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The REAL Truth about American Sushi vs Japanese Sushi that Nobody Talks About

The REAL Truth about American Sushi vs Japanese Sushi that Nobody Talks About

It’s likely you have heard people claim Japan is the “motherland of great sushi” and that sushi in the USA is an embarrassment to Japanese people.

This one should be obvious right?

The Haters / Hipster Weebs

Have you heard classic quotes like these?

This is not REAL sushi

You would NEVER find that in Japan

They don’t have “rolls”

Japanese people would HATE this

You’re eating it wrong!

Sushi only refers to the rice, not raw fish! You uncultured moron!

If your friends have ever said these lines, chances are they probably know nothing about Japanese sushi and have never actually been to Japan.

STOP Being a Hater!

Hating on something doesn’t mean you know better than everyone else. People often confuse disliking something as = more knowledge about it.

Oh he doesn’t like it, probably because he knows something I don’t…. That is flawed logic, people are emotional beings and follow the hearsay more than doing their own research.

In my opinion, BuzzFeed is clickbait, fake news. I did not see a single asian person shown in this video. They couldn’t find a single Asian person in America who never tried sushi before? How inclusive of them…

Of course, they have to pick the worst examples to represent America.

This type of video only serves to feed the narcissism of people from other countries and within America itself, who constantly bash on Americans and say “they have no culture” and are “stupid.”

What new information do you LEARN from watching this terrible video? Nothing, it just reinforces predispositions against Americans and provides no educational value.

Assuming they don’t have fast food chains ALL OVER The world, especially Japan…

Yes, this is a fantasy Hipster Weaboos have made up in their minds by reading fake news articles that feed into their own know-it-all narcissism rather than actually being educated with the facts.

However, the truth is that the American economy is a very diverse place, and often you can find comparable sushi in the USA and Japan. There are still some drawbacks and differences which we will discuss below.

This Debate is NOT About American People vs Japanese people, it’s about American Sushi vs Japanese Sushi!

Disclaimer: This article is 100% my opinion. I have extensive sushi experience in both the USA and Japan, I also have the “Sushi Sensei” Badge from Yelp which is not actually that hard to get, but still impresses a lot of people!  I have experienced sushi from Korea to Japan, California to Texas and many places in between. 

Semantics

Modern day / conversational understandings of a word are much more relevant and useful than the “traditional” or “original” use of the word, also our core audience is mostly non-Japanese. In this sense, I will use the western use of the word “sushi” to refer to basically all types of preparations served as sushi restaurants from rolls to nigiri.

a Japanese dish consisting of small balls or rolls of vinegar-flavored cold cooked rice served with a garnish of raw fish, vegetables, or egg. – Google Search

Usually, Americans make a distinction between Sushi (nigiri), Sashimi, and Rolls, otherwise it’s acceptable to capture everything under one category: Sushi.

Not when you’re trying to order sashimi of course, but your waitress is NOT going to stumble in confusion or try to correct you if you called a Rainbow Roll “sushi.”

I don’t care what you think the “real” definition of the word is, as it doesn’t help us have better conversations and most people reading this are not sushi experts; that’s why they are curious about the Japanese sushi scene. Get over it!

Classifying Sushi Restaurants

We will use a scale from 1 – 10 to help rank the sushi quality from America to Japan. The world of sushi is not black and white, there are varying levels of quality throughout.

It’s important to know what type of restaurant you are referring to as simply saying “American Sushi” could mean anything within the range of gas station sushi to high end five star restaurants.

Specificity is key when trying to have a productive and enlightened conversation.

I do agree that this is an abomination to “real” sushi

Yes, I think crunchyrolls are an abomination to traditional sushi, but saying “American Sushi” does not exclusively refer to only sushi types that are unique to America, it refers to ALL ranges of sushi served in the USA; also whether it was prepared by a Japanese person or not is irrelevant!

In the USA

 

Trash Grade Sushi 1/10 – Sushi Burritos, 7-11 sushi, buffets, Grocery Store sushi, Poke Restaurants, etc. This is bottom of the bin sushi, but sometimes the pricing is actually the same as restaurants.

This is called “sushi” in America, get over it.

Take WholeFoods sushi for example, in my opinion, about $12 for a rainbow roll, which is roughly the average price at a restaurant, only I think the restaurant sushi tastes better.

This is desperation sushi, you only have 15 minutes for your lunch break but you are craving sushi.

Low Grade Sushi 3/10 – All You Can Eat Sushi (AYCE), Revolving Sushi Bars such as Kura, and other low end sushi restaurants.

Usually it is very easy to identify low grade sushi restaurants by the interior of the restaurant. Are you supposed to line up in front and get you sushi as if it was a McDonalds? Is it located very close to a college university?

Do they offer an All You Can Eat menu?

Then it’s most likely a Low Grade Sushi Shop

Regular Sushi Restaurants 6/10 – Usually run by Koreans, these are the most common sushi shops. (This is not supposed to be negative or racist, just a common observation,) I have also found many sushi chains in the USA to be Korean owned and it looks like many restaurants with different names share the same parent companies and fish distribution services.

The price range is typically $4.95 for 2 pieces of Nigiri, $10 – $12 for a fresh (topped with raw fish) Roll. These sushi places are not inherently bad, but it is often a problem with consistency that earns these shops the “Regular” status.

From Tokyo Table in Irvine, shame…

Sometimes you might get some delicious fish, sometimes you might get a chewy piece with a bone or scale on it or a paper thin slice that looks good from the top.

You never know what to expect other than the prices are roughly the same everywhere!

High Grade (Above Average) Restaurants 8.5/10 – These are very similar to the “Normal Restaurants” both in terms of location, atmosphere, and prices, however the difference in quality and the consistency of good quality is evident.

Gohan Sushi in Tustin, CA Above average sushi!)

These are the gems that you want to find, the best value for your dollar! The key here is that the prices are very similar to “Regular” sushi places and there aren’t hour long waits or reservations required to eat at these places.

Often times, these restaurants are NOT Korean owned and NOT Japanese owned either! Usually Chinese or Taiwanese, which could potentially explain different fish distributor connections and quality than the typical Korean owned sushi restaurants. Nothing against Korean owned restaurants of course!

The “Above Average” sushi places in the USA are comparable, if not better than many “regular” sushi places, even found in Japan! Yes, I said it!

Five Star Sushi Restaurants 10/10 – This is the type of “Traditional Sushi” restaurants the Hipster Weebs want you to EXCLUSIVELY eat at. (This is not an exaggeration.)

Source: spoonuniversity.com

If you eat ANYWHERE ELSE, you are betraying your waifu and Japanese people around the world are projecting shame onto you.

From Ohshima in California (they don’t give you soy sauce, very “traditional!”)

The bill can be anywhere from $50 – $180 PER PERSON. Of course, the quality is exquisite, but it comes at a high price, usually very long waiting crowds, and I seriously doubt the people who trash on American Sushi exclusively eat at these places.

Ohshima was especially difficult to get into, with many people lining up hours before opening and, it being a “traditional” Japanese restaurant and all, having very limited seating inside, the lines won’t be moving for hours!

Toro, Uni, and Amberjack nigiri

ALSO, it should be noted that if you take your non-sushi loving friends to these places, it will most likely be a waste of money as in all reality, the untrained tongue may not be able to taste the subtle differences. Don’t force your friends to go to these types of places until they’re ready both financially and mentally!

In Japan

Most sushi in Japan is definitely delicious, however there is still diversity in quality. The price of sushi in Japan is MUCH CHEAPER than the average sushi restaurant in the USA. In the USA, you can buy Toro Sushi for $10 – $18 for 2 pieces, in Japan, you can buy Toro Sushi for $1 – $4 for 1 – 3 pieces! People say “everything in Japan is expensive” but the opposite is true when it comes to sushi. (Which is good for sushi lovers!)

Trash Grade Sushi 1/10 – Yes, it is actually very possible to experience this kind of sushi in Japan.

