Monthly Archive February 2016

ByMark Guthrie
Feb 29, 2016

Nagoya’s Best International Cuisine – Part 1

477974287_b525e06de1_zIn his great comedic play Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare calls music the food of love. Now, I’m not in the habit of  contradicting the bard, however for me the food of love is, well, food. There is nothing better for the heart and the soul than having a wide selection of grub to get stuck into and for me, to paraphrase another great British literary William, variety is the spice of life.

Of course Nagoya doesn’t quite have the international culinary diversity of London, New York, or even Tokyo. However, if you know where to look you can find some really excellent international restaurants. And luckily for you, we at Japan Info Swap know precisely where to look.

Canadian – Coat of Arms

canadaOkay, not everyone will think of Canadian food when the topic of international cuisine comes up, but that’s because they probably haven’t tried poutine. Coat of arms in Fushimi has all sorts of different foods sourced from the nations that comprise of the British Commonwealth, as well as even further afield, but it is the poutine – french fries topped with aged cheddar cheese and a light gravy that originates in the French-Canadian district of Quebec that is the pick of the bunch. Why not make a Canadian day of it and finish off with a Maple Cheese Cake for dessert!

Korean – Seoul Table

KoreaThere are quite a few great Korean restaurants in Nagoya. The consensus in our office seems to be that Chottejiya in Sakae is one of the best Korean BBQ places around. Unfortunately I am yet to sample its delights. However I have been many times to Seoul Table in Meieki, and I find it difficult to imagine that it can be topped. They have a variety of BBQ pork dishes that they cook and prepare at your table, but the thing that sends it over the edge for me is the cheese chijimi. It’s pretty heavy, but none the worse for it.

  • AddressEme Nagoya Bldg. B1, 4-24-8 Meieki, Nakamura-Ku
  • Top Tip: I would recommend that you go with a group, as there is so much that you will want to choose, it can be a bit of a gutbuster if you go there as a pair, particularly if you plump for the cheese chijimi. Check the website for discount coupons.

Mexican – Desperados

MexicanDesperados in Shinsakae is widely considered the best Mexican place in Nagoya, though sometimes it is accused of being the best US style Mexican place in Nagoya. It isn’t the biggest of places, but once you have sampled from their extensive selection of tequila, you probably won’t mind getting cozy with other Mexican food lovers. Run by Mexican born and US raised Rudy, and his wife Takako (who speaks great English), at best it is Mexican food, and at worst US-Mex. Unless you are from Mexico you probably don’t know the difference anyway. Either way, it’s pretty fantastic.

Brazilian – Sapucaí Restaurante Brasileiro

SapucaiNot only can Didi, the owner of this Shinsakae restaurant dance up a storm (and gentlemen, keep an eye on your ladies, for he may look like a kindly old gent, but he’s smoother than sanded silk) but he can also whip up a feast. I’d recommend going for the buffet where you can eat as much as you like as waiters deliver flame grilled chicken, pork, sausages and beef to your table carved directly from swords. Seriously tasty meat.

  • Address4-12-7 Sakae, Naka Ward
  • Website: Facebook page
  • Top Tip: It can get pretty rowdy on weekends, so be prepared to raise your voice over the the other excitable guests as well as the house band.

Thai  – Siam Garden

ThaiIn the past we have told you about Higashi Sakura Pakuchi in Sakae, which does a great job of recreating the atmosphere of Thailand, but of you want really good upmarket Thai food, it’s to Siam Garden in Fushimi you should go. It’s a bit pricier than many of the other Thai restaurants, but it is very elegant, and the food is impressively authentic. The building itself is beautiful, and it has been said that it used to be the Thai Embassy. Whether or not this is true, I couldn’t say for sure.

Vietnamese – Thu An

vietThe chef who owns the shop has over 20 years of experience cooking Vietnamese food, and was once the “Vice Chef,” at a five star hotel in Ho Chi Minh City and has prepared food for world class VIPs like the British Royal Family, so it is probably acceptable to the likes of you. This is one of those places that ‘they’, the people who claim to know these sorts of things, claim to be particularly authentic.




