The Third Wave of Sushi : Sushi Workshop

The Third Wave of Sushi : Sushi Workshop

Enjoying high-end sushi by reasonable price at sushi workshop




  • How sushi is being consumed in Japan : brief introduction to the sushi market
  • Comparing 2 kinds of major market
  • 2 major criteria that determine the value of sushi
    The quality of ingredients : the freshness and the seasonality
    The accessibility to the sushi chef : physical and mental accessibility
  • A new suggestion for those who want to try ‘best sushi’ in the home of sushi : enjoying sushi at sushi workshop

How sushi is being consumed in Japan : brief introduction to the sushi market

In Japan, sushi is the one of the representative Japanese food that has a long history, still being loved today by most of Japanese except for a little who are allergic to raw fish.

According to the research conducted by `the Association of Japanese Food Service, the amount of expenses that Japanese people had spent for eating out in 2015 was about 25 trillion yen(about 240 billion USD).

Among this number, the amount of expenses for eating sushi out occupied the percentage of 5.6% approximately, 1.4 trillion yen(about 13 billion USD), higher number than the size of coffee house(about 1.1 trillion yen) and tavern/pub(about 1 trillion yen) market in Japan.

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about 14 billion USDabout 11 billion USD

about 10 billion USD

The size of sushi market is larger than that of cafe and bar/pub market in Japan

Comparing 2 kinds of major market

By the way, there are 2 kinds of sushi restaurant form : rotating sushi and non-rotating sushi. In rotating sushi (or kaiten sushi) restaurant, sushi are served by a rotating conveyor belt. Customers are supposed to pick up the plate with sushi on passing by them. The final bill is based on the number and type of plates of the consumed sushi. Simple, quick, and cheap.

On the other hands, in non-rotating sushi restaurant, there is no conveyor belt rotating literally, bar-style, so customers normally use counter seats. Sushi are served by sushi chef in person across the counter. Customers can make an order what they want to eat, but basically combination of set menu is offered at a fixed price. Seasonal, traditional, and fresh.

Basically, the main sales strategy or the main merit of kaiten sushi restaurant is the cheap price, while non-rotating sushi bars are putting their strength on the quality of sushi. And of course, sushi is a food, so I can say that its price determines every value of it like other products or services. So now, I would like to introduce you 2 extremely different sushi restaurants based on customer price -the cheapest one from kaiten sushi restaurant, and the most expensive one from non-rotating sushi bar(high-end sushi bar)- so that you can easily understand and imagine the variety of sushi culture in Japan.

And then, I would like to suggest totally new way of enjoying sushi in Japan. This will help you make a choice where to go when you want to have some sushi in Japan.

As already mentioned, sushi market in Japan is recording about 1.4 trillion yen(about 13 billion USD) in sales. In terms of the amount of sales, kaiten sushi restaurants are sharing about 43% of the market scale, and non-rotating sushi bars are sharing the rest, 57% of it. So the popularity of both kaiten sushi restaurant and non-rotating sushi bar are pretty much balanced.

The entire image of sushi market in Japan

First, it is hard to miss the presence of restaurants of 100 yen conveyor belt sushi, or 100 yen kaiten sushi where every single plate of sushi is sold by 100 yen(about 1 USD). This is remarkable business in terms of market shares, the speed of development, the originality, and the popularity.

Second, there is one more remarkable form of sushi shop, the high-end sushi bar. This is also the one of most remarkable and original culture of Japan, not just sushi as food, but also the interior, mood, and service as Japanese tradition. In most of high-end sushi bar, there are only 10 chairs more or less and the seats are not available without reservation. Only 1 kind of menu, omakase(chef’s selection) is available with the budget normally ranged from 200 USD to 300 USD per 1 customer.

From 100 yen kaiten sushi restaurant such as 5 major 100 yen kaiten sushi restaurant brand that have nearly 2000 shops nationwide in Japan : Sushiro, Kura sushi, Hama sushi, Kappa sushi, and Genki sushi, to the most expensive non-rotating sushi bar such as ‘Sukiyabashi Jiro’, ‘Ginza Kyubei’, ‘Sushi Yoshitake’ located in Ginza, Tokyo, there is very wide variety and spectrum on the way and the quality of eating sushi. Incidentally, in 100 yen kaiten sushi restaurant, 2 sushi pieces are placed on 1 dish, and in ‘Sukiyabashi Jiro’ which is famous for having been winning the 3 stars on <MichelinGuide Tokyo> for few years, and also known as the restaurant that Barack Obama, the president of the U.S. and Shinzo Abe, the prime minister of Japan had a dinner in the November of 2014 serves 18~20 sushi pieces for $300(it normally takes 20 minutes for eating everything!). So, there is a maximum price gap of 30 times per 1 piece of sushi.

