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How to Eat Conveyor Belt Sushi

Posted By in Japan | 34 comments

How to Eat Conveyor Belt Sushi

In Canada, I learned to love sushi through binge-fests at our ubiquitous all-you-can-eat-sushi restaurants. In Japan, I’m all about conveyor belt, or kaiten, sushi. As the name suggests, in these establishments, fresh sushi rotates through the restaurant on a conveyor belt. It sounds fun, but, as is almost always the case for me in Japan, I was worried about making some massive, unintentional faux-pas when we went to our first kaiten sushi restaurant. Everyone else in the restaurant seemed to know all the rules and moved very quickly. Fortunately, a man on the bench next to us saw our confusion and walked us through the basics. So, I’m paying it forward with a crash course in the how-to’s of kaiten sushi dining for all the other newbies.

conveyor belt sushi japan

From our experience, there are 2 kinds of conveyor belt sushi restaurants: one type utilizes touch screen service, and the other does not.

Traditional Conveyor Belt Sushi

conveyor belt sushi japan

In traditional conveyor belt sushi restaurants, the chefs prepare sushi in the middle of the restaurant, surrounded by the conveyor belt. The customers sit at bar stools or tables positioned along the length of the conveyor belt. These types of restaurants are usually small and intimate because all of the diners are within arms’ reach of the sushi chefs.

As the sushi passes by you on the conveyor belt, you can just grab any plates that look appealing; or you can use the menu on your table to place a specific order.

There is sometimes an English menu available, and if not, the menu almost always has pictures. If you see something you want on the menu, you can call to one of the sushi chefs by saying “sumimasen”, which means “excuse me” (this is a really helpful phrase to ask for service in any type of restaurant). If the menu is in Japanese, we usually just point to the picture of whatever we want, and say “kore o-ne-gai-shi-mas”, which means “this, please”.  The sushi chefs prepare custom orders on the spot, and then pass them directly to you.

This said, it’s not necessary to make any custom orders. It’s perfectly ok to just take plates off the conveyor belt for your entire meal.

prices and plate colours at conveyor belt sushi

Look for a guide that shows the price of each dish based on the plate colour. At the end of your meal, your bill is tallied based on the number and colour of plates on your table. The price is the same whether you custom order the sushi or take the plate off the conveyor belt.

Soy sauce and chopsticks will be on the table, but you typically need to ask one of the chefs for wasabi.

green tea powder at conveyor belt sushi

green tea powder

For drinks, there’s usually a self-serve water machine with cups. And you’ll also find a hot water dispenser and powdered green tea at every seat.

There are attendants around the restaurant with whom you can place orders for alcohol and specialty drinks. You also ask the attendants for the bill when you’re ready to pay by calling “o-kan-jo-o-ne-gai-shi-mas!”

Touch Screen Conveyor Belt Sushi

touch screen conveyor belt sushi

The set-up is basically the same as traditional conveyor belt sushi, except the chefs work in a back kitchen. So, instead of placing custom orders with the chefs directly, you make the orders through a computer system using the touch screen at your seat.

touch screen sushi train

Some touch screen sushi restaurants have an English language option, but even if not, it’s still easy to scroll through the menu, look at the pictures, and then touch the ones that you want to order. The machines make a lot of excited noises when you successfully order a plate, so it’s obvious when you’ve placed an order versus when you’ve cancelled it by mistake.

Like in the non-touch screen kaiten sushi restaurants, you can take plates off the conveyor belt, make custom orders, or do a mixture of both.

wasabi at touch screen sushi

Soy sauce will be on the table, and wasabi will pass by on the conveyor belt.

Custom orders arrive differently depending on the restaurant. In some places, sushi orders are delivered directly to your seat by a little, motorized, sushi train on a separate conveyor belt.

In other places, all the plates are delivered on a single conveyor belt, but the custom ordered plates are specially marked.

touch screen conveyor belt sushi

The sushi on the far left is available. The sushi on the right is placed on an elevated dish to indicate that it has been custom ordered.

