Japanese food has always been my favorite in LA, so I couldn’t imagine how good it would be in Japan! Throughout our whole trip, we ate ramen, soba, udon, sushi, shabu shabu, and tons of street food. In the end, I surprisingly liked the soups better than the sushi which was weird because sushi used to be my favorite! One awesome feature to Japan was that wherever you went, you always got fresh, high quality food- even in the 7/11s!
Ichiran (Tokyo and Kyoto)
Ichiran was literally one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten in my life. Other than the long line and the employee who shoved us to keep moving, we had a great meal. The coolest part of the whole thing was that we each ate in separate little compartments- almost like little phone booths! I was on the totally different side from where my mom and sister were and it was kind of nice and peaceful. The ramen, on the other hand, was insane. The broth was salty and good, the pork was delicious, and the noodles were just incredible! No matter the size of the line, you have to go to Ichiran while in Japan.
Rokurinsha (Tokyo Station)
Right after we checked into our hotel after a long travel day, we headed straight to Rokurinsha in the station right next door. While my mom waited in the line, my sister and I explored the cute little happy stores that sold all types of stuff like even wasabi Kit Kats! We ordered from a vending machine, so that once we got seated our food came right away and we were able to start devouring the delicious bowl of ramen. It was SO good and perfectly welcomed us to Tokyo.
Ramen Sen No Kaze (Kyoto)
Thanks to my mom, who did some great research when 2 of the restaurants we tried were closed, we had an absolutely amazing dinner at Ramen Sen No Kaze. The wait was 2 and a half hours, so instead of sitting in the snow, we explored the area and its shopping streets. To hold us over until dinner, we got little doughnut holes that were super good. Eventually, we were seated and they gave us our food quickly. It was delicious and perfect for the cold night in Kyoto and it was so good that we went again before leaving Kyoto!
Best Soba and Udon
Azabu Kawakami-an is a great soba place right next to the 7/11, so don’t be alarmed if your taxi driver says, “OK, here you are” when all you see is a convenience store. Just turn the corner and walk downstairs into greatness. Soba is a dish that consists of buckwheat noodles warm and cold. I got their rice cake in warm soba and it tasted like heaven. The small rice cake was so good and the soba was amazing! Unlike ramen, the broth was not as flavorful, but the noodles and other stuff made it insane. This soba is mandatory while you are in the area of Azabu Juban.
After we saw the amazing bamboo forest, we went to the streets of Arashiyama to find udon. There were so many options, but we finally found a really simple good-looking place. It wasn’t a restaurant, but it was a stand where you chose from 3 bowls and they made it and gave it nice and hot to you. We sat down on a bench and when I took my first bite, I tasted one of the best things I’ve ever eaten in my life. The noodles were so thick and glossy and the broth made everything 10 times better. The next day, we went 20 minutes out of our way to go to the same place and get the same delicious udon. Sadly, we don’t know the name of the place, but I bet any udon place on the Arashiyama streets is good.
Weirdly enough, we only had sushi a few times at restaurants in Kanazawa and Osaka and for breakfast in ryokans. Though we went to very few, the restaurants we did go to were amazing. In Kanazawa, a city on the ocean, we had conveyer belt sushi both nights that we were there! It was so fresh and delicious and it is called Mori Mori Sushi. In Osaka, right next to our hotel, there was some really good sushi at a place called Sushi Hayata. It was a little restaurant, but we were seated right away. I got the chef’s pick and it was really good, although I did have to politely take some raw squid out of my mouth! If you are staying in smaller towns in Japan like Takayama or Hakone, I definitely recommend staying in a ryokan and eating sushi for breakfast! Also, depending on where you stay, they give you other stuff like fresh crab soup or cook-it-yourself meat for breakfast. I do have to say that it was a little hard to get used to, but it turned out great.
