Sun, Aug 18, 2013 - Page 14 News List

High-tech robots modernize sushi tradition in Japan

Equipped with microchipped plates and rice ball-rolling robots, revolving sushi eateries are revolutionizing the ancient culinary art

By Miwa Suzuki  /  AFP, TOKYO

At another outlet run by Genki Sushi’s “Uobei” brand in Tokyo’s fashionable Shibuya District, the concept of one conveyor belt has been updated. All 90 seats face counters with three decks of “high-speed” lanes delivering sushi directly to customers who ordered it using a multilingual touch screen.

Accuracy and speed is the name of the game, with the store targeting delivery in less than one minute.

“As we looked at how fast we can deliver what’s ordered, we came up with this system,” said Akira Koyanagi, district manager for Genki, adding that it also cuts down on wasted food.

All this high-end technology costs money, but sales at kaiten sushi restaurants have grown 20 percent over the past five years, with the industry expected to rake in nearly US$5 billion this year, according to research firm Fuji-Keizai Group.

However, a key challenge is that Japanese are eating less fish and more meat these days as world prices rise due to strong demand in the US and Europe.

“Procurement is getting tough,” a Genki Sushi spokesman said.

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