In the above example, the custom ordered sushi is placed on an elevated plate, so that customers know that this plate is not up for grabs.

Regardless of how your order is delivered, your touch screen will make a lot of noise when it arrives at your table, so you’ll know which plate to take.

Like the non-touch screen restaurants, hot and cold water are self-serve. Alcohol and specialty drinks can be ordered on the touch screen, and delivered directly to your seat by one of the attendants.

eat sushi in japan

When you are ready for the bill, there is usually a separate button on the touch screen that can be pressed to request an attendant to your table.

Are you a fan of conveyor belt sushi? Do you prefer touch screen restaurants? Do you have any dining tips to add? Let me know in the comments!

34 Comments

  1. TammyOnTheMove June 6, 2013

    I love sushi, but never had the chance to eat it in Japan. I wonder if it tastes much different. A peking duck in London is completely different to a peking duck in Beijing for example. Going to a restaurant like this looks so much fun. Would love to try it out one day.
    My recent post Behind the Berlin Wall – Life in Communist Germany

    • waysofwanderers June 6, 2013

      The sushi is a little different. Certain items that I was used to seeing on menus in Canada, like California rolls, for example, are Western creations that don't exist in Japan. That said, I still recognize a lot of it, and the flavours aren't significantly different. I still love Canadian sushi, and I love the stuff here too – it's all tasty.

  2. Steph (@ 20YH) June 6, 2013

    Ack! This post has made me realize that I haven't had sushi in 9 months and now I want it soooo badly. For whatever reason, Tony & I didn't eat tons of sushi when we were in Japan, but we did do one conveyer-belt sushi experience and it was awesome (though I wish we could have gone to one of the places with a happy electronic screen!). It seemed to me like rules and propriety go out the window at keiten sushi joints—all the Japanese people around us at the one we went to were belching & farting up a storm, which made us giggle but didn't manage to detract from the great sushi!
    My recent post Coming Home in Taipei

    • waysofwanderers June 7, 2013

      I hope you get to experience the happy electronic screens one day – they always seem to chatter and play music throughout our entire meal for various reasons – it's pretty amusing. That's funny – I haven't noticed a huge amount of belching and farting, but maybe my touch screen music is drowning it out, haha. Plus, sometimes I find Japanese etiquette so interesting – slurping noodles or farting might be totally acceptable, but then I talk a little too loud and I'm being rude!

  3. sarahwriteshere2010 June 6, 2013

    Getting my luggage off of the baggage carousel is an anxiety provoking exercise for me. Likely because I don't wear my glasses and my pipecleaner arms cannot lift my bags. I picture conveyor belt sushi to be a similar experience. Only I would be able to lift the plates.

    • waysofwanderers June 7, 2013

      The ability to lift the items on the conveyor belt is definitely a bonus. Plus you have your own special spot from which to grab things – unlike at the airport where people tend to push you out of the way in order to get a hold of the items that they desire.

  4. Japan Australia June 6, 2013

    Very informative post. I love kaiten-zushi and we quite often visit Kappa Zushi which is an affordable family sushi restaurant in Japan. Most people order using the touch screen menu and the sushi is delivered to your table via a shinkansen. Lots of fun 🙂
    My recent post Kappa Zushi

    • waysofwanderers June 8, 2013

      Yes! We went to Kappa sushi once and I loved the little shinkansen! It's a fun novelty.

    • waysofwanderers June 7, 2013

      Thanks! It's definitely one of the many things that make Japan an awesome place to visit.

  5. Andrea June 7, 2013

    I first experienced this in Singapore and cannot get enough! Seriously, I wish there was one where I live now….

    • waysofwanderers June 7, 2013

      It's fantastic, isn't it? I love that you can eat as much or as little as you want.

