Head to a quirky kaiten-zushi restaurant near you and grab some high-class grub at affordable prices.

On a budget, but craving some seriously good sushi? Not to worry: this is a dilemma that conveyor-belt sushi was made to solve. Literally called “revolving sushi” restaurants, kaiten-zushi (回転寿司) places have begun to appear all over the world, bringing us a quick and affordable version of Japan’s most famous luxury cuisine.

Rather than your typical menu, at these restaurants the sushi is presented on small plates that travel on a rotating conveyor belt running between the chefs and customers. Each plate typically costs from ¥100 to ¥500, and they are often colour-coded to distinguish the different prices. Customers sit at a bar stool or booth and select the sushi they want as the plates pass by, while chefs in the centre make the sushi and add new plates to the line. The tables are stocked with pickled ginger, wasabi and soy sauce, making the meal as quick and easy as possible. Of course, during slow times some plates may circle the belt for long enough to begin to lose their freshness, but not to worry: the chefs will take them off the belt if they’ve been out too long. And if your favourite isn’t in circulation, customers can get their plates made to order by requesting any item from the menu. Sushi isn’t the only thing on offer, either: you can get other savoury bites, like chicken karaage and seaweed salad, or desserts like Japanese sweets and Western-style cakes. When you’ve eaten your fill, just call an attendant over to count the number and types of plates you’ve collected.

Kaiten-zushi was dreamed up in 1958 by Yoshiaki Shiraishi, a struggling sushi restaurant owner who revolutionized the business by putting conveyor belts into the mix. Shiraishi’s big idea was featured at the 1970 World Exposition in Osaka, and history was made. The kaiten-zushi model has seen some major upgrades since it first began, and these days many of the higher-tech restaurants feature touchscreen menus at every table, as well as machines that count your plates automatically.

The kaiten-zushi experience is great if you want to grab a quick, cheap lunch, but it’s also the perfect place to have a fun and casual family dinner, or a creative date night. And with increasing eco-consciousness and the benefits of modern technology, “revolving sushi” restaurants may be moving away from the “revolving” conveyor-belt model, which results in food waste from plates that have been in rotation too long. Some kaiten-zushi restaurants are trying a new method, relying mostly on the made-to-order option, which cuts down on waste and allows you to get your favourite sushi in your face faster than ever before.


Know your conveyor-belt etiquette


Every savvy kaiten-zushi enthusiast knows how to make the most of their meal. Want to join the experts? Follow these three simple tips in your pursuit of sushi on the move.


DO pile it on (plates,that is)

Stack each plate as you finish those tasty bites, then sit back and admire the evidence of your towering appetite.


Do NOT put your plate back on the belt

If you take it, it’s yours. Don’t return your germs to the conveyor belt for another unsuspecting patron.


DO try the touchscreen menu

High-tech menus come with full-colour photos and English translations, perfect for a playful, futuristic foodie.

Illustrations by Chieko Watanabe