Last updated: February 25, 2024
A guide with ten interesting Japanese food facts, because Japanese cuisine is not only delicious but also plays an important cultural role.
Ever since my first visit to the land of the rising sun, Japanese food has been my favorite international cuisine. The simplicity, the bright colors, the freshness, the unique flavors; I could eat Japanese food every day.
Food is an integral part of Japanese culture, so much so that, in 2013, the UN officially included Washoku, Japanese cuisine, in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity List.
Over the years, I have tried to learn as much as possible about Japanese cuisine and its cultural traditions. I’ve collected the below ten interesting and fun Japanese food facts that will hopefully inspire you to visit authentic Japanese restaurants more often.
Top 10 Japanese Food Facts
In no particular order, here are ten interesting facts about Japanese cuisine that may surprise you!
Keen to learn more about veggies in Japanese cuisine? Read my guide to popular Japanese vegetables for a complete list of delicious and unique greens.
1. Being a Qualified Sushi Chef Requires Many Years of Training
To most people, a small bowl of sticky rice with a slice of fish inside or on top may not look like an overly complicated delicacy.
But while simplicity is essential in Japanese cuisine and culture, sushi is considered a form of art and must be prepared under strict guidelines. Therefore, the sushi chef profession is highly respected in Japan.
To become a traditional sushi chef, one must undergo many years of on-the-job training with a sushi master. Before standing in front of the cutting board, the apprentice must learn supporting tasks, such as preparing perfect sushi rice, selecting and buying fresh fish, grating ginger, and preparing other key ingredients.
Once these tasks are mastered to perfection, the apprentice moves up the ladder and perhaps will be given the responsibility of preparing takeaway sushi orders.
Once the sushi master is satisfied that the apprentice can manage all tasks related to preparing fresh sushi in a restaurant, he will be promoted to sushi chef. It’s not uncommon that this learning process can take 10 to 15 years.
2. Tokyo Is the International Capital of Top Restaurants
Well ahead of many other major cities in the world, Tokyo was home to an impressive 278 Michelin stars in the year 2021.
Not less than 12 Tokyo-based restaurants had 3 Michelin stars, and another 42 restaurants could claim 2 Michelin stars, which is an incredible and perhaps even surprising result.
And it’s not just Japanese cuisine that these restaurants offer. A lot of Michelin-starred restaurants in Tokyo are European, with the majority offering French cuisine.
3. Don’t Leave Your Table Messy
When you’ve finished your Japanese meal, it’s a good manner to re-arrange the table so that all dishes are placed the way they were served.
This also means that all lids should be placed back on the dishes and bowls. Also, collect all tissues used (ideally just one) and place them on your table in an appropriate way.
It’s also important not to place your used chopsticks on your plate or bowl. Instead, leave them on a chopstick rest, otherwise known as hashioki.
If there isn’t one available, put the chopsticks back into the paper wrap and fold the top bit to indicate that they have been used.
4. Simplicity Is Key
Japanese courses often consist of only a few items that are mostly fresh and full of flavors. Choosing high-quality ingredients is, therefore, a crucial part of the cooking process.
Japanese chefs are able to employ simple cooking techniques to highlight the natural colors and flavors of the ingredients they are using.
It’s amazing how they can serve the most delicious meals using simple core ingredients such as rice, fish, seaweed, and noodles.
Keen to learn more about veggies from the sea? Read my guide to the most common sea vegetables for a complete list of tasty greens coming from the oceans.
5. Sashimi Is Not Always Fish
One of the most popular dishes in Japanese cuisine is sashimi, thinly sliced pieces of raw fish or meat.
While most sashimi is typically fish, such as tuna and salmon, certain meat types can also be served as raw sashimi.
Beef is perhaps the most popular type of meat sashimi, but horse and deer are also regularly used.
6. Don’t Dip Sushi Rice in Soy Sauce
When dipping your sushi in soy sauce, it’s important to be gentle and not let the soy sauce overpower the flavors of the sushi.
You should also avoid dipping sushi rice into the soy sauce as the rice should retain its perfect sticky texture. Instead, use other bits of the sushi to dip.
An important thing to remember here is not to leave pieces of rice soaked in your little soy sauce bowl. There should only be soy sauce in there, and ideally, it should be nearly empty when you’ve finished your meal.
7. Drink Miso Soup Straight out of the Bowl
Often served as the very first dish in a Japanese dinner, miso soup is a delicious drink made with dissolved fermented soybean paste and extra ingredients such as nori seaweed and tiny pieces of tofu.
While it may be tempting to use a spoon to consume miso soup, it’s better to drink it straight out of the bowl.
However, you’re welcome to use the chopsticks for fishing out and eating the solid pieces.
8. It’s Common to Eat Rice Multiple Times a Day
While the popularity of rice may be somewhat declining in Japan, it’s still very common to eat rice for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Historically, rice has always played an important role in Japanese cuisine.
Traditional Japanese rice, also known as uruchimai, has a delicious sticky texture which makes it easier to be eaten with chopsticks.
Mochi, a popular rice cake often eaten to celebrate the new year, is made with a different short-grain rice known as mochigome.
Keen to learn more about breakfast in Japan? Read my guide to common Japanese breakfast foods for a list of delicious dishes that are often consumed in the morning.
9. Go Easy on the Soy Sauce
While it may be tempting to pour a generous amount of soy sauce into that little bowl, wasting soy sauce is considered bad manners.
Go easy on the soy sauce; you can always top it up when your bowl is starting to look empty.
Also, don’t mix wasabi into your soy sauce. A lot of diners do this, but it has the potential to ruin the original flavors of the sushi you’re being served. A sushi chef often adds tiny bits of wasabi to sushi to create that perfect taste.
In other words, trust your sushi chef. What you can do, though, is add a small amount of wasabi directly to a piece of sashimi after dipping it into soy sauce.
10. Tipping Is Not Recommended
Although many of us may find tipping to be a genuine gesture of appreciation, tipping in Japan can often be regarded as somewhat rude.
Staff in Japanese restaurants usually get paid reasonable wages and are well-trained professionals.
In addition, as mentioned above, a sushi chef undergoes years of training before he is allowed to take ownership of the chopping board.
In that light, tipping can be considered somewhat degrading and is not recommended or required.