Conveyor belt (kaiten, literally "rotating") sushi restaurants are already great, and they're one of the staples of Japanese culinary culture. While the best sushi is undoubtedly expensive, sometimes you just want your fix of fresh fish without breaking the bank, and that's when this kind of restaurant comes to your rescue.
In a regular kaiten-zushi shop, the sushi goes around on plates placed on a conveyor belt above a central counter, and you can either take whatever plate is going around on the loop, or place the order directly with the cook. The color or pattern of the plate indicates the cost of the dish you've picked up.
But now some kaiten-zushi restaurants in Japan are fully automated! What makes them so awesome?
After you’ve been seated, instead of waiting for sushi to come by or hollering to the chef, you order your food on a touch screen. Then the sushi will be directly delivered to you by the conveyor belt. While the specifics change from shop to shop, with some even having trays stopping right in front of you, it always feels like a science-fiction movie. This kind of restaurant is one of those things that will make you feel like you’ve been transported into the future!
4. You Don’t Have to Talk to Anyone
Whether you’re not confident in your spoken Japanese ability, you had a bad day or you just don’t like interacting with people to begin with, you can basically eat out and talk to no one besides the person at the cashier. No more yelling “Sumimasen!” in an obnoxiously loud voice to let the chef hear you, no more people judging your choice of "no wasabi" (wasabi nuki): everything is done through a touchscreen in (almost) total privacy.
3. They Sell More Than Sushi
These restaurants are mostly geared toward penny-saving students, families and groups of friends. Consequently, the menus tend to look a lot like pub fare, with a good selection of alcohol, fried food, Japanese desserts and less traditional sushi pieces like ham sushi—or even hamburger sushi, as you can see above!
2. It’s Easy to Order Even if You Can’t Read Japanese
Most touchscreen menus will have a clear picture for each kind of sushi piece you order, and while sometimes the ingredients might not be obvious (as in the case of sushi rolls), if you have some basic knowledge of fish types you’ll be able to tell right away what you’re eating. In addition, most of these new automated restaurants have English menus, which makes the selection process even easier!
1. They’re Dirt Cheap!
Kaiten-zushi in general is quite cheap, as it’s essentially the fast-food version of high-quality, expensive sushi. Most automated kaiten-zushi dishes go for ¥90 to ¥120 per plate of two pieces, and while there are always more expensive options on the menu, you can eat for less than ¥1,000 on an average appetite.
If you’re a fine fish connoisseur, you might want to opt for the more expensive restaurants in the Tsukiji market area; but for the average person, the quality is still perfectly in order. On top of this, the prices are clearly stated and easy to calculate, so there’s little risk of a nasty surprise at the end.
Finally, you can have all the green matcha tea you want for free!