Conveyor belt sushi wins out in Japan

Published on
July 6, 2009

In Japan, independent sushi bars with artisan sushi chefs are struggling to compete with kaiten, or conveyor belt, sushi chains, which feature low prices, quick self-service, ample seating and parking and a casual, kid-friendly atmosphere.

Same-store sales in May at leading kaiten sushi chains Kappa Zushi and Akindo Sushiro were up 9.9 percent and 8.4 percent, respectively, compared to the same month last year, even as dinner restaurants, pubs and izakayas (Japanese-style eating and drinking establishments) declined, according to Gaisyoku.biz, a restaurant business Web site.

The recent success of kaiten sushi chains is among the numerous topics to be discussed at the Japan International Seafood & Technology Expo at Tokyo Big Sight from 22 to 24 July. Takashi Matsumoto, CEP of Saitama Prefecture-based Restaurant Dramatic Co. (RDC), will give the presentation “Rotating Sushi Product Strategy” at the event.

RDC owns 120 sushi shops, 80 of which are kaiten sushi shops. RDC spokesperson Masaharu Kobayashi said that over the past five years the percentage of kaiten sushi shops among all sushi shops in Japan has increased from about 50 percent to 60 or 70 percent today.

Also at the show, the All Japan Sushi Association will give a presentation on sushi food hygiene and preparation and on differences in philosophy between Japanese sushi and overseas styles.

The Japanese government has been concerned that foreign sushi styles are straying too far from the original, blurring the meaning of “sushi” and “Japanese food.” Last year, the government gave its the Organization to Promote Japanese Restaurants Abroad the go-ahead to certify overseas restaurants that sell authentic Japanese-style foods.

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Contributing Editor reporting from Osaka, Japan

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