By Mark Guthrie

Image: "Grilled Shrimp, Fish, and Lobster Adobado" by Burnt Fat (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) – Modified
Image: "IMG_6767" by Jason Walsh (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) – Modified
Image: "Bún Mắm" by Thy Khue Ly (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) – Modified
Image: "Poutine" by Burnt Fat (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) – Modified
Image: "Yongsusan food: bulgogi" by James Creegan (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) – Modified

ByMark Guthrie
Feb 26, 2016

Eating Organic in Tokyo

OrganicAs we have perhaps made abundantly clear in these pages over the years, Japan is very much a nation of foodies. I can honestly say, having visited dozens of countries around the world and having lived in five countries on four different continents, no nation that I know of is obsessed with food to such a degree.

However, one place in which it could be argued that the Japanese are letting themselves down is in the organic and natural foods department. Most of us have come from countries where each supoermarket has a large organic selection, and the only reason it may not is if said supermarket only sells organic goods. The same could not be said of Japan, unfortunately, and organic pickings are thin on the ground.

Albeit slowly, things are, thankfully changing and there are a few places that stock either organic (yuuki 有機, or yuuki saibai 有機栽培, which means organic farming) or pesticide free (munoyaku 無農薬) goods. The trick is in finding where you can get them.

Organic Supermarkets

Natural House

Perhaps the biggest organic supermarket, Natural House specialize in all kinds of organic fresh produce. It also stocks many organic health and beauty products and vitamins and supplements.

  • Where: There are 13 stores around the city. Click here for a list. It is in Japanese, but if you put it through a translate tool it should give you an idea of your nearest one.

Crayon House

As well as having two separate natural-food restaurants – Japanese food in ‘Hiroba’, and French cuisine in ‘Home’ – Crayon house in Kita-Aoyama has an imported and locally produced organic vegetable store stocking both western and eastern products.


JA is part of the Japan Agriculture cooperative that is run in direct conjunction with Japanese farmers. This means that everything comes direct from the farms to the store. Please be aware goods are seasonal meaning there isn’t always a huge variety to choose from.

Seijo Ishii

Seijo Ishii is an international supermarket that can be found in many cities in or around central train stations. They often have natural and organic products from all over the world, including French cheese, Australian wine and American candy.

National Azabu

An international supermarket in Tokyo, National Azabu has many organic items including dairy, nuts and dried fruit, legumes, snack food, coffee and tea. Home delivery available for purchases from 10,000 JPY.

Yuuki no Sato

As the name suggests, Yuuki no Sato has all kinds of organic goods, including cosmetics and produce.

  • Where: There are six stores in the Tokyo area. See website for details.
  • Website:

Waseda Natural

In Shinjuku you can find Waseda Natural. This place has it all, from fresh produce to cereal and grains, from cleaning products to health and beauty.

Farmers Markets in Tokyo

Apart from the supermarket, another great place to find natural and organic foods is at Farmers’ Markets. Of course they aren’t the cheapest places in the world, but they can be a bit more eyeopening to the variety on offer.

UNU Farmers Market (a.k.a Aoyama Farmers Market)

Ebisu Marche

Earth Day Market

Market Of The Sun

For more information on Farmers’ Markets in the area, check out the blog for up to the minute information.

Online Markets

If you have neither the time nor inclination to head out to the shops yourself there are some good online retailers selling organic and natural products.

This US based online store has the entire website in English. They have absolutely anything you can think of from the natural world of vitamins, supplements, all at relatively reasonable prices.

Super Organics

Food sourced locally in both Sapporo and Kyushu. It mostly focuses on fruit and veg selection boxes, but there are some meats and other products available.

Alishan Organic Center

As well as having its own line of organic food products and imported goods, Alishan also provides information on cafes and events. It is based in Japan, but run by expats and they even have their own cafe in Saitama.

