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May 18, 2013 09:20 AM

Ordering in Non English Sushi Restaurant in Tokyo

Hi all-

I am going to Tokyo next week and have made a reservation at a small sushi restaurant called Tsuruhachi in Shinbashi. The concierge at my hotel advised me that there is no english spoken at the restaurant. I have seen on other threads that one suggestion to deal with this is to simply bring a note written in Japanese that says you want the chef's choice and how much money you want to spend. I can't seem to find those threads any more. Does anyone know if that really is a culturally appropriate solution? If so, can you let me know the best way to say it?

Thanks very much.

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  1. Oh man, you picked some place. The boss there is a nice guy, but he speaks no English, and he's not the kind of gent who's even going to try. As to "how much you want to spend", that's quite fraught. He may have already a set course with a set price, and it may or may not be a better deal than what you're thinking of spending.

    10 Replies
    1. re: Uncle Yabai

      Thanks very much for the info. Do you think it will still be a good experience? Is the sushi good? We are interested in spending about $80/person and were told this was a good spot for that price point. Do you have a different recommendation?

      1. re: droch

        The sushi is excellent. But $80 per person sounds rather low. I don't think you can get out of there with a proper experience under 12-15,000 Yen.

        1. re: Uncle Yabai

          Thanks very much. We are fine paying that amount as well. Do you think the language issue will make for a poor experience? We have no Japanese at all - not even enough to ask for the set course or how much it costs. If so, do you have a recommendation for a different spot?

          1. re: droch

            Can you ask your concierge to arrange your meal? I would assume that he would be able to get more details such as if there is a standard omakase and how much it is. If there is not, he could let them know how much you want to spend and they could be prepared for you.

            1. re: prasantrin

              Great point. The simplest answers are always the best. Ill let you know how it goes. We are having lunch at Butagumi that same day - should be a great day. Thanks again.

              1. re: droch

                You've probably thought of this, but if you do ask the concierge, don't forget to mention any aversions or special requests (especially if the special requests are not likely part of an omakase).

                1. re: prasantrin

                  Thanks for the tip. We don't have any aversions and are game to try anything. This will be our first trip to Japan and our first omakase experience. Is there anything special you would recommend?

                  1. re: droch

                    I'm not a big sushi eater--I tend to avoid omakase and just order what I like (ikura, hotate, uni, anago, saba, sanma ... stuff like that). If I were you, I'd probably be especially interested in whatever is seasonal (is akagai a may shellfish?) , and also whatever really sucks wherever you're from (I find hotate and uni are rarely good in north america, but ymmv).

                    But whatever you get, it will probably be better quality than whatever you can get where you're from (especially when comparing the quality for the price point), so you probably won't be disappointed whatever you get.

      2. re: Uncle Yabai

        Just to send a long overdue update . . . We ended up at Sushi Yuu and had a fantastic meal. The chef speaks english and is very comfortable with foreigners. Making a reservation was a breeze and the omakase was wonderful. I would highly recommend it for anyone who is not familiar with sushi and/or doesn't speak Japanese. It is a great restaurant and not intimidating at all.

        1. re: droch

          I'm glad to hear that. I used to live in Tokyo and went to Sushi Yuu regularly. I now miss it so much!!

      3. If you feel more comfortable with a place where a little English is spoken, try this place: Sushi Yuu in Nishi Azabu (between Roppongi and Nogizaka Metro Stations). The owner, a young guy called Daisuke, will make it a very special experience for you, I'm sure. Price range is about the same as mentionend below.
        It's a small very private place in a tiny residential road, opposite the Gana embassy. Address: 1-4-15 Nishi-Azabu, Minato-ku, 106-0031

        1. I don't really speak any Japanese at all, but on a few occasions I've gone into sushi-yas in Tokyo by myself, bowed to the chef, simply said "omakase" with a big smile, and all was fine. If the chef has a reputation for being a nice guy, and you know what to expect price-wise, I'm sure you'll have a good experience.

          1. Just say omakase o onagaishimasu and maybe a note with the max in yen you want to pay? Onagaishimasu means "please" and is pronounced Oh-na-guy-she-mahs, with very little accent on any syllable.

            16 Replies
            1. re: PAO

              Thanks everyone. In the end I made a reservation at Sushi Yuu. I think the bit of english and willingness to help foreigners will make for a more enjoyable firs time experience. I'll report back.

