It’s hard to find a place that still puts all its sushi on the conveyer belt, but if you can, it’s worth going!

In by-gone days, revolving sushi restaurants in Japan used to always have different kind of sushi cruising around the restaurant on the conveyer belt so you could snatch them up as they came along. Sadly, fewer restaurants are doing that now, with many switching to almost exclusively using the belts to deliver orders, making it less “revolving sushi” and more “delivery sushi”. 

But though they are few and far between, there are still some places that are true revolving sushi restaurants. Our own Japanese-language reporter and foodie Mr. Sato recently found one at Kitte, a shopping and entertainment complex near Tokyo Station, and by dining there he rediscovered the joy and excitement of true conveyer belt sushi.

The Kitte Marunouchi branch of Nemuro Hanamaru may have been renovated last summer, but it still maintains its original conveyer-belt style. Nemuro Hanamaru is a Hokkaido-based chain that focuses on serving fresh fish at reasonable prices, so it’s a pretty popular place, and the Kitte Marunouchi branch always has a line out the door at lunch time (though that could also be because of its proximity to the busy Tokyo Station).

Mr. Sato thought he could game the system by arriving 30 minutes before the restaurant opened, but there were already 15 or 16 people lined up in front of the escalators to the Kitte’s restaurant floor, which hadn’t yet started running.

▼ The yellow arrow is pointing to the escalators.

At around 10:50, when the escalator began to move, Mr. Sato chanced a look behind him and saw that the line had extended by 20 or 30 people. Well, surely not all of them were waiting for Nemuro Hanamaru–another popular restaurant, the Zojirushi Restaurant, was also on the same floor and opened at the same time–but many of them likely were.

Luckily, Mr. Sato’s plan worked out as he managed to get a seat when Nemuro Hanamaru opened. And to his excitement, the sushi was, in fact, revolving!

Look at ’em go!

Go, sushi, go!

Mr. Sato was instantly reminded of the first time he went to a revolving sushi restaurant, probably when he was in early elementary school. They’d just built the restaurant along the highway near his neighborhood, and the idea of sushi rotating on a conveyer belt was so novel it had attracted the attention of everyone. Mr. Sato remembers thinking it was fun, like an amusement park.

Now, returning to a true revolving sushi restaurant many years later gave him that same fresh feeling. It was so different from the restaurants who only put menu cards on the belt. The sushi really was revolving!

A glance at the menu–stationary, on the wall–revealed that most of the sushi varieties were between 150 to 260 yen (US$1.01 to $1.75), but they also had daily seasonal offerings. You could order things with a paper form on the table, but Mr. Sato had a goal: he would only eat things that rolled by on the belt.

He started with a plate of Raw Salmon (396 yen), which threatened to pass by before he could snatch it up. He’d almost forgotten how to actually do rotating sushi; it was like trying to get on the ski lift when you hadn’t been skiing in a while. It was essential to watch the lanes to not miss a plate.

Perhaps because the restaurant had just opened, the sushi chefs were working hard to put plate after plate on the belt. From his seat at the bar, Mr. Sato could watch them work–and also snatch up dishes. He managed to snag Cold-season Yellowtail (528 yen) and Mature Flounder with Kelp (528 yen).

It was kind of fun, choosing sushi that was cruising by right in front of him. There’s a certain urgency to it, like “Get it! Get it!” Even though Mr. Sato has been to a Nemuro Hanamaru branch before, the last time was about 10 years ago, so the experience still felt fresh.

Now then, Mr. Sato was faced with a challenge. He didn’t want to eat only sushi he was familiar with; he wanted luxury fish and other unusual flavors too. They wouldn’t be coming around that often, so Mr. Sato watched the belt closely to make sure he didn’t miss anything good. He let nattomaki, kanpyomaki (rolled sushi with natto or dried gourd inside, respectively), marinated deep fried chicken, potato balls, and salmon pass by.

“Hmmm…Nothing I want is coming by…” he thought. But then he remembered: this is what revolving sushi is all about. Meeting the perfect sushi to suit your cravings, the one you want–it’s an encounter based on chance. Patience is the key.

Just then, something interesting appeared: Soy Pickled Salted Salmon Roe, for 528 yen!

The feeling of spotting it and grabbing it for himself was unlike anything else. Certainly you couldn’t get the same feeling by ordering it on a tablet!

Unfortunately, that was Mr. Sato’s only stroke of luck; after that, he saw no extra-unique sushi pass by, and in the end decided to finish his meal with squid and garlic chive (165 yen). He hadn’t seen it pass by before, so he decided it might be good to try.

Though he didn’t see anything too crazy on the conveyer belt, Mr. Sato was nonetheless delighted with his first true revolving sushi restaurant experience in many years, and was glad to relearn the joy of such a restaurant. He can’t wait for the day when all of the revolving sushi restaurants return to this cherished format.

Restaurant information:
 Nemuro Hanamaru Kitte Marunouchi Branch / 根室花まる(Kitte丸の内店)
Address: Tokyo-to Chiyoda-ku Marunouchi 2-7-2 JP Tower 5F
東京都千代田区丸の内2丁目7番2号 JPタワー5F
Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

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