What do the Japanese eat for breakfast?
January 12, 2007 5:28 AM   Subscribe

What do the Japanese eat for breakfast in Tokyo?

My wife and I are off to Tokyo next week and breakfast isn't included in the hotel rate.

So my question is, what would be a recommended traditional Tokyo breakfast be?

Scottish/Irish Breakfast - Sausage, eggs, beans etc
Continental - yogurt, pastry, cold meats.
Japanese - ???

My fulfillment of the most important meal of the day is in your hands!
posted by MarvinJ to Food & Drink (39 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
According to Wikipedia, Japanese breakfast is similar to other Japanese meals.
posted by srah at 5:54 AM on January 12, 2007

When I was travelling in Japan, I stayed primarily in ryokan (traditional inns, which often include breakfast/dinner) -- we were generally served rice, small amounts of cooked/grilled fish, wee slightly sweet omelets (reminiscent of the tamago you get at sushi restaurants), tsumago (pickled vegetables), often pieces of nori (which you use to pinch up bites of rice). When breakfast wasn't served as part of the accomodation, I'd grab some onigiri (savory filled rice balls) from the local convenience store. These have since become one of my favorite foods. Note: don't eat while walking on the street!

With all that said, I was eating very old-school breakfasts. I was travelling in more rural areas a lot of the time, and I also don't think that it's as common as it used to be to eat such an involved meal at breakfast. I understand a fair number of Japanese now eat Western-style breakfasts at least some of the time. Maybe this link will help?
posted by tigerbelly at 5:57 AM on January 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Salad. I found it so weird that breakfast at my hotel in Tokyo, as well as my friend's house in Kobe, we had salad with breakfast. And you know what ? It's not half bad with breakfast. Kind of refreshing. Obviously not going to ladel on the thousand island, but it's pretty tasty. Just a simple salad of iceberg lettuce and tomatoes.

The only thing that I can remember off the top of my head that was something not found in a western breakfast specifically was probably some older folks eating natto. And if you want to attempt to eat that, go for it, but know that it's probably one of the grosser substances on the earth- Stinky and sticky.

I mainly ate eggs -- scrambled or in omelettes. Since the Japanese tend to like French trends in places, you'll have a good chance of getting an omelette or a crepe. I had some very good crepes in Japan.

And my breakfast was always accompanied by a glass of Pocari Sweat, but that's personal preference.
posted by GreenTentacle at 6:05 AM on January 12, 2007

Oh yeah, can't believe I forgot this, try tamagoyaki too, it's very tasty. I don't know if anyone else shares my tastebuds interpretation of it, but it always tasted like eggs infused with maple syrup to me-- which is awesome.

It's a cube (or somewhat rectangular) of egg flavored with a few things. I never got the right mixture in my own kitchen, and the insta-mix didn't really do it for me.
posted by GreenTentacle at 6:07 AM on January 12, 2007

'traditional' breakfast would probably be rice, fish, and miso soup. If you're not in the Kansai (Osaka and vicinities) region you might see Natto (fermented beans) as well. Most of the breakfast'ish places you'll find would probably be small tea houses with toast and eggs, though. If you're not going to be at the same hotel all the time, definitely do try going somewhere with a complete meal service.

The simplest way would be to buy snack breads at your closest convenience store -- which there will be plenty of. I wouldn't recommend cereal, as most of the types available are just lumps of sugar with some corn flakes on it.
posted by Muu at 6:08 AM on January 12, 2007

Ahh, the Japanese breakfast. Not my cup of tea at 7 AM! The most common plates include a bowl of steamed rice, miso soup, some baked whole fish and some pickled vegetables. If you're the french toast/scrambled eggs/pancakes/cuppa joe type, like me, I'd stay away from the Japanese breakfast. *shudders*
posted by shoos at 6:12 AM on January 12, 2007

I lived in Tokyo for about four months, but since I had an apartment there with a stove, I sort of got to carve out a little American breakfast for myself every morning. They do have cereal and stuff, but I never found anything to be a particularly traditional Japanese breakfast.

