TOKYO — A wave of pranks dubbed “sushi terrorism” has made Japanese diners think twice about the country’s iconic conveyor belt restaurants, driving changes in the way chains serve the signature dish and now resulting in arrests.
Viral videos showing such unhygienic behavior began popping up on social media late last year, outraging diners in a country known for its high standards of cleanliness and jeopardizing the multibillion-dollar “kaitenzushi” industry.
One included a teenager’s wiping saliva on a plate of sushi after having licked the rim of a cup and placed it back on a shelf. Another showed a diner spraying food with hand sanitizer as it rolled past.
As a result, conveyor belt sushi restaurants, whose parent companies have seen their share values slide since the craze emerged, have been scrambling to reassure customers horrified by the video.
Police in the Aichi prefecture also arrested two men, ages 21 and 19, and a 15-year-old girl in connection with a video said to show one of them drinking directly from a communal bottle of soy sauce, the police force told the Agence France-Presse news agency Wednesday.
The incident occurred Feb. 3 at a branch of a Kaitenzushi, or conveyor belt sushi, restaurant run by the Kura Sushi chain in the central city of Nagoya, police said.
Kura Sushi said in a statement that it would do everything it could to protect conveyor belt sushi, which has been embedded in Japanese culture for decades.
“We sincerely hope that this arrest will serve as a catalyst for widespread public recognition of the ‘crime’ of nuisance behavior that shakes the very foundations of the system based on the relationship of trust with our customers, and we truly hope that there will be no more copycat crimes,” it said.
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Another chain said it was getting rid of conveyor belts altogether.
Choshimaru, which has multiple locations in and around Japan’s capital, Tokyo, said in a statement that its conveyor belt system would be gradually phased out by the end of April and customers would instead order using a touch panel system.
The move, it said, was “a countermeasure against recent nuisance behaviors that has caused serious damages to the restaurant industry.”