Flavour country: Eight must-try food experiences in Japan

Japan has one of the most revered and varied food cultures in the world.

With its diverse flavours blended with traditional ingredients, it can be overwhelming to know what to eat first and where to try it.

We could never hope to encompass the huge range offered by this unique cuisine, but here are some experiences to begin with.

Time to dive in.

1. Kaitenzushi – sushi train

Sushi is a staple of the Japanese food market – and kaitenzushi restaurants are a fast food experience unlike any other.

Kaitenzushi is the broad name given to chain restaurants that deliver sushi to diners via conveyer belts. Patrons can simply choose whichever morsels are the most appealing.

Westerners may be familiar with motorised food delivery, but there is surely no better place to try it than in Japan, where good food and efficiency go hand in hand.

One of the main positives of kaitenzushi restaurants is their ability to provide large quantities of fresh sushi very quickly, up to 2000 an hour. That means the restaurant can feed a big crowd without them waiting.

Kaitenzushi - Conveyor Belt Sushi

Behold: The sushi conveyor belt at a kaitenzushi restaurant. Photo:

Some cultural customs to be aware of before you go:

  • Don’t touch plates you do not intend to eat and do not take a plate and put it back
  • To distinguish the pricing of the items, plates are different shapes and colours – with prices varying ¥100-500 ($1.10-$5.48).

2. Toyosu Fish Market

This massive renovated market allows tourists to explore more than 400,000 square metres of fish stalls.

It consists of three buildings, two for seafood and one for fruit and vegetables.

Visitors can view the market in all its glory through the auction observation windows.

Toyosu Fish Market

Hard at work on the floor at the Toyosu Fish Market. Photo: Tripadvisor

There is even an opportunity for those who don’t work at the market to get involved in buying food at the Uogashi Yokocho Market. Located in the Fish Intermediate Wholesale Market Building, it has more than 70 shops where the public can buy a wide array of items.

Admission to the market is free, and it is open 5am-5pm, Monday to Saturday.

Themed restaurants

Themed restaurants are extremely popular in Japan. Photo:

3. Themed restaurants

Even though they’re not unique to Japan, themed restaurants
are an exceedingly popular destination, mostly due to the extreme dedication the Japanese have to their craft – they are masters of realism.

Blogger Lily Crossley Baxter of Tokyo Cheapo recommends going for a snack rather than the whole meal.

“Prices are more expensive than a regular restaurant. And there’s almost always a seating charge (of about $5.21, but rarely more),” she writes.

“The food is usually pretty average, Izakaya-style (all you can eat) fare.”

There are countless locations scattered throughout Tokyo with themes ranging from the Alice in Fantasy Book Restaurant to something more modern with the Eorzea Café, which is based on the hugely successful role-playing game Final Fantasy.

The diversity of themes more than counteracts the dip in quality of food.

Monjayaki is a popular street food across Japan’s Kanto region. Photo: Jatrabridge

4. Monjayaki in Tsukishima

The place to visit if you are craving monjayaki (the lesser-known Japanese pancake), is an island called Tsukishima, in Tokyo Bay.

Many of the first-rate monjayaki restaurants can be found along Nishinaka Street, which is easily found near Tsukishima Station.

The batter-based meal includes meat, vegetables and seafoods, resulting in a dish that’s difficult to find anywhere else.

Honest Food Talks describes the dish as “wonderfully savoury and earthy street food with equal footing in tastiness and convenience.”

Want to try it at home? Find the recipe here.

japan dining

Dine like a monk at Koyasan. Photo: Japan Guide

5. Mount Kōya (Koyasan) – temple lodging

This is another dining recommendation that is actually less about food, and more about the experience.

Mount Koya is a large temple settlement in Wakayama Prefecture, south of Osaka. It is considered the birthplace of Shingon Buddhism in Japan and is home to more than 50 temples, many offering the chance to experience and live life like a Buddhist monk.

As well as taking in the traditional artefacts and gardens, the temples offer an array of cuisines such as konnyaku (devil’s tongue jelly), yuba (tofu skin) and koya dofu (freeze-dried tofu).

japan food dining

Don’t just dine, book in and stay the night too. Photo: Japan Guide

Staying a night at a temple costs anything from ¥9000-15,000 ($99-$165) – or about the same as the average price of a Japanese hotel.

Japanese tourism site Japan Starts Here describes the experience as “one of the most magical experiences you can have”.

6. Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki is the dish of Osaka – much like the cherry blossom is the
unofficial national flower of Japan, okonomiyaki is this region’s best-known dish.

japan food dining

Okonomiyaki is best enjoyed with a group of other diners. Photo: Just One Cookbook

Described as a mix between an omelette and a pancake, the okonomiyaki is the more famous cousin of Kanto’s monjayaki.

But it’s unlike a traditional pancake in the sense that it often contains octopus or other sorts of meat or seafood. A smattering of bonito flakes adds to the experience.

Okonomiyaki translates as “to one’s liking”, and the dish allows creative freedom – add ingredients to your own taste.

Make sure to enjoy this savoury pancake with a group of locals as it’s recognised as a party dish – just as Australians might order pizza for a gathering.

7. The Sweet Train

The JR KYUSHU Railway Company offers a dozen trains on Japan’s southern island, but the crown jewel would have to be The Sweet Train.

japan food dining

Sweet treats, and savoury, aboard the popular Sweet Train.

The trains run through Sasebo and Nagasaki in winter and through Oita and Hida in the summer. This makes the Sweet Train a year-round
treat with the bonus of locally sourced meats and vegetables.

The trip offers passengers courses along the lines of:

  • Orange juice and Champagne
  • Bento box of meat, fish, and vegetables
  • Variety of seasonal fruits
  • Mignardises, which resemble small tea cakes.

A word of warning – The Sweet Train is extremely popular with tourists, so bookings need to be made months in advance.

It may not be the healthiest choice, but Kushiya Monogatari is a fun dinner stop. Photo:

8. Kushiya Monogatari

Like kaitenzushi, Kushiya Monogatari offers a wide degree of freedom for its diners.

These buffet chains across Japan allow customers to choose their favourite ingredients from the menu, and then put them together however they’d like on skewers.

Sound pretty good so far?

After covering the raw ingredients liberally with breadcrumbs, the skewers are dipped into the deep fryer at each table.

Ta da! Enjoy your first stick of kushiya.

It’s probably not the most ideal dinner option for those seeking healthy choices.

But the creativity and variety is what makes this restaurant chain a popular stop for many travellers in Japan.

Stay informed, daily
A FREE subscription to The New Daily arrives every morning and evening.
The New Daily is a trusted source of national news and information and is provided free for all Australians. Read our editorial charter
Copyright © 2024 The New Daily.
All rights reserved.