Smart sushi: How the classic dish and technology come together

Smart sushi: How the classic dish and technology come together

TOKYO —

Kaitenzushi, or conveyor belt sushi, is possibly Japan’s most famous dining invention, and continues to amaze foodies around the world. The concept of serving plates of sushi on a conveyor belt is said to have started as early as 1958, and the trend continues to grow internationally even today.

Granted that the automated serving system has become a somewhat familiar scene today in sushi restaurants worldwide, the brilliant fusion of food and technology continues to evolve in a truly Japanese fashion. A visit to Muten Kura Sushi presented an advanced system that was beyond my knowledge of kaitenzushi.

The automated sushi adventure starts the moment you step into the restaurant. Upon entering, customers approach a ticketing machine instead of a member of staff. The touch-panel machine is where you enter the number of diners in your party, as well as your choice of sitting at a booth or at the bar. A ticket with your queue number is dispensed. Then it’s just sitting at the waiting area until your number is called.

When it’s finally your turn, the waitress hands you a little clipboard that holds information including your table number, an illustrated seating map and a billing sheet. Then you are left on your own to venture into sushi land.

The table numbers are clearly labeled, and with the seating map in hand, it is not a difficult task finding your allocated seat. At every table, there is access to not one but two conveyor belt lanes.

The bottom lane is the norm, providing a steady supply of fresh sushi and whatnot sitting on trays with dome-like covers to ensure that your dining experience is a hygienic one. These covers are a permanent fixture on the tray, so it might be an obstacle if you tried to pluck the whole tray off the lane. Just keep your cool, and lightly lift the plate. The cover will then pop open, releasing the plate from its protective dome, and you will then be able enjoy the flipping fresh delicacy.

At Muten Kura Sushi, all sushi are prepared fresh based on a “muten” recipe. “Muten” is a word often seen on Japanese food, and even cosmetic products. It literally means “no additives”, and over here at Muten Kura Sushi, their “muten” recipe promises that your food is prepared sans the use of additives such as flavor enhancers such as MSG, artificial sweeteners, artificial colorings and preservatives.

On top (or rather, at the bottom) of that, the freshness of the sushi on the belt is guaranteed by the QR-code sticker on the underside of the plate, which allows the system back in the kitchen to automatically eject plates that have been revolving around on the belts for too long. Pretty clever, huh?

Back at the table, the top conveyor belt is how the food you specifically ordered arrives.

Orders can be made on the automated ordering system accessible on the iPad attached at all tables. The menu is easy to navigate, with pictures of every item so you know what to expect. So you tap around on the iPad, make your order, and wait. About 30 seconds before your order arrives, the iPad beeps and informs you that your order is about to arrive. Shortly after, the order comes speeding down the top lane and stops perfectly at your table. The ultimate Japanese-like thing about this whole process is that the order is timed to ensure efficiency, the time taken for your order to arrive is displayed on the iPad. Most of the orders made are served fresh from the kitchen within just five minutes.

Free flow of hot tea is of course provided; the cups stacked above the serving lanes, green tea powder and supply of hot water available at the side of the table. Nothing out of the blue, you might think, but take a second look at the top of the serving lanes. There is a capsule toy machine sitting right there, staring at you as you eat. Here’s the fun part.

At the side of the table, under the bottom lane, there is a slot where you can drop in your empty plates. For every five plates you polish off, you get a chance to win something from the capsule toy machine. Everything is automated, of course: You slot in the empty plate, the system counts it, and every five plates an animation sequence is played on the iPad. If you got lucky, the capsule toy machine dispenses your prize! This system is sure to keep the feasting going, and gives the pesky little kids something to look forward to so they stay in their seats and eat their food.

After you’ve had your fill, asking for the bill is just a simple tap on the iPad. The restaurant staff will then come to your table, confirm the number of plates, and then direct you to make payment at the cashier counter. It couldn’t be easier.

Fresh sushi, efficient service, and entertainment to reward you for clearing your own plates. This is definitely an experience that will leave you in awe at the Japanese’s ingenious use of technology at the dining table.

Got a craving for a little sushi adventure? Muten Kura Sushi has over 300 outlets across Japan.

