Japan’s food scene is one that stands out in world. Its Tokyo capital alone has a mind boggling 234 Michelin-starred restaurants – and we mustn’t forget the amazing street food!
Its traditional cuisine can appear as sublime works of art, prepared with meticulous attention to detail and balanced with rich and delicate flavours using quality and fresh ingredients. So, it comes to no surprise that Japan is a gastronome haven full of tantalising food adventures. Plus, there are plenty of opportunities to learn cooking secrets from masters to truly immerse yourself in the Japanese culture, which you can experience in our Food Lover's Japan trip.
When in Japan, these are some not-to-be-missed culinary experiences.
1. Eat the fish you catch in Osaka
There’s nothing fresher than catching your own lunch and having it served up in deliciously different ways.
Located in Osaka's popular sightseeing spot of Shinsekai, Tsurikichi offers a noteworthy dining experience where you fish for your food.
The izakaya restaurant is fashioned like a galleon and port, fitted with canals and a large aquarium where fish, such as sea bream, red snapper and horse mackerel, swim.
Once you’re anchored in your seats, you're given a rod and bait and you can start putting your fishing skills to the test. Your catch of the day is then taken away and cooked to order.
The restaurant also has a selection of other items on the menu including kushikatsu, steaks and, of course, dessert.
It’s a delight for foodies who are after some fun!
2. Dine like a monk
Looking for more than just a sightseeing experience? Get a taste of the life of a monk during your visit to Mount Kōya, sacred to the Shingon Buddhists. After you’ve hiked through the serene Kōyasan forests, unwind during an Ajikan meditation session and try your hand at shakyo – the practice of copying Buddhist sutras.
Beautiful pagoda structures in Koyasan. Photo: Akuppa John Wigham / Flickr (CC)
Taking your cultural experience to the next level of enlightenment, enjoy a specialty goma-dohu (sesame tofu) along with other shojin ryori dishes (these cuisines are vegetarian). And to tie it altogether, stay overnight at a temple lodge (shukubo) to get a real sense of a monk’s life. It’s an unforgettable way to experience a traditional side of Japan away from main tourist crowds.
3. Make your own sushi in Tokyo
Taking in the sights of Tokyo city sure builds up an appetite! Venture down Kappabashi Dōgugaib – an area frequented by Tokyo’s chefs and restaurant owners looking for specialised kitchenware – and head to Asakusa Chagohan for a sushi making class.
During this class you'll be taken on a cultural journey in the art of making nigiri sushi and gunkan-maki sushi. Test your skills at making Japanese broth (dashi) and miso soup, as well as the trick to creating perfect sushi rice. Afterwards, enjoy your own creations with a complimentary sake aperitif or tea.
Fun and educational, leave with skills to host your own sushi party at home!
Feeling inspired? Check out our Food Lover's Japan Trip
4. Taste the famous black eggs of Hakone
Take the Hakone Ropeway to the active volcanic valley of Owakudani where you are greeted by the breathtaking geology of steam vents, hot springs and rivers – you can even catch views of Mt Fuji on clear days.
Unique to the Hakone area is the Japanese delicacy, kuro-tamago or ‘black eggs’, which darken to a soot black when cooked in the naturally sulfurous hot spring water. Since you’re in the area, you have to give the egg a try. Once you’ve had a bite, it’s believed to prolong one's life by five to seven years … at least according to the local legend.
Photo: David Monniaux (CC)
5. Create sweets from your freshly farm-picked fruits
It'll feel like time has stopped in the peaceful, rural area of Tanabe in Wakayama. Head inland a few kilometres from the city centre to Kamiakizu Tanabe to the tourism green facility, Akizuno Garten. The two-story complex was formerly an elementary school and is now a hotel and farmer’s restaurant offering a buffet of local, country-style dishes made from regional products.
Go mikan (Japanese orange) or ume (Japanese apricot) picking in the stunning orchards and experience the local agriculture first hand. Using the farm’s local produce, take part in an aromatic, sweet-making workshop and indulge in your dessert creations afterwards. Yum!
6. Enjoy dinner prepared by a high-end chef in a traditional minshuku
Planning a hike in the majestic UNESCO World Heritage site, Kumano Kodo? Compliment your countryside trek with a stay in a traditional minshuku, a Japanese style B&B.
One particular place to stay is at Minshuku Tsugizakura, a simple home turned into a guesthouse that’s located in a beautiful and tranquil forest near the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route. And just around the corner is the Nonaka-no-Shimizu spring, one of Japan’s 100 famous waters.
The ancient cobble lined route on the Kumano Kodo
The place is owned by professional chef, Mr. Yuba, who worked across the breadth of Japan before returning to his hometown in the mountains to open this family-run minshuku. So, it won’t come to your surprise that the traditional Japanese meals served here are exceptional. Mr. Yuba and his wife host a truly wonderful feast made from the best fresh local ingredients – a real treat after a day’s hike!
7. Join a soba noodle masterclass in Kyoto
Get a hands-on foodie experience when you learn the craft of soba noodle making at Kiyomizu Tei’s workshop using Japanese tools and methods. These thin traditional noodles of choice are made from buckwheat and are prepared in a wide variety of Japanese dishes, either served cold with a dipping sauce or in a hot broth as a noodle soup.
Grinding buckwheat on a millstone, you will make sobe (known as 'sobauchi' in Japanese) with a chef demonstrating the right techniques to create authentic soba noodles. Once made, your soba is cooked and served for your enjoyment, paired with soba sauce and wasabi.
8. Take part in a tea ceremony
When you need a break from all the delicious Japanese food, it's time for some matcha – the ingredient is commonly used in a variety of sweets and drinks, including ice-cream, cheesecake and, of course, tea.
Take part in an authentic matcha tea ceremony and sip the delicacy of these specially grown green tea leaves, which are grounded into a fine powder. When in Kyoto, this is a unique cultural activity to try in a beautiful serene setting.
Photo: Janelle William
9. Go wine and sake tasting
A winery tour is the perfect break from city crowds, so why not travel to the countryside of Kyoto where you can get up close and personal with Japan’s rural agricultural life?
At Tamba Wine House, a small winery located in Satoyama in Kyoto Tamaba Town, sample the earthy Japanese wine made from local grapes, and take a tour of the brewing site to learn more about the craft.
Another worthy place to visit is Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum in Fushimi, the city in Kyoto renowned for its tasty sake. Learn all about the iconic Japanese rice wine and relish in the freshness of Gekkeikan’s sake tasting.
Experience it for yourself
From learning the intricacies of traditional Japanese culture to trekking the historic Kumano pilgrimage walk, our Food Lover's Japan trip gives you an insight into the history and art of Japanese cuisine within culturally rich regions – an experience that will truly satisfy your hunger for adventure.
Photo: Janelle William
What’s your favourite Japanese food? Let us know in the comments below.