This one time, I was a bit hung over in the far-too-early morning of Tokyo and stumbled into a restaurant. You'll find there that many restaurants have vending machines that print tickets or give you tokens, and that's where you order your food, then you hand the ticket to the server. Well, this place had nothing but kanji written on the buttons, so I found one that had the kanji for "morning" on it, hit that button, and off I went.

What I got was not breakfast.

Expect rice and vegetables and fish. That's all I've got.
posted by excitementMD at 6:18 AM on January 12, 2007

The biggest problem is that breakfast in restaurants is just not much of a Japanese tradition at all. You've got no real equivalent of, say, the Greek diner serving a nice big breakfast from 6 in the morning or whatever. Aside from hotel restaurants, it's not easy to come by any kind of breakfast at all, in any restaurants. Most places open for lunch and, of course, dinner, but are shut down tight for that 'most important meal of the day'. You might do well to just do breakfast in your hotel, if it's a biggish hotel that has a restaurant. Specially if you want an early breakfast.

Alternately, Tokyo, like just about everywhere else in the world, now has Starbucks all over the place, and I think those generally open at 10. Maybe 9. (I always do breakfast at home, so I'm not sure of their start time...). Aside from Starbucks (and Starbucks clones), there are some other chains like Doutour (pronounced doh-TOH-roo) with coffee and pastries. Pastries are passable, not great. I think Doutour shops might open earlier than Starbucks do.

There are also little mom-and-pop coffe shops around, you might stumble on a place that does breakfast, like a "western" breakfast, but these are often horrible: those fat slices of utterly tasteless spongy white bread, a sausage or 2, maybe an egg. Those kinds of places are often overpriced too.

BTW, do you know what part of town you're staying in? As I'm sure you know, Tokyo is effing huge, and some areas might be full of place: others might be a little more barren.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:29 AM on January 12, 2007

Not really traditional, but they actually have great pastries in Tokyo. Sweet and savory.
posted by lampoil at 6:38 AM on January 12, 2007

Nattō is what you want.
posted by dead_ at 6:38 AM on January 12, 2007

If you're looking to check the "I ate a traditional Japanese breakfast" box (which it sounds like you are), then steamed rice + fish + miso soup is about as traditional as it gets.

It weirds some people out, clearly, but it's actually a nice start to the day... easy on the carbs, plenty of protein, and won't sit in your stomach like a boulder while you're trying to see the sights.
posted by somanyamys at 6:47 AM on January 12, 2007

steamed rice + fish + miso soup is about as traditional as it gets.

This is certainly true, but again, outside of hotel restaurants, very difficult to come by in the morning hours. This is what people eat at home. MarvinJ will be unlikely to find this on offer in the morning hours in sit-down restaurants. Possible, but not so likely. Same holds for natto. (Which, by the way, will almost certainly not appeal to MarvinJ unless he's the type that really likes ultra-stinky cheese.)
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:08 AM on January 12, 2007

excitementMD: What did you get if not breakfast? I'm so curious now!
posted by amtho at 7:08 AM on January 12, 2007

Second the bakery trip. There are several Pompadour bakeries in Tokyo. Where are you staying?

Japanese breakfast story:

It is winter, 1993. I have been in-country for six months or so. I am DYING for a trad american breakfast -- scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, mebbe pancakes. . . I'm walking around Kichijoji and LO! what do I see . . . a DENNY'S! ! Score ! ! !

I walk in, sit down, and am utterly shocked to find that THEY DIDN'T HAVE A BREAKFAST MENU!

posted by Heywood Mogroot at 7:10 AM on January 12, 2007

rice fish soup scrambled eggs
posted by londongeezer at 7:30 AM on January 12, 2007

Response by poster: I had a feeling that it might be rice and miso for breakfast.

