As parts of Japan endure a prolonged state of emergency to battle the latest coronavirus surge, one restaurant chain came up with a way to replicate the sushi bar experience at home: Renting out conveyor belts.
Kappa Sushi, which operates more than 300 sushi bars across Japan, is offering takeout customers a mini version of the conveyor belts that run through their restaurants and ferry little plates of nigiri and rolls to diners at their tables. For an additional 3,300 yen, or about $30, customers can pick up a 49-inch oval belt, about the size of a toy train set, that sits atop a table and moves the takeout dishes around and around.
Momoko Okamura, a spokeswoman for the Kappa chain, said the company came up with the idea in 2019, before the pandemic. But with Tokyo, Osaka and several other cities under a state of emergency that curtails restaurants’ operating hours, Kappa unveiled the rental service last month at five of its locations. About 75 customers have signed up so far, Ms. Okamura said.
“Most customers are families with small children, who feel reluctant to eat out and feel safer eating at home,” she said. “They want to have a bit of fun at home, or when they have some events at kindergartens or school. We also target corporate customers but the service is popular among families.”
With a minimum order of about $27, and an $18 deposit, a Kappa customer can pay to rent the conveyor belt along with the meal. Last month, Reiranran, a Japanese internet personality with 154,000 YouTube subscribers, posted a video showing her opening a long black case about the size of a massage table inside her Osaka apartment.
She placed the conveyor belt on her coffee table, plugged it in and arranged her order on the belt: plates of shrimp nigiri, tuna, egg and an assortment of other sliced fish. With the flick of a switch, the belt whirred to life. Sipping a beer, she began picking from the moving dishes.
“It’s been so long to see sushi revolving and have a drink,” she said.
With restaurants barred from staying open late or serving alcohol under emergency measures imposed across parts of the country in April, sushi delivery places and fast-food joints, including McDonald’s and KFC, are among the few dining businesses that are surviving during the pandemic in Japan. Some sushi restaurants have introduced refrigerated lockers to allow contact-free pickup; others offer kits for families to assemble their meals at home, complete with paper sushi chef hats for children.
Some Japanese have tried to replicate the experience of kaitenzushi — the affordable, family-friendly conveyor-belt sushi introduced in Osaka in 1958 — by modifying toy train sets to carry sushi trays, and posting videos on YouTube. A popular toy company, Takara Tomy, is planning to release a new train set next month that is designed to carry sushi trays.