Eating Out

Eating Out in Japan

When you are overseas, eating can be one of the most exciting enjoyments of your travel, that can lead to experiencing different culture. The local food and drinks may not be the familiar taste, but it's full of surprises and new discoveries.

Japan is a gourmet's paradise offering an enormous variety of dishes, from traditional Japanese dishes, of course, to international cuisines of countries around the globe, in both taste and cost. In the central part of a large city such as Tokyo or Osaka, there are a number of choices you can make, to enjoy all kinds of dishes from all around the world, if you only shut your eyes to spending too much money.

Generally, eating outside in Japan is said to be expensive compared to other countries, but actually, there are many inexpensive and reasonable places to eat, on almost every street and alley.

So why not go out there and try some local food?

Before Stepping into a Restaurant

Eating in a foreign country, sometimes turn out to be a succession of oops's and uh-ohs. Here are some informations and advice you might like to know, before facing such situations.

Cash or Credit Card?

When buying something in Japan, credit cards are not as frequently ( daily ) used as it is in other countries. I think this is because Japan did not originally have the system of payment by credit cards. This perhaps may be the reason for most payments of usual shopping, still being made in cash.

Reataurants and places to eat are not an exception to this, especially in small shops, there are many places that do not accept payments in credit cards, against the background of such present situation. ( as a matter of fact, one other reason for credit card payments not being spread so much among small shops, must be the fact that the shop side has to pay commission to card companies... )

So make sure to bring along some cash ( in yen ) with you, when you go out to eat. ( If you're going to a restaurant inside your hotel, I think you wouldn't have to worry that much about bringing along some cash. ) And if possible, it would be better to check the payment system ( whether they accept credit card payments or not ), and the type of your credit card ( whether they accept your card or not, since there are many kinds of credit cards as you might already know ) before you step inside.

Usually, you can check out the things written above by the stickers on their entrance, or you can simply ask the staff there. And if you are paying by credit cards, don't forget to also make sure of the expiration date, maximum limit, and unused balance of your credit card.

About Smoking and Nonsmoking Seats

Restaurants in Japan are not entirely nonsmoking for the present.

It seems that "nonsmoking" is the world-wide trend today, and like many others Japan started to ban smoking in public areas, belatedly in these past ten or so years. Accordingly, restaurants with nonsmoking seats appeared and now they are rapidly increasing.

For now, seats seperated for smokers and nonsmokers, are the most common scenes in restaurants and cafes. Recently, some places started to seperate smoking seats and nonsmoking seats completely by walls, and although the number of such restaurants and shops are still less, they are gradually growing. ( In bars and Izakayaswhere they serve alcoholic beverages, nonsmoking seats are usually not available. )

If there is a waiter or a waitress to guide you to your seat, they'd most probably ask you which seat you would like to be seated, so just make your choice and follow your guide. In places where there is no such people to guide you, look around for signs. Usually they have a noticeable sign with a cigarette symbol mark for smokers, and a cigarette crossed mark for nonsmokers.

Do Not Bring Your Own

Sometime earlier in my life, I remember hearing about the BYO ( BYO stands for Bring Your Own, a system that you can buy your drink somewhere else, and then bring it along into other restaurants ) system in other countries. It's a very unique and convenient system, but unfortunately this system is not usually seen in Japan.

In fact, customers who bring their own food or drink to a restaurant, where people are earning their living by providing them, will be regarded as an impolite person or a person with no sense. So do not "bring your own" unless you find a sign or something, that says you can "bring your own".

bottle keep

However, there is a system called Botoru-Kiipu ( bottle keep ) in many bars and Izakayas of Japan, which you can leave your unemptied bottle there with your name tag on, so that you don't have to pay for another new bottle ( when you still have some leftovers to drink, ) the next time you come to that bar. Though this system is only used on limited kinds of liquors, and of course for a limited period of time ( mostly within a couple of months ) for food sanitary reasons, but it does help to keep your driking bills low.

As for people who don't drink alcohol, there is no need to worry about "bringing your own" in the first place, for a glass of water or tea will be served for free in every restaurant ( one for each, of course ), which will be refilled later.

About Drinks Served in Restaurants


As said in the "Nature" or "Japanese Food and Drink" page, Japan is one of the few countries where you can drink water directly from the faucet without precautions.

The glasses of water offered in restaurants are germ-free and safe to drink, in case you're worried about an upset stomach. ( Even so, many shops and restaurants use water purifiers these days, to serve finer water to their customers. ) However, water of Japan itself is soft water, different from that of places like Europe ( water of Europe is said to be hard water ), and there is a slight difference in quality. But there is no need to worry, for this difference in water quality can do no harm to your body.

Generally, drinks in restaurants tend to have bad cost performance compared to food, so you might as well make use of this convenient free water service. But you need to be careful, because depending too much on it sometimes make you look like a cheapskate.

About Foreign Language Menus


Because Japanese is spoken and understood throughout the country, people in Japan are reluctant to write or speak foreign languages, resulting in a shortage of shops and restaurants that prepare foreign language menus.

In most restaurants menus are usually written in Japanese, which makes it hard for foreign people to figure out what it says, even before choosing what they'd want to order. But thanks to the development of the food service industry, recently you can find understandable menus with large pictures and simple English, mainly in chain restaurants. Especially in the urban areas where there are many foreign residents, restaurants that prepare foreign language menus seem to be increasing.

Though I admit that it's still far from the best, it should be enough to give you an idea to what the dish looks like. In smaller restaurants things might be a little more complicated, and it might not always be enough to meet your convenience, but I'm sure the staff there would be happy to help you, unless they're too busy to do so.

About Opening Hours

Opening hours depend on each restaurant, but can be roughly seperated in three types.

Many chain restaurants are open 24 hours, while smaller ones are in service during 12:00 noon to around 10:00 p.m., or just the night time which is around 6:00 p.m. to midnight ( bars and Izakayas are not included ). It goes without saying that it would be better, to check out the opening hours if you've already decided where to go, for restaurants in business districts tend to take breaks between lunch time and dinner time.

In most restaurants lunch hours are distinguished as Ranchi ( meaning both lunch time and lunch menu ), and some of them have restrictions such as sharing seats ( I seldom bump into such situation recently, but it does exist ) or not smoking, but instead they offer some set menus for a valuable price. It might be a good idea to try this Ranchi-menus ( lunch menus ), before wasting your money on an unsatisfied dinner. You might actually get a chance, to enjoy the menus that are not served during dinner time, and such chances are not less. From my experience, restaurants that serve good food at a reasonable price for Ranchi, mostly serves as well for dinner.

My personal advice when using this "lunch time operation" as tactics, is to enter the restaurant after the busiest hours from 12:00 to 1:00 p.m.. That way you can enjoy a good meal for a reasonable price, without being squashed into a small seat or rushed off by a group of other customers, leaving enough time for the staff to help you get over unaccustomed and confusing situations.