Sushi chef kicks woman out of restaurant for asking him to hold the rice; manga author approves

TOKYO —

Despite being 79 years old, Kazuo Koike, author of iconic and groundbreaking samurai manga Lone Wolf and Cub, is an active Twitter user. And while you might expect the man who once declared that being an otaku is the secret to happiness to be all about following your personal preferences, apparently his accepting attitude doesn’t extend to the realm of Japanese cuisine.

Koike recently relayed the following story, which transpired during his trip to a sushi restaurant.

“I went out to eat sushi the other day. There was a female customer in the restaurant, who, in the middle of her meal, informed the staff ‘I’m on a carb-free diet, so please hold the rice.’

“The chef and the other customers froze in place. In business, you have to please your customers, but this was just too much. In response to her request, the chef quietly said ‘Please leave the restaurant.’ You’ve got to show respect to people who make things, after all.”

But Koike wasn’t done with his scathing review of the woman’s dining etiquette.

“It wasn’t a cheap sushi restaurant (though I’d have felt the same if she’d done that in a cheap one), and she was a nicely dressed, elderly woman. I was, just, really disappointed in her actions. It was a real-world example of how you don’t necessarily become an adult just because you get older. You can’t judge whether someone is an adult or not just by their age. You have to judge by the kind of person they are, not how old they are.”

The woman’s request actually is somewhat odd. Sushi, linguistically, refers to vinegared rice; slices of raw fish without any rice would be “sashimi,” so this is sort of like going into Subway and asking for a pile of cold cuts and veggies instead of a sandwich.

Another point worth remembering is that many restaurants in Japan specialize in a single dish, so if an establishment bills itself as a “sushi restaurant,” you should be prepared for the fact that sushi (rice included) is going to be an integral part of the meal.

Because of this, some online commenters agreed with Koike’s extremely negative sentiments.

“That kind of old bag shouldn’t be allowed out in public.”
“Not giving her anything to eat is the best way for her to lose weight, so I think they were very considerate.”
“I’d have kicked her out too.”

On the other hand, more than a few commenters offered dissenting opinions, citing the less pretentious origins of sushi, ease with which the request could have been accommodated, and even the thoughtfulness the woman showed.

“Sushi was basically fast food in the Edo period. When did it get such a high-and-mighty image?”
“Would he have reacted differently if she’d politely asked for sashimi?”
“Seriously, just give her some sashimi.”
“There’s nothing wrong with asking if they can do that. Some restaurants are happy to.”
“What she did was better than eating just the fish and leaving the rice on her plate.”
“As long as she’s willing to pay the normal price, what’s the problem?”

The last remark is pretty compelling from an economic standpoint, seeing as how preparing sashimi would entail less work and require fewer ingredients than the standard sushi. Still, if you’re dining in the sort of exclusive eateries that cater to clientele of Koike’s professional stature and financial means, it might be a good idea to make sure you’re OK with what’s on the regular menu.

Source: Jin

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  • 1

    Sensato

    Sushi, linguistically, refers to vinegared rice; slices of raw fish without any rice would be “sashimi,” so this is sort of like going into Subway and asking for a pile of cold cuts and veggies instead of a sandwich.

    Subway has a line of salads which are basically "a pile of cold cuts and veggies" without the bread. Also, if you asked a Subway worker for the ingredients of a sandwich without the bread, they would gladly accommodate you. Some people prefer not to eat bread or rice.

    Anyway, this is what omotenashi should involve in providing true customer service — showing a certain measure of flexibility in giving the customer what they want rather than sticking obsessively to the script, within reason of course.

  • 4

    lationz

    Just like the time I went to KFC and asked them to hold the slice of tomato in my burger. They teeth-sucked and 'ano....'ed for a while before calling the manager who gave me a stern talking to and said this would be a once-off. Jesus.

