How (not) to eat at sushi conveyor belts

Kappasushi, Kurasushi, Hamasushi, the chain stores across Japan that provide the conveyor belt (kaiten) sushi experience will outrank the sushi stores in your home country by a hundred million miles. True sushi aficionados will turn their noses up at these ‘fast-food’ sushi restaurants, but for most gaijin, and most Japanese, they offer a cheap and accessible way to get your hands on the fish-and-rice goodness without being judged. Here’s how to do it.

Getting a table

What you should do: When the server asks you “table, or counter?” Reply “counter” because they are clearly busy today and you are alone.

What you actually do: Get a table for one, even if you have to wait 15 minutes for it, because you are way too awkward to be banging elbows at the counter with the salarymen.

Take your seat at the table and familiarize yourself with the touch panel menu. Your order will slide out in a few minutes on a cute little train. Or you can just help yourself to things that are going around on the lower belt.

Choosing your sushi

What you should do: Choose from the specials, because that’s the freshest, most in-season fish available.

What you actually do: Play safe. You aren’t here to fight to chew and swallow squid and octopus. Your upbringing has given you a healthy fear of the stomach-turning delights of raw oysters and scallops. You know salmon. You are comfortable with tuna. Are the shrimp boiled? They are your friends. And that is what the kaiten sushi experience is truly about, giving you the confidence to say, yes, I like sushi, without actually having to eat any scary stuff.

Types of sushi

Nigiri – This is your classic rice-on-the-bottom, fish-on-the-top image of sushi. The vinegared sushi rice is known as shari. Good choices: anything with salmon, shrimp with avocado and the various types of tuna, eel with sweet sauce, Super safe: egg, and anything aburi – grilled, also ham or cooked beef toppings. Brave choices: Pickled horse mackerel, scallops.

Squid and okra gunkan – definitely brave

Gunkan – AKA battleships, these have a wall of nori seaweed around them to stop delicate small things from falling off the top. For some reason the people of Nagano prefecture are obsessed with ‘salada’; mixed seafood in mayonnaise. I have seen people fill an entire 40 piece takeout tray with just these and I am happy for them. Good choices: Tuna mayonnaise, ‘Salada’. Super safe: Corn. Brave choices: Fish roe, brown crab meat.

Maki – These are your rolled sushi. Hosomaki are thin ones with one filling, futomaki are thick ones with lots happening. Good choice: California rolls. Super safe: cucumber rolls. Brave choice: natto

Sides and extras – There are lots to please picky palates here, from French fries to fresh fruit and fancy desserts. I usually get a miso soup because vegetables.

Soy sauce

What you should do: It is perfectly acceptable to use your fingers to pick up the sushi. Turn over nigiri sushi and dip it fish-side down into the sauce. Use a piece of pickled ginger to dip into the soy, and dab it gently onto gunkan and rolls.

What you actually do: Dunk the sushi rice-first into the soy, so the liquid dissolves the bonds between the grains and the shari falls apart, becoming impossible to pick up with your chopsticks. Whatever fish you are eating, it now just all tastes like soy sauce.


What you should do: Put a very tiny smear of wasabi on each piece before dipping it in soy sauce.

What you actually do: Make a paste of wasabi and soy sauce so thick, each bite leaves your eyes watering with spasms of pain in your nose. You have never felt so alive.

Pickled ginger (gari)

What you should do: Eat a small piece of ginger after eating oily or strongly flavoured fish, to reset your palate.

What you actually do: Make a big pile of ginger on a plate and eat it like salad. That stuff is delicious, and there aren’t many vegetables around here.

Time to get the bill

Push the button on your touch panel to get the check and your server will glide over and swiftly count up the number of plates you ate. You will be surprised at how a Japanese 5 year-old can eat seemingly eat as much as you, and an adult can rack up a pile that would make a sumo blush. But here, in kaiten sushi, we are all safe from judgement.

Kappasushi in Iiyama City is a 20 minute drive from Hunters Gate Lodge. Reservations not required.