2 major criteria that determine the value of sushi

Now we want to know why there is a wide gap between the cheap one and the expensive one. What makes the expensive one so expensive? Perhaps these criteria can be adopted to every food, not only sushi, but here are 2 different criteria : the quality of ingredients and the physical & mental accessibility on product or service.

The quality of ingredients : the freshness & seasonality

The accessibility : physical(watching chef’s performance) & mental (having a communication with chef)


First, the quality of sushi is defined by 2 subordinate matters : the freshness and the seasonality of ingredients.

The freshness
The head offices of 5 major 100 yen kaiten sushi purchase the ingredients(fish, rice, wasabi, vinegar…) in very large quantities so that they can purchase the ingredients by cheap price as much as possible. After purchasing the raw materials, they send them to manufacturing factory, then the processed ingredients are distributed to every single franchise restaurants in proper amount.

In this long process, fish ingredients are inevitably frozen to keep themselves from going bad, and need to be melted again(Actually tuna is too cold to enjoy the flesh of it). In this chain of flow, the flesh of fish is damaged and as a result, the freshness obviously go down. Furthermore, their freshness keep going down in moving on the conveyor belt, until they are sold to customers and consumed. Even though every 100 yen kaiten sushi company put a lot of energy and resources to keep the freshness, there is a physical limit of keeping those ingredients fresh.

How about expensive non-rotating high-end sushi? First of all, every non-rotating sushi bar located in Tokyo has their own supplier, the wholesaler in Tsukiji fish market, the world largest fish market where their owners go to buy high quality fishes every morning. Actually, these ‘good wholesalers’ are waiting for the owners of high quality restaurants with the high quality fishes they choose or win at auction held in every morning. They are basically doing a business of course, but also standing on the name of trust with bar owners for decades. So the ingredients of sushi are being supplied on daily base, and this means every piece of sushi the customers enjoy is carried on that day and not ever frozen(sushi is supposed to be eaten at normal temperature for the best taste).

Auction for tuna is being taken place at Tsukiji Fish Market, the world larget fish market

In addition, in high-end sushi bar, everything such as sushi, service, interior is full of owner(sushi chef, or sushi master)’s commitment. Sushi itself consist of 6 main factors-the flesh of fish, vinegared rice, wasabi, soy sauce, the technique of nigiri, and temperature-and a commitment(also called ‘kodawari’ in Japanese) of chef who have been treating sushi from at least 10 years up to 60 years, for sushi is reflected into each factor of sushi. No one can pick 1 specific factor up among these 6 different factors and say that is the most important factor, because every single factor is playing very deep and important role. However, it is normal for the apprentice to treat the flesh of fish at the very end of discipling period. They have to spend at least 10 years to treat the flesh of fish. This story tells that treating the flesh of fish is the most final phase of sushi making, in other words, the sushi master’s dignity or speciality is exerted when they go to fish market and make a judgement in dealing with wholesalers(making judgement on the fish is called ‘mekiki’ in Japanese). For instance, the owners of high quality sushi bar located in Ginza go to Tsukiji fish market every morning and do ‘mekiki’ themselves. From this point of time, the fundamental and unchangeable gap between the 100 yen kaiten sushi restaurant and high-end sushi bar in terms of quality and the freshness is created.

Sushi chef is making a judgment on the fresh ingredients(He is doing ‘mekiki’)

For real, the owner of the well-known high-end sushi bar such as Sukiyabashi Jiro and Ginza Kyubei also go to Tsukiji fish market every morning himself, do a ‘mekiki’ on the fish and purchase from the wholesalers, the companion having a deal for more than up to 50 years.

The seasonality
For more information, see also :

There is not many kind of fish in 100 yen kaiten sushi restaurants. To control the balance between the rate of cost and profit, these restaurants serve only the limited kind of fish such as maguro(tuna), ebi(shrimp), ika(squid), tako(octopus), hotate(scallops) and the tamago(egg) mostly. Of course, each ingredients has their own seasonal value, but they are on sale not because they are in a season, but because they can be stably supplied in very large amount with very cheap cost. Moreover, the recent strategies of 100 yen sushi restaurants are to promote dishes that cost more than 100 yen and have nothing to do with sushi such as ramen noodle, cakes, fried potato, or curry in order to make a better profit, and as a result, 100 yen sushi restaurants are becoming more like ‘family restaurant’ than traditional sushi restaurant.

Also, it has been pointed out that 100 yen kaiten sushi restaurants place the ‘similar ingredients’ to authentic one to cut the purchasing cost off.

Meanwhile, high-end sushi bar has only 1 menu on sale, omakase(chef’s selection) as mentioned. This means customers have no choice to make an order by their favor and taste. The kind of sushi is decided based on the daily condition of purchasing the ingredients and the season. For example, in winter, the seasonal fish are hirame(flounder), hamaguri(clam), sayori(Japanese halfbeak), kuruma-ebi(prawn), kohada(Gizzard shad), and so on. Every day and every time, the different combination is being served because of unstable supplying materials.

