Sushi restaurant (寿司屋)
A sushi restaurant is one (service business) which serves mainly sushi (especially nigirizushi [sushi shaped by hand]), but it is critically different from other restaurants in that freshness counts because the food materials include many perishables like sashimi (fresh slices of raw fish). Fresh materials are used and cooked and served while fresh.
At one time various kinds of efforts were made for preserving freshness or preventing contamination and so on, but now they are not noticed because of convenient devices for keeping foods such as refrigerators or technical developments of transportation, a part of which remains in the cooking or seasoning technique called zuke (tuna preserved with soy sauce). The use of vinegar seems to have been because of its sterilization effect.
Because of such necessities of keeping freshness, in times when transportation technology was low, sushi restaurants were located centering on limited areas such as coastal areas and so on. Now with the development of transportation technology, there are sushi restaurants even in the mountains, for example. On the other hand, it is difficult for middlemen to intervene in the purchase of foods such as fish and so on because of the need for freshness, and when there were not minutely divided circulation systems as there are now, even tunas were sometimes purchased in units of one fish.
From the bubble economy of the 1980s, with the development of transportation, fresh fish or live fish could be transported and sushi restaurants are situated next to such live fish markets. However, gourmets say that live fish are subjected to stress and are inferior in taste to the ones adequately processed in the market. However, they are better in freshness than 'maltreated dead fish' and thus in sushi restaurants for the public, live fish are seen to swim in the preserves at times and customers enjoy it. However, live fish cannot avoid being a bit costly because they have to be transported with sea water where the fish live, including transportation costs.
With the development of freezing techniques from the late twentieth century frozen foods have been circulated and they can keep good and be circulated if their temperatures are properly managed and be served in a state as good as the raw ones if properly thawed, though a bit inferior in freshness or taste, and the supplies are stabilized. However even today, in sushi restaurants where raw food materials are purchased in the market and cooked, the food materials change day by day, or season by season and thus they do not indicate menus or price tags in particular and the courses such as 'market value' or 'whatever' are seen.
In the case of nigirizushi, most of them are served with a pair, but many restaurants have menus such as 'ichininmae' (one serving) as in chirashi zushi (vinegared rice with thin strips of egg, pieces of raw fish, vegetables and crab meat arranged on top), or 'sho' (pine), 'chiku' (bamboo) and 'bai' (plum trees) and so on.
Volumes 31 and 32 of "Konjaku Monogatari Shu " (Tales of Times Now Past) referred to ayuzushi (fermented sushi with sweetfish) 'sold in town,' which is the oldest record that there existed a sushi restaurant in Kyoto, whose form was unknown, during the late Heian period when "Konjaku Monogatari Shu" was finished. In one scene of "Yoshitsune Senbonzakura" (Yoshitsune and One Thousand Cherry Trees) (first performed in 1747), tsurubezushi of Shimoichi village in Nara Yoshino was referred to and became famous.
Edomae (Tokyo style)
Sushi before the Edo period was 'nare-zushi' (fermented sushi), 'oshi-zushi' (lightly-pressed piece of sushi topped with cooked ingredients), 'mushi-zushi' (steamed sushi) and so on, but during the Edo period, sushi restaurants came to serve nigirizushi called Edomae. Nigirizushi was called 'haya-zushi' (quick sushi) and it was popular because literally it was eaten quickly. Many sushi restaurants were managed by one owner and were small-scale, and he was too busy to serve green tea and thus a large tea cup peculiar to sushi restaurants was born.
Present-day sushi restaurants
Typically, many sushi restaurants consist of a counter and tables and chairs (or zashiki [Japanese style tatami room]). Mostly, sushi toppings are displayed in a glass case (showcase) on the counter which combines a refrigerator and a show window. They are cut in front of the customers by a sushi chef and made into sushi.
In the case of nigirizushi, sushis are usually served on a wooden board (called 'geta') which looks like a geta (Japanese footwear, wooden clogs) in a sushi restaurant. In some restaurants, sushis are directly served on a wooden counter whose part is raised. Some restaurants serve sushis on a leaf of bamboo grass, instead of dishes.
Especially in restaurants which serve sake, sushis are sometimes served in the state of sashimi.
(Nibbles for drinks)
In the case of a home-delivery service, sushis are put in a bowl with a low brim, called sushi oke (wooden bowl for sushi rice). Sushi oke was originally a wooden lacquer ware, but now many of them are made of bakelite, imitating lacquer wares. In order for sushi not to dry, a kitchen wrap such as Saran Wrap often covers a sushi oke. Many restaurants put in chopsticks and small plastic dishes for soy sauce according to the number ordered. After a sushi oke is used, the restaurant revisits the customer to collect it.
