IT WASN'T ALWAYS the way we know it to be today. Sushi was first in south China before being introduced to Japan and literally means "sour-tasting" in reference to its original composition of fish wrapped in fermented rice. Very different to today's fancy Western-style rolls.
But whether it's chirashizushi, temaki, futomaki, nigirizushi, the more uncommon narezushi, oshizushi and inarizushi, or the more common California, Dragon or Dynamite rolls, what is shared by all types of sushi is sushi rice and well, sushi etiquette.
With a Wiki search, some mildly entertaining videos, some highly entertaining forum discussions and a personal tip from a friend, Hiromichi Tani, I've come to discover how to bid sayonara to my sushi-eating faux pas. At least some of them.
CHOPSTICKS Traditionally, sashimi is eaten with chopsticks. Sushi you eat with your fingers. When picking up either one from a communal plate, use the back end of your chopsticks so the mouthpiece end doesn't touch the other food. Turn your chopsticks back the right way around once the piece is on your plate. Though wooden chopsticks commonly provided in more casual restaurants tend to splinter, rubbing them together is discouraged. Doing so expresses that you consider them of inferior quality.
SOY SAUCE Pour only the soy sauce you need. Refill later if necessary. When dipping in soy sauce, dip the sushi upside down as the soy sauce is intended for flavoring the topping, not the rice.
WASABI Mixing wasabi into soy sauce is traditionally considered acceptable when eating sashimi but not when having sushi. Ideally, sushi is sized to be eaten in one bite and has the right amount of wasabi to be eaten without adding more. If you prefer more wasabi, smear some on the topping before dipping into the soy sauce. Sushi served with their own sauce, on the other hand, are generally not meant to be dipped at all.
GINGER Have a piece of ginger in between bites. They're provided as a palette cleanser and not as a condiment or side dish.
Of course you can eat sushi in whatever way you like. The Japanese themselves aren't all strictly traditional about it and different places serve sushi and Japanese tableware differently anyway.
Just as we don't necessarily always use the right glasses for particular liquor or separate forks for salad and dinner, everyday eating need not be overwhelmed by etiquette. If anything, it should be a joy, not a burden, to eat things right.
Heavy - The appearance of a Fukagawa waitress in the Tempo Era by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, www.artsanddesignsjapan.com and Bowl of Sushi by Hiroshige Utagawa, commons.wikimedia.org