Coto School Finder | Study in Japan

Japan draws millions of tourists to its borders every year, with much coming time and time again to get a taste of authentic Japanese food. Japanese food can be fast, affordable and delicious but when it comes to Japanese street food, what does the country have to offer? 

Here we will introduce the most popular types of Japanese street food you’re likely to come across at a festival here in Japan and at the end answer some frequently asked questions, including where to find the best street food in Japan. 

Yatai

Whereas you might stumble across the occasional food truck in the west, food trucks are not as common to find in Japan. That being said, Japan does have street food, and a lot of it! You just need to know when and where to look. Japanese street food is sold at food stalls called yatai (屋台), which are mobile food carts that can be assembled in under an hour. These yatai are typically found at festivals in summer and autumn such as at hanabi (花火), firework displays, and in the first few days of January to celebrate the New Year.

Other festivals throughout the year also see the arrival of many yatai. Gathered together, they sometimes have tables to sit at. Some individual yatai will offer their own seating, usually just for one or two persons. Aside from yatai, more permanent restaurants that sell street food can be found in the food capital, Osaka, and in popular tourist districts such as Asakusa in Tokyo and even along mountain trails like at the summit of popular mountains such as Mt. Takao. 

Street Food Manners 

Even at festivals, Japanese streets are very clean with barely any litter and almost no trash cans in sight. In Japan, people are encouraged to take their trash home. However, sometimes with street food, you can ask the vendor to dispose of the trash for you once you are finished eating. Many people eat their purchased goods close to the vendor as it is not common to see people eating and walking in Japan, this is called tabearuki and can be considered bad manners. Some popular food stalls such as Asakusa which is quite busy have designated spots where you can stand to the side and eat so as to not block the path.

takoyaki street food

Takoyaki (たこ焼き)

What first appeared in 1935 in the streets of Osaka, has taken the nation by storm and is a fan-favorite Japanese street food found at festivals across the country. These piping hot, bite-sized balls are made from the batter (wheat flour, eggs and water) with octopus, tako, and topped with aonori, seaweed, and katsubashi, dried bonito flakes, that dance in the heat. With big signs picturing tako mascots at festivals, it is hard to miss where the takoyaki can be found. Usually served on little dishes resembling boats made from card or bamboo, caution is advised when you first receive your takoyaki as this treat is very hot especially as they are often made to order, so we recommend poking a little hole in them to let them cool beforehand. 

Takoyaki is in fact so popular that you can even purchase them premade and frozen at the Japanese supermarket. Many Japanese people also own their own takoyaki maker as you can make them from scratch or you can buy takoyaki sets from the supermarket with instructions on the packaging. These are great for parties as everyone can have a go at flipping the takoyaki. In Japan, they like to shorten words so the word party becomes pa and a takoyaki party could be called tako-pa

okonomiyaki street food japan

Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き) 

Also originating from Osaka, okonomiyaki (お好み焼き) is the sister food to takoyaki. The base is made from the batter (wheat flour, egg and water), cabbage and other ingredients such as seafood or pork. It is then drizzled in a dressing of okonomiyaki sauce and Japanese mayonnaise. The okonomi part of okonomiyaki literally means “as you like it”. This is because you can really add anything you like especially if you make it at home. 

There are two main versions of okonomiyaki, the Osaka style which is where everything is mixed together first, and then fried and the Hiroshima style where everything is cooked separately and layered together. In Hiroshima’s version of okonomiyaki, wheat noodles are also added. It has long been debated whose okonomiyaki is the best and it is worth trying both to see for yourself. In Tokyo, you can find both styles depending on the restaurant. 

yakitori japanese food

Yakitori (焼き鳥)

Yakitori, tori meaning chicken, is grilled chicken served on skewers. Skewers are known as kushi in Japanese. This street food can be found not only at festivals but also at independent vendors on the streets of Tokyo that exclusively sell yakitori. Choices range from negi-ma (with grilled negi onions), kawa (chicken skin), reeba (liver) and tsukune (minced chicken). The chicken is then coated either in salt or a slightly sweet soy sauce-based sauce called tare. If you’d prefer pork over chicken, you can also find yaki-ton, grilled pork, and slices of beef or even deer, shika, often at the same yatai

Nikuman (肉まん)

Fluffy, steamed pork buns, similar to Chinese bao, are a must-have on a cold day in Japan. In Yokohama’s China Town, you can find lots of different nikuman, that even come in different colors and cute animal shapes. Nikoman can also be purchased at Japanese convenience stores where they are kept warm and you can find more adventurous flavors such as a pizza-flavored steamed bun. 

oden

Oden (おでん)

Japan’s winter comfort food, oden, is a mixture of different fish cakes, konjac, egg and radish in a warm salty broth. It is said that winter has finally arrived when convenience stores such as 7-11 begin serving oden. This is more traditional street food and with a little topping of mustard, it has a little spicy kick. 

