Japan is well known for its unique food culture and incredible selection of restaurants. In the 2021 Michelin Guide rankings, Tokyo is once again leading as the city with the most Michelin-starred restaurants, with over 212 listed in the Michelin directory in Tokyo alone and an incredible 413 different Michelin star ranked restaurants in Japan. But the culinary experiences on offer in Japan don’t stop with the high end restaurants. We’ve put together 10 of the most unique, memorable and enjoyable culinary experiences you may have in Japan.
1) Challenge Sumo Wrestlers and Enjoy a Chanko Lunch / Dinner
You will enjoy a dining experience like never before. You’ll be eating a chanko nabe (Japanese hot pot) lunch which is a traditional “soul dish” eaten several times daily by Sumo wrestlers to gain weight. But before this sumo lunch, you’ll get to work up a bit of an appetite with some actual sumo wrestling with retired professional sumo wrestlers. This is an extremely rare opportunity to experience first-hand one of Japan’s most beloved and sacred sports.
Firstly, you’ll see them perform an impressive demonstration of speed, strength, skills and mobility. Then you will get a chance to put on a sumo wrestling outfit suit and have a go at wrestling the wrestler. Of course, the wrestling is voluntary and will likely not be too competitive, but is sure to be a fun and memorable experience for you and those in your group watching. You’ll get a chance to take some photos with the sumo giants, and learn about the behind-the-scene stories and daily life of a real sumo wrestler whilst enjoying an authentic chanko lunch. This is one lunch in Japan that will never be forgotten.
2) Ultimate Ramen Tasting Tour in Tokyo
You will join Frank, a long time Tokyo resident and ramen food culture expert, and embark on a ramen shop tasting tour during which Frank will educate you about this history of ramen, explain the different types and discuss recent trends and more. In total you’ll eat 6 mini bowls of different ramen from 12 choices over 6 completely different shops spread over three different Tokyo neighbourhoods. Three of these ramen shop have won multiple awards. This Tokyo culinary and cultural experience will take you three hours and it’s advised to begin the walking tour hungry so you have space for all the different dishes you’ll try.
This ramen tour has won multiple awards – in 2020 being named one of Trip Advisor’s top 20 tours (in all of Japan) and the “top food tour in Tokyo” by the Japanese government (Eat! Meet! Japan 2020 initiative). Your ramen expert and tour guide is hugely passionate, a great communicator and due to the success of his ramen blog, he has featured on CNN, Apple Daily, Bright Trip and Netflix.
3) Japanese ‘Bento’ Cooking Class in Kyoto
Japanese traditional lunch box ‘Bento’ is one of the unique cuisines in Japan that fills small boxes little by little. You will learn to a little about the cultural background of the “bento” box before learning how to cook and prepare it. Firstly, you’ll be welcomed with green tean and you will be given a samue (working clothes for Buddhist monks) as an apron. Apart from being great for some fun photo opportunities through the class, this should keep your clothes protected as you cook.
During the 2.5-3 hour class, the instructors will demonstrate and explain the tricks to making these beautiful dishes and then you will give it a try. You will learn about several typical Japanese dishes such as teri-yaki chicken, tempura and miso soup. You’ll also learn about dashi broth (soup stock for Japanese cuisine) and various types of seasonings (soy sauce, mirin, sake, miso, etc). After you finish cooking, you will enjoy the bento lunch you just made along with the other participants in the class.
4) Osaka Cooking Class
Osaka is known and the kitchen of Japan, with many famous local delicacies, incredible locally sourced food ingredients and one of the best selection of restaurants in Japan. You will discover the culinary traditions of Japan in Osaka, during this small-group cooking lesson. Receive a fun, delicious introduction to the world of Japanese cooking as you learn to prepare the country’s most popular dishes during a small-group cooking lesson. Start your class in the morning, meeting your guide in central Osaka and continuing on to the cooking studio. Start your class by following your instructor to prepare miso soup, a dish where subtle differences in technique can have large impacts on the final dish.
Then try your hand at making Osaka’s most famous local dish “takoyaki”—fried balls of wheat flour batter stuffed with octopus. You also learn to prepare okonomiyaki, a filling pancake made with egg, flour, cabbage, pork and dried bonito flakes. Once you’ve completed your cooking, enjoy your finished food with an optional sake and beer pairing, or simply sit back and savor the delicious flavors of your meal with the other guests. Before you leave, you get to try Taiyaki (a fish-shaped cake) and Matcha tea.
5) Soba Noodle Making in Matsumoto, Nagano
With this tour you will be able to learn how to make your very own Soba noodles. Soba is Japanese for buckwheat, which is a nutritious, grain-like seed that’s gluten-free and, despite its name, unrelated to wheat. Soba noodles can be made solely of buckwheat flour and water, but more commonly also contain wheat flour and sometimes added salt.
You will be taught the basics of making soba, afterwards a professional soba chef will instruct you on making your soba. From creating the dough to cutting the dough into noodle slices, you will be able to experience what the soba chef does for a living. Of course after all your hard work, you will be able to eat your very own masterpiece.
6) Sushi Masterclass in Tokyo
In Meguro you will join a sushi class taught by Nobu who has 35 years of experience and Is still active professional sushi chef. For two hours, you will undertake a fully-fledged class that will teach you about many things including how to properly use Japanese kitchen knives, sushi tools, how to cut and prepare sushi sashimi and how to grind wasabi into paste, how to make sushi rolls and much more. You will also learn how to cook a Japanese omelette with multiple layers. Best of all, you will get a chance to eat what you prepared along with some miso soup, green tea and deserts (prepared by chef Nobu whilst you work on your omelettes).
