March 5. 2024. 3:04

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Wave of ‘sushi terrorism’ rocks Japan’s restaurant industry

Police in Japan have made several arrests after the country’s multibillion dollar revolving sushi industry was rocked by a spate of “sushi terrorism”, including a case in which a customer wiped saliva on food destined for other diners.

The Kyodo news agency reported on Thursday that three people – all part of the same group of diners – had been arrested on suspicion of forcible obstruction of business.

The arrests are thought to be the first involving customers suspected of “unhygienic and harassing behaviour,” Kyodo said, and come amid reports of a rising number of food-related crimes across Japan’s budget dining sector.

Among the number arrested is a 21-year-old who is alleged to have drunk from a communal soy sauce bottle at a kaitenzushi restaurant run by Kura Sushi in the central city of Nagoya early last month.

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Two other customers, a 19-year-old man and 15-year-old girl, were also arrested for allegedly helping share a 10-second clip that showed him placing a soy sauce bottle in his mouth.

Kura Sushi said it appreciated the police’s “swift response,” according to the SoraNews 24 website.

The firm said in a statement: “Such inconsiderate action ... shakes the foundations of the relationship of trust we have built with our customers, and we sincerely hope that broad knowledge that such actions are a crime will prevent others from engaging in such behaviour.”

The spate of hygiene incidents – including one in which a teenager licked the rim of a teacup before placing it back on a shelf, then wiped saliva on a plate of passing sushi – first came to light earlier this year, forcing restaurant chains to take drastic measures to attract nervous customers back through their doors.

This week Choshimaru, which operates outlets in the greater Tokyo area, said it was halting its conveyor belts, weeks after Sushiro, the market leader, said its sushi would be delivered only via an “express lane” to customers who order via touchscreen devices, making it harder for other diners to tamper with food.

Kura Sushi said it would soon start using cameras equipped with artificial intelligence to monitor customers’ tables, despite complaints that it was effectively putting its clientele under surveillance.

Kaitenzushi is in the midst of a drive to use cutting-edge technology to speed up the delivery of food to diners and address a chronic labour shortage.

The recent changes, however, look like taking sushi back to its analogue roots, with diners at hundreds of restaurants forced to wait for their orders to be delivered by hand. – Guardian