Food and Drinks in Japan

Sushi is one of the most popular dishes among Japanese and the most famous Japanese dish outside of Japan.
Sushi is one of the most popular dishes among Japanese and the most famous Japanese dish outside of Japan.

When it comes to food travel, there are a few countries that stand out far above the crowd. There's France, home of gourmet food and high-end dining. There's Italy, the land of delicious pastas and world-famous national dishes. And then there's Japan, Asia's capital of fine dining, exquisite food, and some of the most notorious dishes known to the Western world.

Japanese cuisine covers the entire gastronomic meter, ranging from ultra-cheap ramen noodles to some of the world's most prized meats. From luxurious Kobe beef to world famous fast food like Coco Ichibanya and Mos Burger, Japan is home to every culinary enthusiast's favorite meals, and a great deal of fantastic dishes that most foreign visitors are unaware of until they've arrived.

Let's start with the staple of any country's diet – its favorite street foods. In Japan, most people dine in small, often independently-owned eateries. Found on almost every street corner, they offer small, inexpensive dishes like ramen and yakisoba. These noodle dishes, one boiled and served in soup or gravy, and another pan fried, are two of the country's most common lunchtime dishes.

Of course, for most foreign visitors, the key attraction in Japan's cuisine culture is its fresh fish, and namely, its sushi. Japanese sushi is slightly different from the sushi that's found in the west – it isn't wrapped in seaweed, nor is it packed with ingredients like California-style sushi. Instead, Japanese sushi is a simple mix of white rice and fresh fish, fish roe, egg, or other secondary meats.

Sake is the second most popular alcoholic drink after beer in Japan.
Sake is the second most popular alcoholic drink after beer in Japan.

Likewise, sashimi is a popular dish in Japan. Made from fresh fish meat that's typically uncooked, sashimi meat is available in almost any flavor. Whether you're a fan of salmon, tuna, yellowtail, or the infamous fugu – a variation of the puffer fish that's poisonous when prepared incorrectly – you'll rarely be short of delicious and nutritious (sashimi is very high in protein) eating options in Japan.

However, while the Japanese food we know and love is certainly tasty, it can often come with a very heavy price tag attached, particularly in major cities like Tokyo. To avoid an expensive bill, make it a rule to never dine on the ground floor in major Japanese cities. Walk upstairs and you'll find smaller restaurants and food courts offering the same food at lower prices than downstairs.

While not regarded as a major party destination, Japan is home to some of the world's best bars and entertainment districts. From Tokyo's infamous Roppongi district to smaller nightlife areas in many of the country's other cities, Japanese people like to enjoy a drink together to reflect on life. Most of the time, hard alcoholic beverages like sake and the Korean soju are the beverages of choice.

While Japan's hard liquors attract the most attention abroad, most Japanese drinkers choose beer as their drink of choice. With a brewing industry reaching back to the 17th century, Japan is one of the best nations in Asia for beer fans. Asahi and Kirin are the country's two major beer brands, and due to Japan's relaxed alcohol laws, both are sold everywhere from convenience stores to street stalls.

While its fine foods and beverages attract considerable attention abroad, what makes Japanese food unique amongst its Asian neighbors is its obsession with snacking. From Pocky to Royce Chocolate, Japan's snacks are both unique and delicious. Instead of searching for high-end sushi bars, spend an hour navigating the shelves at 7/11 and you'll find some unique, bizarre, and highly tasty snacks.

From sake to sushi, poisonous fish to sizzling hotplate fast food, Japan is one of Asia's most varied and interesting cuisines. Whether you're searching for filling curry houses or incredibly expensive high-end sashimi, you'll have no difficulty finding your dream foods, often within a few blocks of one another. Japan's cuisine and dining culture make it a true must-visit destination for food gurus.