  • 5

    Thunderbird

    this is one of the main reasons I rather go to an unmanned Kaiten Zushi anytime!!! some sushi chefs think they are some kind of DEITY, you have to ask veeeeery politely in every order you make but they don't answer or even talk politely with you as a customer, literally a japanese version of the french waiter. You have to 1-wait (sometimes 3 minutes or more), 2-do your best to grab the guy's attention, 3-ask veeery politely for an overpriced sushi onegai shimasu and 4-wait. Mmm!! Yummy! but it wasn't enough? Repeat the process again. Too much effort for just a piece of sushi, which in my humble opinion it doesn't even differ that much in taste from a conveyor belt sushi.

  • 0

    cleo

    You’ve got to show respect to people who make things, after all.

    How about showing respect to people who patronise your business? How about giving the customers what they want? How about not being so high-and-mighty about a bit of uncooked seafood perched on top of a glob of polished white rice? How about giving us the name of the restaurant where this ill-mannered chef pretends to work, so that we can avoid it and give our patronage instead to a place that takes pride in serving the customer? How about feeling sad for the kind of person who thinks they're getting high-class food but is really just paying through the nose to be insulted by someone who can't even cook fish?

  • 7

    cleo

    She was trying to buy something he wasn't selling.

    He was selling it, but he wanted to sell it perched on top of a lump of rice. She didn't want the rice. She could have just picked the bits of fish off the top, and left the rice, meaning a lot of perfectly edible (if you're that way inclined) rice would have been wasted. She asked him not to waste the rice, which I think shows greater respect for his wares and his skill (ten years to learn how to make the little piles of rice, or some such) than he showed for his customer.

    What was she doing in a sushi restaurant in the first place, if she didn't want the standard menu? Could be all kinds of reasons. She could have been with a group, all the other members of which wanted to eat sushi. It could have been a special treat for a family member. Either way, it looks like the uppity chef spoiled what should have been a pleasant occasion.

  • -1

    chikv

    I keep picturing the situation as some kind of power struggle, the lady could have gone to any kind of place to eat, and since she is in a very specific diet maybe a place with a variety of dishes would have been the obvious choice. Still she went into a place with a very heavy focus on a kind of dish famous for their rice, and on top of that a kind of place that is famous for being very picky with the manners and behavior of the patrons. Also she did not ask but "informed" the staff to hold the rice and even more she did it already in the "middle" of her meal.

    Of course she may just have been senile (maybe that is why the chef asked her to leave "quietly") but according to the story as it was told, I feel like she was just trying to demonstrate how she could get with anything she wanted. Somewhat similar to the proverbial customer that ask for Ketchup and Tabasco sauce when dinning in a top class French restaurant in Paris.

  • -11

    Tom Webb

    Another senile Japanese obasan. Its like going to the bar and asking to hold back the whiskey, just ice and water, because she doesn't drink alcohol.

  • -2

    TrevorPeace

    This is too funny for me. Came home today with 0.36 kilos of Ahi tuna for sashimi (slightly over 2300 yen, but I thought it was a good deal). Made sushi (not with the Ahi tuna) because some friends were coming over. One of them doesn't like rice, so guess what she didn't eat. Made no difference to me. Good friends, good food, good wine, and what the heck if someone doesn't eat something on the menu?

    That said, I've been in too many restaurants where the chef thinks he rules, instead of the customer who's paying through the nose for the experience (and supposed superior taste). In this case, the chef was just plain rude. And the supposed artist who dissed the customer online deserves a good dressing-down, too.

  • 7

    Black Sabbath

    Yeah, it really depends on how the whole thing went down. Its not clear who was being silly. Was the customer a poser jerk? The sushi chef an arrogant snob. Both?

    I guess what I'm saying is I can see it cut both ways.

  • 0

    MrBum

    This is kind of surprising to me. I always assumed you could order sashimi at any non-rotating sushi restaurant. Because why the hell not?

    And to all those making various comparisons, this is more like asking for no pickles or onions on your burger, which coincidentally can also cause problems in the country where the customer is supposedly a god (kami).

  • 1

    OssanAmerica

    I have yet to see a Sushiya that couldn't or wouldn't serve a customer Sashimi if that is what they asked for, for any reason. This woman is a moron for not simply asking for Sashimi instead of her ridiculous request.