That's fine, I suppose.

Unfortunately I am now v.tempted by this 'natto' business. I do like stinky cheeses but I reckon Mrs MarvinJ may not be so keen on spending the day with me after it!

Thanks for all the suggestions and info, as God is my witness I will not go hungry in Japan.
posted by MarvinJ at 7:34 AM on January 12, 2007

This is certainly true, but again, outside of hotel restaurants, very difficult to come by in the morning hours.

OK, I guess I'm not understanding why a hotel restaurant is out of the question. Just because breakfast isn't included in the rate doesn't mean that they can't pay for breakfast one day if that's the only place they can have their Quintessential Japanese Breakfast Experience (assuming that's the goal). And if their hotel doesn't offer it, they should be able to find one that does.

Besides, the question is "What do the Japanese eat for breakfast?", which some people (not you, necessarily) are reading as "What did YOU eat for breakfast in Japan?", which in turn is eliciting some "Fish for breakfast is ooky, so I just had anpan and coffee"-type answers. Not that there's anything wrong with anpan or coffee, but that wasn't the question.

On preview: don't skip the fish, MarvinJ! And if you do try natto, be sure you let us know how it goes.
posted by somanyamys at 7:47 AM on January 12, 2007

When I was in Tokyo there was a little cafe outside of the train station that had bagels, orange juice and coffee. Also, McDonalds is open for breakfast. These are good "on the go" solutions. The Starbucks clone "Excelsior Cafe" also has bagels and coffee in the morning.
posted by quibx at 7:51 AM on January 12, 2007

As you may have guessed, there really isn't a traditional Japanese Breakfast any more. It's sort of a personal/regional/familial thing.

Honesty I don't think I have ever seen a "breakfast" menu in a Japanese restaurant, though many cafes serve a western breakfast.

The one that everyone remembers is natto over rice, but that can be a lunch/dinner/snack thing just as likely, it's also a regional food.

My friends in Japan eat everything from jam on toast with coffee to a bowl of rice with pickled veggies and miso soup.

Half the time I'm late for breakfast and pick up a gel pack at the convenience store...

Can't get a good bowl of cereal to save your life though.
posted by Ookseer at 8:04 AM on January 12, 2007

This is certainly true, but again, outside of hotel restaurants, very difficult to come by in the morning hours.

Really? You can get a Japanese breakfast of rice, miso soup, grilled salmon, pickled vegetable, tea, and sometimes natto at Matsuya, a nationwide fast food chain; other chains like Sukiya and Yoshinoya also have them. Family restaurants (like Denny's, Royal Host, Jonathan's, etc.) also have washoku breakfasts on the menu.

Moreover, they tend to be fairly cheap and popular among the older generation. Younger people often have bread and coffee, or a western-style "morning set" of eggs, ham or bacon, toast, and sometimes salad.

(My girlfriend, on the other hand, usually has chocolate, potato chips, or something similarly bad for her... She is not the typical Japanese 20-something!)

So Japanese breakfasts are not unusual at all, and can be found in many places.
posted by armage at 8:12 AM on January 12, 2007

I guess the appropriate followup for MarvinJ is: where in Tokyo are you staying? I'm sure many of us can give you some recommendations for a Japanese breakfast near your hotel.
posted by armage at 8:14 AM on January 12, 2007

dead_ writes 'Nattō is what you want.'

