Three people have been arrested in Japan for “sushi terror”: viral, unsanitary pranks that are endangering the world-famous feature of sushi conveyor belt restaurants.
A video of a man licking a soy sauce bottle on a sushi conveyor went viral last month, causing outrage.
He can be seen squashing sushi dishes at a Kura Sushi restaurant branch in the video.
Since then, dozens of similar videos have surfaced, raising public concern.
In one incident, diners, many of whom are children and young people, ruined other people’s orders by touching sushi dishes passing by.
Last month, a video surfaced showing a customer sprinkling wasabi on another person’s dish while another person licked the provided chopsticks.
Another video, shot at a Sushiro chain restaurant, shows a diner rubbing his saliva on passing sushi pieces.
Many Japanese have been horrified by the viral trend, which has prompted several conveyor-belt sushi chains, known locally as kaitenzushi, to take action.
“I know people from other countries look forward to eating sushi here, so as a Japanese person, I am ashamed of such actions,” Yukari Tanaka, one of the victims, told the BBC.
Nana Kozaki added, “Kaitenzushi is a Japanese culture we can be proud of, but the actions of a few people like that really ruins that.”
Others expressed concern about the trend, admitting they were less likely to visit restaurants.
Japan is well-known for its meticulous cleanliness and culinary etiquette.
As a result, the “sushi terrorism” pranks have not only shocked millions across the country, but have also resulted in a drop in the share prices of companies such as the Sushiro chain.
This has prompted several kaitenzushi chains to issue public pleas to offenders to stop sabotaging food.
Some restaurants have even decided to discontinue their main attraction entirely, with sushi conveyor belts coming to a halt across the country.
The Choushimaru chain in eastern Japan announced that it would no longer use its conveyor belts after a customer placed a cigarette butt in a jar of pickled ginger.
Staff will now bring dishes directly to customers and only hand out condiments and sauces after they have taken their seats.
‘What happened to my favourite sushi?’
A spokesman for Kura Sushi, the restaurant chain targeted by those arrested on Wednesday, described the viral video trend as “extremely dangerous” and a threat to the conveyor-belt restaurant model’s foundation.
“As part of Japanese culture, we are proud of conveyor belt sushi. “We want to ensure that our customers can eat sushi delivered on the belt in a safe and comfortable manner,” he explained.
Several sushi restaurants have already threatened legal action, but Wednesday’s arrests are believed to be the first.
Ryoga Yoshino, 21, is accused of licking a communal soy sauce bottle at a Kura Sushi conveyor-belt sushi restaurant in Nagoya, central Japan, on 3 February.
There were also two minors, aged 19 and 15, involved. According to the police, their actions constituted business obstruction under Japan’s Penal Code.
According to police, all of the suspects admitted to the wrongdoing. One allegedly apologised for his actions as well.
Restaurant companies were already struggling, with global supply chains being strained by a weaker yen, the Ukraine conflict, and the coronavirus pandemic.
Last year, many had to raise the prices of their cheapest offerings.
Now they must contend with a new wave of unsanitary pranks.
It has caused restaurants across the country to scramble to reassure customers about their hygiene standards.
To reduce potential sabotage attempts, the Sushiro chain changed its service rules last month, requiring diners to collect their own utensils and condiments from staff.
Kura Sushi has also developed an alert system, with sensors and cameras installed on some of its conveyor belts.
If someone is caught returning a tampered-with plate, an alert will be sent to the chain’s offices in Saitama prefecture, near Tokyo and Osaka. Kura Sushi stated that the affected restaurant would also be notified.
The new sensors, according to the company, will also be able to identify the specific plate and seat number affected.