Sushi got popular by meeting people’s diversifying tastes

A short history of conveyor-belt sushi bars




"Genroku Sushi", the world's first conveyor-belt sushi bar, opened outside Fuse Station of Kintetsu Railway in Fuse (now Higashiosaka), Osaka Prefecture in 1958. Its owner was Yoshiaki Shiraishi, widely known as the inventor of a rotating sushi shop. Before World War II, he run a tempura restaurant in Manchuria (today’s Northeast China). He launched his “Genroku” stand-up sushi bar chain years after returning home after the war. He died in August 2001.



Higashiosaka used to be known as a town with many small factories. Shiraishi said he thought of changing the traditional sushi restaurant to the conveyor-belt type because he wanted younger people who had come over there in groups to get jobs could enjoy tasty sushi at lower prices.



It is generally said that rotating sushi bars had three separate booms over a period of some 50 years after Shiraishi opened his first shop. The first boom came in the pioneer days that lasted from the late 1970s to the early 1980s. A conveyor line equipped with an automatic tea-making machine, the prototype of the current rotary sushi conveyor, made its debut in 1974. Initially, the mainstay was small shops located on busy downtown streets and in front of railway stations. But they sprawled out into the suburbs in the late 1970s. Shops grew bigger in size. Their customer base also changed from students and salaried workers in early days to family members and women. It was in this period that children came to have a common awareness that "sushi comes around on a plate".



The second boom that began in the early 1990s was characterized by a combination of what was touted as “gourmet sushi” and shops adopting a flat-charge system. Many shops started serving bigger and upscale neta (sushi toppings), as typified by a full fillet of anago (conger eel), by way of dramatizing the pleasantness of rotating sushi. It was an era when shop owners put greater emphasis on qualitative improvement of sushi. At the same time, they promoted a "clearer pricing system” to add to the charm of rotating sushi. Some chain shops introduced a strategy featuring "all dishes available at uniform 120 yen". They won popularity by broadening choices for their customers.



In the third boom from the late 1990s to the present, rotating sushi bars keep sticking to the inherited trend of "differentiation" through promotion of high-end toppings at lower prices. Why have they become so much popular among the people? "Quick and cheap" does not seem to be the sole reason. One may say that largely responsible is their success in the management strategy to meet the diversifying tastes of consumers.

(Written by: Natsumi Sofue)