Osaka, Japan

I know it’s hard to believe, (above) sushi from a buffet in Osaka! Behold the horror! (For those who aren’t sushi experts, it just looks like ordinary sushi.)

This sushi is just as bad as the ones you might find at a buffet in America. It’s not like we went to this buffet exclusively seeking sushi, but when I found the terrible sushi there, I had to document it!

I needed to prove to the hipster weebs that not ALL the sushi in Japan is heavenly and leagues above American sushi.

Low Grade Sushi 5/10 – This is the type of sushi you might find at a train station, at the market (quality varies from market to market).

Very reasonable prices, about $8 USD

It’s still pretty good, better than “low grade” sushi you might find at an AYCE sushi place or Revolving sushi in America, but it’s not the as good as a decent sushi restaurant in America.

The main problem is that sometimes the rice can get too moist sitting in a refrigerated container for too long, it’s unavoidable. They don’t have some magic technology in Japan to prevent this. This is why sushi at any market or grocery store is a risk no matter what part of the world you are in.

That being said, since Japanese people are more likely to eat sushi, the chances of getting fresher pieces is higher in Japan. (This is noted by the fact that most sushi sections in American grocery stores are tiny compared to the entire aisles of sushi in Japanese grocery stores.)

Regular Sushi 7.5/10 – Normal sushi restaurants you might find throughout the city, even the revolving sushi restaurants which we normally see as Low Grade Sushi in America, is actually pretty amazing in Japan!

250 yen per plate!  An underground sushi place near Kyoto Station.

In America and Japan, the same revolving sushi chain known as “Genki Sushi” exists, however the quality of the fish in Japan is MUCH HIGHER than the quality you will find at the American counterpart of the SAME CHAIN! Fresh Toro in Japan is abundant and cheap there.

High Grade 8.5/10 – This is not anything like Jiro’s Sushi but the prices are comparable to higher end restaurants in America.

You may find these types of restaurants hidden in the fish markets or near the ocean. Often they will serve live Uni for $8 – $15 (which is comparable to USA prices) and other higher end cuts of fish.

Five Star Sushi Restaurants 10/10 – This is your ultra “Traditional” place that Hipster Weebs fantasize about.

However, just like the American counterpart, the bill can also be anywhere from $50 – $300 per PERSON! Especially if you haven’t brushed up on your Japanese, you might want to check the prices before taking your seat!

The truth is, at this level, the USA five star sushi restaurants get special shipments from Japan anyways, so the difference in quality is negligible when comparing the highest end restaurants from both countries.

The Verdict on Restaurants

When it comes to the low grade sushi, the Japanese sushi wins hands down! “Low Grade” sushi in Japan is comparable, if not slightly higher than “Regular Grade” Sushi in the USA, with the added benefit that the prices are cheaper in Japan, the rice tastes different, and the fish is very different in taste and quality.The lower grade sushi in Japan is still higher quality than regular sushi in the USA, and you have a lot more variety of fish types at the low grade Japanese sushi places that you would normally only see at the five star restaurants in the US!

However, when it comes to “High Grade” or Five Star sushi, both the USA and Japan have plenty to offer.If you’re living in the US, your goal is to seek out the “Above Average” sushi restaurants. You will certainly get the best bang for your buck and the quality and taste to price ratio can NOT be beat! Not to mention, you probably aren’t dealing with crazy wait times like the five star sushi restaurants.

REAL Differences in Fish Quality

Salmon

In the USA, salmon often comes from Alaska, the Netherlands, Atlantic Farm Raised Salmon, Pacific Wild Salmon, or imported directly from Japan.

Salmon sushi is usually the favorite of most American sushi eaters, and for good reason, it’s not over powering like Tuna (non carbon monoxide treated tuna) can be for some people, and it’s not overly mild like Yellow tail can be for others.

Often farm raised salmon has a bright orange color, very defined white stripes and a creamier, richer taste (that some might say is “watered down” salmon taste) than the salmon from Japan.

Comparing Similarly Priced Salmon Sushi

I actually like the Salmon from the USA more, but the salmon in Japan is a lot more diverse from restaurant and types.

