Japan in context: food


As I prepare to leave the land of the rising sun, I’d like to share some reflections, in the next few posts, on things Japanese, as seen through the eyes of a first-time visitor, and someone who has sped his way from one end of the country to the other.
Food in Japan
I have to say that I have developed a taste for Japanese food, and my gut has handled it very well for the duration of this journey. Rice and noodles are the universal staples, bulking out every meal, even breakfast. But the common denominator at breakfast is something called ‘miso’, a soup that seems to have seaweed and tofu as its ingredients.


Above: scallop, miso and green tea
But I have to admit that some of the time I have little idea of what I’m eating, especially when buying in convenience stores. In the EU, we are used to food labelling in several languages. In Japan, it’s only in Japanese. As a result, I’ve been guilty of a few ‘faux pas’. The bread rolls I bought to go with sardines had chocolate spread in them. A carton of what looked like apple juice was, in fact, cold green tea. A small plain baguette turned out to be a jam sandwich….and the list goes on.

In restaurants I’ve been in, the menus have been invariably written only in Japanese, and normally without the useful little pictures that can give away important clues. And when you are presented with a tray of several little bowls of food,


most of which are a complete mystery, and then look over at the condiments and think you can identify the soy sauce (but another sauce looks decidedly similar), and then wonder how they should be applied. One thing is for certain, never put soy sauce on your rice……why? Your rice will lose its stickiness and you’ll never be able to scoop it up with your chopsticks.

I have spent several hours observing Japanese people managing their food at the table, and they do a lot of scooping and slurping.  Indeed, the greatest pleasure to be had out of eating noodles, apparently, is in the slurping. A chap near my table once slurped so persistently and loudly, he would have been given a ‘yellow card’ in an English restaurant. Next offence…..and out!

I suppose a summit in the experience of Japanese food is reached when you have sampled, and survived, ‘sashimi’ (raw fish). You may remember down in Kyushu, a young tourist agent and his boss took me to a sashimi restaurant,


and I had to take a deep breath before diving in with the chopsticks. It was good….I enjoyed it. It would never be my first choice, but I would certainly repeat the experience.
Have I missed any favourite dishes from home? Most certainly, I have. But then, after all, home is where your comfort zone is. Isn’t it?


About Frank Burns

Looking for the extraordinary in the commonplace………taking the road less travelled……..striving for the ‘faculty of making happy chance discoveries’ in unremarkable circumstances. Click on the Personal Link below to visit my webpages.

Posted on April 28, 2015, in End-to-End of Japan 3000kms and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. The strangest thing that I have learnt about Japan is that as opposed to slurping being rude, it is rude not to slurp! It was especially strange to be flying from Tokyo in the middle of the night, almost falling asleep only to hear “sluuurrp!” from the next row (our flight had “on-demand” ramen- very luxurious!). I’ve followed your journey with awe, and am looking forward to hopefully meeting you when you visit our school. Katherine (Kimbolton’s new(ish) librarian)

  2. Great post. I have been to Japan twice, returning this summer, and the food there is just so good. I can’t wait for a bowl of ramen, some sushi, even the western food they serve is good.

  3. Miso soup is, I think, dashi (a stock which may be seaweed, or something else – mushroom, or fish, for example) plus miso (which is soy bean paste, i.e. effectively a sort of tofu).

    Presentation is very important – just look at the photos! My main memories are lots of small bowls of rather unidentifiable but usually tasty items, and lots of pickles. Also, oddly non-sweet desserts, and green tea ice cream.

    • You’re right, dashi is the stock, but the solid bits can vary according to region and season. The ones I’ve had have always had a seaweed flavour, with bits of tofu or sweet potato lurking at the bottom.

  4. My nephew is married to a Japanese woman and my sister is married to a half Japanese man. Needless to say we as a family have all experienced many forms of Japanese cuisine.
    On our visit to England one year our daughter took us to Wagamama which is a delightful experience of Japanese “fast food” eating.

  5. Looks like lovely sashimi! And the earlier meal photo too. As for putting soy sauce on rice, if it’s in a round lump rice in a bowl, then just put 1 jot of soy sauce. Not to darken all of the rice. Just a touch of taste and you can still pick up rice with chopsticks. It won’t always have soy sauce: that’s not the point. Otherwise that’s like throwing on too much salt on a dish. Of course, if you have a bowl of rice, learn to pick up the bowl closer to your neck area and scoop rice into mouth.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


It is health that is the real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver - Mahatma Gandhi.

Matildas Musings

A blog written by Matilda - the "old lady" classic tandem - and her Musings about her adventures, trials and tribulations with the "old git" and Chief Pilot, aka Colin and the "old gal" and Chief Stoker (as well as Chief Engineer) aka Diane.

Fit Recovery

Stay Clean Get Fit

Northern Walker

Lightweight backpacking, hillwalking and bicycle touring adventures in Northern England and Scotland

Looking For 42

Traveling the world looking for the meaning for life (and whatever else I might find along the way)

Off The Beaten Path

All contents ©2018 Compass Cycles.

Bike 5

Five miles or less? Bikes are best!


KITESURFING, CYCLING, SUP: ramblings, idiocy and not much more

Cycling Dutch Girl

the only certainty is change


Brians Blog - life, cycling and ...


On a bicycle from coast to coast across the USA

Self Propelled

Self propelled adventures through life; blogging on cycling, touring, micro-adventures, general shenanigans, and environmental news


Cycling across Europe, Cornwall to Munich

The Vicious Cycle

A man searches for meaning...in between leg shavings

2 l o v e c y c l i n g

It's about cycling ... and other travels

There And Back Again

Life at 15 miles per hour

As Easy As Riding A Bike

Well it should be, shouldn't it?

Bike Around Britain

Blog on cycling around the coast of Britain

David Noble's Blog

Life, Loves and Living


The Weston Front - the destination of a road less travelled...

The Innocent Bikestander

It can be better

Bike, Banjo & Baby

They go together so well

Something for Kiki and the Pok

the adventures of Christopher Yardin - by plane, bike, through a lens, or the eyes of a child


Cycling Blog

Richard Tulloch's LIFE ON THE ROAD

Travel adventures on wheels and legs


................."Cherry picking the nicest places in the world to cycle"

Gippsland Granny

Musings from Metung

Serendipities of life

Taking the road less travelled

I Do Not Despair

When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race. ~H.G. Wells

Tom’s Bike Trip

Adventures and experiments in two-wheeled travel

All Seasons Cyclist

Real World Product Reviews For Avid Cyclists

machacas on wheels

Taking the road less travelled

%d bloggers like this: