Matsumotos Corner Vol.9

Why are they heading to the left?
– how to show fish in Japan

Japanese people like to eat fish very much. Of the fish dishes, the one that cooks the whole fish without cutting them is called okashira-tsuki which means “fish dish with head and tail”. Okashira-tsuki of high-class fish are especially preferred for celebrations, but it is not uncommon for okashira-tsuki to be served as grilled or simmered fish in everyday meals. When this okashira-tsuki is served, it is most often placed on a plate with its head facing left. The belly of the fish should face toward you and the back should face away. Actually, the habit of showing fish with its head placed on the left is not limited to fish dishes. The fish arranged at fish markets and the fish pictures drawn in the Japanese pictorial books of fish are mostly facing left too.

You can find various opinions about the reason. For example, one says that it is because Japan
has a culture where the left is considered higher than the right, another says it’s easier for right-handed people to eat with chopsticks, or it’s easy to draw fish facing left by right-handed people. Some people also say it may be the influence of foreign fish pictorial books. However, the real reason is not clear. Anyway, whatever the first reason, I suspect the Japanese nature of preferring to be the same as others has a big influence on it.