🔖 5 min read

Understanding and enjoying food in Japan extends beyond the confines of a restaurant’s kitchen. It’s an immersive experience that starts with the meticulous selection of ingredients, reflecting the deep-rooted respect for food in Japan. The scene outside the restaurant, with crates of fresh daikon and yams, is a testament to the daily ritual of sourcing the finest produce to ensure the authenticity of flavours that define Japan street food and gourmet dishes.

As you wander the bustling streets, the commitment to quality becomes evident. With the air teeming with the enticing aromas of takoyaki and yakitori from street vendors. Each stall offers a window into the soul of Japan’s food, with chefs taking pride in their craft, serving up delectable bites that capture the essence of the season. Whether the sizzle of grilling meat or the gentle simmer of a noodle broth, the symphony of sights, sounds and smells creates a tapestry of culinary delight.

The encounter at the restaurant, where the remnants of seafood linger in the air, reminds me of Japanese cuisine’s transient beauty. It’s a cuisine that celebrates the impermanence of seasons, with menus that adapt to the rhythm of nature. Every dish is a harmonious blend of tradition and innovation, from the delicate sakura-infused sweets of spring to the hearty hot pots that warm a winter evening.

The Menu

The quaint eatery, nestled in the bustling streets of Tokyo, offered a glimpse into the culinary soul of Japan. The menu, a rustic wooden board, hanging out in front of the restaurant, with just three options scrawled in black marker. 

Seared tuna donburi 

A classic dish where the rich, velvety texture of the tuna is lightly kissed by the flames, enhancing its natural flavors. Served atop a bed of steaming rice, it’s capturing the essence of Japan food.

Minced toro with grated yam donburi:

This delicacy combines the luxurious, buttery toro with the earthy sweetness of grated yam, creating a contrast that is both bold and delicate. It’s a dish that reflects the innovative spirit of food in Japan, marrying diverse textures in perfect harmony.

Grilled salmon teishoku:

A set meal that showcases the revered techniques of Japanese grilling. The salmon, with its crisp, charred exterior and tender interior, is accompanied by seasonal sides, pickles, and miso soup. It’s a comforting, balanced meal that embodies the heart of Japan street food – wholesome, flavorful, and deeply satisfying.

Each option on the menu was more than just a meal; it was an invitation to Japanese gastronomy. Whether seated under the noren curtains of the restaurant or perched on a stool along a vibrant street food stall, diners could immerse themselves through a rich culinary experience. 

“Did you go to the Toyosu fish market for these?”

“Yes ma’am! Just this morning!” the owner replied from inside.

Japanese food
Illustrations by Kaki Omura

Keep it simple and focus on quality

In Japan, the culinary landscape is a testament to the nation’s profound respect for seasonality and freshness. Japan food culture is deeply rooted in the philosophy of ‘shun’, which celebrates ingredients at their peak of flavour. This approach is evident in the dynamic menus of local eateries. Where the day’s offerings are crafted around the freshest market produce rather than a static selection of dishes.

Food in Japan is not just a meal; it’s an experience that engages all senses. For a modest sum of less than ¥1000, or about $10, one can indulge in an array of dishes that epitomize the essence of Japanese cuisine. The value is unparalleled, with each dish offering a harmony of taste, texture, and visual appeal.

Exploring the vibrant Japan street food scene reveals a world where quick bites don’t compromise on quality. From sizzling Takoyaki balls to succulent Yakitori skewers, each vendor presents a slice of Japan’s rich culinary heritage.

The spontaneity of the menu is a reflection of the market’s rhythm. A fresh shipment of tomatoes and cucumbers? They transform into a refreshing salad, bursting with the day’s vitality. An unexpected bounty of yellowtail? It becomes the star of a Donburi Teishoku, a bowl of rice topped with the ocean’s freshest catch.

In Japan, The ingredients available lead the menu of the day, rather than the menu items dictating what needs to be bought at the market. It’s a sustainable practice that honours the ingredients and the environment. To dine in Japan is to embrace a tradition where the food is seasonally based rather than a trend. 

Food in Japan
Illustrations by Kaki Omura

The Japanese restaurant philosophy

Many restaurants today, especially large chains and big restaurant groups, focus on developing a long and multifarious menu first.

Just look at the menu for places like the Cheesecake Factory, P.F. Chang’s, or Olive Garden, and it’s clear to see that they are oversaturated with options that are available year-round with little consideration of the seasonality of the ingredients. A long list of 10 different kinds of pasta and pizza. Or a menu serving both dim sum, sushi, ramen, and rice bowls.

Looking at the business model of a Japanese restaurant chain called Shinkichi, they reverse their focus: ingredients first, menu second. While they have several different locations, each location constructs its own menu, with the staff trained to go out to the market every morning to select the best ingredients.

What is a salmon teriyaki menu item one day might use yellowtail the next, and what is a side dish of spinach ohitashi one day might be restyled to use mizuna leaves instead.

Following general guidelines on the restaurant’s branding and seasoning style, they first refer to their ingredients and then decide on a few things to cook that day.

Japanese set menu items
Illustrations by Kaki Omura

Looking at the business model of a Japanese restaurant chain called Shinkichi … each location constructs its own menu, with the staff trained to go out to the market every morning to select the best ingredients.

The dining landscape in Japan is changing, but what many restaurants still continue to do right is focusing on just a few things to cook every day, and making the best use of what’s at the market that morning.

By using what’s local and in season, the natural sweet or savory flavor of the produce and ingredients can come forward without having to be covered up in tons of oil, sugar, or salt. People can eat better, consume sustainably, and enjoy the freshest ingredients available to them.If you like this article you can also read our guide to Japanese food

Anyways, I think I’ll have the seared tuna donburi.

Kaki Omura from Kakikata Space

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Get to know Kaki Okumura

I’m Japanese but was born in Dallas, Texas. Shortly after, I moved to New York where I spent a few years until I moved to Tokyo when I was 12. My life has been a constant balancing of these two different identities. But I really value my dual experience and want to bring these two different cultures and ideologies together.

I used to struggle with both my physical and emotional wellbeing. But I have found that by adopting a healthy lifestyle. I have worked myself into a positive feedback loop. A healthy body supports a healthy mind, and a healthy mind builds a healthy body.

Using the lessons I’ve learned from and experienced in both my Japanese and Western upbringing, I’ve managed to help myself by following a philosophy based on wellness and health. I strongly believe that good health is not just beneficial, but incredibly essential to living a fulfilling and rich life.

My journey is far from perfection, but I use my personal experience and dual knowledge of Japanese and Western lifestyles to help others shape healthy, sustainable, and fulfilling lifestyle paths toward better living.

My goal is to empower you with the strength that you can control your own well-being.




About Kaki Okumura

Kaki Okumura is a Japanese food and wellness writer, helping others discover simple ways to approach food, movement, and rest, so they can reach higher levels of lifestyle balance and ultimately, contentment.