Kaiten sushi, otherwise known as conveyor belt sushi, is the most common and affordable type of sushi restaurant in Japan. It's easily recognizable with the constant movement of dishes inside the restaurant. This article covers everything you need to know about how it works and what you can expect.
The Conveyor Belt
The system is fairly simple. You pick up any plate from the belt, as much as you like, and they determine your bill by the number of plates you have at the end. If you want to order a specific item, you can order it directly at any time. Each plate usually contains 2 pieces of sushi and the price of the plate is determined by the color or pattern.
The Sushi Train
There's a variation called the sushi train. There is no conveyor belt constantly revolving around the restaurant and instead, there's tracks that connect to every seat. Once you place an order through the touchpad, a "train" comes and delivers your food directly in front of you.
How to Eat at a Sushi Restaurant
Start With Some Green Tea
When you sit down, there will be many things in front of you. You can start by making yourself some green tea. There should be cups, a matcha powder container, and a faucet in front of you. Put 2-3 scoops of matcha into a cup and pour hot water in it from the faucet to make yourself green tea. If you prefer cold water, you can kindly ask the staff.
The conveyor belt system is great because you can see all the various types of sushi that are available. If you see a dish you like on the conveyor belt, you are always welcome to pick it up unless it's an order for another table.
If you want to place a custom order, most sushi chains have a touchpad at every table. If you end up in a restaurant without one, you can simply call out to the chef with your order.
Condiments for Sushi
The classic way to eat sushi is to dip it in soy sauce. Most places have a small dipping plate for your soy sauce, but if there isn't any, then the soy sauce is meant to be dripped directly onto the sushi before eating.
A little bit of wasabi is usually mixed into the soy sauce as an antibacterial. If you can't find the wasabi on your table, then it's most likely floating around on the conveyor belt.
You'll also notice a box full of flat pieces of ginger. Ginger is eaten in between pieces of sushi as a way to reset your taste buds so that you can fully experience the taste of the next one.
Even at the cheapest kaiten sushi restaurant, there are so many different choices ranging from different rolls to different kinds of fish to even ramen and dessert. Here is a breakdown of how the system works and what to look forward to.
Types of Sushi
Nigiri is the classic fish on top of rice with a hint of wasabi in the middle. The rice is mixed with a bit of vinegar, salt, and sugar in order to retain its shape. We recommend trying nigiri sushi with tuna or salmon.
Gunkan means ship in Japanese and this sushi gets its name because the fish is placed on a boat made of rice wrapped around with seaweed. We recommend trying gunkan sushi with fish eggs or crab.
Maki sushi is sushi and rice that's wrapped into a long piece of seaweed and cut. Maki sushi is often as small pieces so it's served in 4s instead of 2s. We recommend trying it with minced tuna or nato (if you like nato).
Types of Seafood in Sushi
There are many different kinds of fish used in sushi. Specific recipes may differ from restaurant to restaurant but here is a list of the most general seafood used in sushi.
- Tuna (まぐろ,ツナ)
- 赤身 - no fat tuna
- 中トロ - medium fat
- 大トロ - fatty tuna
- Salmon (サーモン、鮭)
- Crab (カニ)
- Brown Meat of Crab (カニみそ)
- Shrimp (エビ)
- Eel (うなぎ, 穴子)
- Sea urchin (うに)
- Scallop (ほたて)
- Mackerel (さば)
- Yellowtail ( 黒瀬ぶり )
- Red Fish ( まだい(pagrus major) )
- Flounder Fish ( えんがわ )
- Ice fish ( 白魚 )
- Sea Snail ( アカニシ貝 )
There are also non-seafood items that are worth mentioning. Both of these are usually cheap and have a slightly sweet taste so it can be a good alternative to seafood once in a while.
Some kaiten sushi restaurants sell other items such as ramen, fried chicken, udon, and dessert. Although the quality of these are not as great as specialty restaurants, the taste isn't bad and it's a good way to fill up for those that want to eat cheaper.
Common Kaiten Sushi Chain Restaurants
The safest choice for having a great kaiten sushi experience would be at a chain restaurant. There's over 10 different chains having their own variation of menu, cost, and method. Here are some chains that we recommend for your kaiten sushi experience!
Sushiro, Kura Sushi, Kappa Sushi, Hama Sushi
These are one of the most common and cheap conveyor belt sushi restaurants with dishes starting at about 100-120 yen. In addition, each seat has its own touchpad with different language settings, making it one of the more foreigner-friendly restaurants in Japan.
Genki Sushi, Uobei Sushi
Genki and Uobei are sushi train restaurants. There’s no conveyor belt inside the restaurant and instead, each dish is made to order and delivered right in front of you. These are quite popular amongst tourists so there may be a long line at times, but we recommend visiting a sushi train restaurant at least once!
Ganso Sushi, Hanamaru Sushi
Once you’ve visited one of the above chain restaurants, we recommend trying Ganso or Hanamaru Sushi next. They’re a bit more of a traditional set-up and don’t have touchpads for ordering. Instead, you either pick up from the conveyor belt or order directly from the chef. There’s not too many dessert or non-sushi options in these restaurants but the quality of the sushi is amazing.