It should come as no surprise that we consumed our fair share of sushi during our month in Japan, and it was consistently excellent. We mostly ate in the homes of our hosts, which was my preference, but we did go out a few times. I noticed a couple of changes and innovations in sushi restaurants compared to my last visit 19 years ago.
Last time I was in Japan, I remember getting sushi delivered to the door quite the way we get pizza delivered here in the U.S. The sushi was fresh and served in beautiful lacquered serving dishes. I didn’t see any of that this time, and when I asked, my hosts told me that kind of sushi delivery is not as popular anymore.
We went to two conveyor-belt sushi bars and there were several cool elements I hadn’t seen in such establishments before.
First, at the entrance was a little touch-screen kiosk where you could enter the number of people in your party. The machine would give you a number and you waited your turn. As soon as our table was ready, a hostess showed us to ours. I may have seen this computerized waiting list kiosk in other restaurants, but my memory is not clear on that.
Next, each table had an instant-hot water dispenser. There was no need for a waiter or waitress to refill your teapot. On the other hand, whoever sat nearest the instant-hot was pressed into tea service duty for the entire table for the duration of the meal.
The really cool thing, though, was the special-delivery conveyor. Instead of waiting, watching, then finally grabbing a plate off the moving conveyor, you could place a specific order for a plate of sushi, and within a minute or two it was made fresh and delivered via a special automatic car to your table. You would hear a beeping sound, and you’d look up and there was your order. You’d remove the plate(s) from the car, press the button, and the car would zoom along its track back into the kitchen ready to receive its next order.
One sushi restaurant we went to in Nagoya had an additional cool feature. At the end of the table was a slot to insert your finished plates. It would count the plates and after seven had been returned, a little animated cartoon would play on the touch screen, usually involving a ninja or superhero trying to battle bad guys. Most of the time, he was defeated. Once in a while, though, he would win, and a little prize ball would roll out of the machine. The ball would open up to reveal simple prizes (stickers, temporary tattoos, etc.), but it was entertaining to watch the short little animations and root for the hero. At the end of the meal, all our plates had been counted, so our check was generated very fast.
Although our hosts never allowed us to pay for anything, I did spy the bill for our sushi dinner. I expected it to be very expensive, but in fact it was rather close to what we might pay in the U.S.