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Published on 04.27.2016
The last decade or so has seen a dramatic increase in consumption of sushi across the globe. Whereas in the past it was considered an exotic delicacy, today it is as easy as walking into your local supermarket and buying a pack. Even in Japan, its place of birth, sushi was traditionally a luxury reserved for special occasions, however it has considerably evolved since then.
The evolution of sushi consumption has resulted in kaitenzushi or conveyor-belt sushi. In comparison to kaitenzushi, traditional sushi is usually made by the sushi chef right in front of the customers. Each order is taken directly and this method can be considered rather time-consuming. For this reason, Yoshiaki Shiraishi (1914-2001) invented kaitenzushi in Osaka in 1958. He took the inspiration for it from beer bottles on a conveyor belt at the Asahi brewery. Thus, like beer bottles travel around the brewery on the conveyor belt, sushi service was adapted to this model whereby it would be travelling in the restaurant. What was most appealing about this method of serving sushi was that Yoshiaki’s sushi restaurant received mainly working-class customers. As sushi was an expensive treat, kaitenzushi provided an efficient and affordable approach to selling sushi.
During Japan’s economic boom in the 1980s, kaitenzushi became popular as the middle-class began to eat out more. Following the economic boom of the 80s, the 90s saw the bubble burst. However, this did not translate into less customers, but rather into more as people opted for cheaper alternatives. Today there are more than 3000 such sushi restaurants across Japan, while the number of kaitenzushi restaurants keep growing in the rest of the world.
Currently, there are two kinds of kaitenzushi; one is the same as what Yoshiaki devised, while the other makes use of modern technology. The former kind is usually set out in a style whereby a sushi chef stands in a doughnut-shaped table. The chef makes sushi and places them on plates and then on the conveyor belt that would go along the inner length of the table. Customers sit along the outer edge of the table and get to pick whichever plate they fancy as it goes along. Usually, the prices are colour-coded and a chart explaining the prices are provided near the customers. If a customer has a special request, it is possible to ask the chef directly to make the sushi in a certain way. Customers don’t need to worry about eating expires food as the sushi rotating is timed, which means that (usually after two hours) the food is discarded to avoid health related problems.
The modern counterpart of kaitenzushi is dissimilar to its predecessor in the way that customers use touchscreens to make orders. In this setting customers are not face-to-face with the sushi chefs who are working behind the scenes. Upon making the order the sushi will arrive on a plate and it is usually colour-coded; each sitting area has a designated colour and whatever is ordered at that table will arrive on a plate according to that colour. This method of sushi service is efficient as it saves on rent, however it is also environmentally friendly because food is not wasted as it is directly ordered and eaten. Another usefulness of touchscreens is that they also have the menu in English. With the upcoming Tokyo Olympics kaitenzushi chains such as Sushi Nova and Uobei chains have added Chinese and Korean versions of their menu.
Usually the prices for each plate are around ¥100 - ¥500, although there are some restaurants that have a single price for all plates. In addition to sushi, kaitenzushi restaurants also serve other foods such as ramen, curry, and of course drink providing customers with abundant choices.
Source: Japan Travel