Are you wondering what to eat in Japan and the best Japanese food? We’ve been back to Japan numerous times, and while the culture, people, and the scenery are fantastic, it’s all the popular Japanese food items that keep bringing us back!
Japanese food doesn’t just taste good, but it’s the whole presentation and service that adds to the dining experience. Japan has world class service and world-renowned food to try.
Even if you’re a picky eater when you travel I guarantee you will be able to find some Japanese dishes you will like.
The Japanese take their food very seriously, with some of the top chefs dedicating their entire life to creating the best Japanese food in the country. Whether it’s your first trip to Japan or your tenth, there’s always a new must try food item you haven’t yet tasted. Here are our favorite foods to try in Japan.
Popular Japanese Food You Have to Try
You probably are aware that sushi originated from Japan and is the ultimate Japanese food. You will not find any Dragon Rolls, California Rolls, or fancy creations that are popular in western culture.
In fact to this day, if you visit Japan, you won’t see that stylish sushi. Instead, you’ll find the real deal.
The word sushi refers to any dish made with Japanese rice that has been seasoned with rice vinegar. There are many different types of sushi you can find in Japan. Makisushi (sushi rice and filling rolled in nori seaweed) and Nigiri (sushi rice with fish over the top, typically served with wasabi between the two) are the two most common types of sushi you’ll see.
You can’t go to Japan and not have sushi, it’s a must try food in Japan. Read your reviews and scope out an excellent sushi restaurant wherever you are. Also, if you love it as much as we do consider taking a sushi making course!
Approximate Cost for 10 pieces of Nigiri: ¥1500+ pp
Conveyor Belt Sushi
If you are curious what an extremely popular Japanese food is, let me introduce conveyor belt sushi. I feel that I had to differentiate sushi, from conveyor belt sushi, because in Japan they are very different experiences. There are costly world-class sushi options to try in Japan, but almost every decent sized town and city in Japan has conveyor belt sushi.
Conveyor belt sushi is a quick and cheap meal in Japan. Sushi is made and sent out onto a train like a conveyor belt which will rotate around the restaurant. Guests can grab what they please and then at the end of the meal, the waitress will come to tally up the plates to give a total for the meal.
The plates are different colored, and the higher grade sushi goes on more expensive dishes, which is all color coded. Typically you can get two pieces of nigiri for ¥100 to ¥200, and then the prices go up from there depending on the cut of fish.
You can easily walk out of a sushi conveyor belt meal feeling stuffed off high-quality fish for under ¥1000. That’s the price of bad/mediocre sushi in the United States!
Approximate Cost: ¥1000 pp (¥150-¥250 per plate)
Japanese Ramen is a noodle soup dish with wheat noodles, broth, and different toppings. Ramen is one of the most popular traditional Japanese food items and is another must eat.
The broth is usually soy, miso, pork, or salt and you can pick and choose what you want at many Japanese restaurants, although many Ramen shops typically have a specific popular broth that I suggest you stick with.
Toppings for ramen are some variation of meat, vegetables, nori, and bamboo shoots. The most common meat I find in ramen is pork, but it’s possible to find vegetarian.
Ramen is one of the cheapest meals you can find in Japan, and you can find it almost anywhere. It’s an everyday meal that locals and foreigners LOVE. Japanese ramen is a quick and easy meal that is great to have in the winter when you are trying to warm up.
Don’t be surprised if you find a machine in many ramen shop either. It’s here where you will order your ramen, pay at the machine, and give your choice to the ramen chef. Often everything is in Japanese – so prepare for an adventure!
Approximate Cost: ¥600-800 a bowl
Another fantastic Japanese dish to try is Udon. Udon noodles are made from wheat flour and brine water and are usually very thick and mildly chewy. An Udon meal is very substantial and can be served hot or cold, making it a tremendous Japanese food to have any time of year.
