1. Help Centre
  2. Japan Travel Information

Eating, Food & Dietary Requirements (Japan)

The Japanese cuisine is renowned around the world for three qualities: the seasonality of the food; the quality of the ingredients; and the exquisite presentation. The country’s cuisine is based on combining staple foods, typically rice or noodles, with a soup and okazu — dishes made from fish, meat or vegetables to add flavor to the staple food. These are typically flavored with dashi, miso and soy sauce.

Before the 1880s, when Japan was a feudal society, the consumption of meat was illegal. Even today you will find that the use of red meat, oils, fats and dairy products are sparse, with the focus instead on seasonal produce and fish. These seasonal dishes, and the numerous local speciality dishes, are one of the delights of Japanese gastronomy – the fact that food is treated as an art form makes it all the more amazing! Ingredients are selected when they are in prime season and are then plated to perfection. Many restaurants tend to specialise in just one type of dish. Today, Japan can compete on the world stage for Michelin star restaurants.

The most famous Japanese food is sushi, but Japan has a huge variety of wonderful food types:

  • Sashimi: Fresh raw meat or fish sliced into thin pieces, eaten with soy sauce
  • Teriyaki: Marinated meat or fish
  • Sukiyaki: Thin slices of beef served with vegetables, tofu and vermicelli, and usually cooked on a sizzling iron skillet at the table side
  • Tempura: Deep-fried seafood and vegetables
  • Ramen: Wheat noodles served in a meat or fish-based broth, often flavored with soy sauce or miso, with toppings such as sliced pork, dried seaweed, menma, and green onions
  • Udon: Thick wheat noodles served with various toppings, usually in a hot soy-dashi broth, or sometimes in a Japanese curry soup
  • Soba: Long, thin buckwheat noodles served in either a hot, soy sauce-flavoured broth or at room temperature on a bamboo mat with broth on the side for dipping
  • Shabu-Shabu: Tender, thin slices of beef held with chopsticks and swished around in a pot of boiling water, then dipped in sauce before being eaten
  • Yakitori: Small pieces of chicken meat, liver and vegetables skewered on a bamboo stick and cooked over hot coals
  • Okonomiyaki: A savory pancake containing a variety of ingredients

The cost of all meals is included in our Classic Group tours. For tours in our Go Beyond range, Private tours and Short Stay Extensions, meal inclusions are listed on your itinerary.

You may like to drink beer, wine, soft drinks, fruit juice or bottled water with your meals – please note drinks are not included in your tour price so payment for these is made directly to the restaurant staff. Green tea is often provided complimentary at restaurants. Tap water anywhere in Japan is safe to drink.

In local Japanese restaurants, it is customary for most meals to be served at room temperature. Your meal will likely be a pre-set option or bento box style including rice and miso soup, noodles or fish and vegetables. Please note that it is sometimes customary to remove your shoes prior to entering a restaurant.

Breakfast is served in the hotel and usually includes western dishes.

Lunches are mostly pre-set options, as is the custom in local restaurants, and could be a cold bento box served with rice and miso soup, noodles or fish and potatoes.

Dinner is usually buffet-style, featuring a wide selection of high-quality Japanese and Western dishes. We find this style of dining suits the wide and varied tastes of our customers. The Japanese are not big on desserts after meals. Instead, they like to have sweets as small snacks to eat between savoury courses or to nibble on with tea.

If your tour includes an overnight stay at a temple you will be served a traditional Buddhist vegetarian dinner, known as Shojin Ryori. A typical Shojin Ryori meal is centred around soybean-based foods like tofu along with seasonal vegetables and wild mountain plants, which are believed to bring balance and alignment to the body, mind, and spirit.

Please be aware that on some days where a lot of sights are covered, dinner times may be early (around 5.30pm) and your tour group may head directly to the restaurant after sightseeing.

Tea and coffee facilities are not always available in all hotels so consider bringing your own supply of coffee and tea bags. Water is included with meals, but other drinks are at personal expense.

Food allergies & dietary preferences 

Any food allergies or dietary requests must be specified at the time of booking. We cannot guarantee that we will be able to be accommodate any dietary requirements once you have departed Australia..

Please bear in mind that vegetarianism and veganism is still unusual in Japan, especially in rural areas. Whilst it is easy to avoid meat and dairy, many Japanese dishes use fish products as bases – patience and understanding will go a long way when dealing with people who might not understand your requirements. It will sometimes be difficult to offer what you are used to at home. Look out for ‘shojin ryori’, traditional Buddhist food that is strictly vegetarian.

Gluten free diets are not well-known in Japan, which makes it something of a challenge to avoid wheat-containing ingredients which are common in Japanese cooking. Soy sauce, for example, contains gluten and is a fundamental ingredient in many Japanese meals. It is possible to avoid foods that contain gluten if you are vigilant. If travelling on a group tour, your National Escort/Local Guide will help you with this, and if you are travelling independently we suggest you prepare a Japanese gluten free translation card. Restaurants in Japan take food allergies seriously, so if you inform your server that you have a wheat allergy and mention the specific foods you need to avoid, most restaurants will be cooperative and help you find a gluten-free item on the menu.

Although taken seriously, food allergies are much less common, and therefore less understood in Japan. Therefore, you are likely to need to explain quite clearly what you cannot eat. For those who do not have all meals included and will be without the help of the National Escort on some occasions, there are plenty of resources online that will help you find the correct wording for your allergy in Japanese, so printing out little flash cards with these phrases on could come in very handy.

You can find some common food requirements flash cards to use in our Japan Phrasebook here.

Whilst travelling away from major cities, it is highly recommended that passengers with food intolerances take additional food items, as not all dietary requests will be met due to the limited foods available.


Next: Travel with Consideration