What happens when a foodie goes to Japan? Lots and lots of good eating! Many of the things I wanted to make sure we crossed off the list were food-related.
I spent two weeks in Japan and visited five cities, and these are the foodie experiences I enjoyed and would recommend.
Experience a Kaiseki Meal
Kaiseki is a traditional, multi-course Japanese dinner. We stayed at a ryokan (traditional Japanese hotel) in Hakone, which is a mountain town known for its hot springs. Ryokans typically offer dinner and breakfast with the stay, and eating well is a light way to describe it. Each dinner and breakfast at Masutomi Ryokan was a spread of courses. From soup to fried to sashimi, all the ingredients were incredibly fresh and flavorful. Think of this like a chef’s tasting meal!
Eat a Sushi Omakase
Sushi tastings have become a popular experience in Austin; so many new spots have opened. All their fish comes from Japan, so why not eat it fresh (even fresher) from the source? There are many options. We enjoyed Sushi Punch in Tokyo.
Try the Owakudani Black Egg
Since we stayed a few days in Hakone for the ryokan experience, we spent time going up the cable car and ropeway to Owakudani. Here, you can admire Mt Fuji and eat a black chicken egg. These eggs, which taste like a typical boiled egg, are cooked in the natural sulfur water there. Local lore says one egg will add seven years to your life.
I wouldn’t plan your trip around this, but if you want to stay in the beautiful, quieter hot springs town of Hakone, you could do this as part of your sightseeing.
There are a lot, and I mean A LOT, of unique things you can eat in Japan. You can eat them elsewhere but the quality is not quite the same. One of my favorites is ramen. I had three bowls – beef, pork, and fish – and all were so delicious.
- Ichiran – Chain restaurant with many locations
- One Dragon Tan Tan Noodles in Tokyo – Beef broth ramen
- Maru de Sankaku in Osaka – Fish ramen
Enjoy Convenience Store Snacks
It’s true: Japanese convenience stores are not like other convenience stores. While I would think twice about eating fresh food from a U.S. convenience store (and probably not do it), it’s an affordable, tasty, and convenient option in Japan. In addition to the packaged foods with long shelf-life (we ate so much Pocky), you’ll like the sandwiches, warm packaged drinks, and pastry items. Be sure to try the egg salad sandwiches from 7-Eleven. I also hear the fried chicken from Family Mart is a must.
Explore Street Food
If you only do one thing on this list, I think this one is it. The experience is two-fold. You’ll enjoy some incredible food and you’ll explore the streets of Japan. Here are a few ways to do it:
Food Markets – These are long streets with indoor or outdoor stalls. You’ll see vendors cooking food right outside the entrance and they may have seating inside or nearby. Markets are usually better during the day while izakaya (bar) streets can be enjoyed for dinner.
- Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo – My favorite of this list! Go early to see the fish selling in action. You’ll enjoy very fresh seafood, from huge raw oysters to grilled scallops. Also, enjoy the most delicious wagyu skewers from Tsukiji Ihachi.
- Omoide Yokocho in Tokyo – alleyway dinner spot good for fresh grilled snacks
- Kuromon Ichiba Market in Osaka
- Dotonbori neighborhood in Osaka
Food Tour – We took two food tours during our trip, and we ended up in places we wouldn’t have found by ourselves, ate a lot, and enjoyed learning about Japan. (You know I love food tours.)
Book a Tea Ceremony
While tea originated in China, drinking tea became a ceremonial and spiritual practice in Japan. We attended a somewhat informal tea ceremony at Camellia Teahouse in Kyoto to learn about it. A full-length tea ceremony lasts four hours but ours was less than an hour. I like that teahouses follow four principles: harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility. It’s a place focused on peace and connection. Every movement and action of the host is exact and purposeful. At our tea ceremony, we learned how to whisk matcha and enjoyed our cup.
Enjoy a Michelin Meal
Did you know there are over 400 Michelin-starred restaurants in Japan? Coming from a country (the U.S.) where Michelin-starred restaurants are in a select few cities and can be a bit pricey, I enjoyed this something fun and different for our trip. We dined at Yugen in Osaka, and it was a memorable experience. Read all about it in this post.
Honorable Mention: Nakatanidou in Nara is known for their speedy mochi-making demonstration and their famous mochi. We went around 4 pm and the demos were over and they had sold out, but this would have been cool to experience.
There is so much more to discover in Japan! I hope one day I’ll be able to add to this list. Have one for me to put on the list? Let me know.
P.S. Want to read more about Japan? Check out these posts: