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Yoshiaki Shiraishi; Founded Conveyor Belt Sushi Industry


Shiraishi decided the device should revolve clockwise, since most people hold chopsticks in their right hands and prefer to grab plates with their left. After much trial and error, he settled on a speed of 8 centimeters, or a little more than 3 inches, per second. Anything faster and the fish dried out even as the plates were at risk of flying off. Anything slower and people, particularly impatient Osaka types, got irritated.

By April 1958, after four years of preparation, Shiraishi was ready for his debut. His first outlet was named Mawaru Genroku Sushi and had no chairs, which forced its 10 or so customers to eat fast and clear out. But its prices, 30% less than competitors', quickly gained attention, and before long there were long lines of customers waiting to get in.

The Sputnik satellite had been launched the previous year, so Shiraishi adopted the advertising slogan "Satellite-Turning-Around Sushi." He named the restaurant Genroku Sushi after a late 17th and early 18th century samurai era when mass culture flourished.

"Chairman Shiraishi is a man who changed Japanese food culture," said Tomohiro Ueyama, a Genroku Sushi spokesman. "He is an idea man."

In 1970, Genroku Sushi put an outlet in an international exposition in Osaka, and that helped popularize the conveyor belt idea across Japan. As it turned out, Shiraishi was in good company. The expo saw the introduction to Japan of several other innovative food distributors, including Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald's. In retrospect, this was the dawning of the fast-food industry in Japan, and kaiten zushi had secured a place at the table.

Genroku Sangyo headquarters and its restaurants were closed Friday for his funeral, which was organized by his son.


Hisako Ueno of The Times' Tokyo Bureau contributed to this story.

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