By Mark Guthrie

Image: "mother's bounty 母の収穫" by spinster cardigan (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) – Modified
ByJustin Hanus
Feb 22, 2016

Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in Hiroshima

Saint Patricks Day in Japan

For many people around the world, the month of March means St. Patrick’s Day and all of the fun celebrations that come along with it. These days, it’s not just Western countries or predominantly Irish populations of people who join in the cultural festivities. Many parts of the East, including Japan, are no strangers to the lucky Irish holiday, and different exciting events can be found in cities all over. In Japan, while the biggest celebratory festival occurs in Tokyo every year, Hiroshima also has its own lucky green events to enjoy.

To kick off the holiday month, Hiroshimans can celebrate St. Patrick’s Day early with an Irish Festival and concert. On Friday, March 4th, head on over to Blue Live on the Moto Ujina waterfront for some Irish food, drinks, and great live music. Be sure to wear something green so you can enjoy the lively celebrations of this cultural event without the threat of getting pinched! The venue is always encouraging of dancing, and this is especially true of the Irish festival. At 7:00 p.m., things start off with Irish dancing practice, so you can dust off some of your old moves before the real show begins at 7:30 p.m. The stage lineup is stacked full of various musical entertainment that’s sure to keep you dancing all evening, including instruments such as the fiddle, tin whistle, guitar, harp, and keyboard.

For those who don’t fancy dancing, or who might need a break for refreshment every now and then, the venue also offers a traditional Irish set meal (which must be pre-ordered ahead of time) for ¥2,000. In addition to the food, there will be a promised assortment of traditional Irish drinks and of course the standard bar options to keep the spirits high.

Irish Festival and Concert 2016

Where: Blue Live on the Moto Ujina waterfront, 3-12-69 Ujina-kaigan, Minami Ward, Hiroshima, Hiroshima Prefecture 734-0011
Tel: 082-250-5522
When: Friday, March 4, 2016 from 7:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Admission: Advance ticket purchase – ¥3,000, at the door purchase – ¥3,500 *prices include one ¥500 drink*
Dinner Reservation Price: ¥2,000
Official Website (Japanese): You can make reservations online here:

Though any Irish-themed festival is bound to be a fun time, March would feel incomplete without some traditional, day-of, St. Patty’s Day celebrations. On March 17th, you can keep tradition alive by putting on something green and making your way to Molly Malone’s to celebrate the holiday. Famed as one of the most authentic pubs in the heart of downtown Hiroshima, Molly Malone’s is the best place in town to experience the richness of this cultural holiday. Grab a drink, meet some awesome international people and cool locals, enjoy the traditional music, and offer a toast to the good old luck o’ the Irish!

St. Patrick’s Day Party at Molly Malone’s 2016

Where: Molly Malone’s Irish Pub, 4F Teigeki Building, 1-20 Shintenchi, Naka Ward, Hiroshima, Hiroshima Prefecture 730-0034
Tel: 082-244-2554
When: Thursday, March 17, 2016 from 5:00 p.m. – 1:00 a.m.
Admission: Free
Official Website (Japanese):
Facebook Page:

By Kounosu (Own work (own picture)) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
ByJustin Hanus
Feb 22, 2016

Kobe Beef: The Real Deal

Kobe Beef

Russia has its caviar, Maine has its lobsters, and Kobe has its beef.

There are no Kobe beef cows. They are a breed of Wagyu cattle that are raised in Hyogo Prefecture. Cattle have been raised in Japan for 2000 years but because of the mountainous terrain of the island country, the herds tend to be bred in small pockets without much intermingling.

What is so special about Hyogo cattle?

The Wagyu cattle in Hyogo have been selectively bred for intense marbling of fat. Modern tastes for beef have tended towards lean breeds of cattle which require less resources to raise. The Wagyu around Kobe are not just given the highest quality grain but are fattened for almost three years as opposed to an American cow that goes to slaughter at 18 months. And to be considered true Kobe beef cattle, the animals must be raised in strict adherence to rules enforced by the Kobe Beef Distribution and Promotion Council.

As a result, the Kobe beef herds number only about 3,000 animals. Since Japanese open land is scarce and expensive, cattle have begun to be shipped to Australia for raising. As long as the rules of Hyogo Prefecture are followed, the Australian-raised cattle can be labeled Kobe beef cows as well.

