Trip Tips: Visiting a Kaitenzushi Restaurant

Following on the heels of my book review this week, I thought I’d write about making the most of your sushi experience in Japan. While some of you may be lucky enough to go for more than just your average plate of sushi (see the upcoming entry on Friday), a great alternative for anyone on a budget is a trip to a kaitenzushi, or a revolving sushi restaurant.

A revolving sushi restaurant is an eatery that serves mostly sushi (and small bowls of miso soup and udon noodles, usually) by placing individual sushi portions on small plates that are then passed through the room on a conveyor belt. Customers simply choose what type of sushi they want to eat as the fish rolls by.

Three of my favorite selections at Kurazushi
Three of my favorite selections at Kurazushi

Pretty awesome, right? I’m shocked we don’t have more of these in America.

The three main sushi chains in my hometown of Kumamoto are Sushi Ichiba, Sushiro and Kurazushi. They all have their pluses and quirks, but they’re all chains that you can find around Japan (or you’ll find other chains just like them). At any of these restaurants, you’ll have your choice of sitting either at a counter-style seat in front of the conveyor belt or, for larger parties, at a booth.

Once installed, you can begin scanning the belt for selections or use the iPad that will be mounted right over your seat to place an order for the type of fish you want. Sushiro and Sushi Ichiba have English functions on their iPads; Kurazushi doesn’t so you have to rely on pictures. The fish are organized by “type” – shellfish (like shrimp and clam) are on one page, while “whitefish” like hamachi are on another. Scroll through using the arrows at the bottom of the screen.

Just tap the picture to make your selection
Just tap the picture to make your selection

Sushiro has little buttons in the corner of each selection (green and white) that say “No Wasabi” – this is important, as nearly ALL of the plates they put out on the belt have wasabi already under the fish. (At Sushi Ichiro, a yellow plate means “wasabi” while a white plate means “without”). Kurazushi puts no wasabi on their fish at all, but places a jar at each table if you want to add your own.

See the little green button in the corner? Touch that for no wasabi
See the little green button in the corner? Touch that for no wasabi

At all the joints, you can order a limited number of plates in one go (usually 5-10), but as soon as you submit the order, the computer will be ready to accept another one. Any sushi you order is delivered in a variety of creative ways. At Sushi Ichiba and Kurazushi, it comes on a train that runs above the main conveyor belt. You’ll be alerted to your order’s arrival by the bell next to the iPad at your table. You MUST touch this button/bell to send the train back once you remove the plates. At Sushiro, the system is a bit more complicated. Your order will come around on the regular belt, but will be placed in a special red dish that is market with the color of your table (a small sign near the conveyor belt should alert you to the proper hue). The button/bell will also let you know it’s coming, to give you a head’s up. This system is not quite as intuitive as the separate train and I admit to having grabbed someone’s order from a special red dish before I had any idea how things worked.

At Sushiro, your special orders will arrive on the belt in a red dish, like this one
At Sushiro, your special orders will arrive on the belt in a red dish, like this one

Most of the sushi on offer is nigiri style, where the fish lies over small portion of rice. There are a few rolls, but mostly of the cucumber and natto variety. Each place seems to have one special inside roll or “cool” foreign-type roll but that’s it. If you’re not a fan of typical nigiri sushi, you might walk away hungry.

When you’ve eaten your fill, simply ring the button next to your iPad (NOT the one that indicates your food has arrived) or touch the “o-aiso” button (that means “bill” in special sushi lingo) on the iPad screen and a server will come to count your plates. Each plate, unless otherwise indicated, is ¥100. A steal, right?? We rarely spend more than ¥2000 for three of us for dinner. At Kurazushi, you actually slide all of your used plates down a slot in the table (and for every five plates, you get a chance to win a prize) and the iPad totals them up. At the other places, they’ll count the stack and scan a plastic sheet with your table number on. You simply bring this sheet to the register and they’ll tell you the total. They add about ¥5 tax per plate, so be aware of that, if you’re counting your pennies.

Six plates of sushi rings in around 630 yen, pretty cheap for dinner!
Six plates of sushi rings in around 630 yen, pretty cheap for dinner!

And that’s it! Pretty easy, right? For a more intimate (and pricier, but FAR tastier) experience, check back Friday when I talk about visiting a high(er) end sushi restaurant.

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