamantly shake “No” if the delicacy is already prepared in exactly the way it should enter your mouth, as is.
Unfortunately very few (almost none) of the Sushi joints in Japan have clearly marked signage about sauces and condiments available to the eager patron. Due to this lack of instruction as well as various sushi styles becoming popular overseas, there are some pretty interesting mistakes to be made if you aren’t sure about what is set before you on that baffling counter.
You will receive a white “oshibori” washcloth towel for your hands and mouth when you sit down. It will be passed directly to you in a wrapped or unwrapped state. Or, you might see them piled prettily nearby, wrapped in plastic for you to take for yourself. These are all perfectly clean and hygienic and Japanese eateries are very careful to make sure you will be the first one to use the one you receive.
Use the pink ginger slices in the silver box sparingly…just a bit here and there. Imagine putting a gob of butter on everything you eat, because eating too much ginger is kind of like that. It is an accent more than a prerequisite addition to your sushi.
It is rare that you will require Wasabi for your soy sauce. Just say “nashi” if you want no Wasabi, “Sukuname” if you want less than usual, “Futsuu” if you want the regular amount and “Oome” if you want more than usual. The Shokunin will put it right in perfectly under your fish on the gunkan or inside the seaweed wrap. Tastes much better that way anyway, so leave it to the pro.
There will usually be a brown chopstick length box somewhere near your seat. You can leave them right on top of your dish after you eat (horizontally on the dish please). Also, it is proper to hold your sushi in the chopsticks so that the top of the sushi will touch the soy sauce as you dip. If you put rice in first, it will break apart before you get it to your mouth. Also, there is a cute little toothpick nook next to the chopstick section. It is proper to cover your mouth as you toothpick and ladies are welcome to do it too.
Have fun with your Sushi Experience in Japan!