Kaiten Sushi Plate Stacking at Genki and Kura

One of my favorite Android games was Kairosoft’s Sushi Spinnery, where the player builds and manages his own kaitenzushi (also known as conveyor belt o  r sushi train restaurants). Actually dining in one wasn’t on the top of my Tokyo food pyramid, because I wanted to eat at more “quality” sushi joints. My only other serious sushi exploit was at Sushi Bun in Tsukiji for a sort-of omakase experience. That said, I could honestly say that it was much more enjoyable eating at the two kaiten restaurants I tried. The quality may not have been as good, but the price was unbeatable, and the fun factor was also much higher.

The first sushi train restaurant we tried was Genki Sushi, which now has a couple of branches in the Philippines as well. We visited their Shibuya branch for a Sunday lunch. There was a wait of around ten or fifteen minutes outside, nothing unmanageable. We then had ninety minutes to enjoy our sushi. We didn’t take up that much time and didn’t eat all that much since we had a full day of eating ahead (as was the case throughout our trip).

My first order was a trio of cheese aburi (torched) sushi – salmon, tuna and shrimp, which I shared with my wife, and a single uni nigiri. I highly recommend getting the aburi sushi at any kaitenzushi place. The torching – and cheese, if included – definitely masks the less than spectacular quality that some of the seafood may have. After all, you’re only paying a hundred or two yen for most of these plates, so you can’t really expect prime-grade sushi. Case in point, the uni above which fell apart even before being touched. It’s still a lot better and cheaper than what you would get at most Pinoy Japanese restaurants, though.

I also picked this double order of anago (saltwater eel).  I had no idea how to eat this. I ended up cutting the eel with my chopsticks on either hand and slicing across while looking over my shoulder and hoping that no one would be looking and judging me.

Genki has bar seating only. As with most modern kaiten restaurants, you place your order on the tablet/screen in front of your seat. This way, you can be sure that your sushi is freshly made, instead of risking the chance that the food you pick has been laying on a conveyor belt for hours. The screen will then alert you when your sushi is coming, and whether it will arrive on the top of bottom belt. When the food arrives, pick up your plate, and confirm receipt thereof on the screen.

Like so. As seen in the video above, another set of my orders consisted of:

Baby shrimp on shiso. Another impossible-to-eat order of two nigirizushi. The shrimp are all stuck together and piled on top of two nigiri rice rolls/balls, each topped with a sesame leaf. They cannot be separated easily at all.

The checkered plates are for the high rollers and can cost around 300-something yen. This was toro (fatty tuna belly), though. Nothing like what I had in Tsukiji, but at literally a tenth of the price, this was unbelievably cheap, and still deliciously fatty.

A sad ikura (salmon roe) nigiri which has lost all structural integrity, and all other sorts of integrity as well.

My plates and my finger, along with those of my wife and daughter. Genki also has free matcha that you mix yourself. Note the faucet above which dispenses hot water for mixing with the green tea powder. They also have draft beer that you order through the screen and is served by a waitress.

I decided to get one last plate…

Smoked and torched duck with cheese, since my wife doesn’t eat this sort of foul and I was not likely to try it in any other form on the rest of our trip.

Our last dinner in Tokyo was at a kaitenzushi restaurant as well. This time, we were brought to Kura Sushi by my wife’s aunt and Japanese uncle. You have to phone ahead for a reservation, and even then, that’s just for an approximate time of entry. If you’re wondering why this sushi restaurant is so popular, it may be because their plates are only 100 Yen a pop. They also had booths for four or so persons, perfect for families or ravenous barkada eating challenges. They had sanma sushi, both cooked and raw, which understandably tasted much more fishy than what I had at Isomaru Suisan. Good enough, and pretty much the same as what we’d get in a hotel sushi bar or Japanese restaurant here.

Another impossible to eat nigiri, with shrimp and grated radish. They do seem to use more rice at Kura. Ordering is also done via tablet, and individual orders are served on the top conveyor belt. The lower conveyor belt has an endless stream of pre-pressed and rolled sushi. One can also order beer, sake and other drinks through the screen and pick them up at a refrigerator near the entrance. You can also make your own matcha, but with a slightly more confusing faucet than they had at Genki.

They also are much more generous with their cheese, and they make the wise decision of serving their uni in gunkan (gunboat) form, rather than as nigiri.

I loved this udon soup with fried tofu skin that we ordered for my 1.7 year old daughter. I was tempted to have a bowl of this at the airport before leaving the next day, but decided against it. They also have gyudon, if you get sick of sushi, cooked to order at around 300 yen.

Finally, I was also able to try shirako (cod sperm sacs), prepared as gunkan with some sort of jelly on top. I was looking for this in Tsukiji, but I didn’t know where to look. The restaurants I saw in the outer market would only serve this as part of an entire donburi. It definitely takes the cake (kkake?) as the weirdest thing I ate in Japan, only because I could not get my hands on whale, horse or turtle (sorry, PETA). It was interesting, although not as off-putting as may be expected. I wouldn’t say no if offered this again, and would eat it as part of a moriawase or in a kaiten, but I wouldn’t actively seek it out, either. Unless of course, I could get a willing victim someone to split an order with me. Hee-hee.

One of the other come-ons of Kura Sushi is that you get a chance to win a capsule toy everytime you return five empty plates. A video will randomly play on your screen to determine whether you win. The toys are simple, and you don’t win very often, but it’s still fun. Our judoka was only able to ippon that alligator dude once. The rest of the time, we were conquered by aliens (or was it Godzilla), or as seen above, thrown flat on our asses. But such is life. At any rate, you will definitely still be a winner when you receive the bill.

Upon comparing the two, I would definitely rank Kura over Genki. If you can handle the longer waiting time, you’ll get a more enjoyable and comfortable experience for a little bit less. You can’t go wrong either way, and the truth is likely the same at any kaiten restaurant in Japan. Just manage your expectations and don’t be afraid to keep ordering until you reach the point of satiety, or perhaps a little past it. Don’t bother counting plates until you’re done. Unless of course, you’re at Kura, and you have to eat a little more to be able to get a multiple of five and maybe, finally, knock that cheesy top hat off that darn alligator guy’s head.

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