Yakisoba (焼きそば)

Yakisoba, as the name suggests, has noodles — but these noodles are actually made from wheat rather than soba (buckwheat noodles). The noodles are grilled together with meat, often pork, and vegetables, typically cabbage, carrots and bean sprouts, in a sweet yakisoba sauce and topped with bright pink, pickled ginger. The popularity of this dish goes beyond festivals as you can even find yakisoba in convenience stores and supermarkets in a bread bun (called yakisobapan) to grab on the go. 

japanese street food

Yaki-imo (焼き芋)

Japan may not have ice cream trucks, but it does have trucks selling baked sweet potatoes! In autumn and winter, yaki-imo (焼き芋), baked sweet potato, and trucks drive around the neighborhood, calling out to eager customers ready to purchase this tasty, healthy winter treat. If you hear satsuma-imo, ishiyaki, satsuma imo, be sure to take a look. Satsuma is the name of the island where this particular variety of sweet potato was first introduced to Japan and ishi-yaki refers to how it is baked on hot stones which gives it its signature crispy skin. 

What’s so special about these sweet potatoes is that they are naturally sweet, with an almost cake-like texture and there is zero to little seasoning. This street food can also be purchased at supermarkets, already baked and kept warm all day long or before they sell out, likely the latter. Yaki-imo also has a special place in Japanese history as it dates back 100s of years and it is further thought to have played an important role in saving the country from starvation just after World War 2 when it was one of the only foods some could get their hands on. 

Tomorokoshi: Corn on the cob (ともろこし)

Grilled corn on the cob is another vegetable regularly found at festivals in Japan. Topped with butter or dipped in soy sauce and sprinkled with a little salt. It is another street food that has passed the test of time and is an age-old favorite. 

japanese street food

Dango (団子)

Dango are soft, bite-sized mochi balls stacked on a stick. These glutinous, chewy treats are found all over Japan, almost anywhere you go, not just at yatai. However, at yatai, you can get your dango warmed or grilled in a sweet soy sauce called mitarashi dango. Botchan dango, on the other hand, is served cold and comes in three colors: pink, white/ yellow and green for their corresponding flavors, red bean paste, plain/ egg and green tea. 

Dango serves as a great energy source and dango yatai can often be found on mountains as a pit spot for hikers to re-fuel, such as on Mt. Takao. Another interesting fact is that if you put your hair into a bun, it is also called a dango, akin to the mochi balls you can eat. 

choco banana

Choco Banana (チョコバナナ)

Another fan favorite is the choco banana, a raw banana coated in hard chocolate and colorful sprinkles served on a stick. These can come in a variety of colors such as pink or even blue! It is the perfect treat to enjoy on a hot summer’s day as bananas are high in potassium and can top up essential electrolytes lost from sweat. 

kakigori

Kakigori (かきごり)

Cafes have popped up just to serve kakigori, the ultimate summertime treat. Shaved ice drenched in sweet colorful syrups can cool you down on even the hottest summer day. Opposed to snow cones, kakigori contains condensed milk which gives it an almost fluffy texture. 

taiyaki

Taiyaki (たい焼き)

These toasty warm fish-shaped pancakes filled with sweet red bean paste, anko, are sure to warm you up. Taiyaki comes in a variety of flavors but the usual is red bean. The next most common is custard. This sweet treat however can cause quite the debate when you pose the question: 

Taiyaki no atama to shippo, dochira kara taberu? 
Do you eat taiyaki head to tail or tail-to-head? 

In fact, a national survey was even conducted and results showed that 65% ate from the head first. Some even argued that eating the fin first is the correct way! Whilst others campaigned that the best way is to split it in half to enjoy the anko in the first bite. 

Candied Fruit 

Another dessert on offer is candied fruit. Seasonal fruit such as strawberries, apples and grapes are coated in a sweet syrup and served on a stick. 

For more information about Japanese culture, keep reading our Coto School Finder blog!

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How much is Japanese street food?

Japanese street food is very affordable starting at just a few 100 yen to 500 yen.

Where is the best street food in Japan?

Here are three of our top recommendations for street food in Japan that you can find all year round: 

● Asakusa in Tokyo 

● Koromon market in Osaka 

● Nishiki market in Kyoto 

Is Japanese street food safe?

Japan has food safety standards like most of the world and most street food will be safe to eat. 

mount fuji

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With so many things to explore, are you considering living in Japan — perhaps to go to university or work? Enrolling at a Japanese language school might be the perfect option for you, as it will prepare you to get to your next goal.

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Contact Us to
Get Started

With so many things to explore, are you considering living in Japan — perhaps to go to university or work? Enrolling at a Japanese language school might be the perfect option for you, as it will prepare you to get to your next goal.

If you are ready, let Coto School Finder assist you in finding the right program in the city of your choice and applying for a student visa — for free! Contact us by filling out the form!