Japan travel guide: Japanese food region by region

Traditional japanese restaurant in Shinjuku.

As an island nation set apart from its neighbors, Japan has developed a unique culinary tradition. During your stay in Japan, food is one of the best ways to get an insight into the local customs and way of life.

Food is often elevated to an art form in Japan — special attention is given to textures and colors, garnished, and even the plates the food is served on. Get ready to experience dishes that are not only packed with flavor, but are also visually spectacular.

This guide will help you start planning your Japanese culinary adventure. Find out about the specialities you must try when traveling around the different regions of Japan!

Japanese cuisine by region: Local specialities to try

Traveling around with Japan Rail Pass or Regional Pass? You’re in for a treat! Discover delicious new dishes at every stop and find out more about the local customs and traditions.

Hokkaido: A taste of Japan’s northernmost island

Donburi, japasene food.
Urchin donburi – Photo by karins

Native seafood is abundant on the northernmost island of Hokkaido. Specialities include red and blue king crab, queen crab, and horsehair crab.

The best way to sample local seafood by ordering a bowl of donburi meshi, a rice dish topped with sea urchin, scallops, and/or salmon roe.

Ramen is also popular in Hokkaido, as it is throughout much of Japan. The type of ramen available will depend on which city or area in which you are staying. For example, Hakodate ramen has a salted broth, Asahikawa ramen is soy-sauce based, and Sapporo has a garlicky miso ramen.

Tohoku: Serving up Japan’s best rice

Kiritanpo, a traditional japanese dish.
Kiritampo – Photo by Atsushi Hirao

The Tohoku region is located on the northern side of Japan’s island of Honshu. Served by the Tohoku Shinkansen Line, you can quickly travel between the main cities and try the range of culinary delights on offer throughout the region.

Tohoku stands out for producing what’s considered to be the tastiest rice in Japan. A unique way to try this is with a kiritanpo: toasted rice on a skewer.

Prefer noodles? Then don’t miss the Wanko soba. This famous noodle dish involves the server flinging the noodles into diners’ bowls as each one is ready. The noodles keep coming until you’re full, often 50 or more “flings”. Hope you’re hungry!

Finally, sasa kamaboko is a steamed fish paste. It’s popular as a souvenir due to its strong regional association and easily transportable format.

Kanto: Fine dining and street food in Tokyo and beyond

Fukagawa-meshi, traditional japanese food.
Fukagawa-meshi – Photo by sasazawa

The megacity of Tokyo is located in the central Kanto region of Japan. As one of the world’s most prominent food capitals, Tokyo has more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other city in the world.

Tokyo isn’t just for fine dining, you’ll also find a vibrant street-food scene. Don’t be surprised to find entire streets devoted to perfecting just one type of food!

Some popular dishes to try when visiting Tokyo include fukagawa-meshi, leeks and clams served on a bed of rice. Another is monjayaki, a selection of your favorite toppings mixed into a batter.

Beyond Tokyo, you will find yuba, a by-product of tofu, dried and filled or served like sashimi in Nikko or namero, a fish dish from Chiba that is served over rice with green tea on top.

Chubu: Dishes sourced from the sea and mountains

Unagi, traditional japanese food.
Unagi (eel) – Photo by Nattawit Khomsanit

The Chubu region, in the heart of Japan and home to Mount Fuji, offers a culinary landscape that reflects its geographic diversity. This region offers specialties that celebrate both the mountainous terrain and the sea.

Chubu is known for its unique variations of miso, including the darker, richer Hatcho miso from Aichi Prefecture. This miso is often used in the region’s signature dish, miso katsu: breaded and fried pork cutlets in a thick miso sauce.

Another popular dish is goheimochi, skewered and grilled rice cakes brushed with a sweet miso glaze, commonly found at street festivals.

The region is also a major producer of unagi (eel), particularly from Lake Hamana in Shizuoka Prefecture.

Kansai: Eating in Kobe, Kyoto, and Osaka

Sakura-mochi, a traditional japanese dish.
Sakura mochi – Photo by K321

Kansai, also known as Kinki, is where we find major destinations such as Kobe, Kyoto, and Osaka, often referred to as “the kitchen of Japan.” In this area, the term kuidaore, or “eat until you drop,” was coined.

