Japanese as a people are big on tradition and etiquette; they have ceremonies for tea and martial art like moves at the Teppanyaki counter, so why should sushi be any different.
Eating sushi is an art the same as preparing and serving it. When you eat at a sushi bar, it’s mandatory to remember sushi etiquette so as not to offend the chef and also for a wonderful sushi experience.
Whenever you visit a sushi bar you must mention the number of your group so that the waitress can seat you and your companions at the bar. If you have a choice always choose an older chef for obvious reasons unless you are visiting on a recommendation. In which case do it subtly and politely without offending other sushi chefs.
A wet towel is provided for you to wipe your hands and face, a pair of chopsticks and a small dish for the soy sauce. The sauce must be poured out of the sauce jar and must just cover the bottom of the small dish, too much is a major no. Each shared plate or wooden mini plank placed in front of you as per the décor of the bar will have been sterilized after use so there would be no need to ask for another one.
With the narrow end of your chopsticks, or your fingers, pick up the sushi placed on the plate in front of you and dip it into the sauce from the fish side. Take care not to dip the rice end as it could leave stray rice grains in your dish. Place the sushi fish side touching your tongue in one go, without biting into it. Nevertheless sashimi should be eaten with chopsticks and maki-sushi can be dipped into the sauce from the rice end regardless of whether you are seated at the bar or at a table in the restaurant.
This way you get a taste of the fish first and rice later. If you want to add wasabi into your soy sauce do it with caution as most nigiri sushi has some wasabi added to the fish or rice or both. The Japanese also believe that adding wasabi freely to your soy sauce is like telling the chef you are unhappy with his preparation. Wasabi is mainly added to soy sauce if you are eating sashimi alone and not sushi. The gari or pickled ginger is placed on the platter for you to bite between each sushi and not to place on top of it. Gari actually acts as a palette cleanser between various sushi.
To keep your chef and yourself in good humor throughout your meal ask him to recommend fillings and toppings and additionally offer to buy him a sake or beer. For yourself however, stick to beer or tea as sake is not usually had with sushi. Keep your hands clean by using the wet towel provided upon arrival. Rest chopsticks on ceramic or other chopstick holders placed on the bar next to you and or lay them over the small sauce dish to signal the end of your meal to the chef.
Once done you could move to another table to allow others to enjoy their sushi at the bar if you want to have a bowl of soup or simply something else. At this point do not attempt to pay the chef because he never touches money. Hand over your bill amount to a waitress and add a 20% tip to your total. The tip in most Japanese restaurants is shared among all the staff.