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Learn To Cook Japanese Food at Home

Learning to cook Japanese food at home is a brilliant way of familiarising yourself with the country’s cuisine before you visit.

Learning to Cook Japanese Food
Japanese Recipes To Try At Home
A to Z of Japanese Ingredients
Dining in Japan
Table Manners in Japan
Bonus Recommendations


Have you already fallen in love with Japanese food and ingredients? Or do you want to get to know this amazing cuisine better before you visit Japan? Whether you’re new to Japanese food or you’ve loved it for years, a great way to learn about it, appreciate it, enjoy it, and use it as a gateway to Japan itself, is to learn how to cook Japanese food at home. We’re here to help you here at JR Pass in the first of a series of planned blogs taking you through the basics of cooking Japanese food at home. Let’s get started.

Learning to Cook Japanese Food

There is a myth that learning Japanese food is extremely difficult. Firstly, this isn’t true. The myth probably originates in the fact that Japanese food is of such high-quality and is so world-renowned that logic dictates it must be hard to do. While Japanese food is among the best in the world, many of its most famous dishes are relatively simple in their construction and are designed to get the very best out of the finest quality produce without overcomplicating it.

Japanese Recipes To Try At Home

So, you want to learn how to cook Japanese food at home ahead of your trip to Japan? Let’s get started with a selection of easy to follow recipes featuring a mix of Japanese classics and a couple of our favourites. This is just a small selection of recipes for now as we plan to return to this topic in future with more recipes in follow-up blogs. 

  • Sushi rice

Special short-grain pearlised rice washed and seasoned with a special vinegar made from sugar, salt, and rice vinegar. 

  • 120ml rice vinegar or brown rice vinegar
  • 3 tbsp sugar seasoning, to taste (optional)
  • For the rice
  • 450g Japanese rice (3 Japanese cups)

  • Maki rolls

Maki rolls (Makiushi) are a traditional sushi dish that consists of rice with a filling of fish or vegetables, rolled up in a seaweed. The filling can be cooked or raw and the rolls can be topped and seasoned in different ways.

  • 100g sushi rice
  • 1 sheet nori seaweed
  • 2 tbsp sushi vinegar
  • soy sauce
  • wasabi
  • sushi ginger
  • white sesame seeds, roasted (optional)

Fillings could include:

  • tuna – sashimi style, raw
  • salmon – sashimi style, raw
  • avocado
  • tuna mixed with mayo
  • cucumber
  • crab sticks
  • prawns


  • Miso soup

A traditional Japanese soup made from dashi stock mixed with softened miso paste. Alongside this, there are a wide range of optional ingredients you can also add to the soup to create a variety of regional and seasonal recipes, while also making the dish your own.

  • 4 cups water
  • 2 teaspoons dashi granules
  • 3 tablespoons miso paste
  • 1 (8 ounce) package silken tofu, diced
  • 2 green onions, sliced diagonally into 1/2 inch pieces

  • Chilled Tofu with soy sauce, ginger, and katsuobushi

Hiyayakko is a Japanese dish consisting of tofu, sprinkled with bonito flakes (katsuobushi), spring onions, and grated ginger. Since tofu is plain, it can be enhanced with a wide variety of other ingredients and flavourings.

  • 200g silken tofu
  • 5g grated ginger (grated)
  • 1g dried bonito flakes
  • 15ml soy sauce

  • Katsu curry

Katsu curry features chicken in panko breadcrumbs, usually sliced, over a bed of rice and curry sauce. It is a style of Japanese curry with a sauce that usually includes potato and carrot.

  • 2x large Chicken breasts
  • 150g panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 x Eggs
  • Plain flour, milk, sunflower oil
  • Shichimi togarashi 
  • Soy sauce

For the sauce:

  • Carrot, onion, garlic, miso paste, butter, ginger, shredded white cabbage

A to Z of Japanese Ingredients

Japan uses some of the finest ingredients in the world. Here is a selection from A to Z to give you a quick introduction: 

  • Aonori

Flaked and powdered seaweed used as a garnish on the exterior of dishes to provide extra texture and flavour.

