Ladies and Gentlemen! We have safely arrived at Sushi Land, please claim your sushi baggage at the conveyor belt!
Talk of Japan conjures images of robots dancing in neon-lit streets, geisha admiring sakura in exquisite kimono, fight-offs between sumo and samurai.. and of course, conveyor belt sushi aka kaitenzushi 回転寿司! The term literally means “rotating”, as can be deduced from the meandering sushi snake that brings yummy plates of sushi back and forth. Act fast or you’ll miss it! Actually, fortunately, you do not have to be very decisive or have uber fast reflexes as most restaurants have an ordering system on a touch pad at the front of every table. Everything is automated to a T!
Usually the sushi are categorized by the color of the plate which corresponds to a price category. But we’d heard about Muten Kura Sushi 無添くら寿司 where all plates were 100 yen flat! 無添 means “no additives”; does that mean it’s organic? Well we had our doubts but nonetheless, excited and with growling tummies, we made our way to Tama Plaza, one of the 300+ outlets throughout Japan, to give it a shot.
There were rows of booths situated neatly along the belt, and each booth had a strange capsule vending machine looking thing in front of it. We took our seats and made some powdered green tea. Stir well as it tends to get goopy at the bottom! Eyeing the plates of escaping sushi with intense desire, we wasted no more time. But the first obstacle couldn’t have come any sooner. The plastic semispheres that covered that sushi plates were so hard to open! There must be a secret technique that we didn’t know about. Seems like we’re weren’t well above the “How to Eat Guide or tabekata setsumei 食べ方説明 near the entrance after all. We did find out how in the end; hold the plate with thumb and index fingers, and tilt upwards. Voila!
The variety was staggering. There were about 50 types of nigiri 握り・にぎりsushi, 20 types of gunkan 軍艦 sushi, 10 types of aburi 炙り sushi and 8 types of maki 巻き! For those are aren’t familiar with sushi terminology, nigiri sushi has raw fish, shrimp or other ingredients on top of the rice without any seaweed (nori 海苔), even though some sushi may have a thin strip of nori to hold it together. Gunkan means boat, and has seasoned toppings that are usually cooked or somehow prepared (instead of a whole slice of raw fish). It is wrapped around with nori creating a boat shape, hence the name. Aburi sushi is a relatively contemporary style where the fish, usually topped with mayonnaise or cheese, is blow torched. Maki means “roll”, and there are different types as well. Also on the menu are udon, ramen, curry rice, sides like fries or kara-age fried chicken, as well as dessert!
One of my favorite sides was chawanmushi 茶碗蒸し, or steamed egg custard with chunks of meat and gingko nuts. It’s so soft and silky and is like beancurd but bursting with flavor! The chawanmushi as well as all the other menu items may be ordered through the touch pad in front of the table; only 4 items may be ordered at one time as the orders aren’t brought over by the waiter but by an express conveyor belt! All the while, orders to other tables zoomed by. Our orders came within 5 minutes (how scarily quick) and came to a halt before us on a separate belt above the communal rotating one. We had to press a button at the side to stop the sounding alarm and to return the tray to the kitchen. Impressive! We did wonder if there was a time limit, and if the tray would return to the kitchen with our food if we weren’t fast enough.
After satisfying the first bout of gluttony, we turned our attention to the capsule toy machine that rested atop. So it turns out that it gets even more fun! For every 5 plates of sushi, we got a shot at winning one of the little capsules that holds a trinket. The prizes here were baseball button badges, and mobile accessories, though we heard that there were cuter prizes like miniature food figurine phone dingle dangles. Wouldn’t a teeny salmon nigiri look great on my phone?! We got to play 4 times and 3 of the 4 times there was a cartoon of the protagonist hero boy trying to catch a fish from the pond while the evil scientist stood watching, arms akimbo. The scene played out differently each time but we didn’t win anything! Sometimes the net broke, sometimes the evil guy jumps on the boy, etc. But it was plenty fun :) We were lucky that the table next to us left their prize on the machine though. Score!
After 20 plates of sushi, 2 chawanmushi, 2 mikan みかん (tangerine) juices, and 3 desserts, we were unabashedly stuffed to the brim, and the check only came up to slightly over 3000yen. If you’re looking for unassuming, non-fancy and quick fun sushi of average quality, this is the perfect place for you!