TOKYO (AFP): Three people have been arrested in Japan over unhygienic pranks at a conveyor-belt sushi restaurant after footage of their antics -- dubbed "sushi terrorism" -- sparked outrage online.
Police accused the young trio of seeking to obstruct business at major restaurant chain Kura Sushi, which was bombarded with customer complaints after the video went viral.
The clip shows one member of the group grabbing a piece of sushi from a plate as it passes, shoving the whole morsel into their mouth and then drinking soy sauce directly from a communal bottle.
Similar videos filmed at different chains surfaced last month on platforms including Twitter and TikTok, with some apparently weeks or even years old.
Other unsavoury pranks included customers touching moving pieces of sushi with a freshly licked finger, or sucking the rim of a teacup before placing it back on a shelf.
Local police told AFP on Thursday (March 9) that three people from the central Aichi region had been arrested.
A police spokesman said 21-year-old Ryoga Yoshino and an unnamed 15-year-old girl were arrested Wednesday, while the group's third member, a 19-year-old man whose identity was also withheld, was collared last month.
The arrests are believed to be the first in the saga which caused an uproar in Japan, a country with famously high standards of cleanliness.
The group's antics forced employees at Kura Sushi to perform emergency cleaning, "making normal business operations difficult," the police spokesman added.
While no charges have yet been filed, "forcible obstruction of business" can involve stiff penalties under Japanese law -- including a potential three-year prison term.
The company that operates Kura Sushi, which has nearly 500 outlets in Japan, welcomed the arrests in a statement.
"We sincerely hope the arrests will spread awareness in society that these pranks, which fundamentally undermine our system based on a relationship of trust with customers, are a crime, and that there will be no copycat acts in future," the firm said.
Among other chains affected by the series of incidents is Sushiro, which saw its stocks plummet last month after a video showed an apparently teenaged customer licking the top of a shared soy sauce bottle at one of its shops.
"This is sickening," one Japanese Twitter user wrote in response at the time, with another adding: "I can't go to conveyor belt sushi restaurants anymore."