Kaiten-Zushi: Conveyor Belt Sushi Restaurants by Amy Reiszl

Kaiten-ZushiKaiten-zushi, known in English as "Conveyor Belt Sushi," is a type of sushi restaurant where plates of food are placed on a conveyor belt so that they can circle the entire restaurant. This type of dining was started by Yoshiaki Shiraishi in Osaka, Japan, in 1958. It quickly became a popular place for Japanese dining, however some Japanese traditionalists say that it destroys the customary way of eating sushi. These types of restaurants can be found not just in Japan but all over the world. In fact, we have our very own in the Seattle area called Blue C Sushi.

I recently traveled to Tokyo, Japan, and experienced one of these restaurants first hand. The waitress seats you at what resembles a bar with a conveyor belt encircling it. At each seat there is free hot tea available along with chopsticks, soy sauce, wasabi, pickled ginger, and small dishes already set up so that you can Sashimistart eating as soon as you sit down. The chef stands in the middle to make more food as it is eaten, and he will also take special requests from what he has available. Depending on the time of day these places can be quite busy, so if you need the chef's attention you must wave and yell "Sumimasen!" which means "excuse me" in Japanese.

A meal at a kaiten-zushi is usually quick and cheap. Each plate is color-coded by price, and usually the colors and their corresponding prices are displayed on the wall. A majority of the plates are less than 300 yen per plate and $1 = 100 yen approximately. Each plate has two bite-sized pieces of sashimi, which is different than sushi. Sashimi is a piece of raw fish often placed on top of a ball of sticky rice using a little bit of wasabi in between the two to help them stick together. Sushi is raw fish rolled up in seaweed with rice and sometimes vegetables. Also, the rice for sushi or sashimi is different thSushian plain white rice because it is made with vinegar, sugar, and salt, making it much more sticky than plain rice. At the end of your meal, the waitress will count up how many plates you have of each color then add them up to get your total.

Sushi has many health benefits. Fish is low in saturated fat, high in protein, and high in omega-3 fatty acids. Mackerel has the most omega-3 and is high in vitamin E, but, interestingly, mackerel tends to be the least expensive. Seaweed contains many minerals including iodine, calcium, magnesium, iron, and folic acid. Unfortunately, there are also some risks with eating raw fish. Anytime you eat raw meat, you are at risk for ingesting harmful bacteria and viruses; in fact, the chef at the restaurant that I went to was not even wearing gloves, which only adds to the risk. If you eat fish very frequently, then you are at risk of Sushi Plate Pricesmercury toxicity since fish often have small amounts of mercury in their bodies. It is recommended that pregnant women and younger children avoid raw fish and watch their consumption of cooked fish.

Sadly many species of fish have come close to extinction due in part to the popularity of sushi. Overfishing has become a problem especially with long-living fish that do not reproduce as often, such as Chilean sea bass or Pacific rock fish. The bluefin tuna population has been most affected by the popularity of sushi, but when a species becomes over fished then the fishermen just move on to another one, slowly devastating the entire fish population. This affects not just fish but the whole ocean ecosystem. A movement towards sustainable seafood has come about in order to help keep these fish species thriving. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has created a guide to sustainable fish choices along with those you should avoid. You can even download a pocket sized guide to bring with you when you eat at restaurants.
Bluefin Tuna
One solution to overfishing has been fish farming, which is just like raising livestock for food. This decreases the amount of wild fish caught, although it also decreases the amount of variation in the species. Unfortunately, some wild fish are still needed in fish farming for their eggs as well as for feeding larger fish. Another unavoidable consequence to fish farming are diseases due to smaller living area. These diseases can also infect wild fish near the fish farms since most of the fish farms are on the coast. Using antibiotics can help but if leaked to wild fish, antibiotic resistant bacteria can develop, causing a more widespread problem. Many people have thought to move fish farms away from coastal waters, so that wild fish will not be affected. There are some fish that are already farmed this way, including tilapia, catfish, and trout.

Eating at kaiten-zushi restaurants can be a fun thing to do alone or with family and friends. There are so many different fish to choose from, so everyone can be satisfied. There is little wasted when eating at kaiten-zushi restaurants; since the plates are so small everyone only takes what they can eat. Just remember to eat sushi in moderation
because extinction is forever. Everyone can play a part in keeping fish populations flourishing, so next time try a farm raised fish rather than your old favorites.

Sushi Encyclopedia
Monterey Baby Aquarium Seafood Watch

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