I know that when people hear “Japanese food” they automatically think “fish!” or “soup!” but Japan is not only known for that. We had shabu shabu which is a great dish where you cook your own thin slices of meat in boiling water and also tonkatsu which are amazing Japanese pork cutlets. The shabu shabu we went to in Tokyo is called Shabusen and the delicious tonkatsu place in Kyoto is Katsukura. You can make reservations at Shabusen, but you can’t at Katsukura. Even though there is a wait at the tonkatsu restaurant, they move it along by letting you order in line so your food is there when you get to your table, just like many other popular places in Japan.
Snacks; Street Food.
Out of all the delicious udon, ramen, sushi, etc., my favorite food in Japan was actually the street food. Everywhere we went there would be streets of tents selling anything from custard filled mochi to octopus on a stick. One of my favorite stands was in Takayama and this cute little lady sold rice balls dipped in soy sauce and we literally went there twice a day. They were sooooo good!
In Osaka, at a street market, we had something similar to those rice balls on a stick, but they were green, white, and pink and the snack was called dango. I didn’t quite like it as much as the other snack, but it was still good and we thought it was funny that we were “eating an emoji!”
After we went to Fushimi Inari-taisha, the orange gates in Kyoto, there was a huge street with an insane amount of tents selling stuff. That was were we got the delicious custard filled mochi and a fish shaped pancake called taiyaki with custard in it! It is a perfect place to go enjoy whatever street food you may find.
On the first day that we were in Japan, we had a wagashi cooking class. Wagashi are those little pretty treats that look so good, but are really not. I recommend doing a wagashi class because it is so cool to learn how to make it and design the little details that make every one special.
While going through Japan, I bet you will have matcha tea, but try to go to a place where they give you what you need to make the tea yourself. We found that kind of place in Takayama and it was fun, delicious, and the wagashi they gave me on the side was actually great!
The Totti Candy Factory is perfect place to get a once in a lifetime treat. It is a small store in Harajuku (Tokyo) and sells the world’s best and largest cotton candy. Luckily, because it is so big, we found a lady who wanted to share hers with us. She got the rainbow one and it was probably the biggest treat I’ve ever seen! It was so good and I highly recommend going to the candy factory while you are strolling through the awesome area of Harajuku.
In Hakone, there are these famous black eggs that are only sold in Owakudani; the volcano valley with steaming sulfur pits. The crazy eggs are said to make you live 7 years longer, so of course we had them! Other than the black shell and ashy taste, the eggs were the same as regular ones. The inside was white and it had a regular, yellow yolk. They come 5 to a bag, so if you really like hard boiled eggs you can add a solid 35 years to your life. Ha!
If you go to Kanazawa, do not leave the city until you have tried their famous gold leaf ice cream. We had heard about it towards the end of our stay, so before we got on the train to Takayama, we rushed to a store that sold it. Once the lady handed me my gold leaf ice cream, I was eager to try the tinfoil like substance, so I took a piece of the gold leaf off. At first it tasted like edible metal, so I wasn’t very excited, but after I tried it with the vanilla soft serve, it tasted much better.
Maybe only us Americans crave hamburgers in Japan, but we couldn’t pass up a trip to our favorite fast food restaurant- Shake Shack. It was right next to our hotel, so we just had to go. I did not think the line would be long, but it turns out, the Japanese like burgers just as much as we do. Even though the line was long, they kept it moving and we were eventually seated. I highly recommend The Shack Burger, which is their specialty, because it is so tasty.
Best Street Markets.
Nakamise Dori (Tokyo)
Miyagawa Morning Market (Takayama)
Omicho Market (Kanazawa)
Nishiki Market (Kyoto)
Fushimi Inari Street Market (Kyoto)
Kuromon Ichiba Market (Osaka)
Good to know…
Pretty much every good restaurant has a wait of an hour or longer, but I can assure you that every single one is worth the wait.
It is considered very rude to eat while you are walking on the street. It is one of the reasons there are literally no trashcans anywhere you go!
Learn to use chopsticks before you go. You will really impress the locals!