  • Dashi

An umami powder made from dried fish (bonito) and dried kelp (kombu) that’s typically added to ramen broth. 

  • Ikura

Large Salmon roe (eggs) used as a topping for their colour and vibrancy as well as flavour.

  • Kizami

Pickled red ginger, served wafer thin, and used as a sweet & sour topping for ramen and other dishes.

  • Kombu

Dried kelp. 

  • La-yu

Japanese chilli oil.

  • Matcha

Produced by grinding down matcha tea leaves, this famous fine powder is known for its bright green colour. It is used in teas and desserts.  

  • Mayu

Japanese garlic oil.

  • Mirin

Sweet rice wine used for cooking purposes. 

  • Miso

Arguably one of Japan’s most famous ingredients, miso is soya bean paste. There are a number of different varieties. 

  • Noodles

The mighty noodle! Noodles feature in many Japanese dishes. There are a number of different types of noodles, including ramen, soba, udon, somen, shirataki, and more.

  • Nori

Another famous ingredient, nori is a type of seaweed that comes in sheets and is used as a wrapping for sushi, particularly maki.  

  • Neri Goma

Paste made from black sesame seeds.

  • Panko

Dried breadcrumbs, which are used in various dishes, most famously to create the crispy coating to chicken katsu. 

  • Pickled Ginger

There are two varieties, pink and red. The former is often a palate cleanser while the latter, beni shoga, is used in cooking.

  • Rice paper

Edible paper made from water, rice, and salt, which can be filled with a wide range of other ingredients as part of several tasty dishes.

  • Rice Wine Vinegar

A mild vinegar created by fermenting rice, often used in dressings and dips.  

  • Sake

The famous Japanese rice wine (nihonshu), which can be used to cook with and to enjoy alongside your meal. 

  • Seasoned Vinegar

Made from rice vinegar, sugar, and salt, this is used to season and bind sushi rice.

  • Sesame Oil

A strong flavoured oil that comes in two forms - pure and toasted. The former can be cooked with, the latter is mainly for dressings.

  • Shichimi powder

A very spicy orange-coloured powder used as a seasoning, which is made from sansho (Japanese pepper), aonori, poppy, hemp, black sesame seeds, dried chilli, and yuzu peel.

  • Shiitake and Shimeji

Two varieties of Japanese mushrooms used in a variety of dishes.

  • Sushi rice

Special short-grain pearlised rice washed and seasoned with a special vinegar made from sugar, salt, and rice vinegar. 

  • Tamari soy sauce

Pure fermented soy sauce with nothing added. 

  • Teriyaki marinade

You can get teriyaki as both a sauce and a marinade. The latter can be used for fish, meat, and tofu, and the former can be used as a condiment and topping.

  • Tobiko

Small fish roe (eggs) used as a garish. It is naturally orange, but sometimes gets dyed yellow or green for certain dishes.

  • Tofu

This well-known soya based and vegan friendly source of protein is very popular in Japan and used in a wide number of dishes.

  • Tonkatsu paste

A fruity paste and/or sauce used in stocks and ramen broth.

  • Wasabi

Native to Japan (as well as part of the Russian far east and Korean peninsula), wasabi is Japanese horseradish. It is ground into a powerful paste that is used as a condiment with sushi and other dishes.  

  • Yakisoba sauce

Fruity, spicy, brown sauce, often made with oyster sauce, used in noodle dishes and stir-fries. 

  • Yuzu

This juice comes from Yuzu, a citrus fruit, with a sharp, sour flavour that can be used in a variety of dishes.