What is so special about Kobe beef?

The superior marbling of Kobe beef is unlike any cattle breed in the world. The fat is evenly distributed and not present in thick bands. It has an absurdly low melting point of 65 degrees – it will literally melt in your hand or tongue. The sensory experience of eating Kobe beef is so rich that only small flavorful pieces are served rather than plate-filling steaks that most diners are used to eating.

Ever since the Kobe beef phenomenon began gripping the culinary world 15 to 20 years ago mislabeling has been rampant. Very little true Kobe beef is actually exported out of Japan and yet the name appears on menus worldwide. The fraud was especially pervasive in the United States where all beef, including Kobe beef, was banned from the country in 2009 due to a cattle disease outbreak. These days very small shipments are permitted into America. Yet names like “Kobe” and Kobe-like” and “Wagyu” are often attached to beef that is not the real deal.

Where to find true Kobe beef

The one place that consumers can find real Kobe beef is in Japan where every restaurant or meat market must display a 10-digit ID-number that can actually be traced back to the individual animal. Beef sleuths in Japan can track the meal on their plate back to the parents, birthdate, and slaughter date. The Kobe Beef Council even keeps a record of every carcass from the Prefecture on its website.

In Kobe, foodies head to Kobe Plaisir where the menu revolves around the “world-renowned” Kobe beef. Preparation of the steaks is key as mishandling will result in a bland, tasteless meat so on Kobe beef hunts it is important to stick to known quantities. At Kobe Plaisir, diners can enjoy Kobe beef by the slice or in 100-gram rump roasts and filets or 150-gram sirloins. That will set you back 11,400 yen or US$100.

Kobe Plaisir

HOTEL the b’ kobe 1F, 2-11-5 Shimoyamate St
Chuo-ku, Kobe, Hyogo 650-0011 (Google Map)

By Flickr user: Jiashiang Wang New Jersey, US [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
ByMark Guthrie
Feb 15, 2016

Zoos of Tokyo

As spring starts to raise its oh-so welcome head, it’s time to abandon the confines of the indoors and embrace the glorious outside before that stifling summer heat reclaims the land. One  great way to enjoy the fresh air whilst entertaining the family is to take them out to one of the city’s zoos. There are six – count that, six! – to choose from.

Ueno Zoo

TigerLet’s start at the start with Japan’s oldest – and probably most famous – Zoo. Established in 1882 and situated and land bequeathed to the city by the Imperial family slap-bang in the middle of the city, Ueno Zoo is as convenient as it is evidently popular. It is a world class zoo home to some 2,600 representations of over 460 species, some of the most popular being the western lowland gorilla and the Sumatran tiger (pictured). However the current stars of the show are most undoubtably Lily (リーリー) and Shin Shin (シンシン) the two Giant pandas for who, if reports are to believed, are currently in the mood for love, raising hopes of the cub-less pandas successfully breeding for the first time in 10 years. The zoo is split into 63 sections including the Gorilla Woods, Tiger’s Forest and a petting zoo. To navigate your way around the vast space you can ride on Japan’s first monorail.

  • Where9-83 Uenokoen, Taito, Tokyo
  • When: 9.30am – 17:00 (last admission 16:00); closed Mondays or Tuesday if Monday is a public holiday.
  • How much: Adults: 600 JPY, Seniors: 300 JPY, Students (13-15): 200 JPY, Children: free
  • Interesting fact: In 1943, fears that escaped animals could wreak havoc in the Tokyo streets due to the bombing of the city were so great that the government ordered all “wild and dangerous” animals destroyed. A monument to this now stands in the grounds.

Tama Zoo

The Tama Zoological Park, to give it its full name, was originally opened in 1953 as part of Ueno Zoo. However today the park, making the best of the topography of the luscious Tama Hills, stands at nearly four times that of its neighbour (52 ha, compared to the 14.3 ha), meaning that the animals have more freedom to roam about as if it were their natural environment. The grounds are split into three major ecological areas – the Asiatic Garden, the African Garden and  the Australian Garden, – as well as a vast Insectarium. Amongst its stand out points must be the fact that it was the first zoo in Japan to not only raise koalas – always particularly popular in this country thanks to their evident cuteness – but having a Lion Bus, from which you can see the lions in safari-esque conditions.