If you have ever tasted smoked salmon, it has a stronger, fishier flavor. This is more comparable to how Japanese salmon tastes. But not ALL Japanese salmon looks like the one pictured above.

Somewhere in Akihabara, Salmon like is usually slightly higher priced

Awesome salmon from Akihabara, very close to American “Above Average Sushi Restaurant” salmon.

The pseudo intellectuals on Quora trying to convince everyone that you are not “traditional” for liking salmon. The fact is, there wasn’t a single restaurant in Japan that I visited that did not have salmon or some form of salmon and I visited a LOT of sushi places all over Japan.

Unlike in the US where it’s called “salmon” and sometimes Cherry Salmon, in Japan they have a lot more types of salmon under various names (Yamame, Sakura Masu, or Masou), but it is still a type of salmon. In the US, most non-five star sushi restaurants don’t have distinguished types of salmon, it’s just usually called “salmon.”

Of course, I’m not claiming that EVERY sushi place in Japan has to serve Salmon, but I don’t see how this is a relevant talking point?

Someone wants to know how sushi REALLY is in Japan, and  this is your talking point? Weird and irrelevant information doesn’t actually help potential travelers and probably gives them false expectations. STOP DOING THIS!

Tuna

Boy do the Japanese really love their tuna! Tuna truly is the staple of Japanese sushi.

And about halfway through my trip in Japan, I was actually already sick of tuna!

Tuna can be divided into four types of quality:

Carbon Monoxide Treated Pink Tuna – This is essentially “watered down” tuna that lacks the true fishy flavor so the “uncultured” Americans can enjoy it also. Usually $4.95 / 2pcs of nigiri

The reason they treat the tuna this was is because tuna actually turns brown with age (still can be eaten, but the age is obvious), the effect of carbon monoxide on the tuna allows it to retain a pink color forever.

“Treated” Tuna served at Little Tokyo in LA

This is the lowest grade sushi, both because it’s not possible to tell if it is fresh or not, and also because the flavor is lost. This is the #1 factor I use in judging whether a sushi restaurant is “Regular” or “Above Average.”

Also, the prices are usually exactly the SAME and they will usually call it “tuna,” as far as I am aware there is no legal requirement to disclose, you’ll find out when you get your tuna I guess. Definitely this type of tuna is rampant from the Korean owned distributors.  I bought a 1lb block of this type of tuna myself at a restaurant distribution company for about $5!

“Real” Tuna – Tuna that hasn’t been treated, usually a blood red color. (see comparison picture above.) Usually $4.95 / 2pcs of nigiri

Blue-fin Tuna – It’s more specific, sounds fancy… that means it’s better right? Usually, yes! Around $6 – $8 / 2pcs of nigiri

Toro – Toro has it’s own divisions, but let’s just stick to OoToro. This is the ultimate tuna, the fattiest tuna. It is creamy, delicious, fish, and melts in your mouth! $10 – $20 / 2 pcs of Nigiri, some of the “traditional” places charge $36 for 3 pieces (NOT WORTH IT IMO.)

In America, average Toro can cost anywhere from $8 – $12 for 2 pieces of nigiri, and $18 – $27 for Sashimi.

The typical sushi place in Japan has ooToro at prices so low you’ll have to check twice to make sure!

Of course, you can also find Toro at higher prices as the Top places, but no where in America are you going to get two pieces of Toro nigiri for $1.30!

While you can’t find Toro this cheap in America, you can still find Toro, and for $10 for 2 pieces of Toro Nigiri, I have to say that while the price is definitely not the same, the quality is actually better than what I got in Japan for 130 yen. (Though again, consider the price difference…)

The Toro pictured above served at an “Above Average” sushi place called Wasabi Sushi in Orange County, California. It was amazing! They are very generous with the slices, probably because they know me, but also because toro is not commonly ordered, so when someone who knows what toro is makes an order, the restaurants do their best to win you over and try to gain repeat service… apparently it’s working!