An Osaka staple is the takoyaki octopus balls served in a sweet sauce. There is even a museum devoted to the dish. In Kyoto, the Nishiki Market is filled with more than a hundred stalls and restaurants offering locally grown or produced foods.

During the cherry blossom season in Kansai, you’ll find a delicate pink sakura mochi dessert unique to the region. It is wrapped in a leaf to resemble a real cherry blossom.

Chugoku: Okonomiyaki, fugu, and Hiroshima oysters

Okonomiyaki, a traditional japanese dish.
Okonomiyaki – Photo by AS Foodstudio

A regional speciality of Chugoku is okonomiyaki, a savory egg pancake filled with ingredients such as cabbage, pork, seafood, and noodles. Originating as a humble dish eaten out of necessity during World War II, okonomiyaki has evolved into a popular comfort food enjoyed throughout the region and the rest of Japan.

Yamaguchi Prefecture is a premier destination for fugu, or pufferfish. Skilled chefs meticulously prepare this delicacy, ensuring its safety for consumption — it makes for an adventurous Japanese dining experience!

Another delicacy to try when in the Chugoku region include oysters in Hiroshima, harvested from the Seto Inland Sea.

Shikoku: From simple seafood to the best udon dishes

Udon soup, a traditional japanese dish.
Udon beef soup – Photo by AS Foodstudio

Surrounded by the sea, Shikoku Island offers a wide variety of seafood dishes that reflect its maritime heritage. Stunning dishes are created by using simple preparation techniques, enhancing the flavors of the fresh seafood — just try katsuo no tataki, flame-seared bonito with a flavorful broth.

The Sanuki region of the Kagawa Prefecture is known as “Udon Kingdom”. The square-shaped noodles are part of the region’s identity, and there are more than 500 restaurants specializing in this unique product. Enjoy these handcrafted noodles in hot soups or with cold sauces.

Kyushu: Tasty ramen, crispy noodles, and refreshing soups

Sara udon, crispy fried noodles. A traditional japanese dish.
Sara udon – Photo by Koarakko

Take the Kyushu Shinkansen line straight to Kyushu to enjoy its famous ramen made with a broth of boiled pork bones. This dish is often called Hakata ramen after the district of the Fukuoka Prefecture.

Nagasaki in Kyushu is known for its sara udon. Featuring crispy fried noodles in a savory sauce and topped with a medley of vegetables and proteins, sara udon delivers crunch and hearty flavors. In Miyazaki Prefecture, a refreshing dish awaits in the form of hiyajiru fish and miso soup.

Okinawa: Health food that support longevity

Bitter melon stir-fried with pork, tofu and egg, a traditional japanese dish.
Bitter melon stir-fried with pork, tofu and egg – Photo by Koarakko

The small islands of Okinawa constitute Japan’s southernmost point. The foods there are credited with outstanding health benefits, as Okinawans are some of the longest-lived people in the world. Purple sweet potato, bitter melon, and seafood are staples.

The presence of American soldiers during World War II can still be felt in a sampling of taco rice, a dish of meat, salad, and salsa on rice. Okinawa also produces an alcoholic beverage called awamori, which has an alcohol content of up to 45 percent.

Best food markets to experience in Japan

Street food market in Tokyo, Japan.
Street food market in Tokyo, Japan – Photo by E.J.Melian

One of the best ways to experience traditional Japanese cuisine is by visiting a local market. There are interesting markets throughout Japan, often specializing in a few regional products.

Here are some of the best markets to seek out during your stay.

  • Toyosu Market (Tokyo): Formerly Tsukiji Fish Market, Toyosu Market offers a glimpse into Japan’s seafood industry with its lively auctions and fresh seafood.
  • Tsukiji Outer Market (Tokyo): Visitors can indulge in sushi, seafood, and traditional Japanese snacks while browsing through kitchenware and food-related souvenirs.
  • Nishiki Market (Kyoto): Known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen,” Nishiki Market is a historic marketplace offering an array of traditional ingredients and Kyoto delicacies.
  • Kuromon Ichiba Market (Osaka): Dubbed “Osaka’s Kitchen,” Kuromon Ichiba Market is a bustling marketplace renowned for its fresh seafood and street food delights.
  • Sapporo Central Wholesale Market (Sapporo): Also known as Sapporo Nijo Market, this market in Hokkaido offers a wide selection of fresh seafood and local produce.

Add these markets to your Japanese travel itinerary and discover the unique flavors of each destination.

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