Reference: Kura-Corpo

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  • -2

    kwatt

    Sushi cooks only used to make sushi at small restaurants. It seems that human cooks no longer make. I feel something nasty, uncomfortable about machines making ones. Customers look like pigs at big farm.

  • 0

    powderb

    Love sushi, eat it often, but never go to these automated restaurants. I have, in fact, been once. Once will be enough.

    Going to a restaurant is not merely about buying a "product." There should be a social exchange as well. Removing the human element makes it cold and sterile.

    I'd much rather order from a person than a touchscreen.

  • 0

    GalapagosnoGairaishu

    I'd much rather order from a person than a touchscreen.

    I know a place like that (although not a sushi restaurant). My standard tactic is to feign ignorance and ask for the assistance of a human waiter. They grudgingly oblige.

  • 2

    spudman

    They grudgingly oblige.

    why would you go back?

  • -1

    AKBfan

    I love good kaiten.

  • 0

    marcelito

    The technology is awesome but Kura sushi tastes a bit crappy...Genki sushi is better ...:-)

  • 0

    smithinjapan

    Nothing wrong with kaiten sushi -- a fun experience if nothing else.

  • -1

    Xeno23

    Entertaining service technology to be sure, but I'd say "smart" sushi is serving seafood from sustainable sources. It's possible that amusing and clever restaurant service like this, combined with engaging cuisine using seafood that's not at risk, could help consumers be smarter about their sushi dining choices.

  • 0

    White_Shinobi

    Theres a Smart Sushi behind my apartment at Shinjuku Eastside Square. Its amazing.... I have a video of the remote controlled plates and touch screen ordering...

    http://youtu.be/ZWKcenTej3k

  • 0

    MissingCylonModel

    I like kaiten for the atmosphere. Chefs are like performers: making sushi on demand, in front of the customer. Remembering multiple orders at the same time and carrying them out one by one, calling out the names of the dishes enthusiastically. I like sitting around the conveyor with people I haven't met before, sharing pickled ginger, hot water taps and an occasional chat. I know it's not the orthodox sushi restaurant style and quality is lower, but eating is a social experience.

  • -1

    Michael Alagar

    Kwatt, What's funny is that no where in the article does it say that the sushi is made by a machine...

    I've eaten at both sit down restaurant style sushi places and kaiten sushi places and they are a bit different. There are good places and bad places of both. I frequent a kaiten sushi that has had better sushi than some sit down places I've been to. What do you want to pay for, what you eat or for the ambiance of the restaurant?

  • 0

    John Occupythemoon Daly

    Kaitenzushi is awesome, and I really enjoy the low price and the usually good quality. I do, however, prefer smaller places with the cooks inside the belt making the sushi, where if you want to special order something you just holler it out to them. There's one place near Sangenjyaya Station I especially like: the chefs are very friendly and sometimes give you free sample pieces or if you eat something they recommended, they give you a cheer or a small beer. Either way, it is certainly a very unique way to grub, and one thing I'll really miss if I have to go back to the American Southeast :( I kinda wanna try this smart-sushi style though!

  • 0

    Melissa Kaita

    Speaking of Kurazushi and technology -- one of my favourite parts of Kurazushi is the iPhone app! You can monitor your progress in line with the app and see how long the wait will be, which is pretty awesome.

  • -3

    Cos

    What do you want to pay for, what you eat or for the ambiance of the restaurant?

    Both. I never go to kaitenzushi (unless I have to follow a group), they do bad on both points.

  • -1

    jeff198527

    I love sushi. Not only is it delicious, but it's healthy and you won't die of a Mcheart-attack like you would from fast food.

  • 0

    Raymond Chuang

    I would not be surprised that within three years places like the one mentioned in the article will sport touchscreen menu selections in more than just Japanese--being computerized, it won't take much to add Chinese and Korean, and may add English, French, and Spanish to better serve visitors during the run up to the 2020 Summer Olympics.

  • 0

    Serrano

    Kura-zushi's new conveyor for ordered items is amazing! The screen in front of you beeps a few seconds before your order arrives, and when it does, it zips down the upper conveyor at nearly close to the speed of light, and stops right in front of you ( or within a few centimeters ), ha ha!

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