Eating in Tokyo: Sushi

Sushi

The raw fish thing is a big deal and you owe yourself a taste. Sushi can be had all over the place, and at practically any amount of money you can afford. But how do you know you/your kids will enjoy it before laying down enough Y1000 notes to fill a bucket?

Search out a “mawaru-zushi” restaurant. These are wicked cool places where the chef stands in the middle of a huge oval-shaped mini-conveyer belt and plops little delicacies onto the belt. You pick up what looks good as it goes around. The little morsels of raw fish are on different colored plates, signifying the price. When you're done eating, the waitress at the cash register adds up your plates (“three blue and one yellow”) and you pay. One chain uses the old TV cartoon character “Atom Boy” as its mascot.

These places are great because you can try many things reasonably cheaply, AND you can see the stuff before you pay for it. There are a couple of things to check for with kids, however.

  • Most sushi has wasabi, a green very hot mustard, on it. They don't usually put much on, but if your or the kids are super-spice-sensitive smile and ask for “no wasabi please.” In Japanese, it is “wasabi nuki kudasai”.
  • Be sure to know the prices. Many times near the cash register will be a poster with the dish colors and prices.
  • There are at the counter where you'll sit hot water taps (the waitress will bring you a green tea bag, or there will be a box of ‘em nearby). The water from these taps is unbelievably hot, like Chernobyl-level hot. The taps beg to be played with and the water will scorch your kid's hand. Careful, and ask the waitress for cool water.
  • The toilet (note the singular) is usually small, dirty and unisex, so wash hands before entering the restaurant and bring along hand cleaner stuff.
  • These restaurants can get insanely busy at lunch time on weekdays, so plan to eat a little early or a little late to avoid the crush.
  • Most restaurants will not have an English-speaker, so if you plan anything adventurous have help nearby if you don't speak Japanese.
  • Don't pick up sushi that looks dried out; it has been on the carousel too long.
  • Watch for the squid and octopus, with little tentacles on balls of rice. The taste is remarkably non-fish like (actually there is very little taste to speak off) and a photo and a story about what you ate goes a long way for an Eighth Grader.
  • Some sushi places offer ice cream for dessert. The ice cream thing on the conveyor is a model; pick it up and smile at one of the staff, who'll bring the real deal to you (though ice cream at a convenience store or fast food restaurant will likely be cheaper).
  • Once you pick up a plate from the belt, it is yours. You can't put it back.

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