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Confused at Conveyor Belt Sushi place 2011/5/13 04:09
While I was in Tokyo last month I was shopping in Shibuya (or possibly Shinjuku) when I decided to get lunch. I saw a conveyor belt sushi place and decided to give it a try. I was hoping for something simple and non-complicated since my confidence in my Japanese was pretty low.

Everything I had read about these places told me you basically sat down, grabbed dishes off the belt as they passed by, and in the end you were charged based on the color or pattern on the plate (the guide here on this site seems to indicate this is how it works as well). Indeed, the way they had things set up, this appeared to be how it should work (patterned plates full of sushi going around the belt, with prices for each pattern displayed).

I sat down and placed my initial order (the woman in charge of the front took my order rather than just having me take things off the belt) which was fine. Delicious food. But as I was still hungry, I waited until I saw something interesting on the belt and grabbed it and ate it. Shortly after, the woman came over to me with someone else who spoke more English and the basic gist of what they were saying was that I had done something wrong and I shouldn't have taken something off the belt - the guy said something like it was old sushi and not fresh, though I wasn't following him all that well - all I knew was that I had made a mistake.

Because I was feeling rather embarassed and didn't want to make any further mistakes I paid up and got out of there, but I left wondering what exactly the procedure should have been, and what was the point of the conveyor belt at all if it didn't work the way I had always read it should. It kind of spoiled the rest of my afternoon a bit - I tend to obsess about these sort of things.

Any ideas as to what I did wrong? Is this normal for these places, or did I just pick the one that does things their own way? The signs out front mentioned something about them being one of the oldest conveyor belt sushi places in Tokyo, if not the oldest, so maybe it's just a different style than the newer places?

I probably won't be able to go back to Japan for another few years anyway, but it still bothers me not knowing what the problem was, and I hope to avoid a similar mistake next time, whenever that might be.

by frippscratch  

... 2011/5/13 09:25
What I know is exactly what you read on this site - you grab stuff off the belt as they pass by :) So I am confused too.

What I can imagine is that maybe business was not doing that great, so they cannot keep many plates running at all times, so they let "some" plates run on the belt (just to show that things are going on in the restaurant) but that was just for "showcasing" or showing samples, and that they expected you to order what you wanted.
by AK rate this post as useful

Some plates are special orders.. 2011/5/13 11:11
Hi Frippscratch,
It is possible You may have picked up someones' special request plate from the belt. How the different sushiya mark those I dont know well, but, it may be a 'flag' on the plate, or,a special desighn or color of plate too.
I have been to one once before -with my 4 year old son! You can imagine his interest and fascination with wanting to touch everything coming down the line, too...
Overall it was a nice and delicious experience.
These are called 'Kaitenzushi' [Kaiten -revolve, Zushi, a grammatical change to sushi]. The one I went to tallied the bill by 'plate' . When You're done You count how many plates You ate and that is Your bill.
I hope You dont discourage from trying it again simply because of this. Maybe the next time You go, You'll be quite an expert!
by Martmail rate this post as useful

. 2011/5/13 14:15
Here in Hawaii we have kaitenzushi, and my favorite part is watching the conveyor belt and grabbing what suits my fancy. But last time I was in Japan I went to a 100 Yen kaitenzushi place with my friend, a resident of Japan, and she corrected me right off the bat to not grab food off the conveyor, as it had been going around all day and was merely for show. We did all our ordering from a touch screen above the belt.

At another kaitenzushi I went to on the same trip, food didn't even travel around the belt until you ordered it, which I thought was really odd and slightly useless.

But I have been to restaurants in Japan where it's perfectly acceptable to take off the belt. So frippscratch, I can understand your confusion. The protocol is not the same for everywhere. Next time I can suggest just looking around to see what other diners are doing and follow suit, but please don't let one bad experience spoil your enjoyment.
by sophielynette rate this post as useful

MAYBE 2011/5/13 18:58
Maybe by placing an order initially that was all you were entitled to do.. You may not have then been able to access the belt. Not sure but that is sometimes the case: order OR belt....
by fmj rate this post as useful

. 2011/5/13 19:41

Do you remember the name of the restaurant? Maybe they had a special policy on that day but were either reluctant or unsuccessful to explain that to you. Their official website might tell us something.

By the way, did you have to pay for that extra plate from the belt? If not, it was obviously their fault to let you take it.
by Uco (guest) rate this post as useful

Thanks for the replies 2011/5/14 01:08
It sounds like it depends on the individual store as to what the rules are - just wish those rules would have been included on the English version of the menu card she gave me when I sat down. When I showed up, I was hoping to watch what other people were doing, but I could only see about 3 other people from where I was seated at the front, and they were all eating more of a rice bowl thing and not individual sushi plates, so I had no examples to go from.

