Japan is a nation of obsessive foodies. Indeed, Japan can boast some of the best cuisine and best restaurants in the world. In fact, there are more Michelin-starred restaurants in Tokyo than there are in Paris, and anyone who has watched Japanese morning TV will have seen that restaurant visits and tasting samples of signature dishes is part of every day life. Perhaps you may have also laughed at a super close-up of a succulent portion of ‘tonkatsu’ (pork cutlet) or a steaming bowl of rice, as is frequently the case on Japanese travel shows. Competitive eaters like Takeru “The Tsunami” Kobayashi and Gal Sone are national celebrities. It’s no wonder that one of the first vocabulary words you learn when taking up Japanese is the often-heard ‘oishi’, meaning “delicious”.
Filling one’s belly is a hobby in Japan, and young people in particular are fans of tabe-hodai (all-you-can-eat) restaurants. These restaurants allow diners to order as many dishes off the menu as they like, for an allotted amount of time. The dining usually lasts around an hour and a half, and the costs are covered in one flat price. Websites like GuruNabi (Gourmet Navigator) help enthusiastic eaters find all-you-can eat restaurants in their area.
Among young women, all-you-can eat dessert cafes like Sweets Paradise are very popular. Sweets Paradise cafes (see their ultra-cute website here) can be found in about a dozen locations in Tokyo and in cities and towns across the country. Patrons can indulge and over-indulge in cakes, custards, ice creams and much more besides, over a period of 90 minutes or so. However, the restaurant serves a few savory items, such as pasta or curry, if their patrons suffer from sugar-overload.
Each month GuruNabi recommends a tabehodai-style restaurant. This month it’s HAMBEE IZUMICYUUOUTEN. Quite a mouthful in itself, this restaurant serves grilled skewers of meat in a traditional izakaya style, and in typical fashion also offers okonomiyaki, which is a kind of savory pancake. This restaurant is in Prefecture, one of the areas affected by last year’s tsunami, in the city of Sendai. There are all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-drink (this is called ‘nomihodai’) course discounts for groups of women, who will usually eat less than men, and discounts for week-day diners who bring coupons.
Old and New
Among the Japanese, there is appreciation for restaurants that have been open for many years. For example, Honke Owariya is a celebrated Kyoto noodle restaurant that has been in operation since 1465, when it opened as a confectionery shop. It has been patronized by the royal family several times over generations and continues to operate today.
However, restaurants in Japan are continually opening and offering new gustatory experiences to these ardent food-lovers. A list of three unique Japanese food outlets opening this year has been compiled below. If you are in Japan now, or have made plans to travel there this year, you may have an opportunity to keep apace with one of the most dynamic food cultures in the world. A visit to one of these new restaurants may require standing in cues or making reservations well in advance, but hopefully you will be able to get in and enjoy foods that are truly ‘oishi’.
Eclectic Foodie Openings of 2012:
Capcom Bar– Now open, this Tokyo bar’s menu features dishes inspired by Capcom games. Inspired by Resident Evil, one dish is zombie brains (cake), served with gushing blood (sauce). There are also dishes based on other games like Samurai Kings, Monster Hunter, and Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney.
Tokyo SkyTree Restaurant– If dining among the clouds strikes your fancy, a restaurant is slated to open in Tokyo’s new SkyTree Tower on the first observation deck in what is now the tallest structure in Japan. Its full height an incredible 634meters, it’s the second tallest structure in the world after Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Work on the tower was completed on February 29 and the tower’s public opening is slated for May 22.
Tokyo Station’s First Avenue– The popular mall is adding to Ramen Street and Character Street with the opening of Tokyo Okashi (Snack) Land in April. major Japanese food brands Calbee, Glico and Morinaga will try to entice shoppers and, of course, thoughtful tourists who may send parcels to USA friends, by doing on-site confectionary-making demonstrations and offering limited edition sweets. This is an example of the rising trend of ‘ekitame’, in which train stations are increasingly being developed as dining and shopping centers.