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Breakfast in Japan, or asagohan (朝ご飯), is considered the most important meal of the day. As the Japanese people are renowned for their long life expectancy, it comes as no surprise that a healthy lifestyle is reflected in their diet. A traditional Japanese breakfast is nutritiously balanced, well portioned and often served with green tea which is renowned for its health benefits as studies have shown green tea consumption is linked to blood sugar control, lower cholesterol and reduced inflammation in the gut1

In this article, we will introduce the traditional breakfast, quick and simple variants, modern-day breakfasts and breakfasts that are saved for special occasions. 

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traditional japanese breakfast

What do Japanese People Eat for Breakfast?

In Japan, people eat three meals a day and rarely snack, so it is important that breakfast is filling to provide energy for the whole day. The majority of people start their day with a bowl of rice to satiate their appetite till noon as it is a complex carbohydrate that will slowly release energy throughout the morning. Traditionally, a Japanese breakfast will follow the rule ichi-juu san-sai (一汁三菜) which means one soup and three sides. This usually includes a bowl of rice, a source of protein like egg or fish and a salad or vegetable side dish like pickles. However, nowadays a variety of breakfasts are eaten all over Japan from the traditional to more modern styles that are quick and easy to prepare. 

Essential Vocabulary for Breakfast Time in Japan

Below are some essential keywords and phrases to learn before eating breakfast in Japan. Before eating a meal, people clap their hands together and say itadakimasu and then repeat the same action but with the phrase gochisousama deshita at the end of a meal. This is to show respect to the host, the chef, or to whomever you are eating with. It also shows your appreciation for the food. 

RomajiJapaneseEnglish
Ohayou gozaimasuおはようございますGood morning!
ItadakimasuいただきますThank you for the food (I humbly receive the food)
Gochisousama deshitaごちそうさまでしたThank you for cooking.
Onaka ga suitaお腹が空いたIm hungry
Peko PekoペコペコI’m starving (casual)
Totemo oishiiとても美味しいIt’s very delicious
Umai!うまいIt’s good!
japanese breakfast

What Does a Traditional Japanese Breakfast Look Like?

1. Rice 

The traditional Japanese meal always has a bowl of rice, served to your left, the spot reserved for the most important dish. Short-grain white rice is a staple in Japan. If you drive through the Japanese countryside you will see endless rice paddies. Rice is an integral part of Japanese culture seen at festivals and given as a gift. 

At breakfast, rice serves as the main carbohydrate and source of energy and is commonly served by itself, with no seasoning. If serving yourself, it is ideal to take more than one scoop of rice as one spoon of rice is reserved for those who have passed. 

miso soup

2. Miso Soup

Following the ichi-juu san-sai that makes up a traditional Japanese breakfast, the ichi-juu part means one soup. Miso soup is the most common soup served, derived from rice, soy and a mix of microbes for fermentation. Miso is an integral part of Japanese culture, having been around for over 1,300 years, it is praised for its nutritional benefits as a fermented food and is essential for Japanese seasoning2. Furthermore, miso soup is easy to make and very versatile. Plus leftover miso can be used to season vegetables. Miso soup has a lot of variations but it is customary to find wakame, a seaweed high in antioxidants, and cubes of soft tofu in the soup.

grilled fish as japanese breakfast

3. Fish

For protein, grilled fish such as mackerel or salmon is frequently served but sashimi, raw fish is also occasionally integrated into Japanese breakfast. Many people in Japan remark that what they make for breakfast depends first on what needs eating in their fridge rather than a set menu. 

Fish, if grilled, is done so in a specific fish grill built into many Japanese kitchens because, in comparison to the frying pan, this is less likely to leak a fishy odor into the rest of the house. For seasoning, a little salt or a slice of lemon squeezed over the fish gives a refreshing and light taste. 

