November 17, 2012
by Miki Yamanaka, Yukari Shimono and Saya Ninai
History of the kaitenzushi bar
Sushi is one of the traditional Japanese dishes. In the old days, sushi was not so expensive. However, since fish and rice were perishable, cooks made sushi that would keep for a whole day by using vinegar or salt. Japanese ate sushi as often as Americans today eat hamburgers. Around the 1950s, however, the price of sushi was getting high. That’s one reason why refrigerators became popular and the techniques of the fishing industry improved. Therefore, fishermen could catch rare fish and sell them for a large amount of money at wholesale markets. That is when sushi became an expensive food.
In the 1950s, one sushi chef who managed a standing style sushi restaurant was an opponent of the high prices. He was wondering how to cut down the costs and offer sushi cheaply. How could he offer sushi efficiently and cheaply to many customers? Around that time, he happened to visit a beer factory at which bottles lined up on a conveyer belt were filled with beer and closed tightly with stoppers. He adapted what he saw there to make a revolving sushi bar and opened the first such seated restaurant in 1958. This was the beginning of the revolving sushi bar, known as kaitenzushi in Japan.
How to eat sushi
When you sit down at a table in a revolving sushi shop, you will see a hot-water tap and a container of powdered green tea. If you put a spoonful of the powder into the teacup and push the tap, you can make tea by yourself. Now it’s time to eat sushi! You can choose any kinds you want to eat. There may be a transparent cover over each plate of sushi, so you will pull over the dish and lift the cover. You will pour a bit of regular soy sauce or slightly sweet soy sauce (which ever you like better) over the sushi. Soy sauce matches low fish like tuna and salmon. Slightly sweet soy sauce matches sea eel, eel and octopus. These are already steamed or boiled. You will put “wasabi” which is kind of horseradish on the sushi. It is spicy, but wasabi kills germs and prevents food poisoning. If you are used to it, you may not be able to eat sushi without it. If you want to eat tuna, but it won’t come readily to your table, you can order it by using a touchscreen. Your sushi will come soon through another conveyer belt. After eating, you will insert the plates one by one into a slot. A machine inside will automatically count how many plates of sushi you ate and it’s easy to pay. If you put 5 or more plates into the slot, you will be challenged to play “bikkurapon,” which is a little game. If you win it, you will get a plastic toy shaped like sushi. When you are full and have finished eating, you will touch oaiso on the touchscreen, and then a shop assistant will come and give you the bill. You will then go to the cash register with your bill and pay.
Ingredients for sushi
What kind of ingredients do foreigners like?
The most popular ingredient for sushi among foreigners at one popular chain of inexpensive kaitenzushi restaurants is tuna, called maguro in Japanese. This is one of the most famous and common types of fish for sushi. Most Japanese people like it and they often order maguro at a sushi restaurant. The second one is salmon. We also sometimes call it “salmon” in Japanese — but also sake (sah-kay) or shake (sha-kay). Salmon is loved in northern Europe, too, so a lot of foreigners order it when they visit Japan. However, since it is not the custom to eat raw fish in most other countries, some foreigners hesitate to eat these foods in Japan. Sushi and raw fish are very tasty, so you should try them both!
Recommended type of sushi
Many foreigners still need to try yellowtail, called hamachi in Japanese. It is said that yellowtail tastes more natural than other types of fish used for sushi. Furthermore, farmed yellow tail tastes better than wild fish of the same type. Yellowtail has different Japanese names according to its stage of growth. People call medium-sized yellowtail hamachi, but when it grows over 80 centimeters, it is recognized as buri. You will be able to try buri at a sushi restaurant, too.
Safety of sushi
Food safety is a priority for kaitenzushi chains lately. Many are careful to buy food that is free of chemical additives, so they can advertise their products as additive-free. Also, they ensure the safety of their food by putting into practice the freshness managerial system of time restrictions. Four major additives － chemical seasoning, artificial sweetener, artificial coloring and artificial preservative － are not used. Having their own factory allows kaitenzushi chains to enforce these strict standards. They can check the quality control every day. Moreover, the processing of fish is performed in a central kitchen with thorough supervision of hygiene. Every fish is delivered to a franchise store as the fillet that is finally used for sushi. The information of the place of origin is also usually released to emphasize the safety of sea products. Also the sources of native seafood — octopus, shrimp, scallop, yellowtail and bream, etc. — are written concretely. This is classified by prefecture. In the case of imports from overseas, all the countries of origin containing seafood, vegetables and grain are shown clearly.
The Japanese kaitenzushi industry wants foreigners to enjoy safe sushi in their own countries. Unfortunately, there is no custom of eating raw fish in many other countries. Also, since these automated shops have few waiters, foreigners distrust the shops in which sushi is only turning on a conveyor belt. When people overseas know about safety of sushi, kaitenzushi will spread more. By putting quality control into practice, kaitenzushi chains offer safety as well as enjoyment.