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The Essence of Japanese Cuisine

“When all is said and done, Japanese cuisine is deceptively simple. Its key ingredients are but two: a rather delicate stock (dashi) made from konbu (giant kelp) and flakes of dried bonito; and shoyu, Japanese soy sauce. Its key requirements are also two: the pristine freshness and prime condition of materials used, and beauty of presentation.”

Shizuo Tsuji, Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art


In 2013, UNESCO recognised washoku, traditional Japanese cuisine, as an intangible cultural heritage. Six years prior, epicures around the world had been stunned when, for the first time, Tokyo overtook Paris to have  the greatest number of restaurants awarded Michelin Stars of any city worldwide; an honour it has retained ever since. 

The quality of Japanese cuisine is uniformly high across the nation and perhaps especially so in rural regions. Here, a wide range of the freshest ingredients are found easily to hand and, when combined with local culinary traditions, amount to some of the best quality and most unique culinary experiences found in Japan. 

The Japanese countryside is Walk Japan’s particular speciality. Naturally, then, meals are not only one of the most enjoyable and appealing aspects on all of our  tours, but also serve as a delicious and vital sensory gateway to better appreciating Japanese culture at large.



Dashi is the base flavour of many dishes from miso soup and stewed vegetables to dashimaki omelettes and okonomiyaki pancakes. It is the source of much of the elusive umami savoury taste that imbues Japanese cuisine, and must be perfected before a chef can hope to proceed in the art of washoku. Classic dashi is made by boiling konbu giant kelp seaweed together with shavings of katsuobushi dried bonito fish flakes in water. Although most Japanese home cooks now use powdered dashi, good restaurants prepare it every day, while the truly elite chefs insist on a fresh batch for each dish.


The Five S’s 

Nearly all foods in Japan are seasoned using varying amounts of the "Five S's", ingredients considered the most important building blocks of Japanese cooking:

さ Sa for sato, sugar
し Shi for shio, salt
す Su for su, vinegar
せ Se for shoyu, soy sauce
そ So for miso, miso paste made with soy

Shoyu soy sauce in particular is an integral component of Japanese cuisine, of which the Japanese consume on average more than eight litres per person. It is made by fermenting soya beans and wheat grains, typically at a ratio of 50/50, along with koji yeast. This process releases sugars that lend shoyu its distinctive flavour and deep rich colour.


Kaiseki ryori 

The underlying ethos of Japanese cookery is most apparent in kaiseki ryori, the equivalent of France’s haute cuisine. Originating many centuries ago in the modest meals served at tea ceremonies, it evolved into an elaborate multi-course style of dining popular among aristocrats. Today, it is typically served at high-end ryokan inns and restaurants by chefs who espouse broadly similar principles of purity and restraint. 

The Japanese insistence on eating fresh seasonal produce arose initially from a relative impecuniosity. Nobles of the Heian Period (794-1185), forced to live and maintain expensive lifestyles in Kyoto, could only afford to eat whatever was locally available in season. Rather than bemoaning their straightened circumstances, they embraced the changes brought by the changing seasons, aiming to savour every item of produce, whether flora or fauna, in their prime.


Meals on Walk Japan Tours

By far the majority of the meals on Walk Japan tours are Japanese style, although on some of our longer tours they may include cuisine of overseas origin, but served with a Japanese twist.



Morning meals are nearly always enjoyed in our tour accommodation. In traditional inns, a Japanese breakfast is the norm and usually consists of some or all the following: rice, grilled fish, vegetables, miso soup and green tea. Some seasonal fruit, yoghurt and coffee may also be served. 

Occasionally in inns and nearly always in hotels, western-style breakfasts are also available alongside Japanese dishes. Western dishes usually include bacon, sausages, salad, egg, bread, jam, cereals, soup and yoghurt. 

Breakfast is nearly always included in your tour.



Lunch is either a restaurant meal, bento lunch box or composed of food bought to eat as a picnic en route.

Lunch is sometimes included in your tour. Please see your tour itinerary for when lunch is or is not provided and expect to pay between JPY700 to JPY2,000 per person when not provided.



Evening meals are almost always included in your tour and almost entirely Japanese cuisine. These meals are composed of many dishes and will include all or most of the following: raw and cooked fish, meat, vegetables, tofu, miso soup, salad, pickles and white rice plus many other seasonal morsels. On the rare occasions when it is not provided, expect to pay between JPY3,000 to 5,000 per person.




All accommodation provides green tea and water at no charge in rooms and during meals. However, coffee and black tea may not be available at some Japanese inns and if it is, may only be provided at additional cost. If either of these are essential to your morning routine, we recommend bringing your own supply. Hot water is freely available at the inns. Please note that coffee and tea are available from the ubiquitous vending machines and convenience stores found throughout Japan.

Alcoholic drinks typically available for purchase include: beer; nihonshu rice wine, which is commonly known as sake; shochu, a vodka-like distilled beverage typically made from rice, sweet potato or wheat; and umeshu sweet plum liquor. Japan has a small but growing viticulture industry, however, wine from overseas is prevalent. Its availability varies between accommodation but invariably found in liquor and food stores. Commonly available soft drinks at our accommodation include cola, lemonade, fruit juices and, perhaps, some typical Japanese refreshments such as Oolong tea and Calpis, a fermented yoghurt drink.


Dietary Requirements

As noted above, Japanese cuisine features a plentiful variety of ingredients. If you have dietary preferences, in most cases it should be relatively easy to avoid certain items, and still have plenty to enjoy given the range of dishes in a typical meal. 

Some tours are more flexible with regard to one or more dietary preferences than others due to the accommodation’s ability to adapt. Please contact our Customer Service team before booking with us so that we may best advise upon which tour should most suit your needs.

Please note that we are unable to cater to any dietary preferences or requirements on our Onsen Gastronomy tours. These, by their nature, have an especial emphasis on food with little to no flexibility possible.

Vegetarian diets

Contrary to popular belief, the notion of vegetarianism is not commonly practised nor understood in Japan. Nevertheless, given plenty of notice many of our accommodation hosts will try to replace any fish or meat dishes with alternatives. However, due to the essential and widespread use of dashi stock throughout Japanese cooking, which typically uses fish, or other stock with meat as its base, Walk Japan is unable to provide strict vegetarian meals on tour. 


Coeliac disease

While Japanese culture is based above all on rice, gluten is found in certain ingredients throughout Japanese cuisine, most notably in soy sauce and miso. Although it may be possible to omit certain items that obviously contain gluten, such as bread or noodles, unfortunately it is nigh on impossible to provide fully gluten-free meals due to the use of certain staples that serve as the basis of so many dishes in Japanese cuisine.


Other allergies and cross-contamination

If you have any food allergies, please make sure to communicate this to us at the time of booking. Subsequently, we will contact you for further information and to let you know how well we are able to accommodate your needs.

Importantly, in Japan food is usually prepared in compact kitchens and, as such, cross-contamination is always a risk when travelling anywhere in the nation.


Risks and challenges

Please note, that relaying your dietary requirements to Walk Japan does not guarantee that your meals will wholly or in part meet your personal needs. For instance, it will not be possible for any accommodation to provide meals free from dashi stock in the case of vegetarians or shoyu soy sauce in the case of coeliacs. We understand that this can be challenging for those observing strict vegetarian diets or those with coeliac disease. Unfortunately, however, the nature of food provision in Japan means that there are limitations as to how far we can cater to individual requirements. 

If you are joining one of our guided tours, your Walk Japan Tour Leader will explain the contents of all meals and help you avoid anything you may not wish to eat or should avoid. However, the Tour Leader cannot take responsibility for what may or may not be in any particular dish. 

If you are joining a self-guided tour, your dietary requirements will have been communicated by Walk Japan to your accommodation, where the vast majority of your meals are eaten. However, if you need to confirm the suitability of any dish please familiarise yourself with the appropriate Japanese language for your dietary requirements. 

Ultimately, neither Walk Japan, your Tour Leader nor accommodation providers can be held responsible  about the constituents of any dish. 

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