After a long day of exploring, what’s the one thing you need? Food. And you want it to be good.
When you head off travelling it’s easy to end up missing out on a place’s culinary scene, quite simply because you don’t know where the best places you’d be dying to try are. If not, you might get to indulge in some sought-after restaurants, but you might still miss out. You need to know about the most authentic flavours and local delicacies to avoid overlooking them.
This guide on finding the best places to eat in Japan aims to make it simple, so that you can savour your time in Japan in every sense.
Where to go
Using local guide books or asking at your hotel is always a good way to find a reliable restaurant for your first night. Beyond that, though, you want to get out and see more. As you wander through the city by day – whether that’s Tokyo, Kyoto or Osaka – you’ll pass plenty of places you could eat. If they are pouring out mouth-watering aromas, are in your price range and have a tasty selection on the menu displayed outside, perhaps they are worth a try? There will often be benches outside for people to wait at if the restaurant is busy. If it’s a favourite with the locals, you can bet it’ll be worth the wait.
You’ll find a huge range of restaurant styles, from sushi restaurants with more communal vibes and busy bars to more traditional eateries where you’ll sit on the floor or on sunken benches at low tables. There are also countless restaurants in the enormous shopping malls. These will typically offer some more global cuisines too, but you’ll find places to serve up Japanese specialities, too.
What to eat
Ramen is a staple here and it should be top of your list when shortlisting the best places to eat in Japan. A delicious noodle dish served in a broth, it packs in a mighty level of flavour. You could spend your entire trip just eating ramen, there are so many variations in the ingredients and flavourings that go into the dish!
The obvious choice for what to eat would be sushi. Even if you can’t stomach the idea of chowing down on raw fish, try it once. You’ll never experience it so authentically again. And if you don’t love it? Switch to vegetable sushi instead. You’ll find plenty of cucumber and avocado based options to please your palate instead.
Eels are also a delicacy, so if you’re brave enough, give them a try. You’ll find restaurants dedicated to exclusively serving this fish in a multitude of ways. Fish is big business on Japanese menus being an island nation, so if you’d rather give the eels the slip, you’ll still find plenty of opportunity to taste their local produce and flavours.
The final thing on our bucket list of the best places to eat in Japan? Anything from the bakery! The culture for bakeries, both independent and chains, still thrives here, so you’ll find plenty of irresistible breakfast spots. Take a camera, as these bakeries are as much a feast for the eyes as they are for the stomach. The shelves are often piled high with breads twisted into pretty shapes, decoratively iced or even turned into teddy bears! And make sure you try the milk bread, as it is or as part of a breakfast dish – it’s heavenly!
Japanese bakeries come with one word of warning. Some products may look similar to those in the UK, but they won’t always taste it. Doughnuts are more likely to be filled with a semi-sweet bean paste than jam, for example, but they’re well worth a taste.
What to know
Menus aren’t often translated, so when you’re trying to choose between some of the best places to eat in Japan, you may find yourself relying on pictures. Menus are usually full of these though, which is helpful for tourists. There are also often plastic replicas of the dishes displayed out the front of the restaurant to give you an idea, too.
Wherever and whatever you choose to eat in Japan, make your next stop a karaoke bar for a real taste of Japanese culture. Once you’ve had your fill of singalongs and sushi, why not explore Japan’s mountainous regions too? We share four reasons why you should.