Flagged as "Likely to contravene the Geneva Conventions"
posted by blag at 8:29 AM on January 12, 2007

Heh heh, this is kinda turning into a who-knows-more-about-Japan thing. There's something about Japan in particular that brings that out in people (myself included!). But I would disagree, armage, (as do several others on this thread, judging by what they've written) that "Japanese breakfasts are not unusual at all, and can be found in many places. One can very easily wind up in any vast number of Tokyo locales where a purchasable breakfast of any type simply cannot be found. I will admit that I've always shunned Yoshinoya (just a feeling I have about those places, nothing I can put my finger on), so I was unaware that they offered such a breakfast. Are there Sukiyas and Matsuyas in Tokyo? You could probably educate me on chain restaurants. (Now I'm asking something on someone else's AskMeFi post! Is that even allowed?)
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:29 AM on January 12, 2007

Heh, not trying to show you up at all, flapjax! Just noting that my experience was different than yours while I was living there. (I'm back in the States now, FWIW.) I happen to like Japanese-style breakfasts -- a bowl of miso soup does more for me in the morning than any cup of coffee ;-)

But yeah, Matsuyas and Sukiyas are fairly common in Tokyo, and they usually had an asateishoku until about 10 or 10:30 AM... I have no hard numbers, but there's always been at least one Matsuya near every station I frequented in the central and western wards of Tokyo. I don't know if I'm a chain-ten connoisseur per se, but I tended to go more than was probably healthy for me. I also like gyudon which didn't hurt!

(If you want to chat more, feel free to email me! Address in profile :-D)
posted by armage at 8:51 AM on January 12, 2007

Japanese breakfasts are a frequent topic of conversation when I talk to friends about visiting there. My family serves pretty much what's been described here, you can count on miso soup and rice at every breakfast, some grilled fish, maybe fish eggs, nori. Thankfully coffee is always served. Usually by day 6 I start having dreams of toast and bacon, and of the two it is pretty easy to introduce toast into the family meal but bacon would get you a wtf look.
posted by vito90 at 9:29 AM on January 12, 2007

You might also end up with a strange mix of every national breakfast style you can think of. At the Hotel Suntargas (a little business hotel in Ueno, Tokyo) you get (and there are no options): a plate of bacon, two croissants (plus butter & preserve), a small salad with citrus dressing, a cup of miso soup and tea or coffee.

BTW, Sausage, eggs, beans etc is a traditional English breakfast (it's known as the 'Full English', although you'd be safer not calling it that if ordering in Scotland/Ireland).
posted by boosh at 9:31 AM on January 12, 2007

It's also a traditional American breakfast. Shocking I know.
posted by dame at 9:58 AM on January 12, 2007

Natto...ah yes...rice and natto can be served for any meal...good luck with that. I know Japanese people that love it, and I know Japanese people that absolutely can't stand it. Most non-Japanese people I know that've tried it can't stomach at all (I'm one of them). But if you really want to try a genuine Japanese experience, you gotta try it!
posted by edjusted at 10:15 AM on January 12, 2007

Ah, well we were hardening our arteries with fried crap in the mornings before you, apparently. Bloody Yanks stealing all our great ideas as usual.
posted by boosh at 10:58 AM on January 12, 2007

Chicken and waffles, of course.
posted by rxrfrx at 11:45 AM on January 12, 2007

I am now very tempted by this 'natto' business.

Ho ho ho! Just you wait. It's a vile substance with zero redeeming qualities.

those fat slices of utterly tasteless spongy white bread,

I rather like their extra-large thick toast you can find in a "morning service", served with coffee, in the few restaurants open in the morning near big stations. My first experience with one was in the underground mall connected to Tokyo Station.

But it's true, I've had difficulty finding a traditional Japanese breakfast when it wasn't included at the hotel/ryokan. But I sure like it -- so much more healthy than than the sweet&fatty Western breakfast the stereotypical American tourist insists on. If you find one, just be sure to request that the egg-in-the-shell be boiled -- otherwise, it could very well be served raw -- the idea being you break it into the steaming hot rice and then stir, very slightly cooking the egg. But some people just break the egg into the empty cup and slurp it down (as seen in The Family Game).
posted by Rash at 12:01 PM on January 12, 2007

Nattō is what you want.

