Eat the Future with Automated Sushi

Eat the Future with Automated Sushi

While conveyor belt ( kaiten ) sushi restaurants are quite common in the West too, Japan has brought this kind of eatery to the next level with fully automated kaiten sushi! Read on to understand how it's different, why it's great and where you can find some in Tokyo!

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?

5. Technology!

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!

Cool! Where Can I Eat Some?
So if you're in Japan and ready to dive into this new food adventure, we have a few suggestions on where to look for automated kaiten-zushi restaurants!

1. Genki Sushi (Shibuya)

Automation Level: 5/5

Genki Sushi is quite popular among foreigners thanks to its English menu and futuristic environment. Your order is delivered by a tray on a track, stopping right in front of you. After taking your plate, all you have to do is push a button to send it back to the kitchen! The only downside is the absence of the conveyor belt, which means you'll have to wait until your order arrives before you're actually able to eat anything (as opposed to just snagging the nearest dish off the conveyor belt while you wait).

Don’t let the huge queue outside discourage you: the turnaround is usually pretty fast. Just remember to write your name on the waiting list, which is placed near the counter inside.
The average plate goes for ¥108 with two pieces of sushi.


2. Hamazushi (Takadanobaba)

Automation Level: 3/5

The ordering system can look tricky at first: a ringing noise from your touch screen will notify you that your order is coming, and then you have to take it from the belt as it passes in front of you. Once you get the hang of it, the prices are unbeatable, as a plate of sushi costs just ¥98 on weekdays (¥108 on weekends and holidays). Additionally, since there's always food on the belt, you don't necessarily need to wait for your custom order!

Hamazushi has dozens of branches around Tokyo, but not all of them are automated—so if you're looking for the full futuristic experience, head to the Takadanobaba branch. After entering, just get a number from the machine and wait for your turn: the called numbers appear on a big screen, so no need to know how to say them in Japanese. Even though it tends to be crowded, the restaurant is very big and you'll still get seated pretty fast, especially if you're on your own.

If you don’t want to wait and can read Japanese, you can reserve your spot online in advance here.


3. Kaisen Misakiko (Shinjuku, Nakano)

Automation Level: 5/5

Kaisen Misakiko is the kaiten-zushi branch of the Kyotaru sushi empire, and it has restaurants all over Tokyo, including Shinjuku, Nakano and the Tokyo Dome area.
Some sushi plates here can be a tiny bit more on the pricey side, but Kaisen Misakiko still fully fits into the "cheap" category, with the basic plates still starting from ¥95 to ¥120. Like Genki Sushi, the menu also has English and the plates will arrive in front of you on a small tray, and once again the only downside is that you will have to wait for your order to eat any food.

The Shinjuku branch is fully automated too—however, the Nakano Sun Mall branch takes the top prize this time: the sushi delivery system is actually shaped like a cute little train!

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and snag yourself some robo-sushi before the robo-sushi snags you!


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Source: All About Japan
Source article written by Diletta Fabiani

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