4. Tamagoyaki

Another source of protein that usually makes its way onto the plate is tamagoyaki, a layered omelet. Easy and quick to make and there is even a dedicated frying pan you can buy specifically to make delicious tamagoyaki. The egg is whisked with a little sugar and salt or a bit of dashi then fried in layers and rolled together. Depending on preference people add nori, dried seaweed sheets in between the layers or add spring onion to the mix for a bright burst of green against the yellow. 

natto for breakfast in japan

4. Tofu and Natto

Two further sources of protein in a Japanese breakfast are tofu and natto, fermented soybeans. Natto is well known for its nutritional benefits, rich in not only protein but vitamins and minerals also. Natto also has a special enzyme called nattokinase which provides natto with its characteristic sticky texture and is associated with a lower risk of heart disease3. A considerable amount of people eat natto every day just to receive said health benefits however, the taste and texture are not for everyone and are accompanied by the saying, you either love it or hate it

5. Other side dishes: pickles and salads

Salads and side dishes are very seasonal, from spring salads with bursts of purple radish to earthy kinpira in autumn, which is a sweet yet savory mix of burdock root and carrot sprinkled with sesame seeds. Regardless of the season, pickles are a staple in Japanese cuisine. Almost any vegetable can be pickled but the main picks are radish and cucumber which take on a whole new flavor and texture. 

Fruits are also often served at breakfast. There’s even a common Japanese proverb that goes, asa no kudamono wa kin (朝の果物は金): morning fruits are like gold. This is similar to the western an apple a day keeps the doctor away. It emphasizes the importance of fruits being an essential part of a healthy and balanced diet as they provide vitamins and fiber.

Japan is known for its tea and often Japanese people drink green tea with their breakfast in the morning. Green tea has been famed for its anti-inflammatory health benefits and for potentially lowering the risk of type two diabetes but for many, it is a way to relax and warm up the body in the morning1

Quick and Easy Japanese Breakfast Recipe

A traditional Japanese breakfast can be quite time-consuming, taking anywhere from 20 minutes to over an hour to assemble depending on the complexity. For a lot of people, this is a time they just don’t have. So what is a quick and easy Japanese breakfast?

1. Tamago kake gohan

This is rice, mixed with raw egg and a splash of soy sauce. A simple, yet filling and healthy breakfast. Just one large egg can have up to 6 grams of protein in it, along with essential nutrients such as vitamin D and choline which help support metabolism and liver function..

This is a popular and very affordable breakfast but nevertheless, you may be wondering if the raw egg is really safe to eat. Raw egg is not widely eaten around the world due to a fear of food poisoning from the bacteria, salmonella. However, many Japanese people eat raw eggs on an almost daily basis. Thanks to a highly advanced machine, eggs are routinely checked and thoroughly cleaned before the sale in Japan, greatly reducing the risk of food poisoning5

2. Onigiri 

types of onigiri in japanese

Onigiri are rice balls with fillings such as tuna, natto (fermented soybeans), salmon and chicken. Onigiri can be found all across Japan, in convenience stores, in independent onigiri shops and of course homemade. After making a batch of rice in the rice cooker, many Japanese people then freeze their rice in small portions to reheat later for meals or for onigiri. Onigiri is a popular choice for breakfast because it can be filled with any filling and eaten on the go. 

3. Shokupan 

Also known as toast. Toast is a popular breakfast choice around the world. In Japan rather than using a standing toaster where the toast pops out the top, many people opt for a grill-like toaster serving a long debate that it makes a better slice of toast. When it comes to getting the bread itself, you can purchase it depending on its thickness. For toast, bread is best picked on the thicker side so when cooked in the grill-like toaster it comes out with a crispy golden surface and a fluffy center. Topped with jam, sweet peanut cream or mikan marmalade, it makes a sweet breakfast treat. 

It is also not uncommon in Japan for people to eat leftovers from their dinner for breakfast. In the Japanese language, there is the phrase mottainai, which translates as waste not, want not. A lot of people will portion leftovers from the night before to eat in the morning in the spirit of mottainai, something that ensures less food waste is made and makes for a tasty, quick and warming breakfast.

Also check out: Guide to Japanese Eating Etiquette and Table Manners

Modern-Day Japanese Breakfast

Far from the traditional Japanese breakfast, some modern-day alternatives are gaining popularity with influences from the west. Fried eggs and bacon are becoming more common in the home for breakfast as a good source of protein to start the day and cereal fortified with fiber or protein is also gaining traction as a quick and easy breakfast.