7) Wagashi Sweets Making & Kimono Tea Ceremony in Kyoto
Step back into time to learn one of Japan’s sweetest culinary traditions in the heart of Kyoto. You’ll learn to how to make wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets that are best paired with matcha tea during a tea ceremony). But first you’ll be trying on your own kimono to dress the part for this traditional experience. After you look the part, you’ll move to a tatami mat room where you’ll be give an overview lesson on traditional Japanese sweets and learn the process of making them under the guidance and supervision of an experienced intrustor.
After the sweets-making class, you will be participating in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony where you will learn a little bit about the ritual and learn how to create matcha tea from the fine powder and hot water. You can enjoy eating your own beautifully created wagashi along with the matcha tea. The recipes followed during the class are vegan and vegetarian-friendly! The plant-based treats are also halal and kosher.
The class will take place in a historic machiya townhouse in the heart of the Gion District, where the rich culture of Japan is most concentrated. Learning about the traditions and practices of the country through our immersive cultural workshops and activities will surely give you a new perspective about the intricacies of the history and society in Japan. This particular tea ceremony experience that has received TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice Award for three consecutive years from 2018 to 2020.
8) Wagyu Beef and Kaiseki Ryouri Tokyo Cooking Class
You’ll refine your cooking skills and enrich your knowledge of Japanese cuisine during a kaiseki ryouri (haute cuisine) cookery class in Tokyo. In a small group, you will prepare up to eight different dishes featuring Wagyu beef, Japanese vegetables, and traditional seasonings.
Kaiseki Ryouri is a traditional Japanese multi-course meal that is composed of many different methods of cooking based on its specific rules. During this class, you will make use of various methods to complete your full-course lunch. The instructors will share some tips and stories of each of the recipes and sometimes share some secret techniques, too. This cooking class will give you a homey atmosphere to cook in. As Japanese always start with “Dashi”-making, each class will begin with the making of “Dashi,” the fundamental soup stock of Japanese cooking. Your instructor will also explain about some of the typical Japanese seasonings which are frequently used.
Then, you will prepare 6-7 dishes learning classic and modern recipes, ways to present food, elaborate cuttings and unique Japanese ingredients. You’ll also cook some beautiful, tender Wagyu beef. After all of the cooking is finished, finally, it will be time to say ‘Itadakimasu! and sit down as a group to feast on the fruits of your labors, accompanied by sake and green tea. This Kaiseki ryouri cookery class in Tokyo is a hands-on experience ideal for lovers of Japanese cuisine.
9) Hiroshima Okonomiyaki Cooking Class
Experience the essence of Japan with a gourmet food tour and immerse yourself in making your own Okonomiyaki, described as the Japanese ‘soul food’ and the culinary specialties of Hiroshima. Hiroshima is home to 1,600 Okonomiyaki shops, and is known as the prime okonomiyaki city in Japan. You will indulge in Hiroshima food culture and its post war history, being introduced to the authentic Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki, the culinary specialties of Hiroshima and a staple of Japanese cuisine. You will gain a deeper insight into Hiroshima’s cultural heritage, and master the technique of Japanese cuisine on a teppan (griddle).
In this program, you will learn the basics of cooking the Okonomiyaki unique to Hiroshima, putting ingredients such as cabbage, tempura crisps, green onions, bean sprouts, porks, noodles and an egg in a layer on the teppan without mixing, topped with sauces and condiments. The sweetness of the cabbage perfectly matches the taste and the noodles would make you full just with a piece of Okonomiyaki. After cooking the Okonomiyaki, enjoy it with the sauce made by the Otafuku Sauce Co., a worldwide manufacturer of savory Japanese condiments. You can try 8 types of sauces at the showroom. You can choose the topping of Okonomiyaki from four flavors and you can enjoy oysters, desserts, and a drink if you like (including the craft beer!) whilst eating the Okonomiyaki your cooked.
10) Learn How to Cook Ramen Noodles in Tokyo
Ramen noodles are one of the tastiest dishes you could eat, at any time of day, but if you are like most people, they never taste anywhere near as good if you make them at home. But fear not, as you will learn the tips and tricks for cooking authentic and great tasting ramen noodles by yourself. You will join a 2 hour class on the art of cooking ramen noodles will be taught by a professional instructor at one of Japan’s leading culinary schools; one that services more than 280,000 students all throughout Asia.
During the class, you will learn every step of making Japanese Ramen, from the broth all the way to the final toppings. You will however start with pre-made noodles, due to time constraints, the focus of the class will be on cooking, not making the noodles. You can make your favorite style of Ramen, by choice of 2 kinds of noodles (egg noodle or rice noodle) as well as your preferred toppings. The instructor will teach you a quick and easy recipe for Chashyu pork (grilled pork) and Nitamago (a seasoned boiled egg) as well as other cooking tips and hacks to make Gyoza. This is a must activity if you love Japanese food culture and want to try bring some of it back to your own kitchen at home after your trip!
If you are interested in learning more about any of the above or designing a travel itinerary with a culinary experience or two such as the above included, get in touch with our Japan travel consultants who can find the perfect activity for you in the right city at the right time and at the right price.