It definitely wasn't a bad enough experience to keep me from trying again next time I go (maybe just not at that particular location) but it was frustrating not knowing how it worked, especially given the appearance that it would work as expected.

I don't recall the name of the place, though I most likely still have the receipt somewhere (for some reason I kept all my receipts (even from places like 7-11), though not in any easy to locate order). I did end up paying for the plate I erroneously took, though I believe they may have offered to give me a replacement since it was one I shouldn't have eaten since it wasn't fresh (again, I wasn't following what he was saying very well). At the time I just wanted to get out of there, though, so I just paid for the one I ate and took off.

For my next trip (in a few years) I'll definitely be redoubling my efforts to learn the language so I can get to where I feel more comfortable asking for clarifications of how things work. This last time, despite feeling fairly confident in my abilities with Japanese before I got there, as soon as I was in a situation where I could use it, my brain froze up and all I could do was point at things. Very frustrating. Hopefully next time will be better, but I have a lot of work to do before then.

Thanks again for giving me some possible explanations - makes me feel a little better about my confusion.
by frippscratch rate this post as useful

Probably 2011/5/14 22:46
You took a plate ordered by someone else. Don't care about that. I am a Japanese but was once blamed for that, too. Each Sushi shop can make their own rules, but cannot expect that customers should know about that. I did the same thing as you did, was blamed for that, and immediately left the Sushi shop, determining never to go there again.
by ... (guest) rate this post as useful

. 2011/5/17 12:27
the guy said something like it was old sushi and not fresh

'Order' sounds like 'olda' when said in Japanese so the guy was probably saying order. If they served you old food they would not be acting like you did something wrong.
by . (guest) rate this post as useful

- 2011/5/27 12:35
Yeah, I'm agreeing with everyone else here. You took someone else's order.
Don't worry, I've done the same. Though I was put up to it by my host father. He told me it was ok to take any sushi off the conveyer belt, then when I did, I got told off. My host father thought it was hilarious.

It's funny...I've been to many sushi restaurants in Japan but they have always been order-your-meal places. The only grab-whatever-you-want restaurants I've seen have been outside Japan.
by Tony (guest) rate this post as useful

you didn't do anything wrong 2011/5/28 09:38
My guess would be that maybe that restaurant offered a choice of ordering a set menu, restaurant-style, to the waitress or choosing individual pieces from the belt, and that most customers choose one or the other. Quite likely they weren't reprimanding you as such for doing anything wrong, but just making sure that you are aware that foods taken from the belt will constitute a separate order from your initial order and that you are happy to be billed accordingly. Of course I'm sure you would have been aware of that but remember they were probaly just as nervous as you were with regards to the language barrier and simply wanted to avoid any misunderstandings when it comes to paying the bill. The Japanese almost expect tourists to get things wrong and would have been tolerant (i.e. ignored it) if you actually had; in this instance they were probably (unnecessarily) worried that you may have misunderstood the pricing structure.
by Tico (guest) rate this post as useful

not fresh? 2011/5/29 11:36
Hi again. I was inspired by a TV show I just saw.

They were showing a conveyor belt sushi place called Sushiro (no branch in Shibuya nor Shinjuku) where they have an IC chip on the bottom of the plate so that old dishes can be put away automatically.

Sushi is always supposed to be served fresh. It's tastier and hygienic
that way. Therefore, an authentic sushi bar would roll sushi only upon request.

However, in a conveyor belt place, sushi is already made without confirming anybody's request. Ready-made sushi constantly circulates on the belt so that it would be free for the customers to pick up. One circulation around the belt will already take minutes and the sushi will no longer be that fresh enough.

So it's natural to assume that the restaurant tries to take old sushi off the belt in one way or another. Perhaps the workers at the place the OP went wanted to say something along the lines of, "This dish is no longer fresh and was supposed to be taken off the belt. But if you don't mind you are free to eat it on your own expence, and the sushi is still fresh enough to be hygienic."
by Uco (guest) rate this post as useful

. 2011/6/2 03:12
the one I went to in Kyoto had the regular conveyor belt, and a monitor on which to place your orders. These would be delivered by another conveyorbelt above it, where a little shinkansen conveyor would stop right in front of you. As soon as you took off the dishes you pressed a button and the shinkansen returned to the kitchen. Thought it was the coolest system :-)
I've been back from Japan for just over a month now, and suffering from severe withdrawal symptoms.....can't wait to go back!
by jochembakker rate this post as useful

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