Japan's Traditional Sushi Now Comes with Futuristic Technology

Japan's Traditional Sushi Now Comes with Futuristic Technology

With its masters required to hone their skills over decades, sushi in Japan is steeped in tradition. But it is also often a high-tech operation where robotic precision steals the limelight from the chef's knife.

The country is dotted with thousands of "kaiten" (revolving) sushi restaurants where raw fish slices atop rice balls travel on conveyer belts along counters waiting to be picked up by diners.

Behind the scenes, however, it is far from a simple merry-go-round, with robots in some locations rolling out perfectly-sized rice balls onto plates embedded with microchips.

Measured dollops of spicy wasabi paste are squirted onto the rice assembly-line style before they're topped with raw fish.

And the most cutting-edge eateries are even connected to monitoring centres that can quickly tell whether the right balance of dishes is being produced -- a far cry from traditional-style places where the sushi chef and his knife still reign supreme.

"Sushi isn't going round at random but rather it is coming out based on a number of calculations," said Akihiro Tsuji, public relations manager at Kura Corp., a major operator in a market expected to hit $5.0 billion in revenue this year, according to industry figures.

"Though traditional, sushi is stuffed with high technology. You can't operate low-price revolving sushi restaurants without databases and scientific management," he told AFP at a Tokyo outlet.

Kura has invented a serving device called "sendo-kun", which roughly translates as "Mr Fresh", a plate with a transparent dome that opens automatically when diners select the dish.

While the hood keeps the sushi moist and clean, it also contains a microchip telling managers what kind of fish are swinging around on the conveyer belts and how long they have been there.

Since their birth half a century ago, kaiten sushi restaurants have evolved from selling traditional sushi into miniature museums of the food that Japanese people eat today, including battered tempura, noodles, and even ice cream.

The dishes are cheap, usually starting at around 100 yen (around $1) for two pieces of sushi.

Now, more and more outlets are equipped with dedicated "high-speed" lanes where customers can receive their order via a touch-screen menu.

Ryozo Aida, a 68-year-old university lecturer, said he visits the Kura outlet with his wife because of its "affordable prices".

"It may sound strange in a sushi restaurant, but I like tempura," he said as he jabbed his fingers at a touch-screen panel.

Inside the kitchen, screens show how many adults and children are dining and roughly how long they have been in the restaurant.

"Even if all the 199 seats here are occupied, how much sushi we need will differ depending on how long they have been at the table," Tsuji said.

The system combines real-time data with information about how many items were consumed in similar circumstances in the past, displaying results for kitchen staff.

Complementing on-the-spot efforts, the Kura chain also has a remote assistance system serving its network of more than 300 outlets.

In-store cameras feed images to dozens of supervisors who move from restaurant to restaurant with laptops -- while others watch from monitoring centres -- to advise restaurants instantly if there is enough food and the right mix of offerings on the conveyer belt. The cameras can zoom in on sushi to make sure it is laid out in regulation elegance -- although they don't monitor customers' faces for privacy reasons.

At another outlet run by Genki Sushi's "Uobei" brand in the fashionable Tokyo district of Shibuya, the concept of one conveyor belt has been updated. All 90 seats face counters with three decks of "high-speed" lanes delivering sushi directly to the person who ordered via multi-lingual touch screen.

Accuracy and speed is the name of the game with the store targeting delivery in under a minute.

"As we looked at how fast we can deliver what's ordered, we came up with this system," said Akira Koyanagi, district manager for Genki, adding that it also cuts down on wasted food.

All this high technology costs money, but sales at kaiten sushi restaurants have grown 20 percent over the past five years with the industry expected to rake in nearly $5.0 billion this year, according to research firm Fuji-Keizai Group.

A key challenge, however, is that Japanese people are eating less fish and more meat these days as world prices rise due to strong demand in the United States and Europe.

"Procurement is getting tough," said a Genki Sushi spokesman.

Picture/AFP: Akihiro Tsuji, a public relations manager of Kura Corp. shows off a serving device called "sendo-kun", a plate with a transparent dome-like hood which opens by itself as diners take the dish at the company's sushi restaurant in Tokyo.

 

Source: 

Related Articles

Final Fantasy Cafe
Square Enix
and Pasela Resorts, which sets up and runs leisure facilities, jointly opened a Final Fantasy XIV concept cafe - Final Fantasy Eorzea Cafe - in Akiharabara, Tokyo yesterday.

