Japan · Life in Japan

Eating Out: Conveyor Belt Sushi

I love sushi. I didn’t realise sushi could taste so good until going to Japan. And boy, do I miss it! There’s just something not quite right when eating sushi back home. Even though it can taste pretty delicious, I still miss the whole experience of eating sushi in Japan, that authentic vibe and well, to be more specific, the fun times at conveyor belt sushi restaurants.

Conveyor belt sushi, or better known as kaiten-zushi in Japan, is one of the cheaper and more (in my opinion) entertaining ways of eating sushi. You can find these types of sushi restaurants all over the world, including South Africa, but never before did I had the chance to eat at a kaiten-zushi restaurant and receive my order on a mini shinkansen (bullet train) until Japan!

My first visit to a kaiten-zushi restaurant was in Tokyo, and I remember feeling a bit nervous as I wasn’t too sure how it all worked. Fortunately I was able to figure it out by observing others around me. It’s pretty much self-service when it comes to the food as you just take the plate you wish to eat off the conveyor belt but never return it as that is considered rude. You also have unlimited access to hot water and green tea. If you want to order something that is not passing by on the conveyor belt, or want a drink other than hot water or tea, then depending on the type of restaurant you can either place your order with the chef/waitress from a menu, or place an order from the touch screen at your table.

Kaiten-zushi, conveyor belt sushi, Japan
This was the first kaiten-zushi restaurant I ate at in the heart of Tokyo.

Most kaiten-zushi restaurants offer two types of seating: You can either sit on bar stools facing the conveyor belt, or (and this is better if you are in a group) you can sit at a table that has the conveyor belt passing by on the one side.

Most of the sushi is easily recognisable, but every now and again strange-looking forms of seafood pass by and I swear they probably come from the depths of the Mariana Trench. On the other hand, I have seen crazy creations such as roast beef sushi, hamburger sushi, and creamed corn sushi. Luckily, small signs go around with the sushi displaying what is coming up next so at least you get an idea of what you’re eating.

The plates that the sushi go around on are colour (or pattern) coded, and each colour represents a certain price. This makes it really easy to choose your sushi, especially if you are on a budget and then you’ll want to avoid certain colours and patterns.

In the picture below you will see a typical layout of your seating area. There is the hot water (metal tap in the middle) where you can make green tea (the red container to the left). Above the tap is a picture of the plate colours and their prices (as you can see I kept to the ¥160 plates). There are also other condiments available such as soy sauce, ginger and wasabi.

The menu is available if you want to make a personalised order with the chef, as opposed to picking off plates from the conveyor belt.

Some places add wasabi to the sushi before sending it out. If you’re not a big fan of wasabi, like myself, you can always ask which plates don’t have wasabi. At one kaiten-zushi I visited it was pointed out that the plates without patterns didn’t have wasabi, while the plates with patterns did.

Here you’ll see the sushi signs I mentioned earlier.
An example of the various plate colours and patterns. And no, this wasn’t all mine. 🙂

Now, about this mini shinkansen (bullet train). There are probably a few out there, but there is one chain of kaiten-zushi restaurants that use the train, and that’s Kappa-sushi. There was one in Onomichi City where I lived. Really great sushi at really cheap prices (¥100 for most plates).

At each table there is a touch screen where you can place your own order (if nothing going by on the conveyor belt interests you), then once your order is ready the screen starts flashing to let you know the train is coming! The next thing this small shinkansen comes out of the kitchen carrying your order, makes its way along the tracks above the conveyor belt and stops right by your table. Once you take your plates off the train you touch the screen to confirm you have received your order and the train goes shooting back into the kitchen. 😀

It’s such a fun way to eat sushi, though in all my excitement I always forgot to take a picture of it, but here’s a link to Kappa-sushi’s website and you’ll see a picture of the train there. And out of interest here’s their menu (in Japanese), which shows the variety of sushi, and other dishes, that you can order.

Once you have eaten your full of sushi, the waitress will come along and count your stack of plates and bill you according to your colours – simple as that!

On average I could eat about 8 plates before I started to feel really full. When I asked my students how many plates they would eat in one sitting, they would say usually between 15 to 20! If only I could enjoy so many plates!

More delicious sushi coming my way…
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