1. High-End Sushi Restaurants Joining the Standing Sushi Business
In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic led to restrictions on visitors to Japan and since then foreign tourists could not enter the country for more than two years. During this time, a new sushi trend has been emerging among Japanese sushi connoisseurs. In Tokyo, well-known omakase sushi restaurants that cost 20,000 to 30,000 JPY (approx. 154 to 231 USD) per customer are opening new stores of high-end “tachigui sushi” (a standing sushi bar) and achieving great success.
The watershed moment came in February 2021, when an omakase sushi restaurant called Sushi Shōryu opened Tachigui Sushi Akira, a stand-up sushi restaurant, in Shimbashi. At Shōryu, customers pay 26,000 JPY (approx. 200USD) for the chef’s course meal, while they can enjoy the same sushi for 380 to 880 JPY (approx. 2.9 to 6.8 USD) per piece without reservations at Akira. The new sushi bar drew attention and quickly became one of the most popular restaurants. In December 2021, it was awarded a Bib Gourmand in the Michelin Guide Tokyo 2022 and sushi fans abroad are watching the new business closely as well.
Other omakase sushi restaurants followed suit by opening their tachigui sushi. Onodera that has branches in Shanghai, Hawaii, Los Angeles, and New York opened Tachiguisushi Ginza Onodera Honten in Omotesando in October 2021. Sushi Rinda that serves its omakase meal course for 22,000 JPY (approx. 169 USD) opened Bullpen in October 2021, while Hatano Yoshiki that features its course meal for 27,500 JPY (aporox. 212 USD) opened Tachigui Sushi Tonari in January 2022. These bars have grown popular as well.
2. Tachigui Sushi from Fast Food to Luxury Restaurants
Sushi was born about 200 years ago as a street food that common people ate standing at the counter. Today, the style of the standing sushi bar is still loved by people. You can order a la carte sushi for 100 to 400 JPY (approx. 0.8 to 3.1 USD) per piece in a casual atmosphere.
The tachigui sushi business was targeting the masses with the average customer spending of 1,000 to 2,000 JPY (approx. 7.7 to 15.4 USD). The new genre of luxury tachigui sushi became a hot topic by targeting sushi aficionados, who pay 5,000 to 10,000 JPY (approx. 38 to 77 USD).
In addition, some fancy tachigui restaurants serve not only a la carte dishes but also an omakase course meal. This style apparently captured the curiosity of those who love novelties.
*The numbers above are using the conversion rate as of June 2022 (1 USD = 130 JPY).
3. Reasons Why Prestigious Sushi Restaurants Are Opening Standing Sushi Bars
Then, why are these high-end restaurants joining the tachigui sushi business?
First, the omakase sushi restaurant boom in the last few years, known also as a “sushi bubble,” made it difficult to make reservations for popular restaurants. As it is common that the seats are all booked up to 2 or 3 months in advance, customers were not able to eat sushi when they wanted. This is why a tachigui sushi restaurant became popular, since it does not require a reservation.
Secondly, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a drastic decrease in the number of foreign tourists and business dinners. To counteract the situation, the restaurants are trying a new business style to acquire a new customer group.
Thirdly, main sushi restaurants tend to have the head chef or sous chef serve at the counter and it is difficult for young chefs to gain the experience of making sushi in front of the customers. By letting such new chefs oversee the tachigui bars, the restaurants can give them opportunities to develop their skills.
4. Will Tachigui Sushi be Popular Overseas?
High-class tachigui sushi is being loved in Japan, but will it be accepted overseas too?
As mentioned above, sushi started as fast food in Japan and then gradually became luxurious meals. Because of the history, there are markets in Japan that can accept both a casual tachigui sushi bar where you can finish the meal in 15 minutes and an omakase sushi restaurant whose course meal can take 2 hours. On the other hand, sushi is mostly imagined as a fine dining food in other countries. It may be challenging to spread the culture of eating sushi standing up in such places.
In Japan, steakhouses also gained popularity with a stand-up style due to its high cost performance. Yet, when Ikinari Steak tried to spread the culture abroad and opened stores in New York in 2017, the style was not favored by locals. The restaurant added seats immediately, but they failed to gain ground and all the stores ended up closing.
Meanwhile, cities where many Japanese people live, such as Hong Kong and Singapore, already have tachigui sushi bars. In Japantown in Ho Chi Minh, a tachigui sushi bar opened in January 2022.
Ramen was once frowned upon by the Westerners, who did not like the sound of slurping. Yet, the habit became normalized, and ramen is now one of the most popular Japanese dishes around the world. It may be possible that luxury tachigui sushi bars will be also accepted abroad someday.
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