The Final Fantasy Eorzea Cafe is a replica of the Carline Canopy tavern in the town of Gridania as it appeared in FFXIV.

Major Japanese instant noodle vendor, Acecook, is going to start a new instant noodle series, EDGE, and they are going to introduce outrageous noodle products from now on. As its first shot, they are going to release a shocking (but something that suites recent tastes) instant noodle on January 13.

SanktGallen, a microbrewery from Atsugi, Kanagawa prefecture, is going to release Sakura-mochi flavored beer -  called "Sakura" - in a limited quantity on February 27.

Sakura-mochi is a seasonal rice cake filled with sweet bean paste and wrapped in preserved cherry leaf. Less hops are used for this Sakura beer to maximize the Sakura flavors extracted from cherry blossom petals and leaves.

Price: ¥450 (330ml)

Japan Airlines is going to start offering a special in-flight meal jointly developed with Kumamoto prefecture which is located in the southern island of Kyushu. The name of the in-flight meal is (of course) named after THAT famous bear character mascot, "Air Kumamon".

Yoriko Takahashi - April 07, 2014

At the convenience store chain, Ministop, now you can buy a savory Japanese Okonomiyaki that you can casually eat with one hand.

Okonomiyaki is a Japanese dish (sometimes referred to as a Japanese savory pancake) that you cook on a hot griddle and eat with a lot of special Okonomiyaki sauce, fish flakes, mayonnaise, and green dried seaweed on top. It's tough to eat it with only one hand, but Ministop made it possible to do that with their newly released product called Tsukimi-yaki.

Yoriko Takahashi - March 10, 2014

Japan is awesome especially when it comes to food, culture, entertainment, and of course, geeky techie things, however Japan is not awesome at all regarding the coffee situation. It is usually very bitter or extremely watered down and diluted. One of the most popular types is called "American" at a regular cafe. If you order this, you're basically getting bitter coffee diluted with hot water.

Editor - July 29, 2014

Cold soba noodle is one of the most refreshing dishes to eat during the hot summer in Japan. But it's so good that it may be served too often in the same way and family members will eventually get really bored with it.

So, a famous blogger Miyachan invented a cold soba noodle dish that is cute and attractive to look at. It's a "TOTORO" Tororo Soba - Studio Ghibli's TOTORO-shaped buckwheat soba noodle with tororo (grated gooey Nagaimo yam)!

Original recipe makes 1 serving:

House Wellness Food today released a new energy drink called SAMURIDE ENERGY DRINK produced with "Japan" as the theme.

Speaking of energy drinks available in Japan, foreign products like Red Bull and Monster Energy, come to mind first if you live here. Of course, there are many old school longtime energy drinks that exist here like Lipovitan D, Tiovita and Alinamin V, however it's hard to think of any "fashionable" Japanese energy drink brand easily.

Yoriko Takahashi - April 23, 2014

Today, a new type of Yakiniku (Japanese-style BBQ) restaurant called Tokkyu Yakiniku has opened in Osaka, Japan.

"Tokkyu", a part of the restaurant name, means express train in Japanese. The reason why the restaurant was named like that is obvious: at the restaurant, all the dishes and drinks are delivered on a moving plate on a train track. Yes, it's like a Kaiten-sushi / Rotating sushi / Sushi train, but instead of sushi, slices of meat come to your table by express train.

Contributor - January 26, 2015

Licking Pikachu in Shibuya (GALLERY) - AkihabaraNews.com
If you have ever wanted to a lick a Pikachu, I can confirm that he/she/[insert your preferred gender here] tastes of mango. Yes, that’s right. If your childhood dreams of catching them all actually involved eating them all, you now can. Except, by all Pokémon, I actually mean mainly Pikachu.

Yoriko Takahashi - April 28, 2014

It seems like one of the main Japanese convenient store chains, Ministop, is into Okonomiyaki menu items recently.

Valentine's day is just around the corner.

Oh Family Mart, you care so much about steamed buns…

Family Mart is going to release cute nikuman versions of Gachapin and Mukku. They were born in the old-school Japanese TV program for children "Hirake! Ponkikki" and are still much loved characters.

Keystone Technology's LED vegetable garden system is a cultivation system for indoor plant factories which uses LED lighting instead of sunlight. The most defining feature of the system on display at the company's showroom in Yokohama is its 3-dimensional use of space.

Pages