A teenager licks his fingers before touching a piece of sushi on a conveyor belt: In Japan, a series of tasteless pranks has plunged restaurant chain shares, prompting legal action and outraged online comment.
Several videos have been circulating on social networks in recent days showing such unsanitary jokes, facts dubbed “sushi-terro”, short for “sushi terrorism” by Japanese netizens.
Some appear to have been filmed several weeks or even several years ago.
In one that’s been viewed nearly 40 million times on Twitter, a young customer licks a bottle of soy sauce and the rim of a teacup, which he then places on a shelf, then licks his fingers before laughing as he sips sushi on the revolving counter touched.
The video, shot at a Sushiro chain restaurant in Gifu, central Japan, caused shares in the restaurant’s parent company to plunge nearly 5% on Tuesday.
Other videos show diners from competing restaurant chains scooping wasabi onto rolling sushi plates or licking the spoon from containers of green tea powder.
However, these seemingly isolated incidents caused an outcry in Japan, which is known for its strict standards of hygiene and cleanliness.
“It’s disgusting,” one Japanese netizen wrote on Twitter, while another said, “I can’t go to rotating sushi restaurants anymore.”
In a statement, the Sushiro channel said the teenager in the viral video apologized but filed a complaint against him. “We will continue to act decisively on civil and criminal matters,” the company added.
The chain said it replaced all bottles of soy sauce and cleaned all of the restaurant’s cups and strengthened its hygiene measures.
Two other chains, Hama-Sushi and Kura Sushi, have also announced legal action, with one planning to install cameras to monitor customers, Jiji News Agency reported.
In Japan, “the omotenashi[the art of receiving]is important, so I think it’s unforgivable,” said Luna Watanabe, 20, in an interview with AFP in Tokyo.
“It has consequences for Japan’s image,” said Takanobu Watanabe, a 65-year-old real estate clerk. “People who do this are terrible and don’t think about our country,” he added.
However, others said they were not offended. “On the contrary, fewer people have to stand in line now” from restaurants, philosophized Tetsuya Haneda, 51.
After the initial outcry, a wave of support swept through social media, accompanied by the hashtag #savesushiro.
The chain’s president said on Twitter “moved to tears” at the testimonies.