Udon can be served as a soup, or with just the noodles and a side sauce for dipping. My favorite way to eat Udon is as a soup. Udon soup can come with different toppings like tempura shrimp, vegetables, or tofu – it’s all to your liking!
Udon noodles are also very cheap to buy at the grocery store and make yourself!
Approximate costs: ¥750-1250 a meal
We are not done with the Japanese noodle dishes quite yet! Soba is the Japanese word for buckwheat, and that’s exactly what soba is – Buckwheat noodles. The buckwheat flour gives soba noodles a distinct and robust taste.
Soba can be served hot or cold and typically has a side accompanying of tempura flakes, green onions, or wasabi.
Approximate Cost: ¥1000+ pp
Yakitori is a Japanese skewered chicken that is typically skewered on a steel or bamboo skewer. The chicken is then grilled over a charcoal fire and served to guests steaming hot.
It’s not just your regular chicken breast either. Yakitori may involve chicken meatballs, gizzard, chicken wing, chicken thigh chicken tail, or if you’re brave you can try chicken small intestines.
This is a staple meal in Japan that is typically washed down with an alcoholic drink. In the Yakitori restaurants we’ve been into we’ve always been able to order sides of vegetables (like edamame) too.
Approximate Cost: ¥300 per skewer
Genghis Khan (Mongolian barbecue) is a Hokkaido local dish that consists of grilling mutton and vegetables on a unique grill that has a raised mound in the center. The most popular place to try Genghis Khan is in Sapporo and regarded as a soul food by locals.
Genghis Khan is more of a dinnertime meal and usually involves several rounds of beer to wash down all the flavors.
Genghis Khan is served tapas style where you can order as much as you like on an ongoing basis. You will also receive a side of delicious sauce to dip your meat and vegetables in. At the end of the meal, it is very common to drink that side of sauce signifying you are done and satisfied.
Approximate Cost: ¥4000+ pp
Okonomiyaki can only best be described as a Japanese pancake or pizza. It’s an important part of Japanese cuisine and is beloved by many. The first time I had one, I was in love with the presentation and the taste!
This traditional Japanese food is made by mixing cabbage, batter, some vegetables, and your choice of protein. Then it is topped with all kinds of sweet sauces.
It is a staple food to try while in Japan and can be found around the country. Okonomi means “as you like it,” and yaki means “grilled,” so it’s a meal catering to your personal preferences.
Okonomiyaki is said to originate from Osaka, so to have it in the city is a must do. We scoured Dotonbori for the best Okonomiyaki in Osaka and landed on Creo-Ru Takoyaki & Okonomiyaki. Depending on the type of Okonomiyaki you order you can expect to pay between ¥700-¥1300 for one pancake. However, we found one was more than enough for two to share.
Approximate Cost: ¥700-1300 per pancake
Takoyaki is a ball-shaped Japanese snack that is made out of wheat flour based batter. It is typically topped with tempura scraps, pickled ginger, and green onion and then brushed with takoyaki sauce and mayonnaise.
It’s a sweet and savory snack that is sure to fill you up at least a little bit. It became popular in Osaka in the mid-1930s and nowadays you will see street vendors selling Takoyaki down Dotonbori street. The most famous place to try Takoyaki is Aizuya, recommend in the Michelin guidebooks.
Approximate Cost: ¥500-800 pp
You’ve likely had Indian curry before, but have you tried delicious Japanese curry? Curry is one of Cam’s favorite meals to have in the country and it’s one of the most popular meals in Japan!
Japanese curry involves different vegetables and either meat, pork, or chicken. The meat is breaded and deep fried (Katsu-kare), and then topped with curry sauce. I never found the curry sauce crazy spicy, but it’s definitely not mild.
You can have Japanese curry in the form of curry over rice (curry rice), curry over noodles (curry udon), or as a curry filled pastry (curry bread). Try this dish in Hokkaido!
Approximate Cost: ¥700-1300 pp
Kobe Beef is the creme de la creme of beef in the entire world. Kobe beef is from the Tajima strain of Japanese Black cattle and the real stuff can get very expensive.
