Conveyor belt sushi or Kaiten-zushi (lit. rotating sushi) as it's called in Japanese are sushi restaurants where sushi is served from a conveyor belt. The customers then just pick the sushi they want to eat as they come moving by their seat.
Kaiten-zushi is an invention from Osaka where the worlds first conveyor belt sushi opened in 1958. Then as a way to help an understaffed sushi chef, now Kaiten-zushi is a common sight that can be found all over Japan and even abroad. In Japan kaiten-zushi is considered a casual, cheap and fast way to enjoy sushi. It's therefore popular with families and people in a hurry.
As many other restaurants in Japan Kaiten-zushi can often found in malls or shopping streets. With close to a dozen Kaiten-zushi chains in Japan with a total of over 2000 restaurants it can be safe to say you will find a restaurant somewhere nearby. As Kaiten-zushi is seen as a fast food restaurant in Japan it's not uncommon to find restaurants close to larger roads.
Google map result for Kaiten-zushi restaurants in the Tokyo area. The red dots marks a restaurant.
A kaiten-zushi restaurant at the roadside.
When entering the restaurant you will be asked how many you are and what seating you would like. While counter seats are what most think of when hearing of Kaiten-zushi, most restaurants also offers table seats connected to the conveyor belt.
At most restaurants the pricing on the plates depends on their color and pattern. Where for example red plates are 100 Yen a piece while more expensive golden plates are 500 Yen. You will often find large charts on the walls showing the plates color pricing. Other restaurants have a flat rate on every plate, usually at around 100 Yen per plate.
At your seat you will find tea cups, green tea powder, soy sauce and pickled ginger (Gari) along with chopsticks and a wet towel. You will also often find a hot water tap extruding from the counter, which is used to make green tea. You make your tea by first putting 1-2 spoons of green tea powder in your tea cup, then hold and press your cup against the hot water tap. Sometimes a bit of force is required to get the water running but be careful not to get scolded, as the water is boiling hot. The self serving tea is free but you can order other drinks, such as beer and soft drinks separately.
You will often also find wasabi at your seat, but if there aren't any just ask the chef for some. Put a little soy sauce in a tray and start picking out the sushi plates you want to eat. In proper sushi eating way you shouldn't mix wasabi into the soy tray, as you won't be able to properly taste the flavor of the fish. But everyone have their own way of enjoying sushi and at a casual place such as a Kaiten-zushi no one will object. The pickled ginger (Gari) is eaten between different sushi to clear your taste buds, not as garnish as some people mistake if for.
While eyeing the belt for tasty looking sushi coming your way is part of the charm of Kaiten-zushi, remember that you can also directly order sushi from the chefs. Just get their attention and simply point out the sushi in the menu you want, or if you are feeling confident yelling out your order in Japanese. This way you will get the freshest and best tasting sushi, as it won't have been rotating on the belt for too long.
When you are finished just tell the waiters, okaikei onegai shimasu (お会計お願いします), or simply stand up by your seat and a waiter will come and count your plates. It's considered good manners to arrange the plates by color before asking for the check. With the plates counted you will be handled a recipe that you bring to the cash register where you pay. Most Kaiten-zushi accept paying by credit card.
Today's modern sushi restaurants aren't afraid to mix things up a bit. With some chains in addition to sushi also serving noodles, deep fried dishes and even sweets from the conveyor belt. Also helpful for foreigners are the restaurants that let's you order sushi by selecting from a touchscreen near your seat.
The latest trend in Kaiten-zushi are restaurants where instead of constantly different sushi moving around on the belt, every piece is ordered and then sent to the customers seat by a high speed train like tray. This minimize food waste as restaurants no longer have to throw away uneaten sushi, while also letting people have the freshest made sushi at all times.
Have you tried Kaiten-zushi in Japan yet? If you have some questions not answered above, please let us know either by emailing us through our contact form or by commenting below.