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Japanese cuisine
Japanese cuisine

Japanese cuisine reflects the rich culture of the country itself, with recipes and culinary traditions preserved through the centuries while international influences and cutting-edge techniques are constantly flooding the market with new ideas. Regional and seasonal dishes can be found as you travel from one part of this island nation to the next, and there's always something to delight. Whether you find yourself in a hole-in-the-wall ten-don shop or a gourmet restaurant featuring the finest Wagyu beef, a mobile taiyaki cart or a themed cafe where the servers are dressed like storybook characters, you'll never get bored while on the hunt for good eats in Japan. 


Tokyo is not only the capital of Japan but one of the gourmet food capitals of the world, with its restaurants earning more Michelin stars than Paris and New York combined. Hungry visitors will find everything here, from traditional arrangements to futuristic molecular gastronomy, and finding your favorites is as easy as keeping an open mind and an eager stomach. Some of the most commonly found dishes include:

  • Nigiri Sushi Slices of seafood, egg, or vegetables on top of riceballs. The most popular type of sushi today, and the one you'll find most often in Japanese restaurants abroad. 
  • Tempura A type of cooking where seafood and vegetables are fried in batter. 
  • Donburi Any type of protein eaten over a bed of rice, eggs, and onions. Ten-don is short for tempura donburi, and there are many shops specializing in variations of this dish.
  • Soba Buckwheat noodles that can be eaten hot in soup or cold, dipped in sauce. It's considered bad luck to cut the long noodles, as they represent long life
  • Chankonabe Nabe refers to hotpot, and chankonabe is usually made with fish or chicken and vegetables. A popular diet for sumo wrestlers, the best place to try chankonabe is at one of the specialty restaurants around the Kokugikan Sumo Stadium in Ryogoku, many of which are run by ex-sumo wrestlers.
  • Monjayaki & Okonomiyaki Monja is a type of runny pancake made of flour and water mixed with ingredients like sliced cabbage and small pieces of seafood and meat, which are then cooked on a hot grill. Okonomiyaki is a similar dish, but the base is eggs rather than flour. A small spatula is used to scrape some of the cooked pancake and eat it off the grill. 
  • Tsukudani Tsukudani are small pieces of food that were simmered in a mixture of soy sauce and sweet sake to preserve them. They are commonly enjoyed as an accompaniment to a bowl of cooked rice. Tsukudani has its roots on Tsukudajima Island near Tsukishima where Tokugawa Ieyasu relocated fishermen skilled in making tsukudani.
  • Curry While there is a significant Indian population in Japan, and authentic Indian restaurants are a common sight, Japanese curry is actually much different than the Indian or Thai versions. The emphasis in Japanese curry is on sweet rather than spicy, and it is often thicker; katsu (pork) curry is one of the most popular kinds, and you can even find child-sized individual packets in any grocery store.
  • Tokyo Sweets Tokyo is home to various types of traditional Japanese sweets (wagashi). These include sweets such as ningyoyaki, small red bean paste filled cakes shaped like dolls or other forms; dorayaki, a pastry made of sweet pancakes with a layer of red bean paste sandwiched in between; and anmitsu, a dessert typically consisting of agar jelly, a scoop of red bean paste, small mochi balls and seasonal fruits topped with sweet black sugar syrup.

As Japan's former capital and seat of the imperial court for over a thousand years, Kyoto offers a rich culinary tradition. The local food culture is diverse and ranges from aristocratic kaiseki ryori course dinners to the vegetarian shojin ryori of monks and the simple obanzai ryori home style cooking. While some restaurants look to the past for inspiration, others experiment with new flavors. Fusion restaurants, that combine ingredients and techniques of Kyoto cuisine with cooking styles from other parts of the world, can also be found in the city. The Pontocho nightlife district is one of the best places to find good fusion restaurants alongside traditional establishments. Not far away, the Gion district also offers a wide range of interesting dining opportunities, as does the Kyoto Station area. Regular Japanese food that is not necessarily associated with Kyoto in particular, such as ramen, sushi and udon, is also available across the city. Food fans should not miss a visit to the Nishiki Market in central Kyoto, which has been serving the city for many centuries.

  • Kaiseki Ryori Kaiseki ryori has its origin in the traditional tea ceremony, but later evolved into an elaborate dining style popular among aristocratic circles. Kyoto style kaiseki ryori (kyo kaiseki) is particularly refined, placing an emphasis on subtle flavors and local and seasonal ingredients. A kaiseki meal has a prescribed order of courses which is determined by the cooking method of each dish. A common way for travelers to enjoy kaiseki is by staying at a ryokan where a kaiseki dinner is included with the stay. But kaiseki meals can also be enjoyed at restaurants, including high end ryotei, many of which can be found in the Pontocho and Gion districts of Kyoto. A good kaiseki meal usually costs around 10,000 yen per person, but prices can go as high as 30,000 yen or as low as 6000 yen. Some restaurants depart from tradition and include elements of foreign cuisines.
  • Shojin Ryori Whereas kaiseki developed out of the affluence of the aristocrats, shojin ryori developed from the austerity of Buddhist monks. Prohibited from taking the life of other living creatures, Buddhist monks had to make do without meat or fish in their diet. Consisting of strictly vegetarian dishes, shojin ryori can nonetheless be savory and filling. Travelers who spend the night at a temple lodging will be able to enjoy a meal as part of the stay. A common ingredient in shojin ryori is tofu, which is a local specialty of Kyoto. The preparation of tofu is so common that it can also be referred to as Tofu Ryori ("tofu cuisine"). One popular dish that is widely served at restaurants is Yudofu, soft tofu simmered with vegetables in broth. A meal of Yudofu usually costs 1500 to 2000 yen, but the price can be higher or lower depending on the quality of the restaurant. The Nanzenji and Arashiyama districts are particularly famous for tofu cuisine.
  • Obanzai Ryori Obanzai Ryori is the traditional home style cooking of Kyoto. It is made up of multiple small dishes that are usually quite simple to prepare. Local produce that is in season is best suited for the dishes. Although the cooking methods are usually not complicated, obanzai dishes can be made very rich by chefs skillfully bringing out the natural flavors of the ingredients. Restaurants that serve obanzai ryori can be found all over Kyoto. Many of them have a relaxed and friendly atmosphere that reflects the home style of cooking. A full meal usually costs 2000 to 3000 yen, but can vary depending on the number and type of dishes ordered.
  • Kawayuka/Kawadoko Kawayuka, or Kawadoko as it is known outside of central Kyoto, is the summer pasttime of dining outdoors on temporary platforms built over flowing water. Developed as a way to beat the summer heat, kawayuka is a great way to experience one of the traditional Kyoto cuisines listed above while taking in the cooling effects of the flowing water and lively summer atmosphere. The most famous area to experience kawayuka is along the Kamogawa River in central Kyoto, especially around Pontocho. From May to September, restaurants here construct temporary wooden decks over the canal on the river's west bank. Many places serve kaiseki meals, however other types of cuisine are also available. Kibune and Takao in the forested mountains just north of central Kyoto, are also popular places to try kawayuka, although here it is called kawadoko. In Kibune especially, the platforms are built just centimeters above the river and provide almost complete relief from the summer heat. Terrace dining is popular, especially along Kamogawa River in the evenings on weekends and during holidays, when advance reservations are a must at most river facing restaurants along Pontocho (usually in Japanese by phone). A small number of restaurants can be reserved online in English through Japanican.