Japanese Sushi Shops Add AI Cameras to Stop Sushi Licking Hijinx ・ Japankuru News

3 min readMar 7, 2023

New at the Sushi Shop: AI Tech

Sushi has a long history, and in Japan the dishes haven’t changed all that much from what was eaten in the Edo period (1603–1868), but the restaurants serving the food have gotten some serious modern-day upgrades, now including artificial intelligence. Of course, for travelers visiting Japan, even common conveyor belt sushi seems like something of a novelty, but these casual Japanese eateries have been updating their systems with more than a sushi lane, with everything from reservation apps to touch-screen ordering tablets. Unfortunately, the new AI monitoring cameras found at chain restaurant Kura Sushi aren’t just a sign of the industry’s bright future — they’re also a response to some of Japan’s badly behaved customers.

Why Now? Why Cameras?

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For those keeping up with the ins and out of Japanese news in recent months, this new AI camera addition might not come as much of a surprise. Japanese netizens were understandably shocked when a video of a teenager licking soy sauce bottles, putting back used cups, and poking sushi on the conveyor belt with spit-covered fingers hit the web near the beginning of 2023. Although the general public was clearly feeling outraged at the kid’s ill manners, much of the response was also pure disgust, which didn’t bode well for Sushiro — the conveyor belt sushi competitor where the video was filmed. With copycats and other similar videos following soon after, Sushiro’s stock dropped, and sushi chains around Japan rushed to do anything they could in order to reassure customers that they weren’t really eating saliva-covered sushi. Sushiro temporarily stopped their normal conveyor belts, having customers stick to ordered sushi only, while other shops started to brainstorm some new innovations.

Avoiding Mischief with Artificial Intelligence

Kura Sushi kept their conveyor belts going, but to keep the sushi safe, they went in another direction. The sushi chain has a history of adopting new ideas, seen most obviously with the proliferation of their fully-automated locations, where the experience is automated start to finish. Diners use a screen to take a number, find their table with the help of an electronic system, order from a tabletop tablet (or a phone), take sushi from the conveyor belts, have their plates counted by slipping them into a slot on the table, and then pay at a kiosk. So when Kura Sushi needed to find a way to protect their sushi from spit, they looked to automation.

In fact, the cameras themselves have been around for a while, since they’re a part of the automatic plate-counting system. So with the hardware ready, all Kura Sushi needed to do was find the artificial intelligence that could keep the food safe from suspicious saliva (and other bad behavior). The new AI has the power to detect tampering, and can then report back about which seat should be checked on by restaurant staff — and which plates should probably be removed from circulation.

While this kind of suspicious conveyor belt sushi behavior isn’t exactly an everyday problem in Japan (thank god), it does feel reassuring to know that in this case, the AI is looking out for us when it comes to food safety!

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