Expect to pay at least one ¥8000 for Kobe Beef, anything less and it’s likely not the real deal. Do your research if you want the real Kobe beef, there will be many imitators claiming to serve you Kobe beef around Japan. My first time traveling to Japan I walked into the first restaurant advertising in the city of Kobe, I paid ¥2000 for the entire meal set. Was it delicious? Sure was. Was it real? Absolutely not. Kobe Beef is a special Japanese meal that is typically reserved for special occasions.
Approximate Cost: ¥8000+ pp
If you want more authentic Japanese food and love fish then you must try sashimi. You can typically find sashimi alongside any sushi restaurant. Sashimi is raw fish that has been precisely cut into thin slices and served with wasabi, ginger, and soy sauce – just like nigiri.
Sashimi is not served with rice and should always be served fresh. Salmon, tuna, and yellowtail are all examples of fish you will see that is prepared this way.
Approximate Cost: ¥2000
Kaiseki is also referred to as Japanese “Haute” cuisine and having a kaiseki meal can be an exceptional experience.
Kaiseki is a multicourse Japanese dinner that can sometimes include more than 12 different dishes. Dishes are always varied, local, and prepared in small servings.
Kaiseki is not just an average dinner, but rather a whole presentation. You can find Kaiseki meals at ryokans or specialty restaurants. We recently had Kaiseki in Kyoto when we experienced dinner with a Maiko.
Approximate Cost: ¥4000+ pp
Gyoza is moon shaped dumpling you have likely seen before. In Japan Gyoza is a very popular dish and is either served as a snack or a side component to your main meal.
Almost all gyoza that I have come across in Japan is filled with pork mince. However, if you are at a specialty shop, you may find vegetarian options. You can also find them in convenience stores or make them yourself at home! Dip them in soy sauce before you chow down!
Approximate Cost: ¥500-700
If you’ve gone to any sushi place in the west you’ve likely seen Edamame on the menu. Edamame can also be found in the frozen food section of any grocery store in North America.
It’s prevalent in Japan and one of the absolute cheapest vegetables you can find and eat quickly. If you’ve never had edamame these are immature soybeans that have been harvested before the beans are hardened. In Japan, they are served in the pod, are lightly salted, and accompanied by a side of soy sauce to dip in.
They are cheap and can also be found at any convenience store in the frozen section as a quick snack.
Approximate Cost: ¥200-300
Another staple in any sushi or Japanese restaurant in North America is miso soup. Miso soup is a very common thing to have before any meal in Japan. Miso soup is made from the combination of miso paste and dashi broth. There is typically tofu, wakame seaweed, and green onion in the soup.
It’s a delicious light starter to have especially on a cold day.
Approximate Cost: ¥200-300 per cup
Our Favorite Japanese Drinks
So what drinks go with Japanese food, you ask? Sake is alcoholic Japanese rice wine. It is delicious, and if you have never had it, I urge you to order a carafe, or tokkuri, next time you see it on a menu.
Sake is Japan’s national beverage and is often served on special occasions in the tokkuri, a small porcelain bottle, and then poured and sipped from a sakazuki. You can either have sake chilled, warm, or room temperature. Generally speaking, cheap sake is warmed to mask the taste while fine sakes are slightly chilled to savor the flavor. An average sake is very affordable in Japan and can be enjoyed at any meal you have out.
We love to have it at an Izakaya (Japanese pub). You can also find it in the liquor section at the grocery store and get yourself a whole bottle for between ¥800-¥2000. Don’t bother trying to pick out the best one by reading the labels; it’s virtually impossible unless you speak Japanese. My best advice is to pick the prettiest bottle and go from there, or you could always test out your language skills and ask someone! Don’t forget to bring some home!