Disregarding the price, if I had to pick between the two Toro pictured above, I would still pick the American Toro Nigiri. Of course, comparing 130 yen toro to $10 toro might not exactly be fair, but in America we don’t exactly have $1.30/ 2pcs of toro to compare to.

The best comparison we have is the $2.50 for ONE PIECE of toro from Kura Revoling Sushi Restaurant, in that case, I would pick the Toro from Japan hands down both in terms of price AND quality!

In Japan, almost every sushi place serves Toro (not the buffet), in the USA, usually only higher end sushi places serve it but there are instances of lower end places serving it such as the revolving sushi bars.

Toro at a market in Tokyo, pricing is very similar to ones you can find at Mitsuwa or Tokyo Central in the USA.

The Rest of the Fish Types

You didn’t think I was going to compare every single slice of fish did you?

A good summary is that Japan has a LOT more selection, this includes whale meat, white fish, more shell fish options, and various types of bass and other rare fish you normally don’t hear about in America.

The Most Common Fish at American Sushi Restaurants

In America almost every sushi place will have these “main” fish:

Salmon

Tuna

Yellowtail

See Also

From Ginza Sushi in Brea, CA

Albacore – mild / strong flavor, usually seasoned with ponzu and onions. Depending on the restaurant can be AMAZING or chewy and gross.

Red Snapper

Mackerel

Eel

Octopus

Squid

Cooked Shrimp

WOW just look at those prices!!!
Rare / Premium Types of fish in America

Escolar / Ono / White Tuna (Banned in Japan) – Very delicious but don’t eat too much at one time!

Toro – the golden standard of Tuna

Uni at Japanese fish market, prices are similar to USA

Uni / Sea Urchin

Scallop / Hokkaido Scallop

Halibut

Raw Sweet Shrimp

From Kaisen Sushi Bar in Santa Ana, CA

Monk Fish Liver – very subjective flavor. Try it at least, very creamy and smooth.

Any other types of fish not part of the “main” group above.

Type of Fish In Japan

I couldn’t possible list them all here, but Japan has a lot more options and rare finds that America.

Japan has very cheap sushi, but also expensive sushi if you know where to look!

This does NOT mean that every sushi shop in Japan serves hundreds of different types of fish, but that you are more likely to find new and unique sushi from restaurant to restaurant vs. in America where most menus are the same and QUALITY is usually what differentiates one restaurant from another (besides a few premium picks or imports).

Let’s Talk about Rolls

The elitists HATE rolls. To say that ALL ROLLS are not traditional is wrong. To say that ALL ROLLS are bad is also wrong!

Sure, some famous sushi Chef might say, “I will never eat an American roll” but ignorance and stubbornness is nothing to brag about.

Traditional Rolls in America and Japan

Tiny and simple is the best way to describe these rolls.

Not commonly ordered in America as our fat American stomachs can’t get full from it and the flavor of the rice overpowers any tiny sliver of fish present in the rolls.

“Traditional” sushi roll

I would say that these rolls are NOT superior or better than American rolls in any way. These rolls are the downgraded version of American Sushi rolls.

Honestly, there is a lot of creativity and innovation in American sushi rolls, blindly saying they are all crap because they aren’t traditional is a huge mistake.

By the way, I have seen California rolls in rare sushi places in Japan. I don’t have a picture however…

American Rolls!

This is the bomb! Rainbow rolls, Alaska Rolls, Hawaii Rolls and tons of other creative names for these rolls.

Rainbow roll is the fastest way to judge the quality of a restaurant. Do they give you chewy and bad slices of fish? Do they waste 2 of the 8 pieces on Avocado and cooked Shrimp? Then they’re probably not the “Above Average” sushi places I was talking about.

Just look at this INCREDIBLE masterpiece of a sushi roll from Ginza Sushi in Orange County, CA.

This type of roll wasn’t designed to make you appreciate the subtle taste of raw fish. It’s design to give you a huge pack of amazing flavor and it can be very addicting!

This type of sushi is also designed to fill you up without making you go broke (since sushi prices in the USA are much higher), it can be shared among friends, and of course the presentation makes it easy to share and promote on social media.