If customers bring a container, some restaurants can put sushis in it and the customers can take it back home.
Kaitenzushi (conveyer-belt sushi)
In kaitenzushi restaurants, sushis on a dish are served on conveyor belts moving slowly and the dishes moves around the restaurant. Customers take dishes from conveyor belts by themselves and eat them. The bill is counted by the number and design of the dishes. Many restaurants introduce a central kitchen system or a robot shaping sushi and so on to lower labor costs.
Many of them are franchise chain stores.
See the details in the section on kaitenzushi.
Takeout, home-delivery service shop.
There are special phrasings in a sushi restaurant. They are now popularized among the public, but originally they were secret languages only among sushi chiefs. It is shameful for customers to speak to the staffs in secret languages.
Sushi restaurants around the world outside of Japan.
Sushi restaurants where non-Japanese manage and cook, such as Chinese or Korean, have increased and it is said that 'Japanese owners are under 10%.'
For this reason, even the dishes, whose cooking method for sushi is largely out of the traditional one in Japan, are sold as 'sushi'. Additionally, they do not call them their creative cuisine, but traditional and formal Japanese cooking methods, and thus it is problematic that wrong Japanese culture is spread among foreigners who are not familiar with Japanese foods.
For this reason the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries planned to send 'sushi police' to certify Japanese food restaurants abroad as 'authentic Japanese food' by distinguishing between so-called 'creative cuisine called Japanese food' and 'traditional Japanese food.'
Thus, you need to be alert as to whether sushi restaurants abroad are the same as sushi restaurants in Japan.
United States of America
During the late 1960s 'Kawafuku' in Little Tokyo in Los Angeles to installed a sushi counter, which is thought to have been the first. It was mainly for Japanese immigrants. Immediately after that, the restaurants called 'Sakaegiku' and 'Tokyo Kaikan Co., Ltd.' (closed during the late 1990s) were opened in the town as the second and third sushi restaurants in America. The owner family of Sakaegiku runs two Japanese food restaurants in the town even now. And Ichiro MASHITA, sushi chief in Tokyo Kaikan Co., Ltd., is inventor of the 'California roll' which uses avocados instead of tuna.
The number of sushi restaurants serving sushi for Americans largely increased when Japanese food attracted attention as healthy food and Japan economically advanced up until bubble economy. In 1983 the sushi restaurant 'Hatsuhana' in New York got the best four-star restaurant rating in The New York Times and we see that until that time the image of sushi changed.
In some of big cities there are pure sushi restaurants, but the menus of almost all Japanese food restaurants include sushi. Popular sushi toppings are oily ones such as tuna (spicy tuna), salmon, yellowtail, eel and so on. For this reason, agedama (crunchy bits of deep-fried dough produced as a byproduct of cooking tempura) is sometimes used with sushi toppings. Also, as some Americans do not like nori (dried sheets of a type of red algae), sushi rolls are sometimes made as Uramaki (inside-out sushi roll) in order to hide the nori as much as possible.
As a result of progress under such circumstances, many sushi invented uniquely in America, such as California rolls, appeared and even in supermarkets in local cities sushi is usually sold and popularized. Also, with the popularization of sushi, it is not rare for Asian food restaurants serving rice foods, such as Korean food ones or Chinese food ones, have a Japanese-style sushi bar on the corner.
Sushi chefs tend to be relatively easily trained and, for example, The New York Times (July 29, 2007) introduced 'Sushi Lessons' managed by Koreans. In those lessons sushi chefs are trained with the entire course of four hours per day and six weeks, and many of the students who finished the course with the tuition 1,000 dollars become chefs in sushi restaurants or Japanese food restaurants across America.
Recently there is a bipolar tendency of authentic or high-end Japanese foods restaurants and cheap and easy Japanese-style restaurants, where Asian immigrants are positioned.
There exist sushi restaurants in the cities where many Japanese resident officers live. In the cities where many Japanese do not live or do not often go, the restaurants such as Italian ones, which do not have a relation with Japanese foods, have sushis as hors d'oeuvre in the menus, which the chefs made by following someone's example. Except for similar appearance, they are totally different dishes from sushis.
There are at least 25 sushi restaurants in the Republic of South Africa, 5 in Egypt, 4 in Mauritius and 2 in Kenya.
(As of January in 2007)
Sometimes sushis are served in the dining hall in Showa Station. The bar counter in the Station is used as the counter in a sushi restaurant. However, sushi toppings are limited to the ones which can be frozen and kept below zero because of the spec of freezers in the Antarctica station or vessels. For this reason tuna or raw mackerel can not be served and mainly salmon, bonito, squid, octopus, shrimp, fried egg and so on are served.