As a Japanese local living in Japan, I have always been asked if I eat sushi every day – and of course, together with that question is how cheap or expensive sushi is in Japan.
But as a local, I also frequently eat at $1 sushi spots (hint: at conveyor belt sushi spots!)
This guide covers Japan’s best conveyor belt sushi chain restaurants where you can eat delicious sushi for $1. These sushi chains are loved by local Japanese. Each section discusses the company’s annual sales and motto and includes my personal experience.
Note: At the time of publication, the Japanese yen is becoming quite weak compared to most major currencies like USD and EUR, so 1 sushi plate can cost less than $1 USD.
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What is Kaiten-Zushi?
Kaiten-zushi is the Japanese way of saying $1 sushi shops.
These restaurants deliver sushi to your table by a conveyor belt, which is why kaiten-zushi is also known as conveyor belt sushi.
This type of sushi dining stands out for its unique combination of fun, affordability, and variety. It’s a great way for family and friends to eat sushi on a budget.
How Does Kaiten-Zushi Work?
Upon entering a kaiten-zushi restaurant, you’ll be greeted by a “very Japanese” sight – a conveyor belt winding around the restaurant and carrying colorful plates of freshly prepared sushi.
When eating at a kaiten-zushi, you can simply pick your desired plates of sushi when they pass by.
Or, you can order from a tablet, which is described more in detail below.
Here are some things to know about kaiten-zushi:
Interactive Ordering By Tablet
While the conveyor belt offers a plethora of choices, if you’re craving something specific that is not on the belt, don’t worry!
Many kaiten-zushi restaurants are equipped with touch-screen ordering systems via a tablet.
Change the language settings to English, and then start browsing the digital menu and place your order.
You’ll only need to wait a few minutes for your sushi.
Watch as your sushi is delivered directly to your table via the conveyor belt or sometimes even on special express lanes or mini bullet trains (shinkansen).
Varieties of Sushi
Kaiten-zushi restaurants often boast an extensive menu, ranging from classic sushi staples like tuna and salmon to more adventurous options like sea urchin and eel.
In Japan, many establishments also offer seasonal specialties.
For example, when I visited Sushiro they had a seasonal specialty on uni (sea urchin). It’s my personal favorite! It was a great deal at 430 Japanese yen, which is extremely cheap compared to a usual sea urchin sushi.
Color-Coded Plate System
One of the most distinctive features of kaiten-zushi is its color-coded plate system. Each color corresponds to a specific price.
For instance, a blue plate might cost ¥100, while a gold plate could cost ¥500. Usually, a black plate is the most expensive one, but that depends on the shop.
Also, the system knows how many colored-plated items you’ve ordered.
At Sushiro, one of the most popular conveyor belt sushi places in Japan, the bill shows the number of plates by color and the total cost. The bill is available in both English and Japanese.
Another way to verify the number of plates you’ve ordered is by counting. I notice budget-conscious high-school students counting their plates once they’ve finished eating.
The Best Conveyor Belt Sushi Chains in Tokyo for Cheap Sushi at $1
In Tokyo, the sushi scene is vast and varied, yet kaiten-zushi/ conveyor belt sushi is still a popular choice. In fact, conveyor belt sushi shops are a billion-dollar business in Japan.
Here are the top 3 kaiten-zushi chains in Tokyo based on sales and my personal experiences.
Note: You can find these sushi chains in many cities across Japan.
1. Sushiro (スシロー) – My Personal Recommendation
2,179 billion yen (as of September 2022 – based on the company’s latest financial statement)
Sushiro is the largest conveyor belt sushi chain in Japan. Established in 1984 in Shizuoka Prefecture, it now boasts around 650 branches.
Known for offering delicious sushi at reasonable prices, Sushiro’s extensive menu includes not just sushi but also ramen, udon, and various fried dishes.
Why It’s Popular
Sushiro is lauded for its high-quality sushi toppings and overall balance in taste.
