Food in Japan

Overview of Food in Japan
Regional Food & Specialities of Japan
Why Can’t I Eat/Drink While Walking in Japan?
Cooking On Your Own in Japan
Food Allergies & Special Dietary Needs in Japan
Vegetarian and Vegan Food in Japan
Halal Food in Japan
Kosher Food in Japan
Eating Disorders & Food Issues Abroad

Overview of Food in Japan

Japanese Food

Japan Budget Travel Guide: Food

Regional Food & Specialities of Japan

Why Can’t I Eat/Drink While Walking in Japan?

Cooking On Your Own in Japan

During the three-week orientation you will be staying in a hotel and will not have access to a kitchen to cook on your own.  There will be a hot water heater in your room in case you’d like to have tea, noodles or other items prepared with hot water.  Daily breakfast will be provided at the hotel but you will purchase lunch and dinner on your own using your living cost stipend.   During the research internship period, students will all have access to a kitchen to cook on your own.  Most students opt to eat breakfast at home, lunch at the host university cafeteria which is often quite cheap, and alternate between eating out or cooking at home for dinner.

Basic Cooking Skills and Recipes

Basic Cooking Skills: If you do not normally cook on your own, it would be a good idea to learn how to prepare some basic/staple food items that you would typically eat at home. Below are some links to websites with simple recipes geared towards students just learning how to cook.

No Ovens: Be aware that most kitchens in Japan do not have ovens.  Plan to focus on recipes/cooking skills that only require you to use a stovetop.  Recipes that require items be baked in an oven will not be easy to prepare while in Japan. 

Cooking Basic American Food 

Cooking Basic Japanese Food 

Spices/Seasonings/Sauces

Spices/Seasonings: If there are specific spices you know you will need to cook on your own and that you will not be able to easily find in Japan you may want to pack these with you in your checked luggage.  Make sure they are commercially purchased and sealed (no bulk spices).

It is not necessary to declare store-bought canned, bottled or packaged food items that are highly processed and do not contain any meat. Some examples may include crackers, dried pasta, candy, jam, tea or coffee.  You cannot bring meat and egg products, vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, legumes, nuts into Japan.

Below are websites listing some of the most commonly found/used spices in Japan. 

 

Also, be aware of the customs and immigration rules regarding the types of food items you cannot bring into Japan. These include meat items, dairy/animal products, and fresh fruit/produce.  

 

Temperature/Measurements for Cooking

Temperature & Measurements: Outside of the U.S., the rest of the world uses Celsius for temperature and the metric system for measurements. This means that stoves, measuring cups and spoons, and recipes you find in Japan will be different from what you are used to in the U.S..  If you plan to cook on your own using American or Japanese recipes you will need to convert these to metric measurements. There are many helpful apps you can use too. 

 

Water and Beverages in Japan

Water Fountains in Japan:  Japan does not have a lot of public water fountains where you can quickly get a drink or re-fill a water bottle. Instead Japan has more vending machines per capita than any other country in the world and there can be 5 or 6 konbinis (convenience) stores all within a 1 – 2 block radius.  Purchasing bottles of cold water or other beverages is therefore very convenient and relatively inexpensive.   Most people in Japan do not carry re-fillable water bottles with them on a daily basis. 

Tea Thermoses in Japan: However, you can often find hot water dispensers in many office buildings and other locations in Japan where you can easily refill your tea thermos or cup for drinking hot tea.  You can bring a travel tea thermos with you or purchase one in Japan if you would like. Green tea is much more common in Japan than the typical black/English tea that is more common in the U.S./U.K. You can purchase tea bags or loose leaf tea at the grocery store or any konbini (convenience store) in Japan. 

Unsweetened vs. Sweetened Beverages in Japan.: In Japan, most tea is unsweetened.  This includes both hot and cold green and other types of tea sold at stores or in vending machines. If you like a sweeter tea, try purchasing bottles of cold Jasmine tea from the konbini (convenience store).  

Is it safe to drink the tap water in Japan? 

Yes, tap water in Japan is safe to drink and use for cooking and brushing your teeth.  You can easily purchase cold bottles of water in vending machines or nearby konbinis (convenience stores). 

 

 

Why is there no coffee maker in the hotel?  Doesn't anyone drink coffee?  

