What I Eat In Japan

Seasons, price differences help unlock a healthy diet

By Victoria Vlisides    - 5 min read

A "conveyor belt" sushi place I went to in Kinshicho, Tokyo.

Food in Japan is not all sushi and rice balls. If you know where and how to look, those who desire it can find variety. Just look a little harder.

Of course, big cities have numerous restaurant options. But, a lot of people ask me what I eat on a daily basis after living in the Japanese countryside for a year and a half.

No easy answer exists because it really varies -- mostly by location, season and, well, by my mood. I hear a lot of people complain about the prices of fresh produce in Japan, because a higher percentage of it is more expensive than in the U.S. That can be because a great deal of fruits and vegetables are offered only seasonally in Japan. You can buy strawberries in the winter, but you'll absolutely pay for it. About 10 or less of them could be $4-$5.

However, a beauty I've come to enjoy about Japanese culture is honoring a season by cherishing each food that goes along with it. There's something strangely rewarding about not having access to everything you want all the time. I know I sound like a maniac at this very second, but stay with me, here!

For example, "mikan," or small oranges, are in season recently, so naturally it's time to max out on them. After the season is over, it's followed by a brief sadness, but then there is always a new seasonal food to look forward to. I especially look forward to cherry blossom or "sakura"-flavored food in the spring, for example.

Alas, my eating habits have inevitably shifted while living in Japan.

While the island country still has a tremendous amount of carbohydrates (noodles, rice, bread, dumplings) and fried foods, I would have to say that, in general, my diet is much more healthy here. That comes from more often replacing meats with sushi or fish. And that is reflected in the price of the food, too, with meat being more expensive than fish, for the most part.

Eating less dairy but a lot more fermented foods, is another healthy tradeoff. Kimchi (Korean food) and "natto," or fermented soy beans, are favorites of mine, now that they are more readily available here.

To give readers an idea, here is snap shot of typical food and drink I had over the weekend.

It came from home cooking, grocery stores, convenience stores, and restaurants.

Friday, Jan. 15

  • Kimchi
  • Edamame
  • Sauteed Mitake mushrooms
  • Soft tofu with honey
  • Fish Sausage
  • Small salmon steak
  • Salmon o-nigiri (rice ball wrapped in seaweed with salmon in the middle)
  • Beef, bamboo and cabbage stir-fry
  • Mushroom soup
  • Coconut milk, banana and cinnamon "ice cream"
  • Almonds
  • Coffee

Saturday, Jan. 16

  • Sweet potato
  • Omelette
  • Cherry blossom flavored soy milk
  • Fuji Apple
  • Tuna and mayo o-nigiri x2
  • Tuna sashimi
  • Avocado slices
  • Steamed green beans
  • Sautéed Mitake mushrooms
  • Shrimp and salad over noodles (from 7/11)
  • Soft Tofu with honey
  • Tomato
  • Egg nog (homemade from a friend)
  • 3 umeboshi (sweet pickled plum) flavored Strong Zeros (alcoholic drink)
  • Green tea
  • Coffee

Sunday, Jan. 17

  • Milk-tea soy milk
  • Nigiri-zushi - sea urchin, tuna, salmon, eel
  • Takoyaki (octopus dumplings, often fried with sauce and mayo on top)
  • Carbonara pasta
  • Shabu-Shabu (boiled meat (pork and beef) and vegetables, then dipped into either ponzu sauce or sesame sauce)
  • Spicy Korean-style dressing salad greens with seaweed and carrots on top
  • Rice
  • Orange soda
  • Green tea
  • Sugar-free Red Bull
  • Yuzu sherbert (Japanese citrus fruit)
  • Vanilla ice cream
  • Coffee

Comment below with your favorite foods you eat in Japan -- Japanese or other types!

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Victoria Vlisides

Victoria Vlisides @victoria.vlisides

Trained journalist who's not yet jaded. Can't get enough of meeting new people, the view, cheap travel, cherry-blossom-flavored food, dinner&drinks. Painfully addicted to Japan's gochya-gochya machines. If you're the type of person to try something new vs. something you know you like, we'll get along. I'm originally from the USA. Now in Chiba Prefecture, and August 2016 marks two years in Japan. I've worked in journalism/newspapers for more than 5 years. My:  Blog  --  Instagram   Travels in Japan (in brief): Kagoshima (Yakushima), Shizuoka (Gunma (Oze National Park, Mt. Shibutsu, Minakamix2), Tochigi (Kinugawa-Onsen, Nikko), Hyogo (Kobex2, Arima Hot Springs), Kyoto x3, Osaka, Nagano (Hakuba), Yamanashi (Katsunuma, Kawaguchiko area, Mt. Daibosatsu x3), Okinawa, Aichi (Nagoya), Kanagawa (Yokohama, Enoshima, Hakone, Kamakura), Tokyo (of course), Chiba (Choshi, Onjuku Beach, Otaki Forest, Otaki Castle, Nokogiriyama, Chiba City, Isumi, Kamogawa), Gifu, Ibaraki (Hitachi Seaside Park), Saitama (Kawaguchi), Shizuoka (Izu), Tokushima Travels outside of Japan: South Korea, Italy, Greece, France, Jamaica, Canada, Mexico x2, 22 states within the USA Future travel goals: Fukuoka, (SK) Seoul (again!), Hokkaido, Mt. Zao, Hiroshima, Mt. Fuji, Daito Islands (Okinawa), Taiwan, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Iceland, Norway, Kyrgastan

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Japanese food is extremely healthy and good for diet. Wondering I live there and have healthy food. Probably I`ll get fat loss plus longer life^^
Tyra 'nell Pille-Lu 4 years ago
Another great thing about getting used to the food here is having your taste buds improved. I've discovered that after a year of eating all Japanese home-made dishes (my Japanese manager used to cook everyday), I can identify each ingredient included in the dish, and I can tell which tastes good or not. It really surprised my Japanese manager. He then told me, "you have already developed the Japanese taste buds."
Victoria Vlisides Author 4 years ago
I think I have developed a few "Japanese taste buds," too! Thanks for the comment!
Mandy Bartok 4 years ago
After eight years of living in Japan, I actually feel ill when I go back to the US and eat a "normal" diet there. Our food here looks a lot like your list, with lots of veggies and fish and tofu. But I never thought of putting honey over tofu ... I'll have to try that!
Victoria Vlisides Author 4 years ago
Yup. To be clear, it is cold, raw tofu with honey! I do not cook it, but that might also be good.