Dining in Japan

Now that you’ve learned a few recipes to try at home, you can start daydreaming about visiting Japan and eating out in the country’s many amazing restaurants, from traditional izakaya to food stalls to fine dining. With the Japan Rail Pass, you can travel the length and breadth of this amazing country on Japan’s domestic rail network, visiting different cities and prefectures, and trying a bit of everything! You can read more about regional specialities in our guide to Japanese Food and Regional Dishes

Of course, alongside its extraordinary street food, local produce, and regional dishes, Japan is also world-famous as a centre of fine-dining with one of the highest concentrations of Michelin-starred restaurants anywhere in the world. In fact, Tokyo is the No.1 city in the world when it comes to having the highest number of Michelin-starred restaurants. Osaka is also internationally renowned as a world-leading culinary destination for food lovers. Remarkably, many of these restaurants are incredibly affordable too. Here are three examples: 

  • Sushi Masuda, Tokyo - Awarded two Michelin Stars, this high-end and high-class sushi restaurant is an exclusive dining experience with just six seats and exceptional food. If you’re lucky enough to get a reservation look out for specialities such as shirako with white truffles, sayori (needlefish), hirame (flounder), and surume ika (Pacific squid).
  • Sukiyabashi Jiro Honten, Tokyo - Thanks to a visit from President Obama and the successful documentary film, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, this exclusive and high-end Tokyo sushi restaurant, run by 93-year-old three Michelin star chef Jiro Ono, has become even more exclusive. It is so renowned, however, we just couldn’t miss it off the list.
  • Ajikitcho Horienten - Taste Japan’s history and tradition through Naniwa vegetables (distinct vegetables revived to savour Osaka’s cultural and food history), and fresh fish bought from the hands of the fishermen. Relax at this two-star Michelin sanctuary of tradition, with sukiya architecture and natural gardens, nestled in the city.  

To find out more about the Michelin Star rating system and for a comprehensive guide to these restaurants across this incredible country, read A Guide To Japan’s Michelin-starred Restaurants.

Table Manners in Japan

While you may have mastered Japanese food in your own kitchen, what about eating out? Japan’s customs and etiquette may seem daunting if you’ve never been to the country before, but knowing a few simple rules will make navigating the country a breeze. Naturally, there are lots of customs and etiquette around dining given Japan’s reputation for culinary excellence and the nation’s love affair with food. Here are a few top tips for Japanese table manners for beginners: 

  • Greeting - Bowing is customary when greeting people.
  • Ordering - Remember to say ‘kudasai’ or ‘please’ when ordering. If you’re not sure what to order, try using the word ‘Osusume’, which means ‘recommendation’, and ‘Omakase’ which is the ‘chef’s choice’. It can be seen as respectful to ask the chef and most restaurants offer a menu of chef’s recommendations.
  • Oshibori - This is a towel specifically for cleaning your hands during a meal and is not for your face, neck or mouth. Using it for the latter is considered a faux pas.
  • Chopsticks - They should be used to pass food into your mouth without touching the inside of your mouth. Do not point at food or people with them. Do not stab food with them. If you place them on the table to the side of your dish it signifies you’re still eating, but if you place them together and sideways across the plate or bowl then this means you are finished. 
  • Eating - Start a meal by saying ‘Itadaki-masu’ which means ‘I gratefully receive’ before you begin. Remember not to put too much on your plate as anything you leave uneaten could be seen as a sign of impoliteness. 
  • Drinking - The number one rule is to never drink alone. Always wait until all of your guests have a drink before drinking yourself, then say ‘kanpai’ or ‘cheers’.
  • Paying - You can end a meal by saying ‘gochisōsama deshita’, which means ‘Thank you for the feast’. Crossing one finger over the other to create an ‘X’ can then also be used to signify you are ready for the bill. 
  • Tipping - Tipping is not common, necessary or expected in Japan. Leaving money on the table could cause confusion. 

Of course, don’t worry if you don’t get everything perfectly right on the first try. The Japanese are known for their hospitality and gratitude, and are often forgiving of travellers who aren’t accustomed to their ways. For a more detailed guide read A Guide to Japanese Table Manners and for more general advice on customs and etiquette check out A Guide to Japanese Etiquette.  

Bonus Recommendations

  • You can read specifically about two of Japan’s most famous foods, sushi and ramen, in our beginner’s guides to both dishes, Japan for Sushi Lovers and A Beginner’s Guide to Ramen
  • You’ll be thirsty after all that food, so how about a nice cold beer? Find out about one of Japan’s other love affairs in A Craft Beer Tour of Japan. Many Japanese beers are now available to buy in your home countries, so you could even try them alongside your home cooking as part of your ‘research’ for visiting Japan.

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