How to Eat Well in Japan

Traveling to Japan can be a daunting task to imagine. It’s quite unnerving to travel to a place that seemingly looks and feels foreign – both from its language to its culture – yet you can’t help but to be drawn to an enchanting place like that. You probably want to experience all the essential culinary wonders that the country has to offer, but perhaps the foreignness can hinder you in your tracks.

But truth be told, Japan is one of the most pleasant places to visit in all over the world, IF you do your homework. It’s true that it’s not the most straightforward task and it requires extensive study, but once you have, Japan is the most fun culinary playground that you can ever encounter.

So how should you proceed to eat well in Japan? Just follow these steps and you should daijobu!

1. Do your research

“Research” sounds easy enough on paper, but you really need to know what to look for when you do a research on Japan. Find out what kind of food that you want to try – could it be the best sushi, okonomiyaki, or udon? – then find out which restaurant generates the best buzz from online conversations. Check out pictures on Instagram and read reviews from blogs, then list several places that you find most interesting. And do make sure that they suit your budget as well!

2. Map it out

Most major cities in Japan are big, such as Tokyo or Osaka, and if you aren’t prepared enough there is a tendency for you to get lost. Add to the fact that a lot of buildings or restaurants nondescript and indistinguishable from one another, it can be hard for you to exactly find your desired restaurant. So the best thing that you can do to make sure you don’t come knocking on the wrong door is you map out your food itinerary first. Explicitly bookmark these restaurants on your map (preferably offline) and take pictures of the restaurant’s facade to reassure that you find the right restaurant. The most annoying thing is when your expectations are so high, but you can’t even locate the restaurant in question…

3. Plan ahead

The opening hours of restaurants in Japan can be quite erratic and unpredictable. Restaurants that have a website will probably list their opening hours there, but bare in mind, not all restaurants there have websites or a social media account to detail their actual opening hours. Google may not all be that accurate (based on personal experience), and some restaurants even close on random days without notice. So plan ahead first, find as many websites that you can that lists the restaurant’s opening hours just to be sure. Then schedule your visit according to these hours, and if possible, create a backup plan. Also find out whether you need to make a reservation or not when you visit these restaurants. You wouldn’t want to be turned away when you visit a restaurant, right?

4. Bring cash

It’s the modern world, yes, where cashless payments or at least credit cards are customary payment methods in restaurants. But Japan is old school, both to its advantage and disadvantage. Just remember that some restaurants only accept cash as their form of payment, some even use a cash-based vending machine to produce an order ticket for you. If you don’t bring cash to these restaurants, well, just pray that there is an ATM nearby.

5. Follow the lines

When you are more of the spontaneous type, where planning and researching is really not your forte, my rule of thumb when finding a good restaurant in Japan is to follow the lines. If there is a long line in front of a restaurant, it’s safe to bet that the restaurant will be at least pretty good. And it’s not uncommon to find these lines in crowded areas like Ginza or Harajuku.