Culinary Travel in Japan

If you’re like many of our travelers, one of the main reasons you’re excited to visit Japan is the food.

Japan is an amazing destination for so many reasons – its history, traditions, culture, arts – but Japanese food alone is reason enough to visit!

shochu chuhai japan izakaya

Sashimi at an izakaya

In recent years, Japan has rapidly become one of the world’s premier culinary meccas.

In 2013, traditional Japanese cuisine (known as washoku) was even recognized by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

And as it becomes increasingly well known for more than just sushi and ramen, it has started to eclipse famous foodie destinations like Italy and France.

Alex Vallis Japan Food Quote

Culinary Experiences in Japan

Despite Japanese food’s popularity around the world, authentic Japanese cuisine is still surprisingly little understood.

You’ll find an endless variety of culinary experiences in Japan, but we’ve chosen a few of our favorites to highlight below.

Please note: Our specialty is crafting customized trips for our clients (see sample trips). The culinary experiences featured below can generally be included as part of a complete trip with us, but at present we do not arrange these services otherwise. Some experiences are more highly subject to availability than others.

Japanese Culinary Experiences:

  • Private market tours (including Tsukiji Fish Market) with local chefs & experts
  • Foodie honeymoons
  • Depachika food halls
  • Tokyo-style sushi
  • Kaiseki cuisine
  • Izakaya, tachinomiya & street food
  • Michelin-starred restaurants
  • Sake tasting
  • Cooking classes
  • And more!

Don’t see what you’re looking for below? Contact us and let us know what you have in mind.

“Boutique Japan masterfully crafted a spectacular and unforgettable two week Japanese journey for us. We had been dreaming of a Nippon adventure for some time, but never in our wildest dreams could we have planned a journey like this” – Kate & Varant, Australia

Kyoto Nishiki Market Pickles Tsukemono Japan

Tsukemono (Japanese pickles) at Nishiki Market

Private Market Tours

Visiting a Japanese market with a local expert is the best way to immerse yourself in Japan’s culinary culture.

Whether you want to visit Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market, Kyoto’s colorful Nishiki Market, a depachika food hall – or even a neighborhood grocery store – a private market tour is the best way to get beneath the surface.

And of course your guide will have expert insights on what to sample, and where to eat afterwards!

Japan’s most well-known market is Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market. This is a must-visit destination for foodies, photographers and market lovers.

Whether you plan to visit for the early-morning tuna auctions – or later in the morning for a stroll and a sushi breakfast – we can help you create the perfect experience.

See our article on everything you need to know before visiting Tsukiji.

Boutique Japan Featured Travelers Tokyo Tsukiji Market

Two of our travelers at Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market

In Kyoto, the best place to immerse yourself in Kyo-ryori (Kyoto cuisine), is at Nishiki Market. Nishiki is a long and narrow shopping arcade packed full of vendors selling a beautiful array of Kyoto’s distinctive culinary delicacies.

Another unique culinary experience we highly recommend is a visit to a department store food hall, known as depachika.

Unlike department stores in the west, Japan’s department stores are a foodie paradise, offering a mouthwatering selection of sweet and savory, Japanese and European, and more food than you could possibly hope to ever sample.

Please note that market tours are generally limited to very small parties, as most markets have narrow lanes.

hakata ramen fukuoka kyushu japan

Hakata ramen, Fukuoka (Kyushu)

Foodie Honeymoons in Japan

An increasing number of newlyweds are choosing Japan for their honeymoon, and we love arranging honeymoons in Japan!

Japan attracts couples who are seeking unique experiences, and love immersing themselves in new cultures.

And Japanese cuisine is a major draw: if you’re looking for the foodiest honeymoon imaginable, Japan is the place.

Sushi Yoshitake Tokyo Japan

Photo courtesy of: Rebekah Wilson-Lye

Sushi Experiences

If you want to experience the best sushi in the world, it’s worth splurging at one of Tokyo’s many sushi temples – or even flying to the northern island of Hokkaido for some of Japan’s best seafood.

Modern sushi’s roots are based in Tokyo, and for the quintessential sushi experience get counter seats for a special dinner at one of Tokyo’s best sushi restaurants.

But even if your budget doesn’t allow for extravagance, you’ll find delicious sushi at neighborhood sushi-ya, depachika food halls (more about these below), and sometimes even at kaiten-zushi (“conveyor belt”) shops.