Japanese sea bream is best to eat between Feburary and April
Second, the physical & mental accessibility on product and service is also defined by 2 subordinate matters : the distance to watch the performance of sushi chef making sushi for the physical matter, and the amount of communication with sushi chef(about their knowledge on fish, rice, wasabi, soy sauce, the way of eating, and their personal connections with wholesalers) for mental matter.

The accessibility
Next, it is the accessibility on product or service. This criterion is focusing on the mood and service of stores as a hardware, not just on the sushi itself as a food. Actually, it is not necessary to be restaurant either. It can be applied to every form of business such as cosmetic shop, electronics center, and beauty salon wherever that offers any products or services. It is not difficult to imagine the more communication on product or service, the more understanding on that and satisfied with the better result in purchasing.

Thus, the accessibility on product or service in purchasing is necessary to deepen the understanding and experience of customers. Of course, fast food stores like McDonald is the out of question on this theme, because people don’t require the communication on product or service from the beginning.

Let’s say you are having a dinner with $250 in the french restaurant of 5 stared hotel. In this kind of restaurant, the 10% of service fee is charged and now we wonder why we have to pay this service fee. The reason why we pay the 10% of service fee for that is because we don’t know much about french cuisine unless you have a detailed knowledge or very gifted talent with taste on the french cuisine. This means we actually don’t know what we are eating. We don’t know what kind of wines made of what kind of grapes, imported from where they were grown and have what kind of characteristic on taste and flavor. We don’t know what these ingredients are and how they are cooked in the kitchen. By paying the 10% of service fee, customers gain the right to ask about those questions at last, and the waiters bear the obligation to answer perfectly in understandable manner to those questions.

Many people will experience the same situation in sushi bar too. Unless you have a detail knowledge on sushi, or fishes you wouldn’t know what you are eating now. You wouldn’t know how that fish is processed. You wouldn’t know where that fish is captured in what season, what kind of nutritional value is contained in that fish. There are many methods to make ‘sumeshi'(vinegared rice) depending on the sushi masters or bars, but you wouldn’t know the difference, value and what is special on those methods. Also, the series of chef’s moving in making sushi is a kind of performance, and each moving has a meaning in making sushi efficiently, but by just watching it, you wouldn’t know the meaning of chef’s performance even if you are watching it across the bar counter, the distance of 1 meter or less than it. Without any explanation or communication, you will just experience being in the space that is full of the Japanese proper noun such as ‘nigiri’, ‘akami’, ‘kampachi’, ‘sayori’ and so on.

Simply speaking, is it impossible to see sushi chef’s performance of making sushi and have a communication with them in 100 yen sushi restaurant. The physical & mental accessibility is zero in 100 yen sushi restaurant. In the back space of kitchen of the 100 yen kaiten sushi restaurant, sushi is made by robots that constantly produce ‘sumeshi'(vinegared rice) and part-timers, mostly the high school students who put the flesh of fish on the ‘sumeshi’ and place that on the conveyor belt. Customers would never see the performance of sushi making conducted by sushi chef, and of course, there won’t be any communication for that.

Sushi chef have a number of knives that play different role in making sushi, seeking the perfection

However, in high-end sushi bar, customers can watch the performance of making sushi across the bar counter and ask anything about sushi. Chefs are obligated to answer the question and at the same time, they have very detail knowledge to answer. Furthermore, you can apply your favor on sushi to chef, then chef will serve any kinds of sushi that accord to your taste.


A new suggestion for those who want to try the ‘best sushi’ in the home of sushi : enjoying sushi at sushi workshop

So far, I have introduced the 2 kinds of existing sushi restaurant. I have shown the 2 different criteria, the quality of ingredients and the accessibility on product or service, which determines the price of restaurant as mentioned. To make readers understand easier, I adopted 2 extreme case of restaurant-100 yen kaiten sushi as the cheapest one and high-end sushi bar as the most expensive one such as Sukiyabashi Jiro, Ginza Kyubei based on the price. As you see, there is a reason for the cheapness, and also, there is a reason for the expensiveness. Lots of sushi restaurant is forming a value spectrum between these criteria in Japan.

At this point, I would like to suggest totally new way to enjoy the high-end sushi with intermediate level in price. I just said it is NEW one, but actually it is very simple too. To expend the value of 2 criteria-the quality and the accessibility- up to extreme level that has never been existed before in the world of sushi.

Existing sushi market, and newly created one based on 2 criteria

This is the ‘sushi workshop’. Even higher freshness and accessibility. It demands intermediate level between 100 yen kaiten sushi restaurant and MichelinGuide 3 stared sushi bar in price.

Comparing the budget level : sushi workshop is placed between the cheapest and the most expensive

In the next posting, I will tell you more detail of sushi workshops, why they are more fresh and more accessible. And then, I want to introduce several point in choosing workshops.

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