Food & Wine

First Dining Experience in Tokyo

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One of our friends told us dining in Japan would be an experience. He said it would be an exercise in pointing and nodding, and luckily they used a lot of pictures and displays of food so even if you didn’t know exactly what you were eating, you would have an idea what it would look like and how much it would cost.

Another positive is every restaurant we’ve walked into (so far) has had menus in English. The prices are in Yen. Over the past year the conversion rate was between 100-105 Yen to the U.S. dollar so we were going with 2000 Yen = $20 USD. The reality right now is 2000 Yen is just over $17 USD, but when we’re estimating costs, it’s easier to do it the other way and the positive is we’re actually spending less money than we think we are.

One of the dining challenges for a family of four is finding a local, un-expensive restaurant that has tables for four people. The majority of seating in smaller local places are single seats at counters, or small tables for two people. If there are tables for larger parties, there’s usually not too many of them.

We had two hours to walk around before a bus tour on our first day, so we decided to look for a place to eat.

We found a street that had quite a few local restaurants open for lunch. We looked at their menus with pictures and prices on the door and peaked inside to see if they had any tables for four people. After walking up and down the street we finally found a place and went inside.

It’s very obvious to people that we’re not local (go figure) and a female worker there beckoned us inside and handed us a menu in English. The table had condiments and napkins on it, but they were a little different than the ones we have in the U.S. 😉

Dining in Japan Condiments

The menu in the picture isn’t the English one, but it looked the same.

Dining in Japan Chopsticks

There was a box filled with chopsticks at the table too!

This restaurant was interesting because you ordered at a vending machine in the front of the restaurant. You put money in, and hit the buttons to order what you wanted and it would give you your change. Then you go and sit down.

Dining in Japan Food

For the four of us to split we ordered two entrees and an appetizer. That ended up being way too much food.

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We also ordered a glass of sparking sake, which was dangerous because it didn’t taste like alcohol.

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Everything was delicious. Biggest problem was we couldn’t finish everything!

Every restaurant we’ve been to gave everyone at the table water, and several places also gave us a pitcher of water at our table (without us asking). That was a pleasant surprise for us. We made the assumption (I don’t know why) that it would be more like Europe where asking for table water is like asking for the Holy Grail.

You do not tip at restaurants in Japan, which is nice just to keep it simple. Some of the places we’ve eaten at you pay before the meal, some you pay after the meal. I haven’t completely figured out the method to the madness, so I would say don’t be surprised by either scenario. A lot of places don’t take credit cards so also be prepared to carry cash.

So far we’ve enjoyed all the food we’ve tried on this trip. The only thing (for me) has been the texture, but that’s only been a problem with some desserts.

Eating in Japan has been far less intimidating than we were prepared for. So far our biggest challenge is finding a place that has a table for four people available.

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Tiff's first big vacation was a Caribbean cruise when she was six. She first started getting interested in deals when her husband showed her the tricks to getting bought off your flights back in the late 90s. She started flying nonrev when they got married; the first unusual nonrev she did was in '05 when her family flew through San Juan to get to Dallas from Philly. They have two boys, ages 11 and 7, who she usually drags along on their travels and hopes they will grow up to love traveling as much as she does.

5 Comments

  1. Sean

    November 26, 2014 at 5:03 pm

    My first time visiting Japan was just last week. Very surprised that most places do not accept credit card. Really frustrating on our first day.

  2. Garrett

    November 26, 2014 at 5:26 pm

    Finding good food in Japan is so easy. It’s just one of those places where people take pride in what they’re offering–whether it’s noodles on the street or the finest sushi, they do their best. I love it. Enjoy!

  3. Jason

    November 26, 2014 at 5:46 pm

    I’ve never been to Japan, but it’s on my list. Great article with good information on some of the more easily looked over “little” details that end up being very important when traveling!

  4. Cris

    November 27, 2014 at 3:33 am

    If you are still in Tokyo, I suggest visiting the Oregon Bar and Grill on the 42F of the Shiodome City Center bldg (Shimbashi stn). It’s not a japanese restuarant but the view is superb and the cost for a lunch is not expensive (around JPY 1,600) – http://www.shiodome-cc.com/restaurant/42f_01.html
    I often bring my family there for the view and the lunch during special ocassions (e.g. Birthdays, Anniversary etc).

  5. Jenny

    November 29, 2014 at 8:10 pm

    Our first trip to Japan (only managed to visit Tokyo) was last year when the conversion rate was ~1000 Yen to $10 USD, so quite affordable. Finding a great place to eat was not difficult at all, nor was the fact that we didn’t speak Japanese. Many places use the “vending machine” to order and pre-pay for your food; sometimes this machine will be outside the restaurant and sometimes inside. Almost every place we went had an English menu (although in some places, there are definitely more menu options if you order off the regular menu) and if they didn’t, the Japanese are an extremely friendly people and will try to help you out. I didn’t experience any issues with using my credit card. Most sit-down restaurants accept them. And yes, be prepared to sit at a counter! There’s no such thing as tables as we’re used to here. Not that asking for or getting water was an issue but we didn’t automatically get served water. It’s more typical to be automatically served tea. Be prepared that in Japan, as in most Asian countries, breakfast will be like any other meal; so be prepared to eat rice for breakfast 🙂 Japanese desserts are delicious but again, very different in style from Western desserts.

    It might be hard to wake up at 4 AM in the morning but a trip to the fish market and the subsequent sushi/sashimi breakfast is a must if you’re in Japan/Tokyo. However, it will spoil you for sushi when you’re back in the US!

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