Outside Japan, sushi is often viewed as the basics of Japan’s everyday diet, which is incorrect. It even used to be a fancy and expensive dish in post-WWII Japan due to an embargo on raw fish sale. Refined and high-end restaurants still exist, but what helped popularize sushi was the growing number of kaiten-zushi in the 1970s. There are several thousand of this type of restaurants nowadays in the archipelago.
Their main characteristics are:
- A conveyor belt, winding through the shop, from the kitchen to the seats. Sushi plates are put on the conveyor-belt and will rotate until customers take them;
- Affordable prices, with a system of colored plates to indicate the dish prices (starting from ¥100 / ~US$ 0.90 and up to ¥800 / ~US$ 7.60);
- A laid-back and popular atmosphere thanks to the self-service feature that attracts busy salary-men as well as many foreign tourist who may be too impressed to try a traditional sushi restaurant.
Kaiten-zushi chains have understood the needs of their customers and have long been working to cater to their wishes. For example, many restaurants now feature touchpads for orders, making them accessible in several languages, including English. Requests for a specific type of sushi can be made directly to the chef, and beverages are to be ordered from the waiters. But there is no recommendation (osusume wa?) nor omakase (let the chef decide) like in more traditional restaurants or sushi-bars.
Some sushi brands can imagine very creative ways to customize their conveyor belt. One of the most famous examples is the miniature Shinkansen that carries directly to the diners the special sushi they ordered from the touch screen. This ordering system allows to always have the freshest sushi as they are made on the spot and don’t spent too much time on the conveyor-belt.
There are numerous sushi types and they vary according to seasons and supplies. Naturally, quality may decrease when choice increases. The most common dishes are nigiri served in pairs, but there are also a lot of maki types, as well as sashimi. Other specialties can also be proposed such as meat skewers and various kinds of deserts. Green tea and pickled ginger are always complementary.
At the end of the meal, just say gochiso-sama deshita and a waiter will come to count the plates and calculate the bill. The most advanced kaiten-zushi have an automated plates count thanks to a microchip embedded under the plates!