Sushi got popular by meeting people’s diversifying tastes

英文和文

“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)

昭和33年(1958年)、大阪府布施市(現・東大阪市)の近鉄布施駅前に「元禄寿司」という、日本いや世界初めての回転寿司店がオープンした。開店したのは、回転寿司の発案者として知られた白石義明氏(2001年8月没)。白井氏は戦前、旧満州(中国東北部)で天ぷら割烹店を経営、戦後日本に帰国し、立ち食い寿司屋「元禄」の経営を始めた。

回転寿司店に衣替えしたのは、町工場が多い東大阪市に地方から集団就職でやってきた若者たちに、安くておいしい寿司を食べてもらいたいと思ったからだという。

この「元禄寿司」開店から50年ほどの間に、回転寿司には3回のブームがあったといわれている。第1次ブームは70年代後半から80年代初めにかけての草創期。74年に現在の回転寿司コンベアの原型ともいわれる、自動給茶機付きのコンベアラインが登場した。出店形態も当初は繁華街や駅前の小型店が主力だったが、70年代末から郊外へと拡大、店の規模も大型化した。客層も初期の学生、サラリーマンから、家族客や女性客も取り込んでいった。子供の間に「寿司はお皿に載って回るもの」といった認識が広がった時代だ。

90年代初めからの第2次ブームの特徴としては、グルメ寿司と均一料金制の店の並立が挙げられる。そして回転寿司の楽しさを演出する手法として、「アナゴの一本付け」に代表される「デカネタ化」や「ネタのグルメ化」が進み、品質面でも向上を見せた時代だ。また、回転寿司の魅力である「価格の明朗化」をさらに推し進め、「全皿120円均一」といった販売戦略をとるチェーン店も登場。消費者の選択肢を広げ、人気となった。

90年代末から現在までの第3次ブームでは、高級化とさらなる低価格化といった「差別化」の流れが受け継がれている。回転寿司がなぜ、ここまで大衆の間に浸透していったのか。「安くて早い」だけでなく、消費者の多様なニーズに応えてきた経営戦略の勝利といえる。

(祖父江なつみ)

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