Food Forum
Vol. 32 No. 3  October 2018

CLOSE-UP JAPAN

Kaitenzushi

Soba and sushi food models Miniature food sample accessories
Empty plates pile up in front of diners to be
tallied for the bill

There are two types of sushi restaurants in Japan: the typical sushiya, where customers sit at a counter or tables and order sushi directly from sushi chefs; and kaitenzushi, where sushi dishes travel on slow-moving conveyor belts directly in front of diners seated at a counter or tables—and when they see a dish they like, they simply pluck it off the belt.

The kaitenzushi concept originated in the 1950s and is said to be the brainchild of the owner of a casual stand-up sushi shop who, short of staff, streamlined the serving process by introducing moving conveyor belts—an idea possibly inspired by brewery production lines. When the very first kaitenzushi-only restaurant opened in 1958 in Osaka, the notion of displaying tempting, immediately available sushi dishes in motion was enthusiastically embraced and quickly won popularity. Since that time, kaitenzushi restaurants have rapidly multiplied beyond Osaka and now can be found throughout Japan and around the world.

Kaitenzushi are economical and family-friendly

In some kaitenzushi, customers sit not only at the counter, but at booths within arm’s reach of the moving belt. Dishes originate from the kitchen, where staff place standard sushi dishes on the belt and fill special orders. Diners may simply wait for a favorite dish to pass by or order specific items from staff or via touch panels. Special orders appear on the belt displaying an “ordered dish” tag for pick-up. Tea powder and hot water taps are placed along the counter for customers to make their own tea. The final bill is determined by the color or pattern of individual dishes, each of which denotes a different price. The values of the empty plates are added up, and payment is made at a cashier.


Selecting a favorite dish as it passes
by on the belt

Because kaitenzushi are economical and family-friendly, menus include alternative dishes for children and those preferring something besides sushi, such as ramen, udon, french fries, fried chicken and ice cream. Some kaitenzushi provide entertainment like roulette games, which diners play based on the number of plates they consume. Challenging the classic low-budget kaitenzushi restaurants, however, are an increasing number of gourmet kaitenzushi that not only offer fresh-caught seafood, but also locally sourced “farm-to-table” products. Today, as both budget and gourmet kaitenzushi flourish, diners are faced with ever-more appetizing sushi options to satisfy both wallet and palate.