Approximate Cost: ¥500 a glass at a bar, ¥700+ per bottle at the grocery store
Umeshu is a Japanese liquor, or plum wine. It’s made from unripe ume fruits, shochu, and sugar. It’s one of the sweetest wines you’ll ever taste, but hot damn it is delicious.
There are many types of Umeshu in Japan to try, and you’ll find it on any drinks menu. You can either have your umeshu on the rocks, with sour, with soda water, tap water, or tonic. My personal favorite is with soda water – it is so refreshing to have after a long day exploring the city.
You can have umeshu at room temperature, or hot during the winter months. You can find umeshu at an Izakaya, at the Japanese grocery stores for about 1000 yen a bottle, or you can try making it. That is, if you have ume fruits, sugar, and Shōchū
Approximate Cost: ¥500 per glass at a restaurant. A bottle can be had for ¥1000 at a grocery store
Our Favorite Japanese Desserts
Matcha is a finely ground powder from green tea leaves and an important part of Japan food culture. The finished product is a bright green powder that is commonly used in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies and also in many other food items in Japan. It’s delicious and can be drunk with milk or water – hot or iced. I think Matcha is slightly sweet, vegetal, and nutty – great to have with sushi, poke bowls, or with other sweets.
While matcha is a premium product usually served at hip cafes and vegan restaurants outside of Japan, in the country you can find it everywhere. Matcha ice cream, matcha soba noodles, matcha pancakes, and matcha candy are popular items you may see.
There are also many health benefits of Matcha. It’s packed with antioxidants, boosts your metabolism and enhances the mood, burns calories, and calms the mind. Oh, and it’s green and tastes good. Win win win! If you’re going to try just one Matcha food item – make it the ice cream!
Approximate Cost: ¥200-300 per cone
Yakitate Cheese Tart
If there is one dessert in the world I would fly half way around the world for it’s the Yakitate cheese tart only found on Hokkaido, it can only be found in Japan. Hokkaido is famous in Japan for their high-quality milk, and that means Cheesecakes in Hokkaido are renowned. They are all delicious, but I found the Yakitate Cheese tart to be the best.
This is a cheesecake baked in the oven after pouring cheese mousse in cookie dough. Then the outside shell is a crispy cookie, with the cheesecake in the center. There’s a shop at New Chitose Airport, so make sure to have one while you’re waiting for your flight. Shops can also be found in Sapporo city center.
Approximate Cost: ¥180 per piece
Michi is a Japanese rice cake made out of mochigome, water, sugar, and cornstarch. Mochi is molded into a circle and is eaten year round.
It’s a typical dessert snack that can be found at street stalls and convenience stores. There are many flavors of mochi, and some are stuffed with red bean paste!
Approximate Cost: ¥100 per piece
Another famous food to try in Osaka is a Japanese Jiggly Cheesecake. Rikuro Ojisan no Mise is a small shop that sells hot and fresh cheesecakes all day! You can only buy a whole cheesecake, not by the slice here, so come with friends.
You’ll likely have to wait in a line to buy a cheesecake fresh out of the oven, but if you prefer not to wait you can also go into the shop and buy one that was made earlier in the day.
We got lucky and only had to wait five minutes or so in the line, but we were told it gets much busier depending on the day. A Jiggly cheesecake will set you back all of ¥700 and it is more than worth it! Plus they keep well if you have a refrigerator in your hotel room.
Approximate Cost: ¥700 per cheesecake
When is the Best Time to Travel to Japan?
Japan is a four season country and each winter, spring, fall, and summer brings something beautiful. Determine what you want out of your holiday first and go from there.
If you want to be immersed in a winter wonderland, then travel to Hokkaido in the winter for beautiful white powder. If you want to see Sakura (Japanese cherry blossoms) make sure to visit Japan in the spring.
Summer is shoulder season in Japan, because June makes the beginning of rainy season. You’ll find in most places this means hot and humid days, but lower prices.
Finally, fall is stunning in Japan. The leaves come alive with many red, orange, and yellow colors, and it’s a fantastic time to travel!