The legend goes that Yoshiaki Shiraishi was touring an Asahi brewery when he saw a conveyor belt transporting beer bottles and had an idea that would revolutionize the consumption of sushi. A restauranter always on the lookout for ways to maximize efficiency, Shiraishi recognized the potential of using a conveyor belt to quickly serve sushi without increasing staffing needs.
The First Kaiten-Zushi (Conveyor Belt Sushi)
He spent five years refining and optimizing his conveyor belt concept before opening the first “kaiten-zushi” (literally “rotation sushi”) restaurant, Mawaru Genroku Sushi, in 1958. Deciding on the speed of the belt was a particular challenge. Too fast, and the customers would have trouble grabbing the plates in time; too slow, and the customers’ patience would wear thin - not to mention the sushi losing freshness as it traveled around the belt. Ultimately, Shiraishi decided that 8 centimeters per second was the ideal pace.
His first restaurant was a major hit and ushered in a new way to enjoy sushi. Mawaru Genroku Sushi went on to exhibit at the Osaka World Expo in 1970, which brought kaiten-zushi to international audiences and led to an explosion of new locations and competitors.
Today, the average kaiten-zushi restaurant in Japan slings out sushi at the affordable price of around 100 yen a plate, making it an accessible for the everyday consumer. In contrast to the popular image of sushi as a gourmet food reserved for special occasions, kaiten-zushi is a casual dining option that is popular among families and young people.
In addition to being able to pull your food directly off of the belt, many kaiten-zushi places offer entertainment features such as touch-screen ordering tablets, shinkansen (bullet train) theming, and the chance to play digital games to win prizes. An affordable way to get your seafood fix, kaiten-zushi is a unique window into Japanese culture and cuisine.
About the author:
Britney Budiman (@booritney) is a writer, minimalist, aspiring effective altruist, and runner-in-progress with a penchant for saying “yes.” Previously, she has worked in Cambodia at a traditional arts NGO, in Brazil as a social sciences researcher, and in San Francisco at a housing start-up. She currently lives in the countryside of Kagoshima, Japan, where she teaches English. Her favorite thing in the world is good conversation.