  6. cubiclethrowdown June 7, 2013

    I had kaiten sushi both in Japan and at home in Vancouver. I haven't had proper sushi for almost a year now since I've been in Central America and I literally just scrolled up and down on this post, alternately drooling and suppressing jealous tinges 🙂
    My recent post [GUEST POST]: 3 Spectacular Days in Singapore

    • waysofwanderers June 7, 2013

      I always want the food I can't have at the moment. I craved good sushi all the time when we were in Thailand, but now that we're in Japan, I'd kill for spring rolls and a Thai tea. I bet it's much easier for you to get good tortillas where you are, so I definitely reciprocate your jealousy haha.

  7. agnesstramp June 7, 2013

    The food looks so delicious. Although I've never been to Japan, I visited one conveyor sushi restaurant in the U.K. and we picked up some random dishes, they were tasty, fresh and so delicious.
    My recent post Lo-Fi Nomad Competition by GlobalGrasshopper.com

    • waysofwanderers June 7, 2013

      It's definitely a cool concept no matter where in the world you try it.

  8. Audrey June 7, 2013

    I would be so confused if I were eating at the touch screen restaurant, haha, now that would feel like a foreign land! This story makes me want to visit Japan even more! 😀
    My recent post Sometimes I Miss Korea…

    • waysofwanderers June 7, 2013

      Yeah, I'm always way over-impressed with the use of technology in Japan. Touch screen ordering system?! What is this black magic?!

  9. Maria June 7, 2013

    I am a fan of some conveyor belt or kaiten sushi spots. Also worked in one when I lived in Seattle. Good times and very good sushi for everyone. 🙂
    My recent post Wordless Wednesday – Bangkok

    • waysofwanderers June 7, 2013

      I bet Seattle would have some tasty, fresh fish too. Sushi tends to be good anywhere on the coast.

  10. ferretingoutthefun June 7, 2013

    I was so intimidated by these conveyor belt places on my first trip to Japan! The dishes went by so quickly and I had no idea what anything was. Plus my hubby scared me by pointing out that the different color plates can have a big difference in price. I can handle them now, but still prefer ordering off a menu. Sometimes it takes me a long time to decide what I want!
    My recent post Once Upon a Tea at the Langham, Hong Kong

    • waysofwanderers June 7, 2013

      Haha, I've totally been there. Sometimes I can't make the decision quick enough, and I panic and grab a plate that I don't want; or I let one get just out of reach before I decide that it actually did look good, haha.

    • waysofwanderers June 9, 2013

      No problem, Alex! I hope you get to try it sometime – definitely a fun experience for a sushi-lover.

  11. Brady June 16, 2013

    Good article – it reflects my own Tokyo sushi experiences – but your site is completely unreadable on mobile due to the share options.

    • waysofwanderers June 16, 2013

      Hmm – thanks for pointing that out – I'll have to look into it.

    • waysofwanderers June 17, 2013

      I can definitely promise you that! I hope you get to try sushi in Japan someday.

  12. Angela July 17, 2013

    Conveyor belt sushi is my favorite sushi! We eat sushi at least once a week and are big fans of the conveyor belt places. They just make eating sushi so easygoing and fun. One time in Malaysia we had a touchscreen at our table but our waiter assumed we wouldn't understand it so every time we were trying to order something, he took over and ordered it for us.

    • waysofwanderers July 17, 2013

      It's funny – we go to the same touch-screen sushi restaurant nearly once a week; but every once in a while we are greeted by staff members who don't recognize us, and they get flustered trying to find an English menu and explain the process.

  13. Angela July 17, 2013

    Conveyor belt sushi is my favorite kind of sushi. We eat sushi almost every week and our favorite is the conveyor belt one.
    One time in Malaysia we had a touchscreen at our table. Our waiter assumed we didn't understand it so every time we tried ordering something, he took over and ordered for us.
    My recent post Doing nothing on Lembongan Island

  14. nutcase2818 May 26, 2014

    Thank god for this post. I walked by a place today but didn't go on because I just didn't feel like figuring it out.

  15. monkey333 April 8, 2016

    Did you get real wasabi at all the sushi restaurants you went to in Japan? I'd love to hear your thoughts of the taste and texture in comparison to the wasabi (green horseradish) given at Canadian restaurants.

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