Sushi Conveyor Belt restaurants “kaiten-zushi”: what you need to know

by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  September 6, 2020
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Conveyor belt sushi (Japanese: kaitenzushi) is a type of sushi restaurant popular in Japan, also called “rotation sushi.” It is also known as the sushi train in Australasia.

What is a sushi conveyor belt restaurant?

Kaiten-zushi is a sushi restaurant where the sushi plate is placed on a revolving conveyor belt or moat which moves through the restaurant, moving past each table, counter, and chair. Special orders can be requested by customers.

Sushi conveyor belt

The final bill is based on the consumed sushi amount and type of dishes. Many restaurants use a fancy design like miniature wooden “sushi vessels” going along tiny canals or miniature locomotive vehicles.

The conveyor belt brings sushi plates past the diners who are able to take whatever they want. The price of the plate starts at about 100 yen. Kaitenzushi tends to be much cheaper than standard sushi-ya.

Restaurants of Kaitenzushi can be found throughout the nation. and it’s even spreading to America and Europe.

Why go to a sushi conveyor belt restaurant?

In addition to standard items, you can also find different ingredients depending on the season, such as maguro (tuna), shrimp, salmon, and kappamaki (cucumber roll).

Cooked foods like miso soup and chawanmushi (steamed egg custard), fried foods, and desserts are also offered by many restaurants. Sushi pieces usually come filled with wasabi, though they can be ordered without it as well.

Usually, Kaitenzushi restaurants use plates of different colors and patterns to display their prices.

Prices range from approximately 100 yen to 500 yen or more depending on the product, although some restaurants do maintain a flat rate for all dishes (usually 100 yen, as mentioned above).

Usually, plates come with one or two pieces of sushi each. A rundown of the plates can be found on the menu or on the signs posted around the restaurant with their corresponding prices.

Seating is usually provided by counter seats along the conveyor belt. Many establishments also provide table seating to accommodate guests. 

But, the main reason to visit a kaiten-sushi restaurant is the unique experience of choosing your food from a rotating conveyor belt. 

Variety

A Kaiten-sushi restaurant offers more than just sushi rolls. They serve soups, desserts, other seafood dishes, sashimi, and all kinds of Asian-inspired dishes.

It is also easy for vegetarians and vegans to find foods they like. There are many vegan sushi rolls and soups to try.

Popular sushi Restaurants that have a conveyor belt

The conveyor belt sushi‘s most impressive aspect is the flow of plates that wind through the restaurant. Usually, the selection is not limited to sushi; drinks, fruits, desserts, soups, and other foods may also be included.

Many restaurants have RFID tags or other systems in place to take away sushi which has been spinning for too long. Next, you’ll find a list of our top five recommended kaiten-zushi restaurants.

Hamazushi (はま寿司)

Although established only in 2002, Hamazushi has quickly gained popularity, boasting more than 400 locations across the country and some of Japan’s most reasonable prices: usually just 100 yen per two-plates.

Another aspect that distinguishes the chain is its foreign-oriented video guides that illustrate (in English) how to find your seat, how to order it, and how to enjoy your sushi.

If you have never been to a restaurant kaitenzushi before, this guide will make you feel like a pro in no time.

Also read: these are all the different types of sushi

Kurazushi (くら寿司)

sushi on focus photography

 

Kurazushi’s restaurants were established in 1977 and are designed to look like a traditional Japanese kura or storehouse. Kurazushi focuses heavily on food safety and health.  As a result, the chain has 41 patents and 145 trademarks in its name worldwide as a result of its practices.

They don’t use artificial flavors, colors, sweeteners, or preservatives in their products.

The sushi plate is covered by its own patented dome bowl, which opens when the plates are taken. If you have never been to a Kurazushi before, I strongly recommend that the workers teach you how to open the dome properly — it will save you some struggles.

They also have low and no-carb sushi/sashimi options. So, this is a great place for you if you’re on a diet but don’t want to give up carbs entirely.

Kappazushi (かっぱ寿司)

While Kappazushi may not have service in English, they have recently undergone a complete rebranding and store remodeling that over the past few years has brought them plenty of new fans.

Kappazushi was founded in 1973 and can easily be recognized because of its mascots, known as Ka-kun and Pakko-chan, their two adorable kappas (turtle-like river imp).

A unique feature of this chain is that it collaborates extensively with other famous food brands across Japan, including Halloween specials, crab special series or other seasonal food festivals. It’s one of the few kaitenzushi chains you can order through UberEats as well.

