Japan is definitely high on my list of “most unique countries I have ever visited”
From the insanely crowded and world famous Shibuya crossing in Tokyo to young girls walking around the city dressed up as anime characters, vending machines selling the weirdest things you have ever seen and a rich & long history… Japan is intense and unique!
But, for many travelers food is also a main reason to visit this country. Japanese cuisine is extremely varied and there are dozens of food related reasons to visit Japan.
These are 8 things you definitely shouldn’t miss if you are a food lover traveling to Japan:
1. Try some of the best green tea in the world
Tea is an extremely common beverage that can be found all across Japan. It is occasionally served cold at trendy cafes or in vending machines, but you’ll most likely find it served hot at a teahouse or as an accompaniment to your meal. There are many different types of tea, but Gyokuro is perhaps the most popular. Some people refer to it as the fine wine of Japanese green tea due to its unique umami flavor and complicated harvesting and brewing process. There are even competitions dedicated to the brewing of Gyokuro tea, which goes to show how much care and skill can be put into a single cup!
2. Grill your own meat at a Yakiniku restaurant
Much like Korean barbeque, Yakiniku involves grilling meats on a portable tabletop grill or a device that is built into the table itself. You typically order several plates of meats and vegetables, coat them with a glaze of your choice, then grill them quickly over a hot fire. The ingredients are then dipped in a sauce of your choice before being consumed. Yakiniku are normally served with rice or noodle side dishes, and they’re often eaten alongside a nice cold Japanese beer at a lively bar-like establishment.
3. Buy food from a Japanese Konbini and be amazed at its quality
Short for the term convenience food, konbini food is a Japanese take on fast and healthy meals that can be bought from a local store. In the west, convenience stores rarely sell good food. It’s usually a mix of fast food, microwave meals and TV dinners. In Japan, there’s a lot more choice to be found at your local convenience store, and much of it is made fresh in-store or delivered during the early hours of the day. Japan is known to many as the land of convenience, and it’s easy to see why when you take your first step into a konbini store. There are delicious meat dumplings filled with pork and vegetables, dozens of ice cream flavors, onigiri rice balls and even fried chicken. Along with a fantastic selection of fresh fruits, vegetables and drinks, you could live off buying food from a convenience store in Japan.
4. Try some exceptional sushi as recommended by the chef
If you are going to have sushi in Japan and you really want to do it right, then make dinner reservations at one of the fine dining restaurants famous for their “omakase”. Omakase is a Japanese phrase that means “I’ll leave it up to you”. In other words, you’re placing your dinner experience in the hands of an experienced sushi chef that will treat you to top quality food and incredible service. The course is planned in a way that each bite compliments the next, creating a delightful dining experience that will not be forgotten.
But, although you can state some preferences, to truly enjoy this experience you have to be prepared to eat things that you may never have wanted to try!
5. Get up early to visit a fish market
Japan is home to many fish markets, but Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market was definitely the most famous one. For seafood lovers, a trip to Tokyo wasn’t complete without a very early start one morning to catch the 5:30-6am world-famous Tsukiji Fish Market auction.
Unfortunately, all good things come to an end…
The Tsukiji Fish Market closed its doors in October 2018. But, not to disappear completely. It has relocated to Toyosu, near Shijomae Station. Admission to Toyosu Fish Market is free, and you can watch auctions from dedicated viewing platforms.
The experience at Toyosu Fish Market is very different from what it was at the Tsukiji Fish Market. What was a lively, chaotic but also authentic local fish market experience is now a more organized, sterile set-up that limits which parts you can visit as a tourist.
It was customary for visitors at the Tsukiji Fish Market to, after the auction, rush to get in line at the sushi shops near the market boasting fresh sushi breakfast sets. Thankfully Toyosu Fish Markets also offers several restaurants, many of which are the same ones as the famous ones at Tsukiji.
Fun fact: the Toyosu fish market is almost twice the size of the old Tsukiji fish market, which means the market retains its status as the biggest fish market in the world.
6. Have a meal, or a cup of coffee, at a themed cafe
This is definitely one of the weirdest restaurant experiences I have ever had.
Japan has an incredible range of themed restaurants throughout the country. From maid cafes to a robot restaurant, prison-themed cafes or dining inside an Alice in Wonderland restaurant… You can find a themed restaurant for nearly every interest!
I chose to go to a maid cafe in Tokyo. Here, young Japanese women dress up in “sexy” maid costumes and serve mainly Japanese males coffees & other drinks with cute decorations plus a selection of food with even cuter designs (think Hello Kitty on your pancake or a rice dish made to look like a sleeping teddy bear).
Our waitress introduced herself as “meow meow” (no joke!) and shortly after serving our drinks went to perform a dance on stage similar to what your adorable 9 year old niece might do…
All in all, it was a weird experience. It did make me wonder what these girls, acting like young, innocent teens while wearing overly sexy outfits actually think of this but it is definitely a unique experience and a common thing in Japan…
7. Order your meal from a vending machine
Japan is filled with all sorts of vending machines and even ordering your food at a restaurant can be done through one!
Some restaurants, to save on staff perhaps, make you put your money into a vending machine at the entrance of the restaurant. You then push the button for the item you want to order and out comes a ticket with your food order. Thankfully most machines come with pictures because the whole process of ordering your food this way feels confusing enough to a first-timer! But, the food is just as good as in any “normal” restaurant and the whole event is a fun new experience!
8. Try conveyor belt sushi
Conveyor belt sushi, or kaiten sushi, is exactly as its name implies. Sushi is prepared and then it travels around on a conveyor belt. You take the items you want to eat off the belt and once you are finished they count up the plates to determine how much you have to pay. Plates will have a different design or color to show different prices.
It’s often not the best sushi but I love that this way you can see what food you can choose from instead of having to figure out what is what from a menu. It also tends to be very affordable and you can take as much or as little as you feel like.
I hope you will enjoy Japan as much as I did!
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