If eaten with milk, cereal provides a source of calcium. In Japan, a large variety of milk can be purchased, from cow milk to oat milk, but with an abundance of soy grown in the country, there is a large selection of soy milk brands to choose from and it is even possible to choose how concentrated you want your soy to be. In Japan, soy is considered a superfood with many people trying to include soy in their daily diet.  

ogura toast as meal in the morning in japan

Ogura Toast

Ogura Toast is a regional specialty originating from Nagoya, a city in the prefecture Aichi, just an hour by bullet train to the southwest of Tokyo. Opposed to the traditional breakfast of fish, rice and soup served with green tea, you are more likely to find this treat served with a cup of coffee. And whilst others may opt for jam or peanut butter on their toast, in Nagoya they are well known for their ogura on toast, ogura is otherwise known as anko (red bean paste). 

Said to have developed from a restaurant called Matsuba in 1921, it has now become a popular breakfast and regional delicacy. The owner of Matsuba noticed one day that many young customers would order both zenzai, a sweet red bean soup, along with slices of buttered toast and from this spouted the idea of ogura toast6. Ogura toast can now be found in plenty of restaurants in and around Nagoya, especially on their morning menu and is now even made at home.    

osechi ryori japanese new year meal

Japanese Breakfast for Special Occasions 

Sometimes breakfast differs from the traditional and modern if for example there is an occasion to celebrate such as a wedding day. Sakura tea is prepared in the morning with petals sunk to the bottom of the cup and as opposed to the usual rice, Seki-gohan, sticky rice mixed with red beans is served as the red color signifies celebration.  

Traditional Japanese New Year meal known as osechi ryouri is particularly important to bring good luck, health and fortune. Foods such as sweet black beans, chestnut, fish cake and dried fish are eaten together and drunk with sake to welcome the new year. In contrast to the usual miso soup, a more transparent, salty soup, called ozouni is eaten filled with bright vegetables such as carrot and spinach, chicken and small pieces of mochi (rice cake). 

では日本でどんな朝ごはんを食べてみたいですか?
Dewa nihon de donna asagohan wo tabetemitai desu ka?
So, what will you eat for breakfast in Japan?

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What's a typical traditional breakfast in Japan?

Traditional Japanese breakfast usually consists of rice (gohan), miso soup and natto. Grilled fish like salmon, along with tamagoyaki (fried Japanese egg) are often served for an extra source of protein.

Do Japanese people eat toast or breakfast?

Bread, or pan in Japanese, is also a popular modern breakfast in Japan. Shokupan (Japanese bread) can be toasted and served with sweet jam, anko (red bean paste), or sweetened condensed milk.

Why do Japanese people eat natto?

Natto also has a special enzyme called nattokinase which provides natto with its characteristic sticky texture and is associated with a lower risk of heart disease. It’s also a great source of protein. Japanese people usually enjoy natto with rice, soy sauce and raw egg.

What do you say before and after a meal in Japan?

Before you start eating, you should say “itadakimasu” (I humbly receive this). After the meal, you should say “gochisousama deshita” to thank the person who cooks the food.

References

(1) Ohio State University (2022). Green tea extract promotes gut health, lowers blood sugar. Science Daily. URL: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/07/220726132640.html (Last Accessed: 12/01/2022)

(2) Origin and History of Miso. Marukome. URL: https://www.marukome.co.jp/global/en/foodculture/aboutmiso/originandhistoryofmiso/ (Last Accessed: 12/01/2022)

(3) Kurosawa et al., (2015) A single-dose of oral nattokinase potentiates thrombolysis and anti-coagulation profiles. PubMed Central. URL: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4479826/ (Last Accessed: 12/01/2022).

(4) American Heart Association News (2018). Are eggs good for you or not? URL: https://www.heart.org/en/news/2018/08/15/are-eggs-good-for-you-or-not (Last Accessed: 12/01/2022).

(5) Ministry of Foreign Affairs Japan. Japan’s Super Egg Machine. URL: https://web-japan.org/kidsweb/hitech/egg/index.html (Last Accessed: 12/01/2022)(6) Camelliya (2017). 名古屋メシ代表!小倉トーストの歴史.

mount fuji

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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!