Sushiro (スシロー)

Daytime Japanese TV shows often feature Sushiro in their episodes. This is mainly due to its constant innovations in sushi and menu updates. Opened in 1984, Sushiro came from the desire of a traditional chef to create a more casual setting to let others enjoy sushi.

It has grown since then to become one of Japan’s largest and highest-selling kaitenzushi chains. Their restaurants are always lively and somehow they manage to feel really cozy and inviting even though they are chain locations.

They have menus in English, Chinese, and Korean. As well, they serve a wide range of seasonal dishes to choose from. There are some mind-blowing desserts, and 510 locations across Japan.

For just 100 yen, you can enjoy most of their sushi plates. You can also order Sushiro via UberEats.

Genki Sushi (元気寿司)

Genki Sushi is the name of a group of restaurants that serve kaitenzushi: Genki Sushi, Uobei Sushi, and Senryo, which has only two locations (one in Ibaraki and one in Tochigi).

Founded in 1968, the chain’s goal is to promote and share the sushi joy with the world. They accomplish this by having menus in English and simplified/traditional Chinese. As well, they opened locations in the United States, Hong Kong, and China.

Their prices in this list are on par with the others, and their premium offerings are quite creative — think Minced Fatty Tuna, Chicken Tempura Nigiri, Steamed Oyster, and Salmon Cutlet Lines.

Genki Sushi is a spot that is constantly evolving that will never get you bored.

How to order at a conveyor belt sushi restaurant

There are three ways to order.

  1. Observe the sushi (or other dishes) on the conveyor belt and choose what you like. Grab one of the plates as it spins around the conveyor belt.
  2. Order through the touch tablet panel. You can see the menu there are order exactly what you like.
  3. Order from a staff member of sushi waiter inside the counter (if possible). Some restaurants have a fully automated system so you don’t need to order from a person.

Special orders

When customers are unable to find their preferred sushi, special orders can be made. For this reason, speakerphones are sometimes available above the conveyor belt.

If ordering a small amount of sushi, it is put on the conveyor belt but labeled so that other customers know that someone ordered this meal.

The plate with the sushi is usually placed on a marked cylindrical stand to show that this is a special order.

The attendants can also bring sushi to the customer for large orders.

Many Japanese restaurants also have touch screen panels to order different dishes that could be served either on a separate conveyor belt or by waiters.

Some restaurants have a dedicated line on the top for special orders. 

If you need anything or don’t what something is, you can call a waiter over by apologizing and thanking them at once with “sumimasen”.

Equipment and condiments, such as pickled ginger, chopsticks, soy sauce, and small dishes to pour the soy sauce on, are usually found near the seats.

Wasabi may be on the conveyor belt or on the seat.

Self-served tea and ice water are usually complimentary. You’ll find cups stacked on the table in a storage container above the conveyor belt. Most restaurants also offer tea bags or green tea powder.

There’s also a tea- making hot water faucet at the tables. For take-out customers, the restaurant stores wet paper towels and plastic boxes on the shelves. 

Billing

The bill is calculated by counting the number and type of plates of the sushi eaten. Plates with different colors, patterns, or shapes are priced differently, usually between 100 yen and 500 yen.

The cost of each plate is displayed in the restaurant on signs or posters. Cheap items generally come on plain plates, and the level of plate decoration is associated with the price.

The most expensive items are usually placed on gold-colored plates. It is possible to place expensive items on two plates, with the price being the sum of the individual plates’ prices.

For each plate, some conveyor belt sushi restaurant chains, like Kappa Sushi or Otaru Zushi, have a fixed price of 100 yen. This is similar to the 100-yen shops phenomenon.

It is possible to use a button above the conveyor belt to request the attendants to count the plates. Many restaurants have a counting machine where the customer automatically drops the plates to be counted.

Some use RFID tagged plates and count each stack with a special reader at once.

How do you pay for conveyor belt sushi?

Call the waiter over to your table. Don’t head straight for the cashier, unless the restaurant is implementing an automatic type of payment system. It’s best to call staff member to calculate your bill. 

You can pay by cash or debit and credit card. 

How much do you tip at conveyor belt sushi restaurants?

It’s not necessary to tip at conveyor belt sushi establishments. But, if you feel like your waiter does a very good job, you can tip like you would in any other restaurants.

It is acceptable to tip 10-15% in most countries, and you can increase that amount if you feel the food was excellent. 

