Sushi conveyor belt pranks spark outrage in Japan

This picture shows plates of sushi on a conveyor belt at a sushi chain restaurant in Tokyo on Friday

This picture shows plates of sushi on a conveyor belt at a sushi chain restaurant in Tokyo on Friday. (Photo: AFP)

TOKYO—A handful of unhygienic pranks at sushi conveyor belt restaurants in Japan have sparked stock slumps, venue overhauls and legal action, along with furious social media commentary.

Several videos dubbed “sushi terrorism” have emerged on social media, including Twitter and TikTok, although some of them are apparently weeks or even years old.

In one such video, viewed nearly 40 million times on Twitter, an apparently teenaged customer licks the top of a communal soy sauce bottle and the rim of a teacup that he then places back on a shelf, before licking his finger and touching a piece of sushi as it goes past on the belt.

The footage, filmed at a branch of Sushiro restaurant in the central Japanese city of Gifu, prompted its parent company’s stocks to plunge nearly 5 percent Tuesday.

Legal action, new policies

Other videos emerged showing customers at different chains putting wasabi on passing pieces of sushi or licking the spoon in a communal green tea powder container.

Though the incidents appear to be confined to just a few videos, they have caused an uproar in Japan, a country with famously high standards of cleanliness.

“This is sickening,” one Japanese tweeted in response, while another said, “I can’t go to conveyor belt sushi restaurants anymore.”

Sushiro said the teen behind the viral video has apologized, along with his parents.

Nevertheless, the company has filed a formal police complaint.

“As a company, we will continue to respond firmly with both criminal and civil cases,” Sushiro said in a statement.

The firm said all soy sauce bottles at the affected store had been replaced and all the cups cleaned, as it announced new restaurant policies.

‘Outpouring of support’

At the Gifu branch and others nearby, customers will now take utensils and condiments to their tables from a serving point, and nationwide, diners will be able to request disinfected tableware.

Two other affected restaurant chains, Hama-sushi and Kura Sushi, said they plan to take legal action, with the latter now planning to install cameras above conveyor belts to monitor customers, Jiji press agency reported.

After the initial outcry, there was some support for the affected companies on social media under the hashtag #saveSushiro.

“I’ve always wanted to go to Sushiro but haven’t been able to because it’s always crowded,” tweeted Japanese singer Yuya Tegoshi.

“But the situation now is the absolute worst for them, so I’m definitely going to visit,” he added.

Sushiro president Kohei Nii said also on Twitter that he was overwhelmed by the “outpouring of support.”

“I’m so grateful I could cry,” he said.