Kaitenzushi (conveyer belt sushi) (回転寿司)

Kaitenzushi is a type of inexpensive semi-self-service sushi restaurant where various kinds of sushi on small plates are traveling continuously on the conveyer belt passing along the counter seats.

Summary

Normally prices are determined according to the patterns of the plates (uniform price in some restaurants) and calculated by counting the number of plates of the consumed sushi. Some sushi, soup, and drinks not traveling on the conveyer belt, can be ordered directly from the shop staff. Also there are some shops where customers can directly order to make and hand over (or place on the conveyer belt) their desired sushi, even same kind of sushi are already traveling there.

There are also shops where customers can order by means of a liquid crystal touch panel that informs them when the item they ordered has arrived by showing an image of their order swimming (there are some types of liquid crystal touch panels that display a menu showing images of fish swimming in the sea from which customers can select the fish they wish to order, etc.), as well as shops with a conveyer belt for carrying tea cups and those with a separate conveyer belt that travels on the inside of the counter to collect dishes. In the shops with the conveyer belt for collecting dishes, the number of plates of the consumed sushi is counted automatically and the calculated price is displayed. There are shops with lottery machine that automatically gives chances to customers to hold a lottery according to the number of plates.

The conveyer belt is traveling clockwise with plates on it so that right-handed people holding chop sticks in their right hand can pick their selections easily from there (conveyer belt traveling anticlockwise also exists to make it easier for left-handed people). Also there is a type where sushi on the plates are traveling from both sides. In that case, customers can pick them up from both directions. That is not the case with table seats.

Besides sushi, there are usually other food and drinks such as desserts like cakes, fruit, fried chicken, tenpura (Japanese deep-fried food), sashimi (fresh slices of raw fish), deep-fried food, soba (buckwheat) noodles, Chawan Mushi (steamed egg custard dish), beer, rice wine, Yum cha, etc. on the traveling conveyer belt. Probably because shops expect families including children and elders, wasabi is often added moderately to sushi and sometimes additional wasabi (for free) is rotating on the conveyer belt.

While '100 yen sushi' shops featuring the inexpensive price of 100 yen for every item are increasing, shops are tend to have added features, for example, only pictures of fish for sushi are rotating on the conveyer belt so customers can eat freshly-made sushi of their choice.

New features are increasingly introduced like attaching two-dimensional bar codes or IC tags on the undersides of plates to control freshness by removing sushi that is left too long on the conveyer belt, to analyze which items are selling to minimize shortages and disposal, to streamline billing by scanning the codes of plates with IC tag reader to calculate the prices quickly and accurately.

History

Yoshiaki SHIRAISHI who was a proprietor of a stand-up-eating sushi restaurant in Osaka got an idea from a conveyer belt for beer production and invented 'rotating conveyer belt table' to serve a lot of orders effectively at a lower costs and in 1958 opened the first Kaitenzushi shop 'Genrokuzushi' at the north exit of Fuse Station of Kintetsu in Fuse City of Osaka Prefecture (now Higashi Osaka City).

On December 6, 1962, 'rotating conveyer belt table' obtained the Ultimate Model Right No. 579776 as 'cooking table with conveyer belt' in the name of Yoshiaki SHIRAISHI. 'Genrokuzushi' (Genroku Sangyo Co.,) obtained Ultimate Model Rights for the words referring 'traveling' such as 'まわる or 廻る mawaru' '回転 kaiten' for the name of the restaurant, therefore other restaurants could not advertise the word 'Kaitenzushi' for newly open restaurants for a long time. According to Genrokuzushi, 'the first Kaitenzushi restaurant in eastern Japan was opened in 1968,' which means that it took ten years to spread to western Japan.

While traditional sushi restaurants tended to be exclusive, Kaitenzushi restaurants have satisfied the needs of ordinary people by providing low price, convenience, simple billing, and have spread nationwide since 1970's and have become the competitors of family restaurants. In 1997 Genroku Sangyo released the rights of 'Kaiten' for naming restaurants.