              1. re: droch

                You will love it! I think I will go sometime again soon myself. Yes, please report back.

              2. re: PAO

                Onagaishimashu doesn't mean "please", and neither "onegaishimasu". But nice try.

                1. re: Uncle Yabai

                  So are you telling me that one year's worth of language lessons with Japanese nationals are all for nought? And the
                  a" was a typo. As we know, direct translation from English to Japanese is often difficult if not impossible, but in this context, that was completely proper.

                  1. re: PAO

                    As one of my esteemed professors once said, while focusing on a difficult point involving previous knowledge at the blackboard: "As you learned in your introductory course... actually as you were taught in your introductory course... let me take that back, as you were *shown* in your introductory course..."

                    There is no direct word for "please" in Japanese, but the closest one isn't onegaishimasu ("I respectfully request") but -kudasai.

                    And you ran the same "typo" on onegaishimasu three times. Maybe your keyboard is stuck on the "a".

                    1. re: Uncle Yabai

                      'Onagaishimashu doesn't mean "please", and neither "onegaishimasu". But nice try.'

                      Quick question, Uncle Yabai -- are you famous or especially distinguished in some way? This is the only way that I can make sense of your tone, but even then, I've never seen the experts in my field be this needlessly harsh with less senior researchers. (Of course, this sort of tone might be appropriate in addressing, e.g., fraud or misconduct.) If you're a famous scholar of the Japanese language, and standards are different in your field, then I apologize.

                      1. re: clamdining

                        Actually, yes, if you must ask. Not a scholar per se of the language, but of something about Japan that matters very much to the Japanese economy. And it isn't about food, I'm just a neophyte compared to some of the people on this board. But no need to get into that, in the internet nobody knows you're a dog.

                        I was having a chuckle with somebody also famous about this, and we realized the "literal" translation of "onagaishimasu" would be something somewhat rude. Although it wouldn't be a common expression, but a bad wordplay, and may not easily parse to a native speaker.

                        1. re: Uncle Yabai

                          Um. No. "omakase kudasai" means "please leave it to me!" which would be a rather weird thing for a customer to say. Sounds like the customer wants to get behind the counter and start squeezing rice, to me.

                          My daughter, a native-speaker AND sushi-lover, says the proper phrase could be "omakase de onegaishimasu." My husband, another native-speaker but not so crazy about all sushi, says either "omakase" or "omakase shimasu" is fine.

                          Of course, if you said "onagaishimasu" with a smile and a vague air of hunger, I'm sure the chef would be happy to serve you. It's pretty close to right and polite. Unless he's a sushi Nazi (see the comment upthread about Seinfeld's soup Nazi -- I looked it up, and am delighted).

                          1. re: MickiYam

                            Well, Uncle Yabai does read like an investment banker or something like that, but wouldn't omakase shimasu be on the very, very casual and perhaps potentially condescending side? wouldn't you at least throw in an itashimasu for good measure?

                            While the Kudasai suggesting is a bit off the mark, I don't think it's because any living Japanese person would mistake it for the customer asking that the meal be left to their decision (which you're right is the grammatical meaning), but because as we all know, the form O+stem+kudasai is a command disguised as a pretend request, so maybe not something you use in a high end sushi place, rather in a bustling Izakaya where you've been trying to get some service for a while.

                            Onegaishimasu is softer and preferred but in all honesty it makes little difference as you say - if you behave yourself they're going to feed you :)

                            That's just my understanding.

                            1. re: Gargle

                              Forgive me if I am wrong here. I have studied some Japanese but as we all know it is tricky...

                              ...but I kind of thought that onegaishimasu was more something servers said to the kitchen. In a business, where the dynamic is supposed to be one where the customer is more important than the staff, is it truly correct for the customer to use the very polite onegaishimasu?

                              Would you use onegaishimasu when asking to see a pair of pants in a larger size than one just tried on? If not, then why do we use it here?

                              Is the reason we use that here because we are raising the chef to a level of importance higher than that of other typical business staff?

                              1. re: pauliface

                                Onegai-shimasu is simply polite, not humble or honorific, and there is nothing awkward about using it when you want/expect a person to do something for you, especially as an opening.

                                You would use different vocabulary and grammar if you wanted someone helping you to bring out a larger clothing size.

                                Don't worry about the chef's importance since onegai-shimasu doesn't affect your social status relationship. It just let's the chef know that you're polite.

