Japanese police and restaurant chains battling “sushi terrorism” with AI cameras

One of the cameras being used by Kura Sushi to combat "sushi terrorism"

Following a wave of unhygienic prank videos posted online by customers at conveyor belt sushi shops, Japanese police have made arrests related to two incidents.

On 9 March, police arrested three diners, aged 21, 19, and 15, over a video filmed at a Kura Sushi restaurant in Nagoya on 3 February. The stunts in the video included licking a soy sauce dispenser.

“We sincerely hope the arrest will spread awareness in society that these pranks, which fundamentally undermine our system based on a relationship of trust with customers, are a crime and that there will be no copycat acts in future,” Osaka-based Kura Sushi, which has more than 500 outlets in Japan, said through a company statement.

In response to the incident, the company installed AI cameras in its restaurants nationwide to monitor for unusual actions, such as taking a plate from the conveyor and quickly replacing it. While the cameras may mitigate diners’ worries about unsanitary pranks, the move will also effectively place customers under surveillance.

“With this system, when an AI camera installed on the rotating lane detects a suspicious opening or closing of the antibacterial sushi cover moving in the rotating lane, an alert sounds at our headquarters, and the person in charge at the headquarters immediately calls the person in charge of the relevant store. At the store that receives the notification, we will promptly remove the sushi plate where the abnormality is detected and talk to the customer,” the company said.

The wave of prank videos, dubbed “sushitero” or “sushi terrorism” in Japan, has been convincing some customers to avoid dining out, especially at “kaiten-sushi,” or “rotary sushi,” shops.

In another viral video, a prankster put wasabi on other customers’ meals at a Hama Sushi, a subsidiary of Tokyo-based Zensho. Yet another video included a customer at a Gifu Prefecture Sushiro shop, based in Osaka, licking the rims of teacups and soy sauce dispensers and touching other customers’ dishes on the conveyor belt with his finger after licking it.

Although the boy in the latter case, who is a minor, later apologized, Sushiro, which is Japan’s biggest sushi chain by sales and number of outlets, will pursue both criminal charges and civil damages. The company’s stock price declined five percent on 2 February following news of the incident, though its stock later recovered.

A Sushiro press release on 3 February announced changes to its system.

Photo courtesy of Kura Sushi

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