Eating In Japan With Kids

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The food and restaurants of Tokyo and Japan.

Japan is one of those countries that the cuisine itself is a big appeal. Like France, Italy or Thailand people often travel to Japan with the main intent of their trip being to eat. We expected great food – and found it – what surprised me was how reasonably priced, often downright cheap, the food was. We often got two big rice bowls or noodle soup for dinner for less than $15. Obviously we weren’t hitting the high ends spots or the very best restaurants and I don’t doubt that you can spend some serious money (and be rewarded with some fantastically great food) but for what we were looking for – inexpensive authentic Japanese food that would please both kids and an adult – we found easily and cheaply.

The search for food. Walking the neighborhood where we were staying and looking for an appealing restaurant was a nightly ritual on our trip to Japan.Searching for restaurant in Tokyo.

We made the mistake of ending up outside Tokyo station on a Sunday looking for a place to eat. Finding nothing open we wandered for a good hour and several miles before stumbling on a sushi bar and going to town.Finding food and sushi near Tokyo Station.

We ate a ridiculous number of treats during the trip…Eatin some treats in the Tokyo subway.

Who knew there were bakeries and donut shops at just about every subway station.Donuts near our hotel in Tokyo.

Many places had vending machines inside where you’d select your food then take it to the counter. It was nice because there were either small pictures above each button so you could at least guess at the contents of a meal or you could stand in front of the machine looking like a dumb tourist until someone came to your aid to show you which button corresponded with which meal.Buying food from a vending machine in Tokyo.

We ate primarily Japanese food (for lunch and dinner) – except one night when the kids talked me into Indian food …Great Indian food - Naan and Chicken Tikka Masala - in Tokyo.

and another when an Italian restaurant was just too close and easy to dismiss. (This didn’t stop Kipling from taking a break for a little nap.)Just back from Kyoto: A good Italian restaurant in Tokyo.

Sitting at the counter was fun. The kids got to watch the meals being prepared and I was able to point at dishes and say “Uhm,  one of those please.”Great food in Japan.

Add the soy sauce …Ramen noodles in Osaka.

… and then dig in.Food in Osaka station.

Samuel tried his best with the chop sticks.Eating at a department store in a mall in Tokyo.

But would ditch them if he had to.Eating in Japan.

Kipling couldn’t get the chop sticks down, but shoveled well with his spoon.Spaghetti with a spoon.

My kids refer to all cereal as “Raisin Bran” which would confuse any server but doubly so for the unfortunate Japanese hosts that had to take our breakfast order. Here’s Samuel adapting the Japanese style of eating to a western breakfast.Western style breakfast at the hotel in Tokyo.

Just the favorites during our last meal in Tokyo.We stayed in some great neighborhoods in Tokyo, like Ikebukuro, but Iidibashi had some great restaurants.

23 questions and comments

  1. Victoria

    We had a great time eating in Japan, and like you found it really reasonable. We loved sitting at the bar and watching what was going on too. I’m SO looking forward to taking the children next summer. Luckily, they already love Japanese food.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      There’s so much going on when you sit up there. Dishes coming out, plates coming back, orders going back and forth between the staff. And the cooking of course. It’s one of the great places to really be immersed directly in Japanese culture.

      Reply
    1. David Post author

      That was one great naan. The chicken tikka masala had eggs in it – welcome to Japan – but was still great. The kids gobbled it too, as you can just make out from my son’s two empty plates.

      Reply
  2. Wanderluster

    I definitely must bookmark this as we are planning on a trip to Japan. I’ve always heard that Japan is so expensive but there are definitely other options than eating at pricey Kobe beef restaurants!!

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      I was surprised too. And it was all so good. I rarely knew what exactly I was eating but who cares when it’s delicious.

      Reply
    1. David Post author

      I’m sure it can be as expensive. Come to think of it, I’m sure it can be more expensive. But there are other option there. Japan needn’t be super expensive. Even for hotels there are some fairly cheap options.

      Reply
  3. Cate

    So much food, I feel full just going through the photos. I love Japanese noodles of all kinds. Some of the best and cheaper places are usually found in and around the train stations in Japan.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      For sure. The pictures with the noodles and the soy sauce were at a restaurant right in Osaka train station. The one below those were in a department store with fantastic food. Definitely different than here. When I’m hungry, I’m sure not heading to the train station or a department store here in Seattle.

      Reply
  4. Randy @thelollipoproad

    In the smaller towns, we had a hard time finding something other than Japanese style cuisine, but we did find an Englsh Pub and that became a quick favorite! Getting fresh fruit was also a challenge. Although there are some amazing Japanese dishes, there is also a great deal of food that is outside of the mainstream for Americans, so it really is about experimenting.

    I would highly recommend staying and dining at a traditional Buddhist Monastary…the food was delicious!

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      We were only in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto so didn’t experience that.

      Great tip on the monastery though.

      Reply
  5. Jen

    It is great that your kids tried so many food items! Are they picky eaters at home? I find that my extremely picky son who wants nothing but chicken tenders at home will try just about anything while we are traveling!

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      That’s great. My guys eat a lot of different stuff at home, for sure. If you’re looking for a country to really immerse your family in the local culture then Japan is great because you don’t have all the options that are found in Thailand or Greece or France. Or I guess I should say, those “options” are there but they’re not front and center like they are in other countries. There isn’t the tourist infrastructure like there is in other countries that targets the foreign tourists.

      Reply
  6. Rega

    The food looks great. I’m a little embarrassed to ask, but do they have American food in Japan. I know they have McDonalds but what about chain restaurants like Olive Garden, Outback Steakhouse and TGI Fridays? Thanks for the great info.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hey Rega. Short answer: I don’t have a clue. Didn’t notice them. Longer answer: There are definitely some great Italian restaurants in Tokyo and plenty of pizza and pasta to be found. I’d be very surprised if you couldn’t find a good steak. And I have no idea what TGI’s even serves so couldn’t recommend a substitute but if it’s food I bet you can find it somewhere. The hotel staff in Tokyo hotels is really remarkable and well informed. Ask at the front desk and I’m sure they’ll figure it out for you, give you a map of Tokyo and give you directions to get you there. With me, they were always incredibly helpful.

      Good luck.

      Reply
      1. Helen

        Hey I live in Tokyo and yes, there are your American chain types.
        Outback in Roppongi as well as Hard Rock and TGIFs too.
        Need any help or where to stay, just mail me, helenmet1975@yahoo.co.uk
        I’m in central Tokyo, my apt overlooks Tokyo tower so can’t bet much more central than that.
        Japan is a fab city and I’d love to show anyone round.

        Reply
        1. Belinda

          Hi Helen, I am just getting ready to move my family to Tokyo, including my 3 year old son. I am a little nervous on the best way to introduce new foods. I wouldn’t say he is tremendously picky but it takes a lot to introduce something new. Thanks, Belinda

          Reply
    2. Leslie

      Yes to Outback and TGIFriday’s. I’ve been to both. Just know, though, that everything in Japan has a Japanese spin. (For example, McDonald’s has a shrimp burger.). But that is a good thing–part of what makes the country so unique and amazing.

      Reply
  7. John

    In answer to Rega – yes, Tokyo has Olive Garden (or “House”, I think), Outback and TGIs. Also Hard Rock Cafe, Tony Romas and any number of Japanese-western restaurants. There are also western-inspired chains such as Jonathans and Denny’s.

    Reply

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