Pizza is without a doubt one of the world’s most popular foods. It’s a savory treat that can be found just right around the corner in any neighborhood. This iconic dish won the hearts of many in Japan when it was introduced, bringing new flavors to their palates. The addition of pizza to their local and traditional menu gave the icon of Neopolitan street food a new home for evolution.
Japan is definitely a place for pizza lovers! Apart from nature scenery and city adventures, pizza is definitely something that you do not want to forget to include on your Japan travel checklist. Get to know a slice of Japan by looking at their love for pizzas through the years.
How Pizza Entered the Land of the Rising Sun
The very old concept of pizza came from the Ancient Greek’s flatbread called Pita which was perfect for the use of their heated stones. Flatbread was a commodity in Europe and it evolved mainly in the city of Naples during the 17th century. After its widespread influence in Italy, the popularity of pizza took a leap in different countries.
Pizza was introduced to Japan by Nicola Zapetti and Antonio Cancemi sometime after World War II. Nicola was a former Italian-American marine who immigrated to Japan after the war. Meanwhile, Antonio was an Italian-trained navy chef who arrived in the country on board an Italian military vessel. They were some of the first people to open authentic Italian restaurants that still run to this day. During this time, pizza was considered a luxury food that was exclusive to foreign visitors and the elite Japanese.
The Boom of Pizzerias in Japan
When foreign investors were finally allowed to enter the Japanese market in the 1970s, more pizza businesses opened their doors, making pizza more accessible and inexpensive to customers.
However, many areas in the countryside were still yet to be introduced to this popular dish. The fame of pizza soared when the Itameshi (Italian) boom occurred in Japan in the 1980s. Italian cuisine was reintroduced in Japan and many enjoyed the Italian-handcrafted pizza so much that Japanese chefs wanted to learn how to make the dish.
Pizza Shokunin and Their Savory Crafts
One of the most admirable strengths of Japan is the spirit of Shokunin, a way of craftsmanship that takes time and devotion. A shokunin (or artisan) is known to have mastery in one’s profession, and more importantly, the dedication to create something beautiful out of excellent ability.
As noble as it may seem, every Japanese strives to achieve this in whatever they do – even with food. While the shokunin mentality has been ingrained in traditional dishes such as ramen and tempura, Japan has its very own pizza virtuosos and pizzaiolos too!
The exchange between Italian chefs visiting Japan to do trade and of Japanese chefs traveling to Italy to learn how to make Neopolitan pizza brought knowledge and skills in Japan to get pizza a good spot in the food industry.
What it takes to be a Pizza Shokunin
Every Japanese pizza shokunin goes through years of training to get familiarized with the ingredients, cooking process, and all other factors involved with the making of the final product. They choose to cook by themselves from start to finish, instead of having other people to shape the dough, make the sauce, and adjust the fire – each pizza is treated as a special craft in the kitchen.
Aside from running their restaurants, pizza masters turn into senseis and teach those who want to get into pizza-making as well. Some join apprenticeships to follow the footsteps of their teachers or open a pizzeria of their own, other pizza lovers join in and try to recreate pizza in their homes.
Where To Buy Pizza in Japan
It isn’t difficult to find a place in Japan that sells pizza. Here are some spots to check out:
Restaurants or Pizzerias
There is no doubt that Japan serves some of the best pizza in the world. Some of these popular pizza restaurants (in no particular order) include Pizza Studio Tamaki (PST), Seirinkan, SAVOY, and Pizzeria e Trattoria da ISA.
Many pizzerias follow the Napoli system’s standards for pizza-making, and they are accredited by The True Neopolitan Pizza Association for producing authentic Neopolitan pizzas.
International fast-food chains are also thriving in Japan. Domino’s Pizza and Pizza Hut upgraded their delivery pizza menus with selections that are exclusive to their country.
Grocery and Convenience Stores
Pizza can also be found on supermarket shelves. A common type that is sold in groceries is the fry-pan pizza which requires very little time for the leavening process and is easy to cook.
It is usually oval in shape with native Japanese toppings. Frozen pizza is also available in convenience stores like 7-Eleven, Lawson, and Family Mart. With just a quick reheat, you can enjoy good flavours and aroma just the same.
Japan is home to an interesting variety of vending machines. If you’re looking for a unique experience, it’s always a great idea to try out the ones that serve pizza!
A lot of them can be found in Hiroshima operating for 24 hours and you can expect that your pizza will still come out hot and fresh. It also comes in a box with a plastic bag so there are no worries about taking it elsewhere.
Unique Japanese Pizza Varieties
Delicious Italian and American-style pizzas are just a fraction of what Japan can offer. They expanded to incorporate local toppings and produced their own flavors. Take a look at some of the unique flavors that you would surely want to try.
Chicken Teriyaki Pizza
One of Japan’s famous dishes also has a part in the pizza world. This pizza is topped with teriyaki chicken, onion, sweetcorn, seaweed, parsley, and mushrooms. It’s finished off with a drizzle of mayonnaise before reaching the table.
Natto (fermented soybeans) gives this pizza a peculiar taste. It’s a good option for those who still want to see healthy traditional food for their toppings. It could have a strong smell, but it can be enjoyed with melted cheese nevertheless.
A black-sauced pizza is definitely eye-catching because of Ikasumi or squid ink. It is commonly used in pasta dishes, but seafood lovers don’t mind the slightly fishy flavor on their pizza.
Ikasumi is mixed with the original tomato sauce and produces an appealing black hue that coats the dough.
Mochi is a popular rice cake in Japan that is made from pounded steamed rice. It can actually serve as dough and get cooked as the pizza’s crust! The mochi pizza uses Kirimochi, a hard kind of mochi that softens as it stays in the oven.
Tokuuma Bulgogi Pizza
This pizza is a classic and popular product of Pizza Hut in Japan. As inspired by Korean flavors, the bulgogi beef is combined with the crowd-favorite mayonnaise sauce. It remains to be the most popular pizza in Pizza Hut for more than 20 years.