8 Japanese food and drink experiences you’ll never forget

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By now, everyone knows that Japanese food is about more than just raw fish. In fact, it’s about so much more that it can be difficult to know where to begin.

There’s Michelin-starred, multi-course, haute cuisine — but there’s also out-of-this-world ramen to be had for a song on a street corner. There’s melt-in-the-mouth wagyu beef, but there’s also delicate, Buddhist vegetarian cuisine. There’s time-honoured tea ceremony honed over centuries, but there’s also kawaii latte art served in maid cafés. And it’s not just about the food itself — it’s about the people who make it, the intricate customs and etiquette, and the deep-rooted traditions behind every dish.

You could live in Japan your whole life and still be surprised and delighted by the sheer variety of food on offer — but if you’ve only got a couple of weeks, this is where we’d begin.

Sake tasting with a sommelier

Japanese sake

Join Cordon Bleu advisor and long-time Tokyo resident Sebastien Lemoine for a journey into the 1,300-year-old history of nihonshu — better known to Westerners as “sake”. As nuanced in flavour as wine, yet brewed much like a beer, sake isn’t just Japan’s quintessential tipple — it’s a link to centuries of spirituality and tradition. Sebastien has been steeping himself in sake culture for over 10 years, so there’s nobody better placed to introduce you to everything nihonshu — from polishing and fermenting the rice, to appreciating its subtlety and depth of flavour, to pairing different sakes with different foods. Kanpai!

Oysters & Chablis on Miyajima Island

Oysters and Chablis on Miyajima

Japanese cuisine isn’t all seafood, but it’s an important part of it — and on Miyajima Island, that means oysters. For the region’s best, pull up a pew at Kakiwai Restaurant, with its restored wooden terrace looking out over the sea, and a five-storied pagoda. A glass of cold Chablis Premier Cru in hand, sample the freshest locally farmed oysters as you watch the sun go down over Hiroshima, just across the bay. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Cooking class in Kanazawa

Cooking class in Kanazawa

Kanazawa just might be our favourite city in Japan, and this just might be our favourite experience in Kanazawa. Under the tutelage of the inimitable and ever-entertaining Moe and Chikako, learn the secrets of Japanese ingredients, pick up tips and tricks passed down through the generations, get ‘hands on’ creating your own delicious dishes, and wash down the delicious food with home-made plum wine and sake. An unforgettable day with some unforgettable people — this is one you don’t want to miss out on.

Dinner at a Buddhist temple

Shojin ryori, vegan Buddhist cuisine

Literally translated as “devotion cuisine”, shojin ryori is the traditional vegetarian food eaten by Buddhist monks in Japan — but make no mistake, it’s far from ascetic. In fact, shojin ryori is elaborate, deeply flavourful, and visually beautiful, typically served in numerous little bowls in an old-fashioned tatami-mat room. Spend the night at a Buddhist temple for the full experience, and be sure to get up at the crack of dawn to join morning prayers. It’s worth it, trust us!

Street food tour of Osaka

Street food in Osaka

Bold, brash Osaka is famous for its laid-back character and delicious cuisine, so where better to embark on a street-food tour? With one of our favourite tour leaders to guide you through the city’s maze of alleys and backstreets, chow down on everything from kushikatsu meat skewers to takoyaki octopus balls, all while learning the ropes of Japanese eating etiquette and sharing a few beers with the locals.

Ramen sampling in Tokyo

Ramen sampling in Tokyo

As you’ll know if you’ve ever seen the classic Japanese movie Tampopo, there’s more to ramen than just noodles and broth. Much more. Here to introduce you to some of the capital’s finest is Frank: honorary Tokyoite, committed ramen aficionado, and your guide for the day. He’ll let you in on some of the city’s best-kept secrets as you sip and slurp your way through numerous mini-bowls, stopping in ramen joints you won’t find on TripAdvisor. Which will be your favourite?

Tea farm experience

A Japanese tea farm

Is there anything more quintessentially Japanese than green tea? At Obubu Farm, immerse yourself in the Japanese favourite hot beverage (not literally) as you follow its journey from field to cup. Wander the beautiful tea fields, visit a tea processing factory, and learn about the many different types and grades — from everyday roasted hojicha to ceremonial grade matcha. Of course, you’ll get to taste them too!

Japanese Whisky Distilleries

Japanese whisky barrel

Move over Scotland — there’s a new master of malt on the scene, and it’s serious. Indeed, Japanese whisky is now world-renowned, and connoisseurs credit innovative Japanese brewers with ushering in a new era of whisky making. Learn everything you ever needed to know about peat, barley, casks and stills on a distillery tour, and find out for yourself how Suntory and Nikka measure up to Diageo and Pernod Ricard.

Eat your way around Japan on our Gastronomic Adventure self-guided trip.

Alternatively, take a Japan Small Group Tours with a tour leader for top tips on the best restaurants and a little help navigating the menu.

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