  • Where7-1-1 Hodokubo, Hino, Tokyo
  • When: 9.30am – 17:00 (last admission 16:00); closed Wednesdays or Thursday if Wednesday is a public holiday.
  • How much: Adults: 600 JPY, Seniors: 300 JPY, Students (13-15): 200 JPY, Children: free
  • Interesting fact: The Australian garden was built in 1984 in comemoration of the twinning of Tokyo with the State of New South Wales.

Edogawa City Natural Zoo

But vast tracts of land and searching out big game may not be your family’s cup of tea – particularly if you have small children – then the Edogawa City Natural Zoo in Edogawa’s Gyosen Park may be more suitable to your family’s needs. Featuring smaller animals such as rabbits, hamsters, peregrine falcons and seals, it also has a display of aquatic animals that live locally in the Edo River, but their signature animal is the adorable red panda. On each animal there is detailed description of their lives and habitats to encourage learning for all ages, but best of all it is free to enter!

  • Where3-2-1 Kita-Kasai, Edogawa-ku, Tokyo
  • When: Weekdays 10:00 to 16:30; Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays 9:30 16:30; November until February closes 16:00; July 21-August 31 9:30 to 16:30; closed Mondays.
  • How much: Free!
  • Interesting fact: There are less than 10,000 wild red pandas in existence today, a number that is in decline partially due to poaching and habitat loss.

Inokashira Park Zoo

If your area of particular interest is the animals and wildlife of Japan, then Inokashira Park Zoo is worth checking out. Two zoo for the price of one it is separated into two sections, the first being a squirrel and duck sanctuary that specializes in breeding and releasing mandarin ducks into the wild. The second enclosure houses all the other animals such as red-crowned cranes, Amur cats, rhesus monkeys and Yaku deer, the latter of which range freely. One other draw is Hanako the first Asiatic elephant to come to Japan following WWII, although the conditions in which Hanako is kept have recently given the park some international notoriety.

  • Where:
  • When: 9:30 to 17:00 (tickets sold until 16:00); closed Mondays or Tuesdays if Monday is a public holiday).
  • How much: Adults: 400 JPY*, Seniors: 200 JPY, Students (13-15): 150 JPY, Children: free (*Reports say that foreigners with a passport can receive a 20% discount)
  • Interesting fact: Hanako the elephant was given to Japan from Thailand in 1949 as a gesture of good will.

Hamura Zoological Park

A zoo with a goal “to nurture affection for nature by introducing children to animals,” Hamura Zoological Park is a pleasant though smallish zoo that you can find your way around in as little as two hours. Like the zoo in Edogawa, it is ideal for small children: to the left of the entrance there is a petting zoo in which children can hold chicks and guinea pigs and there is a large playground and picnic area in which you can sit and eat your lunch. On the animal front small is very much the way forward with lynx, red foxes, wolves, prairie dogs, and wallabies, while there are a few giraffes, zebras and emus.

  • Where4122 Hane, Hamura-shi
  • When: March through October 9:00-16:30pm (admission until 16:00); November through February 9:00-16:00 (admission until 15:30); Closed Mondays.
  • How much: Adults: 300 JPY, Children: (4-15) 50 JPY, Infants: (0-3) free.
  • Interesting fact: The zoo’s theme is ‘fairytale’, and both peacocks and flamingos freely roam the grounds giving the park a particularly exotic feel.

Ōshima Park Zoo

Okay, so Ōshima Park Zoo isn’t strictly in Tokyo, but instead is on the (relatively) close island of, you guessed it, Ōshima. Home to 50 species of animal it is a zoo that does a wonderful job of encompassing its natural environment. The walk through Flying Cage is home to 15 species of bird and using the island’s camellias and Ōshima Cherry trees, is the largest of its kind in Japan. Perhaps the jewel in the zoo’s crown is the 300m Monkey Hill, made of naturally formed volcanic lava rock and through which a bridge bisects giving visitors various angles from which to view the primates.

