Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


(With apologies to Phil Collins and everyone else...)

February 14th was anything but an ordinary Saturday, and not only because it was Valentine's Day. The string orchestra from Ye Olde Academy had its last "away concert" of the current, very active school year, performing two sets at the Cheerio Shopping Mall in downtown Kashima. Although Mssr. Maestro Ogawa conducted the performance, I went along as well, partly because I was driving a school van and partly because I was part of the performance. I played Benny Goodman's "Let's Dance" and the Glenn Miller favorite "Moonlight Serenade" on clarinet with the orchestra backing, and I played "My Funny Valentine" on alto saxophone with only piano accompaniment.

The last number was the most fun. I was really able to open up and fill that high-ceilinged central plaza with sound...with plenty of all-natural (and NOT gated) reverb.

Anyway, once both sets were done and all the final hauling and handling complete, I loaded up in my BLUE RAV4 for the trip home and immediately got a call on my cell phone. My daughter reported that Mrs. Minstrel was busy and going to be late for dinner. That in itself was cringe-worthy news, because it meant I had to try to feed my father-in-law. You'd think that would be ridiculously simple, since he insists we have the same damned thing every [expletive] breakfast and dinner. The problem is that he is also so [expletive] picky, i.e. everything has to be prepared a certain way or we have to sit and listen to him complain for half an hour (if he doesn't give up and eat something else). It turned out that he had already made things a whole lot easier; he was in a celebratory mood for some reason and wanted us to go out for kaiten sushi. Specifically, he wanted to go to a shop called Sushiro (and I'm not talking about the famous shop of the same name in Saskatoon).

Kaiten (回転 literally "moving in a circle" or "revolving") sushi is an interesting Japanese phenomenon. It is a type of restaurant in which chefs place plates with various types of sushi on a circular conveyor belt. The customers simply take what they want as it comes by. Customers also have the option of ordering specific dishes if they like. Payment is determined by the number and color of the plates. It's quick, it's convenient, and it's an excellent way to deal with a high-volume clientele.

Sushiro, however, has taken the concept to a whole new level. It is a chain originating in Osaka, and its claim to fame is that it offers a high-quality product at an amazingly low price. Moreover, since it charges the same price per plate regardless of the type of sushi, it is even quicker and easier (and cheaper) than your ordinary kaiten sushi restaurant. Not surprisingly, it has been VERY successful. I had only been to the nearest Sushiro restaurant once before, with Mssr. Maestro Ogawa (who has an uncanny knack for tracking down things that are cheap yet excellent), and it was rather busy even though it was between the lunch and dinner rushes. On every other occasion when I'd tried to go there the waiting area was so jam-packed that I'd given up. Needless to say, since it was 7:30 p.m. on a Saturday, I wasn't feeling very optimistic, but we decided to go for it anyway.

It turned out that it wasn't so bad. We only had a fifteen-minute wait. That still gave me plenty of time to watch and marvel at the action before we got our table. Check-in is all computerized (as is their entire inventory management); you tap a touch-screen, enter your number and preferences, and get a numbered ticket. You get called as soon as a table is ready. A team of hardened staff hustle about at a frantic pace, cleaning and prepping tables, ushering people in, tallying bills, and ringing up payment, all with smiles on their faces. Meanwhile, in the back, a sizable kitchen squad keeps three conveyor belts constantly stocked with an amazing variety of sushi and other things. And if the mobile smorgasbord somehow isn't enough, one can call in an order using a computerized network, and the specified dish arrives labeled on the conveyor belt.

(This is an off-the-shelf YouTube video of a Sushiro restaurant, not my own. The 白色 (white) label is the color code for the table, so that specially-ordered items on the conveyor belt can be identified.)

My father-in-law was amazed. He has long been a fan of kaiten sushi (on those occasions when he's willing to pay for it), but he had never seen anything like Sushiro. The sheer scale of the place in terms of customer volume and size of the operation were unlike anything he'd ever experienced. Add to that the fact that such a wonderful and varied menu was available at a price that was almost unthinkably low, and you have something that to him seemed almost like an extra layer of heaven. He repeatedly wondered aloud how they were ever able to make enough profit to stay in business, but then we answered the question quite clearly ourselves. When we finally declared ourselves finished (among groans and belches), and I pushed the "check, please" button, we all had mountains of empty plates in front of us. We'd probably eaten more than we ever had at any other kaiten sushi place. Needless to say, the bill was NOT low. It didn't matter, though. We were all satisfied. And as for my father-in-law, he was happier than I'd seen him in ages.

