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Japanese Cuisine

Those familiar with Japanese cuisine ( nihon ryōri ) know that eating is half the fun of travelling in Japan. Even if you’ve already tried some of Japan’s better-known specialities, you’re likely to be surprised by how delicious the original is when served on its home turf. More importantly, the adventurous eater will be delighted to find that Japanese food is far more than just sushi, tempura or sukiyaki. Indeed, it is possible to spend a month in Japan and sample a different speciality restaurant every day.

With the exception of shokudō (all-round restaurants) and izakaya (pub-eateries), most Japanese restaurants concentrate on a speciality cuisine. In this chapter we discuss the main types of restaurants you are likely to encounter and we provide sample menus for each type. If you familiarise yourself with the main types of restaurants and what they serve, you’ll be able to get the most out of Japan’s incredible culinary scene.

Of course, you may baulk at charging into a restaurant where both the language and the menu are likely to be incomprehensible. Those timid of heart should take solace in the fact that the Japanese will go to extraordinary lengths to understand what you want and will help you to order. To assist you further, eating reviews in this book recommend specific dishes for restaurants in which no English menu is available. If there is an English menu, this is indicated in the review with the symbol .

In this guide, restaurant listings are organised by price category, indicated by the symbols $ (budget), $$ (midrange) or $$$ (top end). Budget options cost ¥1000 or less; midrange meals cost between ¥1000 and ¥4000; and top-end meals will cost more than ¥4000.


When you enter a restaurant in Japan, you’ll be greeted with a hearty ‘ irasshaimase ’ (Welcome!). In all but the most casual places the waiter will next ask you ‘ nan-mei sama ’ (How many people?). Answer with your fingers, which is what the Japanese do. You will then be led to a table, a place at the counter or a tatami room.

At this point you will be given an o-shibori (a hot towel), a cup of tea and a menu. The o-shibori is for wiping your hands and face. When you’re done with it, just roll it up and leave it next to your place. Now comes the hard part: ordering. If you don’t read Japanese, you can use the romanisations and translations in this book to help you, or direct the waiter’s attention to the Japanese script. If this doesn’t work, there are two phrases that may help: ‘ o-susume wa nan desu ka ’ (What do you recommend?) and ‘ o-makase shimasu’ (Please decide for me).

When you’ve finished eating, you can signal for the bill by crossing one index finger over the other to form the sign of an ‘x’. This is the standard sign for ‘Bill, please’. You can also say ‘ o-kanjō kudasai’ . Remember there is no tipping in Japan and tea is free of charge. Usually you will be given a bill to take to the cashier at the front of the restaurant. Only the bigger and more international places take credit cards, so cash is always the surer option. When leaving, it is polite to say to the restaurant staff ‘ gochisō-sama deshita ’, which means ‘It was a real feast’.

What is New


1 Tokyo has just become a whole lot more convenient: Haneda Airport is once again serving international routes. Only 30 minutes out of downtown Tokyo and within reasonable taxi distance, Haneda is much closer to the city than Narita, which remains Tokyo’s main international entry point.


2 First held in 2010, this festival is slated to be held every three years, with the next one coming in 2013 (July to October). Events are centred on the island-cum-art-museum of Naoshima.


3 Shinkansen (bullet train) lines have been extended north to the city of Aomori, at the northern tip of Honshū, and south to the city of Kagoshima, in Kyūshū. You can now cross almost all of Kyūshū and Honshū by bullet train.


4 Jetstar, Australia’s budget airline, launched service to Japan (Kansai and Narita) in 2007. This makes Japan a much more reasonable destination for Australian backpackers, skiers and families.


5 Local food is all the rage in Japan and locavores can sample the fare in cities and villages across the archipelago.


6 Designed by Andō Tadao, this new museum (named after Korean-born artist Lee Ufan) is a great new addition to the museums and galleries on Naoshima.


7 Capsule hotels used to be the refuge of sozzled salarymen who missed the last train home. Not anymore. A wave of cool designer capsule hotels has swept the country. A good example of this is the Capsule Ryokan Kyoto.


8 Scheduled to open in spring 2012, the Tokyo Sky Tree will soar to 634m and feature two observation decks.


9 New bus routes and more frequent departures make climbing Mt Fuji easier.


10 Local tourism authorities have been working hard to open the Kumano Kodō pilgrimage trails to foreign tourists and their work has paid off in a big way

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