3 Finding a place to eat
Food is becoming faster and increasingly Westernised in Japan. As a Japanese
friend remarked: it’s what happens when everyone wants to go to work and no
one wants to stay at home and do the cooking.
As a visitor, you will have little trouble finding a hamburger joint or a place that sells
chicken and chips (French fries). At the same time, there is no shortage of good, old-
fashioned, Japanese fast-food. The noodle bars and sushi trains are still doing a brisk
trade and they are cheap.
Eating out is cheap in Japan compared with most developed countries. The
problem for a non-Japanese speaker is to find what you want. Hamburger and chicken
fry are easy because the signs are impossible to miss. Noodle bars and restaurants
present a greater challenge.
The more interesting eating establishments aren’t obvious. If you want something
more exciting than a place where office workers go at midday, look for paper lanterns .
They usually indicate that the proprietors have gone out of their way to create a bit of
Let's suppose you have located a suitable place. If it’s a hamburger joint it will be
like anywhere else. You merely go to the counter and point at a picture on the wall. If
it’s a noodle bar, there’s so little choice it hardly matters. If it’s a beer hall, it’s easy.
They have menus with pictures and prices in the straightforward (1,2,3 …) numerals
that everyone can read.
Beer halls are my favourites. The staff dress like pirates. Many are students.
There’s a lot of yelling when new customers arrive, gongs sound and raffle tickets are
drawn from a jar (in the better establishments). You can order small amounts and take
time eating while you down a few beers . The choice is so wide that even fussy palates
can be satisfied.
Restaurants present the real challenge. You think that everything is straightforward
but you are wrong. You have been fooled by the plastic displays in the window. They
show the dishes you can order and many are highly realistic. Then you realise that the
names are in Japanese and there are no numbers beside them. I speak a primitive
form of Japanese and can understand the odd written word yet I’m sometimes forced
to take staff outside and point to a dish in the window.
The problem doesn’t end there. For some annoying reason, many restaurants feel
obliged to give prices in an old fashioned script that you don’t see anywhere else
except in Shinto temples and funeral parlours . Mercifully, it’s simpler than Roman