In Japan

Akindo Sushiro (Headquarters: Suita City in Osaka Prefecture, Tokyo Stock Exchange, 2,235 shops as of August, 2008)
Atom (Kaitenzushi) (Headquarters: Fukui City in Fukui Prefecture, the second section of Tokyo Stock Exchange, 93 shops as of August, 2008)
JR East Food Business (Headquarters: Kita Ward in Tokyo Prefecture, eight directly-management shops and 1FC shop as of March, 2008)
Umai Sushikan (Headquarters: Sendai City in Miyagi Prefecture, twenty-one directly-management shops and three FC shops and two overseas shops)
Kappazushi (Headquarters: Saitama City in Saitama Prefecture, the first section of Tokyo Stock Exchange, 307 shops as of July, 2008)
Genkizushi (Headquarters: Utsunomiya City in Tochigi Prefecture, The first section of Tokyo Stock Exchange, 194 domestic shops and forty-four overseas shops)
Genrokuzushi (Headquarters: Higashi Osaka City in Osaka Prefecture, twelve directly-managed shops)
Choshimaru (Headquarters: Chiba City in Chiba Prefecture, JASDAQ, 65 shops as of April 2009)
Hakodate Ichiba (Headquarters: Okayama City in Okayama Prefecture, The first section of Tokyo Stock Exchange, sixty-four shops as of August, 2008)
Marinepolis (Headquarters: Okayama City in Okayama Prefecture, ninety-two directly managed shops, thirty-four FC shops, nine overseas shops as of October, 2007)
Muten Kurazushi (Headquarters: Sakai City in Osaka Prefecture, The first section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange, 192 shops (as of February, 2008)

In other countries

In the late 1990's Kaitenzushi became popular in London, England. A restaurant chain, Yo! Sushi which started in Soho, London in 1997 opened one after another in England boosting popularity. In 1999 it drew attention by opening a Kaitenzushi shop on the platform at Paddington station.

Other than sushi, there are also various selections including Japanese food and drinks such as sashimi, fried chicken, dumplings, rice wine and also tea, bread, cakes, fruit, chicken ramen noodles with red pepper, fried wheat noodles, tenpura. Prices are determined depending on the patterns of the plates like in Japan.

It became very popular since its debut and was reported that the founder Simon Woodroffe gained a large foodhold in the food service industry in the UK.
The Sunday Times praised the sushi as 'the best in London.'

Now there are more than twenty shops including those in luxury department stores in London such as Selfridges and Harvey Nichols and at Heathrow Airport and also developed in France and Dubai in the Middle East and announced that it will open new restaurants in 2006 and also it is assumed to open in the US. In Australia there is a restaurant chain Sushi Train.

Toppings and fillings

It is called 'Tane.'
Sushi chefs used to call it upside down as 'Neta' in their secret language.

Refer to Sushi Tane of Sushi for the kinds of toppings and fillings. In Kaitenzushi there are toppings and fillings that are not normally used for sushi and here we list some particular examples.

Makimono (rolled sushi) (Bettara pickles, Shiba-zuke pickles, Inaka-zuke pickles, mountain burdock, Japanese plum with beefsteak plant, Natto (fermented soybeans), conger with cucumber, cutlet, fried shrimp)
Meat dishes and fried foods (short rib, char siu, hamburger, bacon, chicken teriyaki, shrimp tenpura, squid tenpura, shishamo smelt tenpura)
Futomaki (thick rolled sushi) (crab with mayonnaise, California rolls, Kinchaku (sushi wrapped in thin omelette), Inari (a pouch of fried tofu filled with sushi rice), Battera (pressed sushi topped with mackerel), Oshizushi (pressed sushi), Barazushi (a style of sushi where the topping is placed in a bowl over a bed of rice), Gomokuzushi (a style of sushi where ingredients mixed in the body of rice).
Other side dishes (fried chicken, deep frying, stewed dishes, pickled vegetables, soba noodles, udon noodles, ramen noodles, jellies, puddings, cakes, sweet potatoes, juices)

Listed Kaitenzushi companies and the number of restaurants

*(xxx) of 'restaurants' is the point of time the number of shops were counted. It is (year/month).

Conveyer belt

Almost 100% of the conveyer belts that move sushi plates in Kaitenzushi restaurants are manufactured in Ishikawa Prefecture with the two strongest – about sixty percent by Ishino Seisakusho (distributed by Kitanihon-Kakoh) in Kanazawa City and about forty percent by Japan Crescent in Yokoe-cho, Hakusan City.

In 1974 Ishino Seisakusho developed a conveyer belt with tea servers. Since then, both companies developed conveyer belts with new functions for tea cups, Express (bullet train) Lane Staffless Conveyer (another conveyer belt to transport dishes quickly, while the normal one is rotating in normal speed), freshness control system (removing plates from the conveyer belt automatically staying too long after a certain period of time).

In fact, the longest conveyer belt is 147 meters and the shortest is five meters in Japan.

Other

Recently some Kaitenzushi chains audit the images of their restaurants without any notice to check if there are shortages of toppings. Also the traditional type of sushi restaurants without conveyer belts are called 'fixed sushi' or 'stationary sushi' in common speech.