As if you needed an excuse, but just in case, here are our top foodie experiences that’ll get you packing your bag to Japan, stat (courtesy of a former gaijin). Itadakimasu!
1. Chill with the locals at an izakaya (ee-zah-ka-yah)
Basically Japan’s answer to the gastropub, tavern or after-work drinking haunt you frequent at home. Izakayas are great places to try some authentic local grub in the company of locals. Some are super high tech with iPad ordering functionality preventing waiters from losing your order in translation, but the old-school ones are best for striking up conversation with regulars. What’s more, most izakayas do what’s called ‘nomihodai’ (all you can drink) and ‘tabehodai’ (all you can eat) by the hour so you can make the most of your travel budget. Did anyone say happy hour?
2. Become a konbini addict
Japanese convenience stores are next level. These 24/7 fluorescent-style shops put convenience stores to shame, selling everything from pre-drinking hangover cures to socks, stationary and adorably packaged food. Conveniently (get it?) located on every block, konbinis are the go-to for stocking up on snacks or a cheap makeshift lunch to push your taste buds out of their comfort zone. Top tip: go wild sampling Japanese candy – from matcha flavoured kit-kats to mushroom shaped chocolate, they’ve got the weird and wonderful down pat.
3. Pluck your lunch off a conveyor belt
Kaiten sushi literally translates to ‘rotation sushi’, and for good reason. More common than your average fast-food chain, these quick-serve restaurants offer sushi on a conveyor belt. Some have a digital ordering system for special orders if the plates passing by don’t take your fancy; the more traditional shops have sushi chefs standing behind the counter taking orders, shouting it back in unison. You pay per plate with the price varying depending on the cut and quality of the fish, but it’s surprisingly cheap. Added bonus: seeing the huge stacks piled up next to locals – it’s downright impressive.
4. Get your noodle fix.
Impress your friends by learning to tell the difference between soba, ramen and udon. And find your favourite, obvs. If you’re an udon fan, this place in Kyoto serves an udon noodle so thick, there’s only room for one per bowl.
5. Get served in character at a themed restaurant.
From prison themed restaurants seating you in a cell to robots entertaining you in a sci-fi style cabaret while you eat, Japan knows how to deliver on a solid themed experience. Alcatraz E.R., a medical prison themed restaurant, kicked off the trend nearly two decades ago by capitalizing on the popularity of hospital food at the time (don’t ask). As the diner, you’re treated as the patient. Handcuffed at the door by a nurse-clad waitress, you’re fake-injected by a giant syringe and locked in a cell before they take your order. Occasionally, they’ll let a patient ‘escape’ and run wild to scare the other patrons. Yeah, it’s not about the food.
6. Rediscover romance with a Japanese crepe
Japan’s cone-shaped take on the sweet French favourite easily rivals those served in Paris. Choose your flavour from the plastic versions on display. From classic combos like custard and banana, and strawberries and cream, to tuna and mayo, options cater to both safe and adventurous eaters alike. Make it your mission to eat your way through them all by the time you leave because, #YOLO.
7. Meet a Yakimo Man
They drive a pick up truck equipped with a wood-burning oven and serve roasted sweet potatoes. A slow deep-register male voice belting ‘yaaaaaa-kiiiiii-moooooo’ will let you know when one is nearby. Served with nothing but salt and butter, it’s the perfect comfort food on a chilly night. Hello, new comfort food fave, you.
Time for a Japan foodie adventure? Go here for ALL the details.