Rainbow Roll pictured in the back. California Roll on the left side.

To be honest, I was very bored of the Sushi scene in Japan. After a while, it all starts to taste pretty much the same, good, but lack of choice in terms of whether you want “fishy” flavors or “saucy” flavors. In Japan you really only have the option of “fishy” flavors, and too much of anything, even a good thing, is not healthy. Our taste buds have adapted and been spoiled by American capitalism and an abundance of options.

And this is exactly the way I like it. I love traditional sushi, I love the highest quality cuts of Toro, but I can also appreciate a good roll here and there. It really helps balance out the experience and keeps sushi exciting day after day. (I don’t eat sushi daily…)

Very chewy… Triggered PETA

The Japanese just don’t know what they’re missing and even many of my friends form Japan crave rolls more often than nirigi sushi! Then REAL Japanese people like it, you know the hipster weebs are being inauthentic and delusional.

Hand Rolls

Meh…

Conclusion

Besides the differences in pricing and quality, it seems that Japanese and American sushi ARE indeed comparable to each other.

In reality, it seems that comparing Japanese vs. American sushi is not an appropriate metric. Since most of the elitists tout “traditional” sushi, which is often only found at five star restaurants in BOTH countries, there isn’t too much difference at this level.

Perhaps we need to change the argument, it’s not about America vs. Japan, it’s more about “Traditional Sushi” to “Modern Sushi.”

If we look at it that way, America actually offers the higher evolution of Sushi with more creative rolls, new innovations (totally not traditional), and overall more variety of different preparations (but less variety of fish types).

I am not saying that Japanese sushi is bad or out dated, but eating nothing but nigiri when you’ve been exposed to so many more creative types of sushi in the US really makes nigiri get stale and boring fast!

The next time your know-it-all friend tries to educate you on “traditional” Japanese sushi, just show them this and see how their bias points towards “B” as the answer.

Some Japanese People Actually Love American Sushi

Back in my college days, I knew a few transfer students from Japan who expressed their love for American sushi over Japanese Sushi. I heard classic lines from them such as:

American Sushi is more exciting than Japanese Sushi!

I like Rolls because they don’t have it in Japan!

And perhaps it makes sense that Japanese transfer students would enjoy something completely alien to them and want to rebel against the “tradition.”

Meanwhile the weebs in America, who dream of moving to Japan, fantasize about having less options for sushi while convincing themselves that every sushi place in Japan must be “traditional.”

The elitism and naivety of those who read a few articles online and suddenly think they are sushi experts, who go around lecturing their friends about how uncultured Americans are when it come to sushi, these people need to sit down and eat more sushi before spreading overly fantasized visions of the Japanese sushi scene and outright lies.

These are the same people who say “Japanese people don’t like anime” or “anime isn’t prevalent in Japan like YOU THINK IDIOT!” when in fact anime is literally everywhere in Japan from bathroom signs to train stations, you can’t escape it!

When you start to travel the world more, you begin to realize most of the buzz you hear online about other countries is just that, media buzz and click bait headlines!

Regarding American Taste Buds

Yes, a lot of Americans don’t really have a taste for eating nothing but traditional nigiri, but bringing down “stereotypical Americans” doesn’t magically make the Japanese sushi scene that much more better. They are merely inferring that because the stereotypical American has poor taste that all the restaurants must be catering to that.

We have a booming Asian population in the US and you can bet that the standards for sushi restaurants really can vary from place to place!

Those who actually know what to look for can show you the light, you don’t have to fly halfway across the world to eat some incredible sushi! (But it is incredible in Japan as well, especially the prices!)

In conclusion you should just say away from liberal websites, they really don’t know anything and only put out narcissist anti-american click bait (in my opinion), and half the people on Quora don’t know what they’re talking about (in my opinion).

What do you think? Do you like American Sushi? Did you actually learn something from this article?

 

***Any sushi places specifically mentioned in this article are my own opinion / memory / experience. The pricing, the quality, the names may have changed since writing this article. I will not actively update it since this is based purely on my own experience and memory. 100% my opinion. 

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