Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Kaiten zushi - it just keeps getting better and better

Kaiten zushi.  For me, the most enjoyable dining experience in Japan, possibly the world.

It's cheap, nasty and the purists hate it.  It's been blamed for bringing down the reputation of fine Japanese dining.

But it gets even better.

As deflation continutes its slow inexorable progress in Japan, kaiten zushi chains may be entering a price war.  Currently, three major conveyor-belt sushi chains offer plates for 100 yen: Kappa sushi, Kura sushi and Akindo Sushiro.  Kappa sushi recently broke the 100 yen barrier with a temporary special offering of all plates for 90 yen, Mondays to Fridays.  Will the other chains follow suit?

One thing to take note of is that, even at high volume, these chains lose money on their most popular item: tuna.  They make up for this by bulking out other cheaper seafood with mayonnaise and avocado.  This means that when you eat tuna you are getting excellent value, value indeed that would not be sustainable if everyone just ate ...tuna.

The Japanese have been accused of over-harvesting worldwide blue fin tuna supplies.  I have been told that wild tuna supplies may collapse within a decade or so if drastic cuts are not made in fishing levels.  I don't know what to make of this issue.  If I couldn't eat tuna I would probably leave Japan.  Then again why would the Japanese government and the fishing industry jeopardise such an extraordinarily successful industry? 

I've always thought that we are actually lucky to be able to eat wild fish.  How often do people get to consume protein obtained from wild land sources?  Not very often.  Why should marine resources be any different?  The idea that there is, or should be, this vast mass of wild fish out there for human consumption just seems to be absurd in the face of increasing global human food needs.  In that sense, it would seem inevitable that at some point the bulk of fish consumed by people will be produced in fish farms.  That seems perfectly acceptable and natural to me.  Blue fin tuna has proved notoriously difficult to produce this way;  for example, at one stage in their life cycle they need to chase and eat live fish.  However research is continuing and is said to be promising.  I look forward to the time when wild stocks will be limited and completely protected.

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