Kaiten-Sushi (or Conveyor Belt Sushi), is one of my favorite things in Japan. As someone who doesn’t like eating out for food that can just be easily cooked at home for a tenth of the price, those restaurants are worth the repeat experience so you should definitely try at least once during your trip to Kyoto!
Depending on the location, they have either normal restaurant tables or stools, stools being a great option if you are going in as a solo eater and are shy about it. The places are usually busy enough that you won’t feel lonely and can make conversation with neighboring sushi-lovers.
Now if you want to be mentally prepared for the experience, here’s how it goes: you go in, get asked how many people you are, and assigned a seat. What you’ll be seeing is sushi plates moving around the restaurant, possibly with visibility of the chefs, working fervently on keeping enough of everything available for grabs.
All the plates you see here are moving non-stop in circle.
Once seated you have a few options depending on the location. The easy one, available everywhere, is to simply pick up any plates of your liking that moved within arms length. Sometimes they have a panel touch screen to select what you want yourself, taking less than 5 minutes to be ready and automatically playing some music when it’s about to reach your table …never underestimated Japanese technology. Before choosing though, there is some factors you may want to consider so here are the basics:
On the left are Tuna, Yellowtail, and Salmon nigiri-sushis. On the right are some maki-sushis.
What’s a sushi?
Short answer: It’s fish+rice.
Long answer: There is quite a few types of sushis, the basic 2 are:
Nigiri, a slice of raw fish on top of a slab of rice.
Maki, a circular cut with fish/vegetables/etc at the center, the middle layer is rice and the outer part is a layer of seaweed.
Also, Japanese sushis have no pineapple nor fruits in them, why that pineapple trend took off in western sushi shops is beyond me.
How to eat a sushi?
Sushis are eaten whole. 1 sushi, 1 bite. Work that jaw!
Normally with chopsticks, but you can also make do with a fork which you may have to request.
Commonly, before inserting a sushi in their mouth, people give it a quick dip into a shallow plate which you have to pour soy sauce in.
Wasabi is for Japanese what hot sauce is for Americans. Usually most sushis come both with and without wasabi and have some indication like a different plate color. Don’t be shy to ask around you with a simple “no wasabi?” while pointing at a plate if you want to avoid it.
What do I drink there?
Matcha! Every seating area has a (very) hot water tap and a matcha(green tea) powder container. You pick a cup in front of you then push it against the hollow button. Make sure you keep a steady grip on the cup while pressing it on the button not to slip and burn yourself. Everything is at arm’s length from your seating position. Find the cup, pour water, find the matcha container and drop a few “spoons” of it then stir. You can drink as much as you like for free!
How does paying works?
Your tab is calculated at the end, based of the count and type of plates accumulated on your table. So you may have to pay attention to the color of the plates you pick up since they can range from 1$ to 5$ each. Some places only change the color of the plates based on a wasabi or not system and have a fixed plate price, others have a plate-color-price system which you can usually see at the entrance.
Someone preparing his matcha.
There is plenty of kaiten-sushi places in Kyoto and with the diversity of seafood available in them and the relatively low cost, it’s an experience not-to-miss, alone or with friends and family. You can usually get full for 10~15$ if you avoid the luxury plates while also feeling good from having such a great fresh healthy meal and experience for the same price as buying sushis at the supermarket.
Hey guys, I'm a dude in his thirties from Quebec who had the chance to experience Japan on and off over the span of more than 10 years.