A new "sushi university" program led by English-speaking interpreters has been launched in Tokyo, for visitors in search of an authentic omakase experience - a dining experience that can often be lost in translation.
One of the most traditional gastronomic experiences in Japan is the omakase, the equivalent of a Western tasting menu, in which diners surrender their meal choices to the creativity and whim of the chef. But in Japan, where few chefs speak fluent English, the concept can be an intimidating and confusing one for foreigners, who are unsure of what they're eating and even less sure of how to eat it.
Enter "Sushi University," a newly launched tour outfit led by interpreters who can school guests on the dos and don'ts of omakase dining, and serve as liaisons between diners and sushi chefs.
The meal is a door-to-door experience, with guides accompanying guests from the hotel to the restaurant in a shuttle bus.
At the restaurant -- normally a small, intimate affair -- the chef provides a short lecture on their culinary philosophy and the menu for the day and answers guest questions which are interpreted by the guide.
Also on the syllabus, students learn the dos and don'ts of omakase and sushi etiquette.
For instance, guests are taught it's considered bad manners to engage the sushi chef in conversation or ask questions while they are slicing the fish or molding the sushi rice.
Likewise, students are advised to skip perfume or cologne when dining at a sushi restaurant, or risk offending the chef and masking the subtle aromas for fellow diners. That also goes for smoking mid-meal.
Temperature plays an important role in omakase dining and sushi as well, which means that plates should be consumed within 10 seconds of being presented and not left languishing on the counter.
In addition to offering an authentic dining experience, the tour is also meant to help travelers who have specific dietary requirements like allergies and aversions, as special requests can be made in advance.
The program is divided into three levels, basic, intermediate and senior, and prices range between $88 to $265.
Other languages in the works for the program include German, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, simplified Chinese, Korean and Thai.