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Your Guide to Sustainable and Proper Etiquette for Eating Sushi

Your Guide to Sustainable and Proper Etiquette for Eating Sushi

Marine Day, or Umi no Hi, is a Japanese national holiday that celebrates the ocean and its abundance. To commemorate the festivities, we're sharing a quick refresher on proper etiquette for eating sushi and 5 tips for making homemade sustainable sushi.

Because at the end of the day, Japanese sushi is best enjoyed when it’s made with respect for the sea.

Proper etiquette for eating sushi

How did Marine Day start?

In July 20, 1876, the Meiji Emperor returned safely to the Port of Yokohama after a voyage in the Meiji Maru. The emperor sailed the iron steamship from Aomori to Hakodate, then Hakodate to Yokohama. It wasn’t until 1996 that it was declared a national holiday to show gratitude for the ocean.

Marine Day is usually celebrated during the 3rd Monday of July, where the Japanese people can spend the long weekend out on the beach to enjoy some summer-time activities, like swimming, diving, snorkeling, and mud-ball throwing.

This 2021, however, it was moved to July 23, Thursday to support the opening of the much-awaited Tokyo Olympics, where you can eat delicious Japanese snacks like roasted nori and instant udon while tuning in.

Given the current COVID-19 situation, heading to the beach might be tricky. But this humble event goes beyond heading to the beach and being grateful for the sea's bounty. It’s also being aware of our role in keeping the ocean thriving, including how to eat sushi properly and responsibly.

The traditional way of eating sushi is to lift it with your fingers,
dip only the fish part in the soy sauce, then enjoy!

How to celebrate Marine Day?

We’re not telling you to skip the fish. Nutritionally, fish overtakes meat in a number of fronts; it’s higher in beneficial fats and is rich in protein relative to the serving size. Plus, there are tons of easy seafood recipes to play with. If your diet permits it, eating fish is 100% an essential part of a healthy lifestyle.  


  1. When at a sushi bar, you may respectfully ask questions to the chef. It's a great way to learn about fish!
  2. For sushi rolls, eat with your hands. For sashimi, use chopsticks.
  3. Wondering how to eat sushi with wasabi? The chef should have placed the right amount of wasabi between the fish and rice. If you really want more, do not add wasabi to the soy sauce. Instead, add a small amount of wasabi on top of the fish.
  4. Eat in the correct order. Start with white and lighter tasting fish before moving to the richer and oilier ones.
  5. Dip only the fish in soy sauce, BUT do not drown it.
  6. Consider sushi as a gift from the seas. Don't let anything go to waste and finish what you make or order.

How do you eat fish ethically?

Basic Sushi Etiquette

There are sustainable and responsible ways of consuming fish. For making homemade sushi, it actually starts even before you buy the seafood you'll be working with.

Here are tips to consider whenever the sushi cravings kick in:

1. Choose the type of fish you eat carefully.

You can be part of the movement against overfishing by being aware of fish species that are safe to buy and fine to eat based on current fish population, fishing methods, and other relevant criteria. Websites like the Marine Conservation Society and the Environmental Defense Fund have an updated and extensive list of the best sustainable fish for sushi and their eco-rating that you can check online before your trip to the market.

For starters, no matter how fatty the texture and luscious the taste is, you might want to skip the Bluefin tuna. Internationally, it is dramatically overfished. In the Pacific alone, it is estimated that Bluefin population has declined by 90%.

On the bright side, there are literally plenty of other fish in the sea.

Mackerel has a higher eco-rating and just as fatty and delicious as tuna. Go have that saba sushi with soy sauce or seared mackerel with ponzu sauce!

Other recommended alternatives with the same luscious taste as tuna and salmon are Sablefish (gindara), Pacific sardines (iwashi), Albacore (shiro maguro), and the Arctic Char (iwana).

2. Go with the season.

Another way of preserving fish stock and protecting dwindling species is to buy fish that are in season. Think about it: overfishing is not so different with a large number of people buying the same species of fish over and over again. It’s all about keeping the balance!

It is also recommended to buy bigger fillets that come from fish that have matured enough to reproduce and contribute to the species.

3. Buy local.

As with any kind of food, it’s a given that eating local reduces the environmental impact of your meal. More often than not, a good fishmonger sources straight from sustainable fisheries, keeping it fresh and fine-tasting. Because it does not need to be transported from coast to coast or continent to continent, it should be cheaper too!

Apart from that, having a trusted local fishmonger allows you to get reliable information on what fish is in season, how it’s caught, and maybe even the best way to prepare a fresh catch!

4. Check the label.

As you walk down the fish section in the supermarket looking for ingredients for homemade sushi, you might start to wonder: how do I know if this fish is sustainable?

You can check the label for indications of sustainability, particularly the blue fish certification from the Marine Stewardship Council.

Whole Foods also indicates which of the fish they are selling are best choice, good alternative, [to] avoid, and not yet rated. Some American groceries, like Sysco, partners with WWF and other marine conservation organizations to ensure they meet the standards for sustainability.

5. Ditch the chopsticks.

Last but definitely not the least, if it can be helped, consider not using disposable chopsticks for your next sushi meal. After all, how to eat sushi in Japanese tradition is with your hands.

In 2011, annual consumption of disposable chopsticks in China alone was 80 billion pairs. By ditching disposables, you can do a small yet significant part in combatting deforestation and minimizing waste that can potential go to the ocean. That’s filling two needs with one deed.

Marine Day can be celebrated by anyone in the world at any time of the year. Instead of beating yourself up for failing to follow these tips, remember that no one can approach sustainability in a perfect way, especially when the world is constantly evolving.

The best thing we can do now is to stay informed, educate others, and do your best even down to the food you love. Whether you enjoy home-cooked seafood or Omakase sushi, show true gratitude for the ocean by taking small steps to conserve it.

Now that you know the proper etiquette for eating sushi, prepare a sustainable seafood meal this Marine Day with the best Japanese ingredients for sushi from Karman Foods!

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