By Mark Guthrie

Image: "Khunde - Sumatran Tiger" by Harimau Kayu (AKA Sumatra-Tiger) (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) – Modified
Feb 15, 2016

Social Opportunities for Spouses in Nagoya

While relocating to another country often turns out to be a wonderful, life-changing experience, there are always traumatic obstacles and challenges standing in the way of gaining that experience. The good news is you do not have to overcome them all by yourself. Everyone who comes to Japan goes through it, and getting to know other expats living in Nagoya is a great way to learn the best ways to overcome, or better yet avoid, obstacles to that wonderful, life-changing experience in Japan.

Spouses who are recent arrivals to Nagoya will find these social groups especially valuable, and there is no better source for news, views and helpful information about life here in Nagoya, Japan than other members of the expat community! While these groups are most commonly sought out by women, most have no specific limitations in that regard.  If it sounds like fun, contact them directly regardless of your gender.

Nagoya Meet and Greet

nagoya_hachiThe Nagoya Meet and Greet is a monthly lunch where 40+ women of various nationalities, interests, and ages gather to meet, eat, and greet. The event is great for new arrivals and those seeking new friends. Mothers can take advantage of the Children’s play area available. English is the language of communication.

JIS Article (with latest event info)

Cross-Cultural Exchange Association (CCEA)

ccea_nagoya_logoThe Cross-Cultural Exchange Association, or the “CCEA,”is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting cultural exchange, international understanding and friendships among women of all nationalities living in the Nagoya Area. Social activities, general meetings and special interest groups are some ways in which members develop friendships, discover the local community, and learn about the rich cultural heritage of Japan and other countries.

Noriko’s Events

noriko_events“Noriko’s Events” are exclusively offered for non-Japanese to enjoy and learn about Japanese culture and traditional crafts.  Activities include hand sewing “yukatas”, making “kimekomi” ornaments, drawing calligraphy, “ikebana” flower arrangement, and the Japanese tea ceremony. Noriko will also guide participants on occasional fun and educational excursions.

Download “Destination Nagoya,” a Free Digital Guidebook

Destination Nagoya eBookRelo Japan is proud to bring you our “Destination Guide”, series of special digital guides that incorporate inside knowledge of Kobe, Hiroshima, Nagoya, and Osaka from the view of an expatriate. These invaluable resources have everything you need to know about living and working in Japan, including:


  • Where to live
  • Where to shop
  • What to see and do
  • Restaurants and nightlife
  • A guide to services
  • And much more!

You can download each as either an interactive multimedia iBook for viewing on an iPad, or as a PDF for viewing on a PC or other devices.

ByRay Proper
Feb 13, 2016

Filing US taxes from Japan

US-tax-japan-YUJI-SUZUKIUS Tax Season is between January 1 and April 15, but US Citizens residing overseas enjoy an automatic extension until June 15 to file their taxes.  By law, US citizens, even those living overseas, are responsible for filing tax returns and paying any liabilities that may be due. All tax payers, regardless of residency status are required to file a Form 1040.  Corporations established in Japan by US citizens are also responsible for filing tax returns with the IRS.

According to Yuji Suzuki, an Enrolled Agent based in Nagoya who runs USA Tax Office, in addition to Form 1040; US citizens residing overseas may be required to file:

  • FinCen Form 114 (Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts) is used to report a financial interest in or signature authority over a foreign financial account.
  • Form 5471 Form 5471 is a declaration of status as officer, director, or shareholder in foreign corporations. Taxpayers owing more than 10% of foreign corporations must file this form.
  • Form 8938 Form 8938 is a Statement of Foreign Financial Assets.  This is used to report the ownership of foreign financial assets.

The Suzuki Tax Office

Stachion Ikeshita Bldg. 303 1-11-11 Ikeshita Chikusa-ku Nagoya (Google map)
(052) 763-7555

The Suzuki Tax office is located 1 minute walk from Ikeshita Station exit on the Higashiyama subway line.  Read a more detailed article about them on Nagmag.  If you are interested in learning more about your tax responsibilities please see these additional resources.

