If there is one thing that Japan has no shortage of, it’s amazing places to eat. No matter where you are in the land of the rising sun, you are probably only a short trip away from a fantastic food experience. Japan’s National Tourism Organisation has in recent years, embraced a slogan of “Endless Discovery” and this is especially prevalent in the country’s seemingly endless supply of interesting and unique dining experiences. In this article, we highlight a few of these unique restaurants and where in Japan can you find them.
P.S. Some of these might be a little out of the way but trust me they are definitely worth the trip!
1. Dagashi Bar – Tokyo
Compared to the other entries on this list, Dagashi bar might seem a little underwhelming but I’m including it here to highlight the sheer range of Japan’s themed bars and restaurants. Everyone has heard of Japan’s maid cafes or video game, anime themed diners, but Dagashi Bar’s theme is a bit more niche and yet very much Japanese.
Dagashi bar is centered around old-style Japanese sweets shops that existed in the Showa era. Due to its popularity, there are several branches of Dagashi bar located throughout Tokyo, their décor impeccably selected to resemble that of a shop run in a bygone era. Aside from a selection of alcohol, Dagashi bar serves standard Japanese café fare including curry. But the real attraction of the place is the fact that you can eat as much of the candy they have for only 500 yen. Dagashi bar is great for anyone who wants to experience a more low key theme bar or to enjoy a few drinks in a unique location without the theatricality of a themed restaurant.
Dagashi bar has several locations throughout Tokyo. You can find more information here (Japanese language only)
2. 52 Seats of Happiness – Tokyo
With such an extensive railway network covering a wide range of scenic spots in Japan, there are, unsurprisingly, a huge number of Train restaurants in Japan. One of the newest of these and perhaps one of the most upscale one is Seibu Railway’s 52 Seats of Happiness.
The train’s interior design is based on natural landscapes while still retaining a sense of sophistication and modernity. The train travels from Ikebukuro to the small city of Chichibu in Saitama and prides itself on delivering fine dining and unparalleled service. The train has four cars, one of which is the kitchen car where you can observe the chefs preparing the meals using seasonal ingredients and covering a range of cuisines.
And of course, watching the countryside slip by while you enjoy your meal is a huge part of the attraction. The service can be booked for either brunch or dinner with each taking approximately 2.5 to 3 hours. Seats can be booked here and of course, need to be booked well in advance due to popularity.
3. Kibunesou – Kibune, Kyoto
A unique style of dining in Kyoto is called Kawadoko, or river dining. This is particularly popular during the sweltering summer where the sound of flowing water can be refreshing and the coolness of the river take one’s mind off the heat, as one enjoys the lavish food prepared.
Kibunesou, located in the small town of Kibune just north of Kyoto, is a particularly stunning example of this kind of dining. From May to September, the restaurant has platforms placed over the Kibune river in close proximity to a two-tiered waterfall. The dining area has an average temperature of 23 degrees in mid-summer so it is an ideal way to escape the summer heat and enjoy an amazing dining experience.
In the evening, the waterfall is illuminated so diners can experience different scenery between day and night. In regards to food, Kibunesou serves a variety of seasonal dishes including local delicacies such as eel and Ayu fish. From October to April, Kibunesou runs a more standard indoor restaurant, though still one with high quality, beautifully presented dishes and seasonal ingredients.
More information about Kibunsou can be found on their website.
4. Yatai – Fukuoka
Not so much a restaurant as a collection of them, food stall or Yatai is a famous feature of Fukuoka city. Yatai are small wooden stalls that serve food in the evenings and provide areas where people can sample many kinds of food and eat outdoors. Yatai were once common throughout Japan but they gradually fell into a decline over the years.
Though that being said, Yatai can still be found in various cities throughout Japan, Fukuoka in partcular, is famous for it as it has so many of them still alive and kicking. At the most recent count, there are 105 yatais located in various places throughout Fukuoka city.
There are several areas throughout the city where yatai clusters, but one particularly famous area is Nakasu. Nakasu is one of Fukuoka’s entertainment districts which after 6pm, yatai opens for business and draws in crowds of people looking for something to eat. Each yatai has a particular specialty and at most, provide seats to only around 10 people which makes for a lively atmosphere. The food offered at yatai covers a broad spectrum, from ramen, gyoza, to tempura and even international cuisines.
If you have a craving for something, you’re bound to find it here somewhere. As such, if you’re in Fukuoka, visiting a yatai is an essential experience.
Nakasu is located in Hakata ward and is easily accessible by subway via Nakasukawabata station.
Further information on Fukuoka’s yatai as well as an extensive list of what each offer can be found at Fukuoka city’s official guide website here.
5. Gonpachi Nishi-Azabu – Tokyo
Gonpachi Nishi-Azabu is probably the most famous restaurant on this list given that it was very prominently featured in the climax of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Volume One. But aside from the hype, its grandiose setting and décor definitely makes it well worth a visit.
Gonpachi’s cavernous interior evokes a bygone age of Japan. It serves a wide variety of Japanese food including yakitori, tempura and Soba noodles with some elements of European fusion appearing here and there on the menu. Gonpachi’s prices are surprisingly reasonable considering the restaurant’s prestige – aside from appearing in Kill Bill, it has also hosted presidential banquets.
Gonpachi Nishi-Azabu also has musical performances sometimes, including Taiko drum performances for that little something extra while dining. There are actually several branches of Gonpachi but the Nishi-Azabu store is the most famous one. It is located in Nishiazabu, about a twelve minutes walk from Roppongi station. For reservations, upcoming events and a sample of what Gonpachi Nishi-Azabu has to offer, you can visit their website here.
Of course, these are only five examples of unique restaurants in Japan. There are so many others and the dining scene shifts and changes so often that it would be impossible to cover them all. Japan can very much seem like heaven for foodies at times. No matter where you are in Japan, a little bit of exploring will often turn up something wonderful to eat but if you’re after something unique, do try any of the above!