TOKYO

AFP

With its masters required to hone their skills over decades, sushi in Japan is steeped in tradition. But it is also often a high-tech operation where robotic precision steals the limelight from the chef’s knife.

The country is dotted with thousands of “kaiten” (revolving) sushi restaurants where raw fish slices atop rice balls travel on conveyer belts along counters waiting to be picked up by diners. Behind the scenes, however, it is far from a simple merry-go-round, with robots in some locations rolling out perfectly-sized rice balls onto plates embedded with microchips.

Measured dollops of spicy wasabi paste are squirted onto the rice assembly-line style before they’re topped with raw fish.

And the most cutting-edge eateries are even connected to monitoring centres that can quickly tell whether the right balance of dishes is being produced — a far cry from traditional-style places where the sushi chef and his knife still reign supreme.

“Sushi isn’t going round at random but rather it is coming out based on a number of calculations,” said Akihiro Tsuji, public relations manager at Kura Corp., a major operator in a market expected to hit $5.0 billion in revenue this year, according to industry figures.

“Though traditional, sushi is stuffed with high technology. You can’t operate low-price revolving sushi restaurants without databases and scientific management,” he told AFP at a Tokyo outlet.

Kura has invented a serving device called “sendo-kun”, which roughly translates as “Mr Fresh”, a plate with a transparent dome that opens automatically when diners select the dish.