I guess it was a worthwhile Valentine's Day for a change. Besides, this year I actually got chocolate from some of the girls in the string orchestra. :-)


  • Why is you FIL fussy about food? Any chance that's because he miss his wife's cooking?

    I love sushi... and I like kaiten sushi. Here in Jakarta, we used to have it, the place called "Takae sushi" but I'm not so sure why they have closed it.

    Eh.. btw, how come I've never seen you around in my food blog, thought that you love seeing my food pics ;)

    By Blogger Selba, at 12:56 PM  

  • Selba
    He's fussy about his food because he's basically a chronic control freak. Everything has to be done one particular way, HIS way, even if it doesn't really involve him.

    When he first started eating with us because my MIL got to be too sick, he told us, "You don't have to make any special allowances for me. Just have what you always have, and I'll happily eat it, too." But when we actually called him on that once by having Neapolitan-style spaghetti, he took one look at it, wrinkled his nose, and said, "What's that? I don't think I want that!" He took one bite, handed his plate to my wife, and said. "No. Go get me rice and fish!" We then spent the entire rest of the meal listening to him bitch about us eating "stuff that's bad for you". Ever since then, my wife has never prepared anything but rice and fish (or slight variations thereof) whenever he's eaten with us, which has been almost every breakfast and dinner.

    As much as I like Japanese food, particularly my wife's cooking, it does get old. Especially since, for at least the past thirteen years, we always alternated between Japanese and Western-style cooking. Now it's just rice and fish, rice and fish, rice and fish...

    On the other hand, about half the time my FIL shows up with dishes of his own (with no advance warning, of course) and eats them instead of what my wife has prepared. Sometimes he even brings enough for all of us (again, with no advance warning) and says, "Okay, everyone, here's tonight's dinner. You don't need all that other stuff. Just get rid of it," i.e. my wife's cooking winds up being all a waste of time and money.

    In other words, the guy is basically a jerk. End of discussion.

    I completely forgot about your food blog. I wondered where you were hiding recently!

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 4:01 PM  

  • Ouch... so sorry to hear the reality about how your FIL fussiness.

    One thing for sure, he is already an old man and I don't think that he is going to change his behaviour which means that you have to face it for some time.

    Look at the positive side, your wife doesn't need to be bothered or think anymore what to serve on his plate since most of the time, he is happy with his rice and fish :)

    By Blogger Selba, at 4:33 PM  

  • That's good. At least there is something you know for sure will make your FIL happy.

    By Blogger HappySurfer, at 8:00 PM  

  • I wanna go there! *jumps up and down*

    I like the flat rate per plate. There is a similar place in London called Yo! Sushi. It's not that great, but the round conveyer belt with the sushi chefs trapped in the middle is pretty cool. There too is a button to call the staff. If you special order anything they give it directly to you though, passing it over the belt. At some of them there is a robot who goes around spouting cute sounds. At your station at the bar, there is a pot of wasabi, a pot of soy sauce, another of ginger. A water spout and glass, and a supply of chopsticks, napkins....think that's it.

    Mmmmmm, I bought some fairly good sushi at a really neat little Japanese hole in the wall at, believe it or not, Penn Station in NYC. I had bought some daifuku there the last time I travelled. This time after I watched an actual Japanese man make purchases there, I decided to try their salmon skin nigiri which I ate in the waiting lounge. It was good, as was the lovely soft as baby's skin mochi, which I kept to eat on the train.

    By Blogger Olivia, at 1:02 AM  

  • Maybe something typically small like sushi can be served by conveyor. But what will be next? Robots that scoop up the food, open your mouth, and chew for you?


    spleryo - a yoyo that eats too much

    By Anonymous Dave, at 9:10 AM  

  • Where is this place? Inquiring stomachs want to know.

    When I was a kid (Pliocene era) there was restaurant in the San Fernando Valley that had a toy train which brought the food (burgers) to the customers. Only ate there once - my parents didn't like it I guess. Looks like there is a similar one in Kashima, but I've never tried it as I'm not so fascinated by toy trains anymore.

    I have an idea for a new sushi restaurant called "Catapult Sushi" which combines dining with a kind of game....

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 7:31 PM  

  • correction - that should be Pliocene epoch, not era.

    word verification: lingba - a reactionary radio personality in China.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 7:34 PM  

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