In Japan, sushi is as much a part of traditional life as it is traditional food. Chefs and sushi masters are required to hone their skills over a long period of time before they can serve sushi in their own shops, but the shops are not anymore just about the chef these days – it’s also about cutting edge sushi-serving technology. Japan is now home to thousands of “kaiten” (revolving) sushi restaurants who serve the traditional raw fish over rice balls that travel on highly accurate conveyor belts, bringing the correct sushi to the one who ordered it via touchscreen panels in no time at all.
Behind this seeming simple carousel operation is a rack of technology that you would not imagine you would see in a regular Japanese sushi restaurant. Believe it or not, there are robots in some of these sushi locations that roll out perfectly sized rice balls onto plates which in themselves are embedded with microchips. A computerized machine serves measured dollops of spicy wasabi paste squirted onto the rice before they’re topped with raw fish. And in the most technologically advanced sushi shops, the operations are monitored by monitoring centers that can tell whether the right balance of each type of dish is being produced – worlds away from traditional-style sushi places where the chef and his knife still reign.
“Sushi in our shops don’t go 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 the high-tech sushi market. “Though traditional, our sushi is stuffed with high technology. You can’t operate low-price revolving sushi restaurants without databases and scientific management,” he said matter-of-factly, being interviewed at a Tokyo outlet. Kura Corp. has invented a serving device called “sendo-kun” – roughly translated as “Mr. Fresh” — a plate with a transparent dome and a microchip embedded in it telling managers what kind of fish are going around on the conveyor belts at any point in time, and more importantly, how long they have been there.
This system combines real-time data with information about how many items were consumed in similar circumstances in the past, and this data is readily available to the kitchen staff. In addition to that, the Kura chain also has a remote assistance system serving its over 300 outlets. There are cameras that feed images to supervisors who are on the go and move from restaurant to restaurant with laptops. These managers advise restaurants instantly if there is enough food and the right mix of offerings on the conveyor belt. The industry is a growing one, with the market expected to hit US$5 billion in revenue this year, according to industry data. The food is cheaper than most, usually starting at around 100 yen (around US$1) for your initial serving of sushi. All the cutting edge technology costs money, but sales increasing – kaiten sushi restaurants have grown 20 percent over the past five years.
[via Channel News Asia]