Kaiseki japanese food ryokan kurashiki

Kaiseki cuisine at Ryokan Kurashiki

Kaiseki Cuisine

Kaiseki is Japanese cuisine in its most refined form.

A kaiseki meal consists of course upon course of masterfully-prepared dishes featuring seasonal and local specialties.

A stay at a luxury ryokan usually includes a kaiseki dinner – often served in your room, or in a private dining room overlooking a small Japanese garden.

Even if you’re not staying in a ryokan during your Japan trip, restaurants specializing in kaiseki cuisine abound, particularly in cities such as Kyoto and Tokyo.

japanese food takoyaki octopus balls osaka japan

Takoyaki (“octopus balls”) in Osaka

Izakaya, Tachinomiya & Street Food

Japan is not all haute cuisine, and some of the best meals you will have will also be some of the most casual.

There’s nothing quite like the izakaya experience.

An izakaya is a neighborhood establishment where people go equally for the food and the drink.

It’s often translated into English as Japanese-style pub, tavern or gastropub – they’re lively places where you go to have a drink with friends or coworkers, while eating delicious Japanese-style tapas.

vegetables at an izakaya in Japan

Vegetables at an izakaya (photo Credit: PhoTones_TAKUMA via Compfight cc)

Izakayas exist in every city of Japan. In addition to being the perfect place to sample a wide variety of Japanese dishes – from seafood to fried foods, tofu to vegetables – eating and drinking at an izakaya is also a great way to mingle with locals.

Izakaya are usually casual, but for an even more casual drinks-focused experience, head to a tachinomiya.

Tachinomiya (tachi means stand, nomi means drink) are “stand bars,” where you can really rub shoulders with locals.

These casual bars can be found throughout Japan, and are a great place to strike up a conversation with locals over reasonably-priced drinks and unpretentious Japanese bar food.

shochu kyushu nagasaki japan

Shochu bar in Nagasaki

Japan is not generally known for its street food, but in some Japanese cities – such as Osaka and Fukuoka – you’ll find street vendors selling delicious local specialties such as takoyaki and Hakata ramen, respectively.

And during Japanese matsuri (festivals), colorful food stalls line the streets.

While you can experience izakaya, tachinomiya and Japan’s street food without a guide, having a local culinary guide can heighten the experience.

Not only can your private guide take you to hard-to-find “hidden” establishments, he or she will also be able to interpret, as most such establishments lack English menus or English speakers.

Maru Izakaya Aoyama Tokyo Japan

Michelin-starred Restaurants

The Michelin Guide is controversial in Japan.

While many in Japan embrace it, many chefs and critics denounce it as a foreign standard being imposed on Japanese cuisine.

No matter your stance, one thing is certain: Japan is home to more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other country in the world (including France).

And when Japanese critics and Michelin inspectors agree on a restaurant, you can usually be assured of a transformative culinary experience.

sake bottles tokyo japan

Sake in Tokyo (photo courtesy of Rebekah Wilson-Lye)

Sake Tasting & Breweries

Most people don’t realize how complex and delicious nihonshu (sake) really is.

Going on a private sake tour with a local sake expert is the best way to learn about different varieties of sake, through tastings and explanations.

In many parts of Japan you can also visit a sake brewery. During a sake brewery tour you’ll have the opportunity to see where and how sake is made, and the chance to ask all the questions you might have about this incredible beverage.

geisha geiko maiko kyoto japan

Maiko stroll in Kyoto

Private Maiko Dinner

Geisha and maiko (apprentice geisha) are highly misunderstood outside of Japan.

The chance to enjoy private dinner with a geisha or maiko, along with an expert interpreter, is a rare opportunity to get a glimpse into this world which is largely hidden behind closed doors.

gyoza dumplings japanese food japan

Gyoza dumpling

Japanese Cooking Lessons

Taking a private Japanese cooking class is a great way to learn more about Japanese ingredients, while adding some recipes to your repertoire.

You can learn highly authentic dishes, or a mix of authentic and slightly-adapted dishes, to ensure you can re-create the recipes using ingredients available to you in your home country.

Anthony Bourdain Japan Food Quote

Thinking of Eating Your Way Around Japan?

If you are looking for a once-in-a-lifetime Japan trip, the best way to start the conversation is to send us the details below. You can also reach us at travel [at] boutiquejapan [dot com].

Please note that at the moment we are focused on trips starting in June 2017 and onward, and our specialty is bespoke trips of at least one week or longer.
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