  • 3

    cleo

    Its like going to the bar and asking to hold back the whiskey, just ice and water, because she doesn't drink alcohol.

    Lots of folk go into bars and ask for non-alcoholic drinks, it's no big deal and not in the least unusual. Some folk may already have had enough to drink; some may be driving; on medication that makes alcohol a non-starter; or simply not into alcohol. It's the bar tender's job to serve the paying customer what s/he orders (within reason), not to dictate what s/he can or cannot have. Same in the sushi shop.

    Maybe the lady was a bit obnoxious in the way she placed her order, (no one needs to know that she's on a diet, no one's interested in why people choose to eat the things they want to eat), but a simple 'Hold the rice, please' should no more get her thrown out of a sushi shop than 'Hold the pickles please' should get her thrown out of a burger joint.

  • 4

    FernGully

    This is one of the attitudes in Japan that I seriously disapprove of (I have stronger words, but this isn't the right forum for it).

    What am I talking about? I'm talking about Japan's inability to adapt or change, particularly when it comes to ordering and buying food.

    I was at a Subway the other day, and I saw that they had meatball sandwiches available. It's probably my favorite sandwich that Subway sells. So, I get the bread and tell the worker that I would like it toasted. While the sandwich is toasting she asks me what vegetables I want in my sandwich. I ask for green peppers, tomatoes, and onions. She tells me that she can't do that. I was stunned. I repeated myself and asked that I would like those vegetables in my sandwich. She tells me again that she can't do that. I asked her why, and she told me that there wasn't enough room in the sandwich. I couldn't believe it. Whose sandwich are you making? I said that I order this sandwich all the time and was able to put those vegetables in it, but she just replied, "できない." I didn't know enough Japanese to tell her that that's not what Subway stands for, so I left the store hungry, bewildered, and frustrated without continuing further.

    I couldn't even customize MY OWN sandwich at Subway! You know, the sandwich shop were you can make your sandwich the way you want.

    I know this sounds like a rant, and it is, but I was willing to pay for it. Japan, you've got to understand, if a customer has money, and is willing to pay for something that you have, please take it. It's not an attack on your cuisine. It's not an attack on your culture. It's capitalism. It's "what makes the world go round," so to speak. I wish I could make a coherent argument with this, but it sincerely is frustrating.

  • 2

    Moonraker

    I wonder what Koike would have said if he had seen a similar scenario in a foreign country. Would he have stood up for the need to listen to the customer? Basically food preparation and cooking is not brain surgery but some people need to get over themselves with their self-inflated skills and alleged superior sense of taste. But, sadly, food snobbery is an escalating phenomenon the world over.

  • 1

    Conspiracy Theories

    I'm not a fan of sushi, however, I can understand why she would have been asked to leave in a high end sushi establishment. Those chefs take a lot of pride in making each sushi they make. The finished product is an art in itself. It's very different from requesting to hold the mayo in a burger or asking for a virgin drink at a bar. High end chefs take pride in thier art and the skills they have mastered over many years. I wouldn't want to know what would happen if I sent a plate back to the kitchen because I wanted ketchup on my order instead of the sauce made by a world reknown French Chef.

  • 1

    itsonlyrocknroll

    Suggest then prepare a delicious selection of Sashimi. Drop the 'altitude', adopt and embrace the expectations and concept that definite the art of Japans high quality customer experience. Sorry this renowned Sushi Chef cut off his nose to spite his face, ultimately his business will suffer.

  • 1

    Conspiracy Theories

    'I'm sorry, but we don't offer our sushi that way', and let her make the decision on whether she was going to eat it with the rice, or go somewhere else.

    Good post! I agree

  • -1

    karlrb

    The KFC story was interesting, in a negative way. The Japanese, some Japanese, definitely have a problem in adapting to the new world order (where the customer is king). Both the customer and the chef/manager should behave in a respectful manner to one another, but that does not mean the customer shouldn't even ask for a custom sandwich or whatever. The chef can always politely state that that is not possible in their establishment. Pride is one thing, unbridled egos are another.

