Kaitenzushi Or Conveyor Belt Sushi

My favorite type of eatery in Japan is nicknamed train-style sushi. When I try to explain this to family members who have never been to Japan it’s nearly impossible to do without a good photo. Often referred to as conveyor belt sushi or Kaitenzushi after its creator.

 kaitenzushi conveyor belt sushi restaurant in Tokyo, Japan

Kaiten-zushi

Kaiten-zushi is a Japanese restaurant where the sushi plates are placed on a moving conveyor belt or causeway that weaves its way through the establishment, passing by every table, or counter seat. Customers can also place a custom order. The bill is based on the quantity and type of plates taken.

I think this might be one of the greatest restaurant ideas of all time except for one other item that I discovered at a traditional restaurant is the call button for the wait staff. I think it would be a great addition to every sit-down restaurant in the US that uses traditional wait staff

These restaurants did get their start in Japan and has been around for a very long time (over 60 years). The what, where and when is all rooted in the city referred to as the kitchen of Japan.

Osaka the kitchen of Japan

As a whole conveyor belt sushi is notable for its speed, convenience, and usually affordable price. While it was created to solve a simple personnel need, it turned out to be the solution to a quick and easy meal. Its origins were in the 1950s and was first introduced in the city of Osaka 

The brilliant idea was the brainchild of one man who wanted to make it easier for Osakans to grab a quick lunch and get back to work.

His idea originated after seeing beer bottles in the Asahi brewing company working their way thru the brewery. It took him half a decade to get the system working correctly. After much hard work and trial and error, he opened Mawaru Genroku Sushi in Osaka.

Where it all began

With his conveyor belt sushi technology, Yoshiaki Shiraishi made Arguably the most famous sushi restaurant idea affordable and accessible to the public. In 2001  He died at the age of 87 years. His first kaiten-zushi restaurant was opened in 1958 in Higashiosaka.

 Nigiri Sushi at conveyor belt cafe in Japan

There’s no need to place a custom order it’s pretty simple to just take any item that you want. For anyone confused about pricing, it’s fairly easy to understand. If you want something that’s not traveling around the belt then custom orders are just as easy.

To signify their prices, kaitenzushi eateries generally have plates with a variety of colors and patterns. Depending on the dish, prices range from roughly 100 yen to 500 on average, while some restaurants charge a set amount for all plates (usually 100 yen).

Sushi plates usually come with one or two pieces of sushi per plate and each plate is about 6 inches in diameter. Some plates may have a plastic dome cover while other establishments do not.

nigiri sushi in Nobeoka, Miyazaki, Japan

The descriptions of the plates, as well as their costs, may be found on the menu and on signage throughout the restaurant. Small signs may ride along the conveyor belt advertising prices for menu items as well.

Counter chairs or booths along the conveyor belt are the most common form of seating.  

Restaurants serving Kaitenzushi can be found across Japan. In addition to sushi favorites like maguro tuna, shrimp, salmon, and kappamaki, the menu usually contains seasonal dishes as well.

Cooked meals, such as miso soup as well as fried appetizers and desserts, are also available. Sushi rolls sometimes come with wasabi on the inside, however, it can also be omitted upon request.  

Miso Soup

How to guide

You can start taking plates of food from the conveyor belt or order special order items from the touch screen, the sushi chef, or waitress will bring those items directly or put them on the conveyor. These custom items may arrive and stop directly at your seat or booth via the belt system.

Chopsticks, a soy sauce dish, soy sauce, and pickled ginger should all be on your table or at your counter seat.   You will find at some restaurants have a hot water dispenser for Powdered teas commonly Matcha green tea.

Your server will also offer you an oshibori, a wet towelette used to wash your hands.

kaitenzushi conveyor belt sushi restaurant table set up in Tokyo, Japan

Touch screen displays are also available at most conveyor-style restaurants in Japan for placing orders at your table.  custom orders may arrive on a separate belt line or some establishments the sushi chef or waitress may bring your order.  

Your server can also bring you water or drinks like beer, sake, and sodas. Many kaiten-sushi restaurants enable customers to choose their cuisine and drinks directly from electronic touch displays.

Enjoying conveyor belt sushi

Conveyor belt restaurants are more likely to feature unique or non-traditional foods on their menus that would not be available in more conventional sushi establishments.

Sushi toppings like roast beef and even small hamburger patties fall into this category.  kaiten-sushi restaurants may also serve a variety of side dishes, ranging from traditional items such as miso soup, and edamame.

Eat it raw before all else, then grill it, and boil it last of all

japanese proverb

People are concerned about freshness when it comes to Sushi for obvious reasons.

Many kaiten-sushi restaurants are now employing Hi-tech tracking devices built into the bottom of each plate to monitor how long plates ride on the conveyor belt and to remove any products that have been out too long.  

kaitenzushi conveyor belt sushi restaurant waitstaff

Settle Up

Stack the plates on your table as you finish your sushi. Call the server or sushi chef at the completion of your feast, and the server will add up your bill based on the number of empty plates.

After that, you’ll be given your bill, which you’ll pay at the register on your way out.  One caveat is that some establishments have a small slit on each table to slide your empty plates into and your total is calculated automatically.  

The plates make their way back to the kitchen to be washed by staff and start the process over. Some plate return systems employ a water trough whereby the plates actually float inside for the return to the kitchen.

Sushi restaurant, stacked plates, delicious

Conveyor sushi is a great way to enjoy a delicious meal in Japan. A couple of things to remember is to never touch a plate as it passes. Once you have done so take the plate and never place it back on the belt.

It is considered very bad manners and unsanitary to ever do this.

The quality of sushi varies from the restaurant chain to chain. In general, it’s probably better than most sushi restaurants in the west as Japan’s quality standards are very high even at average conveyor sushi restaurants.

If your traveling to Japan with children or a large group and want to eat great sushi as well as many other selections and not have to traverse the logistical problems with groups Kaitenzushi is the way to go.

Top Conveyor Belt Sushi Restaurants In Tokyo

Top Conveyor Belt Sushi Restaurants In Osaka

MT Lee
My fascination with Japan began several years back at a roadside bonsai stand while on vacation. I became more interested in the where and why's more than the trees themselves. My love of Bonsai led me to further research my interest in the gardens where they originated from and the places and people that surrounded those little trees. My curiosity was well rewarded upon visiting Saitama where the National Bonsai Museum was located and Omiya Village the bonsai mecca for lovers of this ancient art form. Exploring many towns and villages and even making my way to Japan's furthest southern prefecture of Okinawa. I hope to share my love of this wonderful and exotic place with all those who want to know more about Japan.