                                1. re: pauliface

                                  I don't have my native speakers here, but it's my understanding that you are being extremely polite (o-negai shimasu is about the second-most polite level). You are respecting the chef and the chef's tastes. "I most humbly leave it up to you." Whereas, if you are buying a pair of pants, you are probably not saluting the maker personally (unless, of course, you are buying directly from the designer, in which case . . . I don't know if onegai shimasu is out of line).

                                  Although, I hear "onegai" and "onegai shimasu" thrown around quite commonly.

                                  I think there are two important points here: don't trust some stranger on the internet (and that includes me!). And two, if a foreigner walks into a sushi bar and says, "Argle-barble, makase-barble," chances are, you are still going to get sushi.

                                  I would be interested in hearing what your native sources think you should say. As I said, my husband isn't crazy about sushi. He's only got several decades of listening to sushi being ordered on TV.

                                  1. re: MickiYam

                                    Well, there's nothing wrong with being polite!

                                    It may be helpful to not accidentally mistake politeness with humbleness, though. Omakase wo onegai-shimasu does not mean "I most humbly leave it up to you." It just establishes that you are polite, you want to eat some good sushi (or whatever the shop specializes in), you'll take the freshest / best / in season options (not necessarily the most expensive) that the shop has on offer that day, and you trust the chef.

                                    That said, there's nothing wrong with just saying "omakase!" "omakase wo" or "omakase shimasu" with a smile and an expectant palate. Only the chef is going to say "omakase kudasai" to a customer who's really unable to decide what he wants.

                                    I agree about the stranger on the Internet warning, and if you read Japanese, there are an amazing number of questions posted around dealing with language use in a variety of situations, especially in the service industry. The native Japanese speaker answers are not at all standard either.

                                    Anyway, I've lived in Japan half of my life, almost completely in a Japanese language environment all day, every day situation, and when I first came here I was really surprised to hear random Japanese say onegai-shimasu when they put their basket on the counter at the convenience store. Just my opinion, and certainly true in my case, but I think that language learners over think things and place too much faith in what their textbook states.

                                    1. re: Hiyodori

                                      Agree. In daily conversation, you can use "onegai shimasu" pretty much anytime you are entrusting someone with a task/ request/ endeavor of some sorts- i.e. making your sushi, putting together a flower bouquet, leaving your pants to get altered at the tailor, etc. "Kudasai" is used to directly request a direct object- "I will take the black one please.", etc.

                              2. re: MickiYam

                                Who said anything about "omakase kudasai"? I usually say "omakase de ii desu", or "omakase de"

                                If you were the one suggesting that they leave it up to you, you'd drop the initial o honorific, and you'd use it as a verb, something like "watashi ni makashite kudasai".

                                1. re: Uncle Yabai

                                  This is from your post on May 21, Uncle Yabai:

                                  "There is no direct word for "please" in Japanese, but the closest one isn't onegaishimasu ("I respectfully request") but -kudasai."

                                  Your problem is that you didn't actually offer the proper phrase. So easy to criticize, so hard to offer real help. Phrasing like this leads readers like me to drawing the wrong conclusion about your Japanese.

                                  Well, look, we could debate this all week long in our excellent English. I was taught in my Japanese classes that you create a very polite humble (kenjougo) honorific (keigo) by putting an "o" in front of the stem form of the verb, and adding shimasu. You create an even more polite honorific by putting an "o" in front of the stem form of the verb and adding "itashimasu."

                                  Omakase ni natte kudasai (sonkeigo, polite honorific) could be shortened to Omakase kudasai. And yes, it's ridiculous. But, it's there.

                                  Hiyodori, my 25 years in Japan have taught me that "onegai shimasu" literally means something quite polite, but it's become something quite common to use in everyday life, as you point out with an example from your own extensive Japanese experience.

                                  For people who just want to try ordering the chef's special sushi in Japanese, the proper way to do it is: "Omakase." Or, "Omakase shimasu."


                                  Or just ask the concierge what you should say. It would be better to model your pronunciation after a native speaker's, anyway, instead of written internet.

                  2. In this thread, so many people are forgetting that most all Japanese people don't expect Western people to speak Japanese well at all. In fact, when Western people speak Japanese exactly like a native would, most all Japanese people just freak out. Fortunately, Western people are given a lot of leeway when they speak Japanese.