[Eating in Japan]: Appearance of restaurants

Hedgehog: Since the book was established in 2004, some information become unprecisely and not very useful in use. For example, today some izaka-ya include yakitori, tonkatsu or oden because of the depression. Words in “Italic” is Japanese spelling called Romanji. Suffixies “-ya” means “restaurant”.

About 95% of the book will be written down, the 5% left is my own comments and some fix for easier to understand.


There are the restaurants specializing in “sushi”, “unagi”, “tempura”, also all in one and family restaurants. If you are really intersted in Japanese food we recommend the following speciality restaurants. The atmosphere of traditional Japanese style and vivid spirit of the cooks will make your visit more enjoyable.


Inside 3-star-Michelin “Jiro”, considered the best sushi restaurant.
Picture: Wikipedia.

The Japanese are generally very fond of sushi; sushi-ya (sushi restaurants) can be found all over the country, and almost all sushi restaurants offer the “meals-on-wheels” service known as demae. The price and quality of sushi vary greatly from restaurant to restaurant.

All sushi-ya have a noren (half-curtain) hanging outside with the restaurant’s name on. The restaurant is open when the noren is out, and closed when it is taken in.

Noren is hanging outside a shop. There will be another post for Noren, someday I guest…
Picture: Japan Objects

At the counter in sushi-ya, you can order individually. There aren’t any partucular rules for odering.

The most inportant point about the sushi’s neta (topping) is its freshness. This is why sushi-ya are almost always very clean. The staff are also high-spirited and energetic.

Uangi & Dojo-ya

A unagi set, and unagi is an quite expensive dish.
Picture: deskgram.net

Uangi (eel) and Dojo (loach) are usually served in the same restaurant. However, many traditional restaurants specialize in one or the other as a matter of pride, wishing to concentrate on perfecting the cooking or just one of the two.

If you pass an unagi-ya you will certainly notice the appetizing smell of the unagi bein broiled over charcoal.

Here is loach, which I believe is called “trạch” in Vietnamese.
Picture: tokyo-diary.info

Dojo (loach) is natively available in summer and is dipped in a soy-based mixture and broiled. This cooking is called kabayaki. Loach is also popular dish being yanagawa-nabe.


Ryoutei are the high-class traditional restaurants where the haute cuisine of Japan is to be found. Most require reservations, and some cater only to guest introduced personally.

Morijio: A litte mound of salt at the front door of restaurants means prosperity and a welcome to customers.
Picture: Booking.com

Ryoutei do not advertise themselves with attention catching signs, and it is easy to overlook them as you pass by. However, their deliberately-cultivated air of discreetness and exclusivity is a mark if “iki”, the traditional word for chic.

The meal is served by the nakai-san (waitress) in a zashiki, or tatami-matted room, overlooking a Japanese-style garden.

While having meal, guests also be able to take a charming sightseeing in the garden.


Sukiyaki is a luxury dish even by Japanese standards, and sukiyaki-ya are more lavishly-appointed than cheaper places such as soba-ya. They are popular among businessmen entertaining their clients.

Many sukiyaki restaurants are operated by well-known meat companies.

Kobe beef “Sukiyaki”. Super super expensive for sure.
Picture: Food Diversity

Shabu-shabu is also served at sukiyaki-ya.

Some sukiyaki-ya have western style tables and chairs, others have Japanese style low tables on tatami mat.


Soba-ya can be found all over Japan. However, the soba and soba-tsuyu (soba broth) in every restaurants taste is different, since the owners all develop their own special techniques and recipes. Many soba-ya are shinise, or family concerns that have been continued through several generations. and date from the Edo era (the 17th to the 19th century).

The distintive characteristic of soba-ya is their simplicity, both inside and out.

Today you aare also be able to order by automatic machine put in front of the restaurant.
Picture: www.creator-de-kyoto.co

There are always disposable chopsticks, shichimi and toothpicks on the tables.

In the Edo era, soba-ya doubled as izaka-ya, or drinking establish ments. Even today, they still sell sake as an accompaniment to the food.


The tonkatsu-ya (pork-cutlet restaurant) is probably the most common eatery to be found in Japan. They are very popular places for salaryman (white collar salaried workers) to have their lunch.

A good tonkatsu-ya fries the tonkatsu freshly to order.

I personally, don’t like it very much.
Picture: gourmet.trip-free

Besides the regular tonkatsu, most tonkatsu-ya also offer korokke (fried croquettes), furai (seafood, vegetables, etc., fried in batter), and kushi-age (pork, chicken, seafood, vegetables, etc., fried in skewers).

Kushi-age, it must be better than KFC’s.
Picture: r.gnavi.co.jp


Numerous yakitori-ya can be found in any entertainment district. Many advertise themselves by hanging a large red paper lantern called aka-chochin outside. The aka-chochin is also used by other drinking and eating establishments, and the word “aka-chochin” itself has become the term used to describe such establishments.

A yakitori-ya.
Picture: kumonomine.net

The deliciously enticing aroma of chicken being grilled titillates the nostrils as one approachs to a yakitori-ya.

In the evening after work, yakitori-ya fill up with salaryman (white-collar company employees) stopping off for a drink, a snack, and a chat before going home.


Okonomiyaki-ya are most popular in the Kansai region (Osaka area) in the west of Japan, but there are also many in Tokyo and other cities in the Kanto region.

Onokomiyaki-ya also serves Yakisoba as well.
Picture: www.igusagh.com

Beer, whisky, and other alcoholic drinks are also available.

Order your favourite ingredients from the a la carte menu and cook the okonomiyaki your self.


Specialty oden-ya serve oden all year around, but most yakitori-ya and izaka-ya (cheap drinking and eating places) serve it only in winter.

A quite sizable oden-ya, they also serve sake, beer and other alcohol drinks.
Picture: ehime-presswin.hatenablog.com

Most oden-ya are so small that they are easily missed and have to be searched out carefully.

At an oden-ya, the oden kept bubbling in a pot and you can order your gammodoki (fried tofu), hampen (fish cake), etc., a la carte.

Department-store restaurant

Picture: http://blog.nakatanigo.net/shinjuku/50858798

Some department stores have at least one large restaurant. Most ordinary restaurants specialize in a paticular type of food, but department-store restaurants serve a variety of food which can include Japanese, Western, and Chinese. Most of the foods describled in this book can be found at these restaurants.

Department-store restaurants often have large show-windows displaying colorful wax models of the food.
Picture: tabicoffret.com/article/75665/index.html

Department-store restaurants are good for families because it is very easy for everyone to order their favourite dish.

dining in japan

Where to Eat: You will be able to eat decent traditional Japanese food even at inexpensive restaurants. The restaurants shown in chapter 1 (this chapter) of this book are recommended. A ryoutei is a rather expensive restaurant, so you would better get price information beforehand. When you go to a sushi restaurant for the first time, telling the sushi cook your budget at first or ordering a set menu is recommended.

How to Eat: At general restaurants, in case waiters or waitress do not take you to a seat, take any available seat. There are not any rules for odering food, but state clearly what you want. When you do not know how to call the dish you want to eat, say “Are o kudasai” pointing to the dish which somebody else is eating.