Hidemi’s Rambling by Hidemi Woods

Singer, Songwriter and Author from Kyoto, Japan.

Hidemi’s Rambling No.521

I happened to find a conveyor belt sushi restaurant in the city where I often go shopping. For those who aren’t familiar with it, let me explain what it is. Conveyor belt sushi is a self-service system to serve sushi on a narrow conveyor that winds around the restaurant. Sushi is put on a small plate by two pieces, or by one piece for an expensive kind, and those plates are continuously moving on the conveyor. Tables are set along the conveyor and a customer grabs a desired plate when it passes by. Usually it costs $1 per plate, and a customer pays according to the number of their empty plates. Tea and condiments are free. I hadn’t eaten at a conveyor belt sushi restaurant for years and during my absence, it has made remarkable progress. The place I got in was one of the major chains and had a state-of-the-art system. For a customer who wanted to order a kind other than what were going around on the conveyor, there was a touch screen display above each table. It showed a huge variety of sushi and all I had to do to place an order was just select and touch. An additional, express conveyor was running above the normal conveyor and the plates of my order were riding on a miniature bullet train. The train appeared from the kitchen, running fast on the additional conveyor, and stopped at my table. After I picked up the plates from the bullet train and touched ‘OK’ on the display, the train went back in the kitchen. I had never seen anything like that. The place fascinated me entirely. It was spacious and clean with a modern, westernized atmosphere, western background music, and a booth. Eating was done without seeing people working there except when I entered and when I paid. That I didn’t have to watch a hardheaded sushi chef was so comfortable and felt free. And the variety on their menu was amazing. In addition to popular kinds of sushi, they had the original sushi like roast pork, duck pastrami, hamburger steak and so on. It wasn’t just sushi coming on the conveyor. They had different kinds of miso soup, tempura, fried chicken and desserts. Above all, almost every plate was only $1 so that I had as much sushi as I could eat! It was so exciting to spot my favorite kind on the conveyor and see its plate moving toward my table from the far end. It’s also thrilling to see if other customer might pick it up before me. The bullet train was extreme fun. I enjoyed even watching it carry other table’s order and passing through my table with a small wheel sound. I touched ‘Checkout’ on the screen display when I finished eating. A server came to my table and counted the empty plate I stacked up high. I received the bill and paid at the cashier. They didn’t take a credit card and accepted cash only. The payment method was terribly low-tech somehow. While I wish to eat there as often as I can, my partner said he couldn’t because he felt dizzy as he watched so many sushi plates coming and going around him…

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Hidemi’s Rambling No.520

Let me report how a small rural town I live in has been lately. Since there are many skiing slopes in the town, the forlorn main street has ski lodges, B and Bs, souvenir shops and rental ski shops. Quite a few had been out of business as the skiing boom was gone. One out of every three shops is closed now along the street. The other day I found that my favorite shop there hung a sign saying ‘For Rent’. The shop was my dream shop that carried imported foods and goods from U.S. Imported merchandise is usually costly, but that shop sold selected Costco-brand foods at almost the same prices at Costco or sometimes lower prices. Considering the membership fee at Costco, they cost less here. The stamp card of the shop was also magical. They gave the customers stamps according to the sum of purchase and the accumulated stamps were exchanged for the merchandise. Those stamps were ridiculously easy to be collected and I couldn’t count how many bottles of salsa I got for free. In addition, the shop often held a prize drawing event. The drawing always came out with a prize and I got numerous freebies such as pouches and stuffed animals. I had never left the shop without something free in my bag. It was almost charity for me and I felt the more I shopped, the more the shop was in the red. That maybe proved true. The shop has been closed for good and sadly my strange rule that my favorite place is almost certainly to be out of business worked again just as I had been afraid of. The number of children in the town has decreased and several schools were merged into one. That one school is also small and the local bus started to be partly operated as a school bus. Noisy kids rush in the bus in the afternoon and I can’t use it any more. My favorite modern restaurant in town has had more and more closed days. Now it closes on three days of weekdays and opens only for three hours each on the remaining two weekdays. One of the B and Bs on the main street newly got out of business and came into the market. The price was unbelievably low. Even so, nobody bought it and the price got even lower. It’s less than a tenth of a typical house price for three times the space of a typical house. It was cheap enough for me to think of running a B and B myself. I quickly came to my senses that getting into the black with a B and B in this town is nearly impossible. To add to my town’s miserable conditions, my own income also will be reduced by one third starting next month…

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