The Sushi Battle: Japan vs. America | 11 Key Insights

Sushi is Japanese in origin, yet American sushi is quite different from the sushi served in Japan. Many Japanese are shocked about the differences, and they also wouldn’t dream of committing the same sushi sins that Americans do.

American sushi and Japanese sushi have several differences. In Japan, the seaweed is placed on the outside of the sushi roll, while in America, it is placed on the inside. American sushi is more complex in flavors, while Japanese sushi is simpler with one or two flavors per roll.

You may have been eating sushi wrong, according to Japanese chefs. Let’s find out why!

1. American Sushi Is More Complex.

American sushi contains many ingredients like fish or crab, avocado, cream cheese, or vegetables crammed into the roll, which fits in with the American style of eating. 

Japanese sushi is simpler because it contains seaweed, fish, rice, and maybe a few vegetables in the roll. 

2. Japanese Don’t Bury Their Sushi in Soy Sauce.

Sushi bar customers in Japan do not bury their sushi in soy sauce, because it will fall apart and leave the rice in the sauce for other people to eat. That’s not proper sushi etiquette, and no one there does that. 

Americans bury much of their food in condiments, and that translates to sushi as well. The key to proper dipping is to dip the corner in the sauce to lightly flavor the sushi bite. The reason for this is twofold: soy sauce is high in sodium, and a little goes a long way. Two, too much liquid will make the rice fall apart, making it too messy to eat. 

Sushi chefs, even in America, are horrified to watch their customers commit this sin.

3. American Sushi Uses Brown Rice.

Many sushi restaurants started using brown rice instead of the traditional white rice used in Japanese sushi to attract health-conscious customers. Brown rice, however, does not get as sticky as it needs to be for sushi.

In Japan, the word “sushi” means “vinegar rice.” They prepare sushi rice by cooking a smaller grain white rice with salt, vinegar, and sugar to make it sticky enough to stay together when rolled in the Nori.

4. Japanese Sushi Rolls Are Smaller.

Japanese sushi rolls are smaller, with the average roll being six pieces. 

American sushi comes in small, medium, and large rolls that contain six to eight pieces or more. There is also the “sushirrito,” which is a cross between sushi and a burrito. And many sushi rolls in the US are battered and fried.

5. Japanese Customers Eat Sushi at a Bar.

There are not many “sushi restaurants” in Japan, as customers sit at a bar where sushi chefs bring out options and suggest what options customers might like. The expectation is that the chef will interact with their customers and offer things that are in season. Sushi is eaten from the lightest options first up to the heaviest options. 

American sushi is served in restaurants with menus of 25 or more items that customers need to choose from. Usually, there are no suggestions from the chef him/herself, which might prove confusing to customers new to the sushi experience. When customers order in this fashion, the fish won’t be as fresh compared to Japanese sushi.

6. American Sushi Chefs Are Stoic and Zen-Like.

Because Americans eat sushi at a restaurant instead of a bar, American sushi chefs do not interact with the customers. They are more stoic and zen-like, and according to some people, a little boring. 

On the other hand, Japanese sushi chefs are more like a friendly bartender who interacts and entertains their guests while also suggesting options. They are trained specifically to interact with their customers. 

7. Japanese Customers Don’t Mix Wasabi in Soy Sauce.

There are several “sushi sins” that American customers make that affect the quality of their sushi. For example, in Japan, people don’t mix wasabi in soy sauce. The reason for this is that there is already the correct amount of wasabi on the sushi, so there is no need to mix this in their soy sauce. 

However, Americans mix their wasabi in their soy sauce and put extra wasabi on their sushi. As a result, Sushi restaurants in America might be inclined to switch their fish used to lower quality because they figure their customers won’t taste the difference anyway.

8. Americans Eat Sushi Quite Often.

Americans eat sushi more often, sometimes daily, than they do in Japan. Not everyone in America eats sushi daily, but they do eat it more often. 

In Japan, sushi is reserved for special occasions. While they eat raw fish daily in other dishes, such as a tempura lunch, they reserve sushi for occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, and business meetings. 

Americans don’t eat at a steakhouse every day, but they do have burgers and steaks more often. It’s the same way in Japan with sushi bars.

9. Japanese Sushi Chefs Take Years to Master the Trade.

Japanese sushi chefs go to school in stages, with at least two years required to reach level 5, which is the lowest level. The student chef needs to learn how to slice the fish properly, make the sticky rice, and know-how to pair it with the correct amount of wasabi. 

Once the chef gets to level 5, they are taken as an apprentice under a master sushi chef. After many more years of intensive training, they will reach level 1, which is the highest rank. 

American sushi chefs aren’t required to go through that much intensive training. Culinary schools offer 3-month programs, and when the student finishes the program, they earn a certificate.

10. American Sushi Doesn’t Always Have Rice Vinegar.

In certain places, American sushi might not be prepared with vinegar, which doesn’t balance the flavor between the fish and the rice. Fish is a rich food that needs a little acidic taste to balance it out.

Traditional Japanese sushi is prepared with rice vinegar, sugar, and salt, which gives the balanced flavor between the fish and rice that sushi is famous for.

11. Japanese Sushi Has Nori on the Outside.

Traditional Japanese sushi is made by first laying down a seaweed layer, or Nori, on the sushi mat. The sticky rice is spread out next, and then the other ingredients are strategically placed on the rice. Every component is rolled together, using the sushi mat, then cut into individual bite-sized pieces. 

However, American sushi is made with the rice spread out first, then the seaweed, then everything else. American customers have come to expect the rice on the outside instead of the traditional Japanese way.

Everything considered

Traditional sushi made in Japan is quite different from that made in America, but there is room for many types of sushi. Which one is better depends on your tastes and how adventurous you are. 

American sushi rolls contain many flavors in one package, but Japanese sushi rolls focus on a few flavors so that the fish or vegetables come through clearly. American sushi is also battered in tempura and fried, which can mask the delicate flavors of the fish and rice. But, many Americans swear by the battered and fried sushi. 

Neither one is superior to the other, and neither one should be viewed as wrong.

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This article was co-authored by our team of writers and editors who share one thing in common: their passion for food and drinks!

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco works as a New York-based editor at Foodrinke, driven by his lifelong love for food. His culinary journey began in childhood, as he eagerly assisted his mother with her local sandwich and bakery business, relishing every opportunity to sample her creations. Known among family and friends as an easy eater, JC has a particular affinity for Chinese, Italian, Mexican, and Peruvian cuisine. At Foodrinke, he channels his passion for food into his work, sharing his enthusiasm and knowledge with readers.