There are more types of cuisine in Japan than you could shake a chop-stick at, and almost as many rules for eating it. Here are a few things to try, and try not to do.





Known as kome, you’ll find rice in just about everything, from sugary snacks to alcoholic drinks. Onigiri (chewy rice balls) are everywhere and will shut you up for a good 20 minutes.


Usually various types of fish on rice or in a seaweed roll but you can get vegetarian options such as welsh onion. A sushi platter is often served with fresh ginger and a bowl of soy sauce for dipping. Thankfully, this is one of the few occasions when you can use your fingers.

Bento box

A great lunch if you’re on the move or fancy a picnic, a bento box is a tray of compartments containing rice, meat, fish, tofu and pickled and cooked vegetables.


At an Okonomiyaki restaurant you cook your own dinner – bowls of meat, fish, cabbage and vegetable batter – on a hot plate. The result is a tasty pancake affair but half the fun is the preparation.


A cheap and popular restaurant option, and a good way to try lots of different Japanese food. A set-course meal usually involves a meat, fish or tofu dish with a bowl of rice, miso soup and pickled vegetables.


Choose from soba (thin, buckwheat), udon (thick, white wheat) or ramen (the Chinese version).


Battered vegetables, fish and seafood served with a dipping sauce.



Vending machines

One on every corner means you’ll never go thirsty. Choices range from vitamin water and fruit juices to a cold beer or hot café au lait.

Green tea

The perfect way to round off a meal. It’s often free in restaurants and if you’re buying your own comes as both a powder and tea leaves.


Potent (17%) rice wine that is drunk in small glasses for a reason. Raise your glass for a hearty kampai (cheers) before you drink.


The poison of choice for most Japanese and the absence of half pints shows how well they can handle it. The main breweries include Kirin, Asahi and Sapporo.

NB – the legal drinking (and smoking) age in Japan is 20.




The tap water in Japan is safe to drink.




  • Don’t put soy sauce on your rice as it’s considered an insult to the cook
  • Don’t pour your own drink — wait for someone else to pour it for you
  • Don’t stick your chopsticks up in a bowl of rice, or pass food between chopsticks – both are reminiscent of Buddhist funeral rituals
  • Do say itadakimasu (meaning, I will receive) before you tuck in
  • Do feel free to make a slurping noise when you eat noodles
  • Do ask for the bill by crossing your index fingers to form an ‘x’
  • Do buy some chop-sticks and carry them round with you so you don’t have to use a new pair each meal