Entrance to a sushi restaurant

Introduction

Sushi bars have a variety of terms that are used only in sushi bars. In other restaurants tea would be ocha but in sushi restaurants its 'agari' and cucumber rolls would likely be called 'kyuri maki' but instead they are called 'kappamaki'. This is true for a variety of items and expressions.

The counnter for a single piece of sushi is ikko (一個). To place a single order, which may be either one or two pieces (depending on the restaurant) the counter is ikkan (一貫). To place an order for one toro you would say 'toro wa ikkan kudasai'. If the chef is busy you may get his attention by saying 'sumimasen'.

The Language of Sushi

List of sushi bar terms with Japanese, in Romanji and Nihongo, and in English.

Sushi-ya Jargon (寿司用語辞典)
Sushi-ya Japanese English
Romanji Nihongo Romanji Nihongo English
Agari 上り Ocha お茶 Green tea
Gari がり Shoga 生姜 Pickled ginger
Geta 下駄     Wooden sushi plate
Gyoku Tamago 玉子 Egg omelet
Kappa 河童 Kyuri きゅうり Cucumber
Kataomoi 片思い Awabi Abalone
Murasaki Shoyu 醤油 Soy sauce
Neta ネタ Tane Topping or filling
Nikiri 煮きり Nikiri Sweet eel sauce
Oaiso お愛想 Okanjo お勘定 Check please
Otemoto 御手元 Hashi Chop sticks
Sabi さび Wasabi 山葵 Wasabi
Namida Wasabi 山葵 Wasabi
Sabinuki さび抜き     Without wasabi
Shari 舎利 Sumeshi 酢飯 Vinegared sushi rice
Tsume   Nitsume 煮詰め A sweet sauce
Tekka     Tuna hosomaki
Geso 下足 Shoshuku 触手 Squid tentacles

Agari

Edo period tea cup with flower motif

An Edo Period Tea Cup

During the Edo period (1603 to 1867) guests were always served green tea. The hot tea has a mild astringent taste and is useful as a palate cleanser between various types of sushi. The first cup of tea served was call odebana or first flower and the last cup agaribana. It is speculated that tea was originally served at the end of a sushi meal. Bana is a form of the word for flower hana. I'm not sure why the cup became a flower but looking at tea cups from that period may yield a clue, many had flower motifs or flower maker's marks.

Sushi restaurants serve hot green tea called agari. In any other setting this would be called ocha. The tea is konacha an inexpensive green tea. Tea in Japanese sushi bars is always served very hot. If the sushi bar is serving lukewarm tea then it is not very authentic. The hot tea is better at cleansing the palate between items so that you can better taste them.


Shari

The word shari comes from 'busshari' (仏舎利) which means Buddha's ashes. The small grains of the sushi rice are said to look like the small pieces of bone remaining in them. Shari refers to the sushi rice after it has been pressed into shape.

There are several possibilities for the shape of the rice for nigiri sushi, the most common is a cylinder with oval ends.

Photo of Budha's ashes which look similar to sushi rice. Buddha's Ashes,  Courtesy Maitreya Heart Shrine Relic Tour   Uncooked sushi rice grains.

Buddha's ashes on the left and sushi rice on the right

Gari

Amazu shoga (甘酢生姜) or gari is the sweet pickled ginger used to clear your taste buds between different types of sushi. The word comes from the Japanese onomatopoeia "gari-gari"; the sound of the crunching when chewing ginger.

To prepare gari the ginger is peeled and soaked in salt. It is then aged for a week in rice vinegar and sugar. If you need it quickly you can slice the ginger first and marinate for about an hour. When high quality vinegar and young ginger are used the liquid will begin to turn pink. The color may be an indication of quality but some producers add coloring.

Gari is used between the various courses to clear the palate. It is supposed to be used between and not as an additional condiment. That is the common rule but I've seen many eating it like a snack.

Sabi & Namida

Sabi is simply an abbreviated form of wasabi. Another term for wasabi "nimida" () means tears. The source of this should be self-evident.

Murasaki ()

Murasaki is a Japanese word for purple. The color of soy sauce is said to be purple. This can also be attributed to the price of soy sauce in the Edo period. It was very expensive and this led to it being called purple since this is the color associated with royalty.

Oaiso

This was originally a phrase used by the shop owner when you were presented with the bill. The meaning is approximately, "I wish I could have served you better". It is now used by customers to request the bill.

Katamoi

An abalone shell looks like half of a giant clam, so it appears to be missing its other half. This missing half reminds some of unrequited love or "katamoi". From this abalone becomes katamoi in sushi-ya jargon.

Gyoku

The Japanese character gyoku () can mean jewel. Japanese kanji characters can have multiple sounds. The characters for tamago, which means egg, are 玉子. For sushi only the tama of tamago is used and it is pronounced as though it was a jewel. Yes, much drinking may have gone into some of these word derivations. I can only give the story, not the logic.

Geta (下駄)

geta
wood sushi plate

Japanese Wooden Sandals (top) and Sushi Plate

A geta is a traditional Japanese flat wooden sandal. They are often worn with traditional clothing.

The wooden sushi serving plate looks very much like a geta. So, it's easy to see why this plate gets its name.

Neta

The word "tane" () means material. It is used as the word for the topping. However, for sushi restaurants the word "neta", with the syllables reversed, is used.

There are several many types of tane. some of the most common are fish and tamago. So, while tane or neta refers to the topping, the word "gu" is used for the filling.

Ingredients that aren't fish flesh are hokanomono (他の物).

Geso

Geso, ika geso are squid tentacles when fried they become ika geso karaage or the shortened form ika geso age.

Tekka (鉄火)

Tekka maki is a thin sushi roll filled with red tuna. One story about the origin of tekka is that it was a fast food available in gambling dens called tekkaba.

Nikiri (煮きり)

A light sweet soy sauce that the sushi chef (itamae) makes and brushes on the fish. The flavor of regular soy sauce may be too strong and over-power the flavor of white or other mild flavored fish. If Itamae san has already placed nikiri on your sushi there is no need to add soy sauce.

Nikiri is a mixture of mirin and soy sauce that has been simmered to reduce and thicken.