  • 4

    Triring

    Here is the reason why the sushi chef did not offer sashimi, sashimi at sushi restaurants are offered in assortments and more than one cut of the same fish at a time. What she ordered was two cuts of fish at a time only that two cuts. It's like ordering a cut of cheese at a french restaurant one at a time and not the full plate.

  • 8

    dodosuko

    I work as a waiter in a restaurant and once I had a party of 8 westerners coming to eat, handed them the menu which none of them could read (no pictures to help them figure out what's written on the menu). Luckily, I was able to speak English and while explaining about the dishes, was talking to the customers : " My diet has to be gluten free." " Do you know if this dish is gluten free?" " I'm allergic to meat and seafood". " Could you make this dish without the meat or seafood?" " I'm a vegan" " Do you know any dish that could be eaten by vegans?" "I'm a vegetarian" " What kind of dish do you recommend for vegetarians?"

    The energy and time needed to serve this one Foreigner group is equivalent of serving 4 other groups of Japanese costumers. Totally consumed my time while there were other guests also waiting to be served. Sometimes the requests could be very overwhelming.

    Back to sushi ordering topic , I think both parties didn't really have the common sense in resolving the issues. For the customer lady, why would you ask for rice free sushi if you know that vinegar rice is a very important part of the dish? Wait until they invent carb-free rice like decaf for coffee. As for the restaurant owner, why would you have to kick your customers out if you could politely apologize and maybe offer her to have sashimis instead?

  • 2

    Laguna

    I don't like carbs and neither does my wife, but we often took the kids to kaiten when they were younger - she'd eat the fish and "ask" me to eat the rice in that way that is really a demand as she would have been embarrassed with a growing pile of rice, so of course I complied. Hated it - one of the best things about the kids having left for college is we don't go to kaiten anymore.

  • -2

    Conspiracy Theories

    Anyways, who's she to order sushi without su added rice. If she felt violated, then she should sue the sushi place she ordered the sushi from. Sheesh, that was a mouthful.

  • -12

    tinawatanabe

    As for the restaurant owner, why would you have to kick your customers out if you could politely apologize and maybe offer her to have sashimis instead?

    Maybe the chef had already been frustrated with other requests of her? Such as telling him to cook her sushi because she doesn't eat raw fish? Or she was making telephone calls at her table loudly?

  • -1

    Citizen2012

    I wouldn't want to know what would happen if I sent a plate back to the kitchen because I wanted ketchup on my order instead of the sauce made by a world reknown French Chef.

    I am sure that if you are asking a real world known Chef in France to not put some of the ingredients because of your diet he will not make that fuzz, French chef wants you to enjoy your time and meal because that's part of the French food culture that is totally different from those high pride Sushi restaurant where the chef want you to admire him rather then enjoying.

  • 0

    bjohnson23

    Did I miss the last 15yrs, we are at the end of 2015 going into 2016 not 1957. Some things are best to keep traditional but there is room for exception and this was by no means an exception, the chef was wrong. It was more impolite to the customer but obviously by going there she found an outdated chef who still thinks that today is 1957

  • -2

    Hawkeye

    In Japan if you don't want to eat rice, you should find a restaurant that caters to your type of diet. Eating sushi without rice is like asking for a sandwich and asking for it to be served without bread. WTF???

  • 3

    WilliB

    A bit like going to to a Hamburger joint and asking them to hold the bread. Weird. Why didn´t she ask for sashimi if that is what she wanted? I think both sides are equally guilty of being stupid here.

  • -1

    Kabukilover

    Fascinating what makes headline news in Japan.

  • -3

    Yubaru

    Just like the time I went to KFC and asked them to hold the slice of tomato in my burger.

    When did KFC start serving burgers?

  • 1

    25years in Japan

    If you go to a sushi restaurant just expect to eat sushi. If you are on a diet, go somewhere else.

  • 4

    AsianGaijinYesWeExist

    @Conspiracy Theories

    Those chefs take a lot of pride in making each sushi they make. The finished product is an art in itself.

    Oh please, give me a break! You are in the service industry. Give the customer what they want, or politely tell them what you can offer instead ("How about sashimi, m'am?"). Not tell your customer to leave.