More Information

IRS, “U.S. Citizens and Resident Aliens Abroad”
US Embassy, Tokyo

ByRay Proper
Feb 11, 2016

AnimeJapan at Tokyo Big Site


The AnimeJapan Convention combines the business and pleasure of Japan’s Anime communities and businesses into a convention and festival that “aims for the expansion and advancement of the Japanese animation industry and other related industries.”

This event promises to be everything a person with an interest in Anime could hope for!

AnimeJapan 2016

March 26 (Sat)-27 (Sun), 2016
10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Tickets – 2,000 JPY

Tokyo Big Sight East Exhibition Halls 1 – 6
〒135-0063 Ariake, Koto-ku, Tokyo 135-0063, Japan

Photo:Creative Commons "...Tokyo International Anime Fair 2008" By Max Timchenko (CC BY-SA 3.0) -Modified
ByMark Guthrie
Feb 10, 2016

Beginner’s Guide to Sushi

SushiThink of Japan, and you think of sushi. It’s a simple as that, isn’t it? Or is it? Because there is a whole world of sushi that you quite probably don’t know about.

For a start, did you know that it originally came from near present day Vietnam? Or that it was intended to be fast food that can be snacked upon with the fingers? Or how about the fact that the California roll actually comes from Vancouver? For more equally devastating bombshells, as well as practical advice on the fishy delicacy, read on for our Beginner’s Guide to Sushi!

History of Sushi

As previously mentioned, sushi originated somewhere along the Mekong Delta, although that initial dish bears little resemblance to what many would consider sushi today. Originally a form of preservation, fish was salted and stored with fermented rice that was discarded to leave the preserved fish. This is reflected in the fact that the word ‘sushi’ comes from an antiquated word meaning ‘sour tasting’.

Sushi came to Japan via China in this fermented form – known today as ‘narezushi’ (馴れ寿司) – sometime around the eighth century and quickly became an important source of protein, particularly in the winter months. By the Muromachi Period (1336 to 1573) a form of sushi known as ‘namanare'(生成) had grown in popularity, as the still partially raw fish was eaten along with the rice before it had fully fermented, giving it a sour, savoury ‘umami‘ taste.

In the second century of the Edo Period (1603 to 1868) a new kind of fermentation was being experimented in the capital city of Edo (now Tokyo) using rice vinegar, a technique still in use today. In that same city  in 1824 a man named Hanaya Yohei created a version of’ sushi that for the first time used raw fish with vinegared rice. This style of sushi preparation was for designed for fast making and faster eating (haya-zushi, 早寿司) and has now become popular all around the world.

Varieties of Sushi

There are many various kinds of sushi to choose from.


nigiriNigirizushi is probably what most people think of when it comes to sushi. Formed by an oblong of vinegared rice molded between the palms of the sushi chef’s hands, the topping, or ‘neta’, is placed on top, often with a small amount of ‘wasabi’ between the two components. For some toppings which have a loose consistancy or are finely chopped and thus likely to fall off, a perimeter of nori seaweed is placed around the outer side to hold it all in place. This is called ‘gunkanmaki’ (軍艦巻) literally translated to ‘warship roll’. Another way in which nori is used is when a thin strip is used to hold certain neta in place, such as squid or eel. Servings of nigirizushi commonly come as two pieces on a small plate.


makiAnother internationally well known form of sushi is ‘makizushi’ (巻き寿司), or sushi roll. This is a roll of rice with a filling formed by the use of a bamboo mat, and then held in place with an outer layer of nori (it is from this form of sushi which the California Roll comes, though the difference here is that the seaweed is usually on the inside). There are various kinds of makizushi such as the thick ‘futomaki’ (太巻) which consists of a number of fillings, or the thin roll of ‘hosomaki’ (細巻) which just has one. ‘Temaki’ (手巻) is a conical shaped roll with an open end that is difficult to eat with chopsticks, hence its name ‘hand roll’.


