What Is Omakase? Tips for Enjoying Japan’s High-End Sushi Experience

By The byFood Team
Updated: December 18, 2023

For any lover of the delicate art of sushi, omakase sushi is a must-try in Japan. Omakase translates to "I'll leave it up to you." When talking about sushi, expect a course tailored to you by a talented chef. Fair warning, though: once you have omakase sushi, you might never want to return to regular sushi! 

Though omakase sushi originated in the Edo Period (1603–1868), it wasn't popular until the 1990s. Due to the economic boom of the Bubble Era, customers had more money to spend on luxurious experiences. The omakase way of preparation helped bridge the gap between a seasoned chef and customers who may not know which fish is in season or the names of regional fish. The choice was left up to the chef; thus, the customer could enjoy sushi without ordering.

Want to learn how to make sushi at home? Check out these 10 sushi-making classes in Tokyo.

Why Choose Omakase Sushi?

Close-up of preparing high-quality, luxurious maguro tuna sushi

Omakase sushi is not for the risk-averse, but it's worth it if you're looking to try something new. The world of sushi can be intimidating, especially if you come from a country with less seafood variety than Japan. This is where the chef steps in. Omakase sushi chefs are incredibly passionate about selecting the freshest, highest-quality ingredients to ensure your meal will be out of this world. For those who are vegan, vegetarian, halal, or kosher, some omakase sushi restaurants offer more options to suit your dietary needs.

Omakase sushi restaurants are typically smaller and more intimate than their crowded counterparts, conveyor belt sushi restaurants. These upscale restaurants offer a chance to sit with other diners and share a unique experience.

How to Eat Omakase Sushi

A sushi chef puts down a freshly made nigiri sushi during an omakase sushi course in Japan

Now that you're familiar with omakase sushi, you might wonder, "How do I eat it?" Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind.

A rule of thumb is to sit at the counter and arrive hungry. No snacks beforehand! Get up close and personal with the chef constructing your meal, designed to fill you up.

Speaking of the chef, ask before taking photos. Omakase sushi is an art form, so, understandably, you might want to snap some pics but be sure to ask permission first. If your Japanese is rudimentary, you can point to your phone or camera and ask, "Daijoubu desu ka" or "may I?" If you get an "Ii desu" or "Hai, daijoubu desu" back, your photography has been approved.

Fatty cut of tuna during an omakase meal

When it comes to the sushi itself, never dip your sushi rice-side first into the soy sauce. This undoes the chef's work to mold the sushi, making the bite crumble before it can reach your mouth. If you're not a chopsticks pro, you can eat with your fingers. Sashimi, though, should be eaten with chopsticks. 

The slices of ginger are to be eaten in between pieces, not on top of them. The ginger is meant to refresh the palate from piece to piece, not add more flavor to your delicately crafted sushi.

Pieces of sushi are meant to be one bite. You'll notice that sushi is notoriously difficult to cut in half with chopsticks, and that is because it's meant to be eaten in a singular bite. Omakase sushi is no different and will be the most delicious bite you've ever had. The reason why you should eat sushi bite by bite is to savor it. Take your time and appreciate the delicacy you're paying big bucks for.

Where to Eat Omakase Sushi

The interior of Sushi Oumi, a sushi restaurant famous for its afforable omakase course in Tokyo

Planning a trip to Japan soon? Here are byFood's curated recommendations for omakase sushi restaurants in the culinary hearts of Tokyo and Osaka:

11 Affordable Omakase Sushi Restaurants in Tokyo

Osaka's 8 Best Omakase Sushi Restaurants

Looking to become an expert on omakase sushi? How about trying byFood's private omakase sushi dining experience with a personal chef? If you're a sake lover, you'll enjoy this omakase sushi and sake pairing experience. Japanese skills not up to par? No need to worry; the chefs conducting both experiences speak enough English to introduce each piece of sushi to you.

The Craft of Omakase Sushi in Tokyo With Chef Gento Imai

Ordering the omakase course at a sushi restaurant can seem like a gamble, but often means you'll get treated to the chef's most delectable specialties and seasonal pieces. Some sushi lovers liken the experience to an artistic performance as the chef masterfully crafts and innovates the whole sushi course for the sake of each customer. It's a great way to try special cuts of fish and seafood you've never had before!

A young Japanese sushi chef in his white uniform leans on the wooden counter

At Tokyo sushi restaurant Imayoshi, Chef Imai is a third-generation sushi chef uniquely modernizing his family business with healthy brown rice and vegan, vegetarian, and halal options. His dedication to buying fresh fish in top condition and transforming them into even more delicious sushi makes this restaurant a must-try for any sushi fan in Tokyo.

Chef Imai lets us in on all his secret tips for having the best sushi experience. He suggests sitting at the counter to get a firsthand look as the chef crafts your fresh sushi and lets the chef pick the perfect Japanese sake for your particular sushi course.

Experience Omakase at Imayoshi Sushi Restaurant in Tokyo

Craving a taste of Chef Imai's handcrafted sushi? Book this Tokyo Omakase Sushi Experience with Personal Chef for an intimate dining experience at Imayoshi Sushi with up to 8 people. At this upscale sushi restaurant, you'll feel the spirit of omotenashi, or wholehearted hospitality, firsthand.

This blog post was originally written by Emily Suvannasankha. It was updated by Annikah Hotta in December 2023.

We strive to be as accurate as possible and keep up with the changing landscape of Japan's food and travel industries. If you spot any inaccuracies, please send a report.
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The byFood Team
Sharing our love of Japanese cuisine and culture, with the mission of spreading happiness through food.
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