    This is what happens when ego gets to some people's head and they all start thinking they are Jiro.

  • -8

    Texas A&M Aggie

    The only thing raw fish is good for is bait. . . . .

  • 2

    AsianGaijinYesWeExist

    The only thing raw fish is good for is bait. . . . .

    I don't care much for raw tuna myself, but raw salmon is surprisingly good. Much better than cooked.

  • 2

    sillygirl

    Omotenashi at its best. Not what the customer wants but what is forced upon you as unique hospitality.

  • -2

    Danny Bloom

    This headline is what is called a "crash blossom" - I coined the term about ten years ago - and it refers to quirky headlines that look and sound funny at first, as is she wanted to actually some rice in her hand. Google the term. This headline is a good example of a crash blossom. The term actually evolved from a headline in the Japan Times that had copyeditors in the USA scratching their heads.

  • 1

    Citizen2012

    Oh please, give me a break! You are in the service industry. Give the customer what they want, or politely tell them what you can offer instead ("How about sashimi, m'am?"). Not tell your customer to leave.

    Exactly, telling people to leave, kick them, in response to only one request is so rude and impolite, definitely not the place I would like to go for enjoying my meal.

  • 0

    Yubaru

    There is a sushi shop in Okinawa where the owner refuses to serve any Japanese unless they become members, which costs something like 200,000. The guy makes "American" style sushi and too many times Japanese customers complained about not being able to get "real" Japanese sushi so he just bars them from his place.

    Japanese women are allowed to come in if they are in the company of an American or other foreigner.

  • -1

    Viki Lyn Paulson-Cody

    I do not eat rice anymore. I've been deciding how to handle my annual New Years sushi with my friends at our usual place after hatsumode. Should I ask for it without rice? Leave all the rice sitting there? Carry a plastic bag and throw it in there secretly? I haven't gone to a sushi restaurant since I gave up gluten and rice 7 months ago but I want to enjoy my tradition with my friends and I love sashimi! So.... Wonder what I should do exactly?

  • 4

    A.N. Other

    My diet has to be gluten free." " Do you know if this dish is gluten free?" " I'm allergic to meat and seafood". " Could you make this dish without the meat or seafood?" " I'm a vegan" " Do you know any dish that could be eaten by vegans?" "I'm a vegetarian" " What kind of dish do you recommend for vegetarians?"

    It sound like your customers would be more at home in a meadow than in a restaurant.

  • 0

    Martin P Lopez

    For crying out loud..!!! ask for Sashimi..!!!!

  • 0

    Yubaru

    True story though. They turned out to be fresh-out-of-college local JETs. :)

    Sadly, the 1% screw things up for the rest of them.

  • -2

    theeastisred

    Obviously you have to hold the rice, otherwise how would you be able to shape it and place the fish on top? What's the problem?

  • 1

    wipeout

    @tinawatanabe

    Maybe the chef had already been frustrated with other requests of her? Such as telling him to cook her sushi because she doesn't eat raw fish? Or she was making telephone calls at her table loudly?

    Based on the general pattern of your comments on matters of Japanese culture, I get the impression with this crashingly unsubtle scenario that you have taken this customer to be a foreigner rather than Japanese.

    Nothing in the article, the comments it reported on, or the comments below the line suggest that she was.

  • -4

    shonanbb

    Rice fills me up so fast. But, if they don't allow for a sashimi order, I just eat the fish off the top, stealthily drop the rice on the floor, and kick it under my neibors. Quite easy, as most people have their faces in eir plates and do not notice their immediate environment.

  • 0

    tinawatanabe

    @wipeout

    My point was that the chef would have been annoyed with other things.

    Nothing in the article, the comments it reported on, or the comments below the line suggest that she was.

    or she wasn't.

    this crashingly unsubtle scenario

    which actually happened at Jiro's.

  • 0

    karlrb

    @shonabb - I hope you were kidding.

  • -1

    falseflagsteve

    My grandad used to say to my gran that women should be seen and not heard and at times i agree as does this chef it seems.

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