With a plethora of restaurant options, breaking down dining in Japan is incredibly important. There’s an incredible food scene and many ways to enjoy it. It’s really one of the best culinary destinations I have personally experienced.
I couldn’t believe the small cafes with only 6 seats, the bars that serve only one kind of dish, and then the big restaurants that had sit-down service. At first, it was a bit daunting trying to figure out how to choose where to eat and we found ourselves trying everything at least once. Finding our favorite food groups, we stuck to small spots that were often hidden in little alleys.
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Breaking down dining in Japan
There are a few types of restaurants in Japan. You’ll find often that a restaurant will only serve one kind of food. It’s quite incredible. Here are the different types:
Izakaya: Consider this like a pub of small plates, from fried proteins to sushi. It’s a wide range of food.
Kaiseki: This is a more formal, set meal dinner where small dishes are beautifully presented. These are typically longer meals and should be experienced at least once.
Yakitori: This is one of the best meals in Japan, small skewers of proteins and vegetables cooked to perfection. Sit down, order a bunch, and be sure to have a cold beer!
Takoyaki: One of Japan’s greatest gifts to this earth. It’s dough cooked in with octopus and green onions, with a sweet sauce and Japanese mayo, topped with bonito. It’s everything you will dream of after you leave.
Tonkatsu: A fried pork cutlet is served with rice and miso, and some incredible sauce!
Okonomiyaki: Their second greatest gift, these Japanese pancakes stuffed with cabbage, protein, and other delicious goodies are best enjoyed with a cold beer.
Tempura: You guessed it, tempura-everything!
Kaisendon: Find yourself raw fish over a bowl of rice for a quick meal!
Soba: This is a traditional buckwheat noodle, served either cold or hot.
Don’t forget to book your Japan Rail pass before you arrive!
Udon: A thicker cut noodle that is normally dipped into a sauce with veggies added.
Sushi: There’s no such thing as a “roll” or at least it’s hard to find. Sushi is nigiri at its best!
Ramen: It may seem to be the easiest option to eat at, but when you arrive and there’s a vending machine selling tickets for ramen only in Japanese, it can overwhelming. Typically it is either a miso or soy broth and almost always comes with pork and some other topping. They often will ask for the how you like your noodles cooked. Best to ask for help, or point at someone else’s dish. *For those who have shellfish allergies, a lot of the broths are made with shrimp so be sure to ask before you order.
Shabu-Shabu: A cook-it-yourself kind of restaurant brings your a boiling broth where you cook your own meats and veggies in.
What to know before arriving at a restaurant in Japan
- It seems that in such a modern city that credit cards would be easily accepted. Not here — expect everywhere to be cash only.
- Tipping is not expected, and often times if you leave the change they will run after you to give it back.
- Reserve in advance for any spot that has more than 150 reviews and more than 4.0 stars. Have your concierge do this for you before you arrive or give the place a call and hope they speak English.
Dining Etiquette in Japan
- The hot towel given to you is for your hands only, not a quick bath for your face and neck.
- Pour a little soy sauce into your dish, using only what will be finished.
- Slurping your noodles/soup is acceptable and shows you like the dish!
- When paying, place the money in the dish and not the server’s hands.
Chopstick Etiquette in Japan
- Try to avoid pointing them at other people or dishes.
- Keep them near you, don’t wave them around.
- Do not suck on them, no matter how delicious the sauce is.
- They are not to be played with, and avoid stabbing food.
- The most important rule: do not pass food with your chopsticks as it symbolizes passing cremated bones at a funeral (more table manners here).
Hope this helps and happy dining in Japan! Be sure to checkout these 10 photos to inspire you to visit Japan!