Japan is a country of culinary delights that extend well beyond sushi and raw fish. The country is a restaurant goers dream where the only difficulty is deciding between the myriad of options available. There are literally hundreds of thousands of restaurants from the tiny stand up noodle bars jammed into the tiniest spaces under the railway tracks to establishments of Imperial splendour where kimono-clad waitresses serve the finest cuisine with presentation more akin to fine art than food. Whatever your taste Japan is sure to have something that will tickle your taste buds.
Most Japanese restaurants specialise in one particular type of food which has its advantages when deciding what to order! The most famous of all Japanese cuisine has to be sushi although this is a much misunderstood food. Sushi is not, contrary to popular belief, raw fish. Rather it refers to the lightly vinegared rice that is served together with either fish (raw or cooked), seafood or pickled vegetables.
Perhaps the best place to try sushi is at a 'kaiten-zushi' revolving sushi restaurant. Increasingly popular all over the World, you sit round a conveyor belt as all manner of sushi delights pass before you on differently marked plates. Each plate has a different value and once you are replete your plates are counted up and you'll be presented with the bill. Marvellously simple, very reasonably priced and no Japanese whatsoever needed to have a tremendous meal!
But Japanese food does not stop with raw fish; other specialities include tenpan-yaki - beef/chicken/fish seasoned with salt and pepper seared with butter on a hot plate; sukiyaki - thin slices of beef, bean curd and vegetables cooked in soy sauce and then dipped in raw egg; and tempura - sea-food and vegetables deep-fied in a light batter.
If everything so far sounds a bit meat and fish orientated and you're a vegetarian, then don't be alarmed - there are vegetarian options in Japan (although you do have to be sure to ask very clearly for no meat and no fish). Try the wonderful zaru soba (buck-wheat noodles served cold), a bowl of Udon (thicker noodles) in a mountain vegetable soup, tofu steak or a vegetable okonomiyaki (savoury pancake). If you are feeling adventurous you could try natto, this is a sticky and slightly smelly (or very unpleasant depending on your outlook)concoction made of fermented soya beans. The Japanese liken it to Marmite or Vegemite - you'll either love it or hate it.
If you want a more general selection, then the best place to go is an Izakaya (Japanese pub) where you will find an extensive and pretty cheap choice of food and drink. Some izakaya offer tabehodai (eat all you like) or nomihodai (drink all you like) - for a set price you get an hour or two to indulge yourself to your heart's content. Choosing exactly what to eat is made easier by well illustrated menus with pictures of every dish available or plastic food displays at the doorway that Madame Tussaud would be proud of - just point at what you're after and with a bit of luck a short while later it will end up on your plate.
Western and Oriental foods are widely available in Japan. From a country that survived on a diet of mainly fish and vegetables just over a century ago, Japan has reached the stage where there is a steak house or McDonalds on nearly every corner.
Italian and Indian restaurants abound too, as well as some very good Chinese and Korean places. For a late night snack, a Ramen bar is a good bet. These can be found serving up steaming bowls of Chinese noodles, Japanese style, in various broth, until the small hours of the morning.