In Japan, the art of being a sushi chef is a rigorous and prestigious one. They are called “itamae,” or “one who stands in front of the cutting board”. These skilled chefs must be great conversationalists, as well as talented artists. Itamae train for many years and then apprentice for up to a decade, culminating all they learn in a national exam. Attaining itamae is arduous and as a result, they command great respect. To exemplify this, since rice is the foundation of sushi, Japanese legend states that a true itamae should be able to create sushi where all the rice grains face in the same direction! Now that would demand great respect!
Another interesting tidbit from the Food as Art: Mastering the Art of Sushi infographic below is that Americans enjoy their miso soup backwards. In Japan, it is consumed after the meal in order to aid digestion. In America, it is often served as an appetizer before the meal.
If Japan is in your future travels, be sure to visit the oldest sushi restaurant. Kodai Susume-Zushi Sushiman is located in Osaka, and was established in 1653!
For more information on eating specific types of sushi, review this infographic produced by Swissotel | Nankai in Osaka.