What do Japanese people eat? 日本人は何を食べますか?

What are the most popular types of food in Japan? This question crossed my mind after reading a question on Quora:

Which is more commonly eaten in Japan, Western influenced cuisine (Yōshoku) or Chinese influenced cuisine (Chūka)?

My gut reaction was that Western food is more popular than Chinese food; after all, Italian, French, and other Western restaurants are all over Tokyo. But is this true outside of Tokyo? Rather than relying on observation and intuition, I thought I’d take a look on a popular Japanese food website. Tabelog.com has listings for over 1 million restaurants in Japan. These listings are separated into 35 categories and even more sub-categories.

The top 10 categories of food in Japan, per Tabelog’s listing, are:

  1. Washoku (Japanese food) 和食
  2. Izakaya (Tavern), Dining Bar 居酒屋・ダイニングバー (Izakaya dainingubā)
  3. Restaurants (other) レストラン(その他)(essentially Japanese food, this includes 45,043定食・食堂 (teishoku shokudō), 19,229 Bento and Onigiri restaurants, and others)
  4. Western food(European food) 洋食・西洋料理
  5. Sweets スイーツ
  6. Cafe カフェ
  7. Ramen ラーメン
  8. Authentic Café 喫茶店 Kissaten (coffee house)
  9. Chinese 中華
  10. Yakiniku (Grilled beef), Hormones (Offel) 焼肉・ホルモン

As you can see in the full list, washoku, traditional Japanese cuisine, accounts for 24% of restaurants in Japan, followed by izakaya (Japanese restaurant/bar/taverns) with 13%, and “Restaurants (other)”, which mostly comprises Japanese foods. These top three categories account for 47% of all Tabelog listings. Western food comes in at 4th place with 10% of overall restaurants. Chinese food places 9th with 4% of restaurants. Chinese-influenced categories could arguably included ramen and certain types of hot pot, but this would not result in a significant change to the rankings.

The full list:

If you look at this list, you’ll notice overlapping categories. For example, Cafe カフェ, Authentic Café 喫茶店, and Coffee Shoppe コーヒー専門店 are each listed separately. I created my own list where these are all included in the “cafe” category. I grouped each food into ten categories. (The details are in the attached Excel file here).

There weren’t any huge surprises, though I may have placed ramen and curry slightly higher owing to my fondness for those foods.

Types of Western restaurants in Japan

So what kinds of “Western” foods are popular? According to the sub-categories, the most popular Western restaurants are Italian (20% of Western restaurants), Pasta (13%), French (9%), and Steak (7%), Pizza (7%), and Burger (7%).

Interestingly, teppanyaki 鉄板焼き, known to Americans (and others) as “Japanese” food, is included in Tabelog’s “Western” food category. As Wikipedia explains, the original teppanyaki-style steakhouse,  Misono, “introduced the concept of cooking Western-influenced food on a teppan in Japan in 1945…They soon found the cuisine was less popular with the Japanese than it was with foreigners.”

That’s a lot of restaurants!

The Tabelog site has over 1 million restaurants, bars, and cafes listed on Tabelog. Is that a lot?

Yes, Japan has an incredibly high number of eating and drinking establishments per capita. I once remember reading that central New York has 25,000 restaurants. For a similar population, Central Tokyo has 130,000 restaurants. That means Tokyo beats New York by a factor of five. Is that true?

Yes, the available data shows there are far more restaurants, bars, and cafes in Japan compared to the United States.

Here are my sources for the number of restaurants (616,008), bars (65,224), and cafes/snacks (55,246) in the United States. Even if I missed a few establishments, I’m close. As a point of comparison, Bloomberg published a list of the American cities with the most restaurants per capita. San Francisco placed first with 21.44 restaurants per 10,000 residents. This is in the same ballpark as the overall 23 establishments per 10,000 residents that I’ve calculated above. (See below for full Bloomberg list)

Other:

Tabelog primary categories (http://tabelog.com/en/)

  1. Washoku (Japanese food) 和食
  2. Western food(European food) 洋食・西洋料理
  3. Chinese 中華
  4. Asian, Ethnic アジア・エスニック
  5. Curry カレー
  6. Yakiniku (Grilled beef), Hormones (Offel) 焼肉・ホルモン
  7. Hot Pot 鍋
  8. Izakaya (Tavern), Dining Bar 居酒屋・ダイニングバー (Izakaya dainingubā)
  9. Creative Cuisine, Fusion food 創作料理・無国籍料理
  10. casual dining ファミレス (Famiresu = family restaurant)
  11. Restaurants (other) レストラン(その他)(this includes 45,043table d’hôte 定食・食堂 (teishoku shokudō, or set meal dining room), 19,229 Bento and Onigiri restaurants, and various others, such as buffet style, delicatessen, oyster barBBQ, houseboat and cruising)
  12. Ramen ラーメン
  13. Soupless ramen 汁なしラーメン
  14. Tsukemen つけ麺 (ramen in which the noodles are dipped into a separate bowl of soup)
  15. Cafe カフェ
  16. Authentic Café 喫茶店 Kissaten (coffee house or coffee lounge; kissaten are coffee shops with a generally old-timey, nostalgic feel)
  17. Coffee Shoppe コーヒー専門店 (kōhī senmon-ten)
  18. Tea Shoppe 紅茶専門店
  19. China tea Shoppe 中国茶専門店
  20. Japan tea Shoppe 日本茶専門店
  21. Café (other) カフェ・喫茶(その他)
  22. Bakery, Sandwich パン・サンドイッチ
  23. Sweets スイーツ
  24. Bar バー
  25. Pub パブ
  26. Lounge ラウンジ
  27. Wine bar ワインバー
  28. Beer garden ビアガーデン
  29. Beer Bar ビアバー
  30. Sports Bar スポーツバー
  31. Bar (other) バー・お酒(その他)
  32. Ryokan 旅館
  33. Auberge オーベルジュ (“auberge is a French word for an inn, sometimes used to refer to a restaurant” (Wikipedia)
  34. Auberge (other) 旅館・オーベルジュ(その他) ryokan auberge  (this category may include hotel and ryokan restaurants…I’m not sure what the distintion is between ryokan and ryokan auberge; perhaps ryokan is reserved for traditional Japanese cuisine?)
  35. Other その他 (includes pancakes, maid cafes, robot restaurant, etc)

(Methodology note: on the main Tabelog.com page, when you click on a category it will bring you to a results page showing the total number of restaurants for that category. Visually, it will appear that the “dinner” button is toggled, though the results will be for both lunch and dinner.)

Bloomberg’s list of most restaurants (“eateries”) per capita is no longer available online, but it is referenced in another Bloomberg.com article:

The list is:

1. San Francisco: 21.44
2. Seattle: 20.52
3. Boston: 19.63
4. New York: 19.57
5. Los Angeles: 17.38
6. San Diego: 17.36
7. Washington, D.C.: 16.69
8. Atlanta: 16.22
9. Philadelphia: 16.03
10. Chicago: 15.93

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3 comments

  1. Thanks! Yeah, it’s a lot of detail in the Tabelog listing. There are sub-categories, and sub-sub categories that I didn’t mention in the post because there are just too many of them. For example there are 13 sub-categories of Washoku, and about 65 sub-sub categories. Soba and udon are each a sub-category of “Soba, Udon, Noodles”, which is a sub-category of Washoku).

    These sub-categories are quite detailed. For example, there are 9 categories of hot pot (鍋).

    1. ちゃんこ鍋 Chanko-Nabe (Sumo Wrestlers Hot Pot), aka Weight-gaining stew for sumo
    2. うどんすき Udon Suki
    3. もつ鍋 Motsu-Nabe (Offel Hot Pot)
    4. 水炊き Mizutaki
    5. ちりとり鍋・てっちゃん鍋 Chiritori-Nabe, Tecchyan-Nabe
    6. 中国鍋・火鍋 Chinese Hot Pot / Fire Pot
    7. 韓国鍋 Korean Hot Pot
    8. タイスキ Thai suki
    9. 鍋(その他) Hot Pot (other)

  2. Love the number crunching. This is really picking at details. Soba and udon are counted in other Japanese then? And why are Tsukemen and Ramen separated (given that, especially in Tokyo, they’re often served by ramen shops since it’s the popular thing now).

    The Washoku, Izakaya, Japanese Restaurants coming out on top, and Italian topping the Western list, seem to go with the eyeballing around the streets. Cool!

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