Natto isn't so much a foodstuff as it is a practical joke.
posted by deadmessenger at 1:08 PM on January 12, 2007 [2 favorites]

when i used to visit my grandparents, they would serve salad for breakfast. i was just in tokyo for a week (in asakusa) and we had the most amazing cinnamon toast for breakfast every morning at the gallerie cafe. it was about 2" thick, very fluffy inside, but nice and toasty outside and soooo good. it was about $5 for a single, very large slice and worth every penny (or yen, i guess).
posted by snofoam at 1:43 PM on January 12, 2007

oh, and if for some reason you wake up thinking a hot dog with lettuce would be the perfect breakfast, you'll find this very easy to obtain.
posted by snofoam at 1:45 PM on January 12, 2007

If you're hard up, a 7-11, Circle K or Lawson's can set you up with the various components of breakfast (yogurt, juice, donuts, onigiri). They will also have plenty of canned coffee (actually not that bad).

There are also plenty of bakeries, and I think Mr. Donut might still have a more Chinese style dim-sum style menu as well.

Natto is not for eating. It is for lying down and avoiding.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:12 PM on January 12, 2007

Yeah, Natto is not so much for the lover of stinky cheese, but rather for that "OMG PEOPLE EAT THIS???" travel cuisine experience. If you're all about trying something unusual, then it's a must in Japan. But I really can't imagine eating something more disgusting that still qualifies as food.
posted by lampoil at 3:12 PM on January 12, 2007

I think people are confusing "Traditional Tokyo" with Traditional Japanese. You can get anything* in Tokyo so it's your preference, really.

A lot of hotels don't include breakfast in the rate, but there's usually a restaurant on the premesis. And unless it's a hotel with a distinctly Japanese theme (with tatami mats, futons) it would most definitely have a Western selection and a Japanese selection.

If you're thinking of eating out at a regular restaurant, be warned that the Japanese don't have a tradition of going out for breakfast, so a lot of the offerings will brunch-y or lunch-y.

So, want something familiar? Go for Western. This is probably what most Tokyoites get if they are going out to eat for breakfast. Pancakes, waffles, french toast, cinnamon toast etc. aren't usually consumed for breakfast but rather as a snack with coffee, so they'll be sweet and deeelicious. If you're going for scrambled eggs and sausages, don't be surprised if they include a tiny salad on the plate. And there are a lot of great organic cafes popping up these days that would be great for brunch. (Or as others have said, there are great bakeries all over. And you can pick up other essentials like hard boiled eggs, ham, fruit, etc. at the convenience store.)

Want to try something new? Go for Japanese. And follow (or avoid) the advice above as you see fit. Though I must say, I love natto and eat several packs a week. By choice. (I love stinky cheese too!) I even know of people who mix the Wa (Japanese) and the West by eating natto on toast for breafast. Mmm.

* Though I haven't been able to find good crispy/streaky bacon in a restaurant. Or authentic hashbrowns.
posted by QueSeraSera at 6:25 PM on January 12, 2007

I was travelling around Japan late 2005, living with host families. Ironically the Tokyo family was more Western than I - my host mum greatly preferred Italian. XD

Typical breakfasts - rice, grilled fish, miso soup, sometimes fruit, sometimes other meats. One thing I quite liked was raw egg on warm rice - YUM. Never liked Natto though.

If you're ever hosted by anyone, prepare to be well-stuffed. I was never short of food - too much, perhaps. (It was slightly difficult at first as I don't eat pork, but after that was established, all was fine!)
posted by divabat at 7:48 PM on January 12, 2007

Response by poster: Update-

Just back from Japan now, and despite the wondrous suggestions posted the most non-western breakfast I had was some exquisite sushi, due to a bagel place right beside the hotel serving, Chocolate and Orange bagels and weird sesame seeded cream cheese.

Had a great time in a great city, though so hopefully I'll make it back one day.

One gripe though....what's up with the size of the Godzilla statue? It's not even 30 inches tall, let alone 30 stories high!
posted by MarvinJ at 6:33 AM on February 5, 2007

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