Most hotel rooms in Japan will have a hot water kettle/heater to use to make tea or in cup noodles/ramen. Hotel rooms in Japan typically do not have a coffee maker though many Japanese labs/offices may have a coffee maker or coffee machine.  However, Japan has more vending machines per capita than anywhere else in the world and there is always a vending machine nearby where you can buy cold or hot coffee for a relatively inexpensive price.  There are also many coffee shops found throughout Japan, though remember that in Japan it is rude to drink beverages on the go or while walking in public.  Therefore, if you order a coffee to go, you should wait to drink it until you get to your office/room/destination. 

 

Rice in Japan

"Rice is so important in Japanese society that it has been called the essence of the culture. Even a superficial examination of Japanese culture reveals the complex connection rice has to many of its forms and expressions, in both historical and contemporary settings. Many believe that the following aspects of Japanese social behavior originate from wet rice cultivation: the notion of wa (harmony), consensus-seeking, and the assessment of the context of actions. Some even include the concept of amae (feelings of dependency). Historically, wet rice cultivation was a labor-intensive task that could not be accomplished easily. As a result, families pooled their labor. More importantly, they also shared their water resources and irrigation facilities. Typically, irrigation arrangements called for water to run downhill, linking all the surrounding families in their shared destiny of communal resource usage. Further, people lived in houses clustered together and depended heavily upon each other since the rice was usually planted on the same day after several days of watering. This necessitated an emphasis on group interests, the enhancement of skills in group decision-making and the avoidance of friction between families who would be neighbors and workmates for generations. This historic commitment to group harmony, a hallmark of the original culture of rice, echoes today and continues to shape group consciousness. Despite the fact that a small number of people actually grow rice, 124 million people still try to sustain group harmony, as they seek daily accommodation in a relatively confined space…."  Read more at  Rice: It's More than Food in Japan (SPICE) 

Food Allergies & Special Dietary Needs in Japan

If you have any food allergies or special dietary needs (e.g. kosher, halal, vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, etc.) we STRONGLY encourage you to purchase a Japanese-language cards from Select Wisely prior to departure. These cards can be customized for a variety of medical conditions or dietary restrictions, allergies or dietary preferences. If the card you need is not available, email or call Select Wisely and ask if they can make you a custom card.  You may also be able to find an applicable card you can download and print off at one of the following websites and learn more about dietary restrictions in Japan.

Even if you have intermediate or advanced Japanese language skills, it can be very difficult to explain your specific condition or needs in a medical emergency or in a loud restaurant. Being able to simply show the translation card, in Japanese, ensures that the person you are communicating with clearly understands your condition, needs, or preferences.

You should also notify your roommate, housing manager, and research lab advisor and mentor of severe allergies or medical conditions so that they know what to do in case of an emergency.

Vegetarian and Vegan Food in Japan

Halal Food in Japan

 

Kosher Food in Japan

 

Eating Disorders & Food Issues Abroad

It is very easy when you are abroad to become susceptible to eating disorders or see an exacerbation or re occurrence of any previously existing conditions. You are in a different place and the food is different. Your stomach may not agree with the types of food there, or you may feel like you’re eating too much. You may also be not eating enough if you are trying to save money on food so you can have more money to spend traveling on the weekend. Maybe you’ve never had to cook for yourself and aren’t sure what to purchase at the store to maintain a healthy diet. You may also experience depression or loneliness manifesting itself in the form of an eating disorder or food issues. If you think you may have a problem, notify the Nakatani RIES Fellowship so that we can provide you with additional support and assistance as necessary.

Please also turn to your fellow Nakatani RIES Fellows for support and encouragement during your time in Japan as they will likely be eager to explore new restaurants and types of food with you. They will also be able to better relate to your frustrations about the types of food that don’t agree with you or that you may be having difficulty with while in Japan. Remember, you don’t have to like everything you try and there may be some days when nothing satisfies you but good, old-fashioned American cuisine. Most Japanese cities have a range of international restaurants and you can find a wide array of Western food-stuffs in most large grocery stores; though Western options may be more expensive than their Japanese counterparts.

Your Alumni Mentor and research lab members will also have lots of great tips and suggestions for you on great places to eat and food to try. Don’t be shy about asking someone from your lab to go with you to the grocery store too and help you find the ingredients you need to prepare some of your favorite dishes on your own. Most labs also have times where members get together for pot-lucks or make lunch/dinner together so be prepared to bring some favorite recipes along with you to Japan to share with your new friends. Just remember, Japan uses the metric system so if you plan to bake or make very detailed or specific US recipes you may need to bring your own US measuring cups and spoons with you.

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