How to go to Kaitenzushi

  1. Indicate if you want to sit at the counter or at a table (if applicable) when entering the restaurant.
  2. A bottle of soy sauce, a tub of pickled ginger, a stack of small soy sauce dishes, a box of chopsticks, a small jar of green tea powder (or tea bags), teacups, and built-in hot water dispensers are available at each seat or table. Typically, tea is self-serving. To make it, put some green tea powder in the cup and add the dispenser’s hot water.
  3. Once you are seated, you can start taking food plates off the conveyor belt. Or, you take them directly from the sushi chef or server to order different dishes. Many establishments do provide touchpads for the digital placement of orders. Some restaurants offer the wasabi in small packets located on the conveyor belt.
  4. You usually receive ordered dishes directly from the sushi chef or server. In other cases, many modern facilities have automatic trains running parallel to the conveyor belt. These supply customer orders and ensure smooth operation. Customers usually have to press a button in such establishments after removing their train dishes for the train to return to the kitchen.
  5. Place the empty plates at your table as you eat your sushi. Notify the server or sushi chef at the end of the meal. The server then determines your bill based on the number of empty plates. You then receive your bill for payment at the near-exit register.

More information about ordering

How to eat the food

It depends on the type of dish you order. The most common food is sushi rolls. 

If you plan on visiting a sushi restaurant, it’s advisable to brush up on your sushi etiquette.

For example, it’s not polite to dip your sushi rolls in soy sauce and wasabi. Instead, use the chopsticks to pour tiny amount of sauce onto your rolls.

It’s the small details, like not adding the pickled ginger on top of the roll that shows people you know basic etiquette rules. 

For more sushi etiquette information, check out the Do’s and Don’ts of Sushi. 

Are you supposed to eat sushi rolls in one bite?

According to sushi etiquette you must eat sushi rolls and sashimi in one bite. Usually the rolls are small enough to eat in one bite.

In case you can’t, ask the sushi chef to cut it in half. Don’t try to rip it or cut it yourself. 

At conveyor belt sushi places, you can get away with eating a bit messily, but be sure to follow sushi etiquette because other patrons can see you most of the time. 

Safety & Nutrition

In this section, I will talk you through some of the safety concerns around sushi conveyor belts.

As well, I’ll compare how nutritious and healthy the conveyor belt dishes are compared to regular sushi restaurants. 

Is conveyor belt sushi safe?

Health inspectors face a big challenge these days: sushi conveyor belts. Since the dishes keep moving around and changing, it’s hard to tell what’s fresh and what isn’t.

The usual rule is that hot food stays fresh for 2 hours and must be changed afterward. But, the scientists behind sushi conveyor belts claim that sushi and their other dishes stay fresh for 4 hours.

This is double the time and potentially dangerous for health. 

Some of the less popular dishes end up moving around the conveyor belt for hours, so they lose their freshness.

This is extremely problematic for raw fish foods and sushi rolls. When kept at room temperature (or hotter), fish and seafood go bad quite quickly.

Bacteria begin to form on the food and it becomes unsafe to eat. People risk getting food poisoning, or something even worse. For this reason, it is concerning if the restaurant doesn’t change the sushi often enough.

The last thing you want is dry and tepid sushi. It puts customers off and poses a health risk. 

Toppings 

Another concerning thing is the safety of toppings like soy sauce and wasabi. In these types of restaurants, wasabi and soy sauce are served in refillable containers.

The patrons pour as much sauce as they like onto their food. The refillable cups are somewhat unhygienic.

Often times, the wasabi is left open and starts to go dark brown. If it is not changed, it poses a health risk due to bacteria. 

But, most restaurants now server wasabi small packets rotating on the conveyor belt. Simply reach and grab some out of the box. 

Nutritional Information

The sushi rolls at conveyor belt sushi restaurants usually have the same amount of calories as any other types of rolls.

There is no real nutritional difference between sushi restaurants (at this price range). Since most of the establishments are affordable, you do find a lot of replacement meats in the food.

For example, many of the crab rolls contain imitation crab as opposed to the real thing.

History of the sushi conveyor belt

Conveyor belt sushi was invented by Yoshiaki Shiraishi (1914–2001), who had issues with his small sushi restaurant and had trouble running the restaurant on his own.

While seeing beer bottles on a conveyor belt in an Asahi brewery, he had the idea of a conveyor belt sushi. The sushi conveyor belt is still a revolutionary idea when it comes to affordable and accessible cuisine. 

