Japanese sushi chain sues viral food vandal for damages

Sushiro says business badly damaged by video of teenager licking soy sauce bottle and wiping saliva on passing food

A sushi chain in Japan is seeking ¥67m (£383,280) in damages from a diner who filmed himself licking a soy sauce bottle and wiping saliva on a slice of fish at one of its restaurants, part of a wave of “sushi terrorism” that scandalised the country’s budget food industry.

Sushiro, Japan’s biggest operator of revolving sushi restaurants, filed the suit with a court in Osaka, according to the Kyodo news agency, arguing that it had suffered financial losses after the incident triggered public fears over food hygiene.

The teenager, who has not been named, allegedly licked the soy sauce bottle and the rim of a teacup before placing it back on a shelf, then wiped saliva on a plate of passing sushi destined for other diners, during a visit to a Sushiro outlet in January.

A video of the incident filmed by a second person went viral, forcing restaurant chains to take drastic measures to reassure nervous customers.

In March, police arrested three people on suspicion of forcible obstruction of business, including a 21-year-old who allegedly drank from a communal soy sauce bottle at a kaitenzushi restaurant run by Kura Sushi.

The firm said at the time: “We sincerely hope that society widely acknowledges antisocial acts are crimes, and that these kinds of actions are not committed in future.”

The arrests – the first involving customers suspected of “unhygienic and harassing behaviour” – came amid reports of other acts of sabotage involving food in the multibillion-dollar budget dining sector.

In April, a man in his 30s was indicted on similar charges after he was filmed using his own chopsticks to remove pickled ginger from a container intended for all diners at a beef bowl restaurant.

The pranks forced several chains to take action. One halted its conveyor belts, and another started delivering sushi via an “express lane” to customers who order via touch-screen devices, making it harder for other diners to tamper with food.

In its suit against the teenager, Sushiro said it had experienced a sharp drop in diners after the incident, adding that its parent company had suffered a ¥16bn fall in market capitalisation at the end of January, Kyodo reported.

The news agency said the firm could seek additional damages after it was forced to spend ¥90m on extra hygiene measures, including installing plastic barriers at more than 600 restaurants.

The teenager has admitted licking communal items and expressed remorse for his actions.

His lawyers have said that he did not intend for the video to be posted online, adding that fierce competition in the budget sushi sector – worth an estimated ¥740bn – meant it was impossible to blame the drop in Sushiro customers on his actions.


Justin McCurry in Tokyo

The GuardianTramp

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