ChirashizushiChirashizushi (ちらし寿司) is perhaps the easiest sushi to prepare, being as it is a bowl of sushi rice topped with a variety of raw fish and vegetables or garnishes. There is no set menu for chirashizushi, and toppings can be specified by the customer, dictated by local custom or even by the chef’s preferences. It is popularly eaten during the Girls’ Day celebrations of Hina Matsuri.


OshizushiIf you happen to be in the Kansai area and see beautifully presented, blocked sushi, you have probably found ‘oshizushi’ (押し寿司). This form of sushi only uses cured or cooked fish – never raw – and is created by using a wooden mold into which the topping and then rice is placed before being firmly pressed to create aestheticly pleasing squares. One particularly elegant serving is ‘sasazushi’ which is presented in bamboo leaves.


193px-FunazushiIf you have an adventurous side to you, you may want to try the aforementioned fermented narezushi. This dish is prepared by placing skinned, gutted, salted fish in a wooden barrel and squeezing out the water over a period of six months. Fans of Scandinavian dishes surströmning and hákarl may want to give it a try.


Popular Sushi Toppings

There are of course a wide range of sushi toppings. Below are a list of the ones you are most likely to come across in your local sushi restaurant.

For a fuller idea of what sushi toppings you can get, check out this list on Wikipedia.

Kaiten Sushi vs. Sushi Bar; The Pros and Cons

There are two main types of restaurant at which you can get good sushi in Japan: the kaiten conveyer belt restaurants, or the sushi bar. For sushi newbies there are both pros and cons for either type of establishment.

Sushi bar pros: At the sushi bar you will be served by an ‘itamae’ (板前), a professional sushi chef who will hand-make everything to your specific order. Also, if he has time, your chef will be able to talk you through everything that you are eating and even make suggestions of what to try.

Sushi bar cons: This being Japan, unless you are relatively confident in your Japanese ability, you may have difficulty in speaking to your itamae. Also, if you bite into something you don’t like (I’m looking at you, natto!) it’s not so easy to subtly spit it out into a napkin.

Kaiten sushi pros: Most of these are chain restaurants, and being low priced – often at 100 JPY per dish – are family favourites and are thus very relaxed. The dishes spin past you on a conveyer belt and you can see what you are getting before grabbing it.

Kaiten sushi cons: It can be difficult, particularly in quieter times, to shake the suspicion that the piece of raw tuna that just went past your table hasn’t been doing the rounds for the previous hour. Also, while it is very convenient to grab whatever comes your way, in this fashion there is a good chance that you won’t learn what you’re eating, and you won’t know your aji from your ebi!

Sushi Etiquette Do’s and Dont’s

  • Do use your fingers. Most forms of sushi are meant as finger food, so it’s okay to pick it up if you don’t feel confident with chopsticks. Just make sure you have used your oshibori towel to clean your hands first!
  • Don’t use too much soy sauce. The sauce is just meant to be for flavouring, not a soaking.
  • Do dip just the topping in the soy sauce. If you dip the rice it will fall apart. This can be done by carefully turning the sushi piece upside down.
  • Don’t take two bites. The chef has created the perfect balance between fish rice and wasabi. You don’t want to disrupt that harmony.
  • Do place the sushi in your mouth so that the neta faces down. This maximises the flavour.
  • Don’t mix wasabi with the soy sauce. If your palette requires it place the wasabi directly on the topping.
  • Do use the back ends of your chopsticks if you are taking from a shared plate. (This goes of any food in Japan.)

If you are still unsure of how to eat your sushi, check out this English language guide at the best way of doing it.


If you are in Tokyo, why not try out some of these great sushi restaurants.

By Mark Guthrie

Image: "sushi" by kana hata (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) – Modified
Image: "sushi" by Jeremy Keith (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) – Modified
Image: "Makizushi (Sushi)" by Noemi Yukiko (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) – Modified
Image: "6/365: Chirashizushi #365project" by Kris Awesome (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) – Modified
Image: "Kakinohazushi (saba, sake)" by Ad Blankestijn (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) – Modified
Image: "鮒寿司" by Yasuo Kida (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) – Modified