It’s my personal go-to sushi because of the accessibility of their shops from large crowded cities to smaller provinces.
The side menu and desserts are also comprehensive. Try the matcha parfait if you see it on the dessert menu.
They often have limited-time campaigns such as “Ootoro Festival,” or Fatty Tuna Festival. Ootoro is my favorite sushi as the fatty tuna melts in your mouth!
When I ate at Sushiro recently, they had a collaboration with an anime that made Japanese kids very happy.
Even as a local, I do not get tired of Sushiro’s menus as they frequently run popular campaigns and events, with content changing every few weeks to keep the dining experience fresh and exciting.
2. Kura Sushi (くら寿司)
Founded in 1977 in Sakai City, Osaka, Kura Sushi now operates around 570 branches.
They introduced the “Antibacterial Sushi Cover Freshness-kun” to protect sushi from dust and other dirt particles.
Why It’s Popular
Kura Sushi is known for its additive-free sushi, which is loved by Japanese parents.
Personally, although Sushiro is my go-to sushi place, I feel “healthier” when eating at Kura Sushi because of this feature.
The sushi comes with lids ensuring hygiene and freshness.
They also have an extensive side menu like ice creams and udon (Japanese noodles) that travelers to Japan would love.
They have a game called Bikkura Pon which is popular among Japanese children – even some of my cousins.
The more you eat, the more chances you have to win prizes.
Once you’ve finished eating, the plates can be placed in a slot at the table. This is to prevent clutter and also play games to earn prizes.
They also frequently collaborate with popular characters, making it a hit among kids here in Japan.
3. Hama Sushi (はま寿司)
Part of the Zensho Group, which also operates Sukiya, the beef bowl restaurant chain, Hama Sushi is known for its slightly cheaper price range compared to Sushiro and Kura Sushi.
Why It’s Popular
Hama Sushi is loved for its fresh fish and variety of soy sauces allowing customers to enjoy sushi in different flavors.
They offer five types of soy sauces, each brewed by the long-established soy sauce maker, Sanbishi.
These special sauces include special dashi soy sauce, Kanto-style thick soy sauce, Hokkaido kelp soy sauce, Kyushu-style sashimi soy sauce, and Shikoku-style yuzu ponzu.
They also have a unique drive-through service for takeout orders.
Additional Tips When Visiting $1 Sushi Shops
Best Time to Visit
If you want to avoid crowds, consider visiting sushi restaurants during off-peak hours, typically between 3:00pm to 5:00pm.
Note that when you come during lunchtime or dinner (6:00pm and onwards), the conveyor belt sushi restaurants tend to be very crowded.
Even in my parents’ neighborhood, we would sometimes wait for 30 minutes to 1 hour to get a seat during peak times.
When eating sushi, it’s customary to eat the sushi in one bite. If you’re using soy sauce, dip the fish side, not the rice side, to avoid soaking the rice.
The season-limited sushi is usually featured on the tablets.
Last Tip & Actually Trivia!
Did you know that wasabi, the green paste often served with sushi, is not just for spice?
In fact, in Japan, wasabi is seen also as a spice that has antibacterial properties and is traditionally used to prevent food poisoning.
One dollar sushi shops, or kaiten-zushi shops are must-visits when coming to Japan where you will experience both the traditional and contemporary Japanese dining culture.
Sushiro, Kura Sushi, and Hama Sushi are the top 3 most popular $1 sushi shops in Japan.
Not only do these conveyor belt sushi shops show innovation – seen in their interactive ordering systems and seasonal offerings – but they also provide an affordable yet authentic sushi experience.
Whether you’re a budget traveler looking for a bite, a curious local keen to explore the tastes of your homeland, or simply someone with an insatiable love for sushi, these conveyor belt sushi joints are a must-visit.
When you come to Japan, please remember to immerse yourself in the local etiquette, enjoy the diverse flavors each season brings, and never underestimate the power of wasabi.
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