After five years of development, including conveyor belt design and operating rate, in 1958 Shiraishi opened the first conveyor belt sushi Mawaru Genroku Sushi in Higashiosaka, eventually growing to up to 250 restaurants throughout Japan.

His business, however, had only 11 restaurants by 2001. Shiraishi also invented robotic sushi that was served by robots, but there was no commercial success in this idea.

After a conveyor belt sushi restaurant served sushi at the Osaka World Expo in 1970, a conveyor belt sushi boom began. Another boom started in 1980, when it became more popular to eat out, and finally in the late 1990s when cheap restaurants became popular after the economic bubble burst.

Akindo Sushiro has recently become Japan’s most famous brand in 2010.

A recent conveyor belt sushi model has a touch screen monitor at each seating area, showing a multi-fish digital aquarium.

Customers can use it to order sushi by simply pressing on the fish they want, and then it’s sent to the table through the conveyor belt.

Conveyor belt construction

Yoshiaki Shiraishi was a very creative man. His initial concept for the sushi conveyor belt was ahead of its time. The idea was to use natural material, such as wood. However, he realized that the belt must be washed frequently and it is prone to rotting and damage.

The whole idea was controversial for the traditionalists who hated the concept of rotating conveyor belts. But, Shiraishi never gave up on his idea. Read more about the whole inventive process.

He finally gave up on natural material and he chose a more durable material – stainless steel. As for the shape of the conveyor belt, he settled on a type of horseshoe shape but it is slightly modified. 

One of the challenges with conveyor belts is the rotation direction of the belt. Shiraishi decided to rotate the belt clockwise. He motivated his decision by stating that most people use their chopsticks with the right hand so the left hand is free to grab plates of food. 

Also read: sushi 101 for beginners, a complete guide

Conveyor operation

The conveyor operates on its own, people are not pushing it around. Instead, it has a mechanical system to move the sushi around like a small toy train on a train track. 

How does the sushi conveyor belt work?

The sushi conveyor is a thin, narrow conveyor designed to fit into a sushi restaurant’s tight confines. The prefecture of Ishikawa produces almost 100% of all Japanese-made sushi conveyors. This gives many people jobs and the belts are proudly manfuactured by the Japanese. 

A specially designed plastic crescent top chain is used in a standard conveyor. In fact, the chain runs on its side (on its connecting plates), with a snap pin attaching the crescent plate to the other side plate.

It provides a very small bending radius to the chain. This enables the conveyor to create the tight corners found in most conveyor belt sushi restaurants.

Furthermore, the horizontal shape ensures there is no return side of the chain. It removes not only the chain sag and slipping with the roller, but it also makes a much shallower design.

Major chain companies are able to offer different pin materials (stainless steel is common). There are also different plate shapes, surface treatments, and so on, depending on the application.

Most consumers often turn to sushi conveyor manufacturers to go with their conveyor for custom-designed dishes.

Innovation

Although Japan’s sushi sales continue to grow, in order to remain competitive, restaurants have to offer more than just low prices. Restaurants are always innovating to stay competitive. 

The big Japanese chain Kura-Zushi, which also has stores operating under the name Kula in California, has a program for the automated return of used plates to the kitchen.

By inserting five empty plates into their table’s return chute, diners may start a game on the screen, giving them a chance to win a sushi-themed toy.

The restaurants have more than just counter seats. Kura-Zushi and other outlets provide family-friendly tables with the same access to the delivery transporters.

The plates bear electronic chips in many restaurants, including Sushirō. These plates monitor the time they are put on the line, enabling the machinery to automatically dispose of the sushi pieces on board after a certain amount of time to preserve freshness.

Conclusion

When you want to try an innovative sushi meal, the sushi conveyor belt restaurant is a great option. It’s a unique way to try many different types of Japanese-inspired dishes. You get to pick and choose what you want to eat and you pay exactly as much as you consume. 

Best of all, these types of restaurants serve more than just sushi rolls, and the food stays fresh since it gets picked up by people. As it moves around the conveyor belt, everyone takes what they like. If you want something special, you can always make a special order from a tablet and the food is delivered to you in a few minutes. 

So, don’t be afraid to take a trip to the nearest revolving sushi place and try all the delicious dishes! Just keep in mind that sushi etiquette applies here too. 

Read more: sushi vs sashimi, what’s the difference?

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.