FOOD IN JAPAN
Kyoto kaiseki dishes Japanese take great pride in the freshness, quality and purity if their food. Discussions about food can be very serious, passionate and deeply analytical. Japanese cuisine is often seafood-based and generally it doesn't have the thick spicy sauces associated with Chinese food. Sweet teriyaki-style sauces though are common and the freshness and artistic arrangements of the food items served is important. Portions are small by American standards and a lot of efforts can go into getting the right ingredients, preparation and presentation, especially at fancy restaurants.
The variety of food found in Japan is astounding. Hundreds of different dishes are available. Each city, town and region has its speciality for which it is known nationally. But this wasn't always the case. Up until maybe 50 years ago most people ate soup and rice three meal day and occasionally ate dried, salted or fermented fish. Buddhist beliefs discouraged eating of meat and even milk. Book: World Food Japan by John Ashburne (Lonely Planet, 2003). See Food Under Living
Eating Habits: A traditional meal is served with rice, vegetables and miso (fermented soy bean paste) soup. Miso soup and rice are a dietary base, often eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Many dishes come with soy sauce or wasabi (very hot mustard-like green horseradish). Many urban Japanese have adopted the American way of eating---a big breakfast, light lunch, and a big dinner. Fruit is often eaten as a desert.
Breakfast ( asa-gohan) is generally eaten between 7:00am and 7:30am. A typical breakfast consists of rice, miso soup, spinach or seaweed and eggs. Most people eat breakfast at home. It's hard to find a restaurant that serves breakfast. Some coffee shops have a set breakfast with a drink, toast, boiled egg and light food.
Lunch ( hiru-gohan) is generally eaten between 12:00 noon and 2:00pm. Many people eat out, grabbing a quick meal or snack such as a bowl of noodles, sandwiches, rice balls or Chinese food.
Dinner ( ban-gohan) is generally eaten between 6:00pm and 8:00pm. It is generally an informal meal with meat or fish, rice and miso soup. Main dishes made at home, include thing things like curry rice, pork cutlets, meatloaf-like hamburgers, fried fish, stir fried chicken or pork dishes, and dishes made with tofu. Fancier dinners include some of the items listed below.
Japanese cooking eschews large chunks of meat and big fish. Instead it favors small cuts of meat and small sea creatures that are carefully prepared and cooked. There are often particular sauces that go with each dish. Japanese often drink nothing with their meals, Miso soup often serves the purpose of a drink. Sometimes beer, wine, hot tea, cold tea, water or other drinks are consumed. An evening snack of fruit is commonly eaten around 10:00pm.
daikon Vegetables have traditionally been eaten fresh, added to stews and pickled in brine. In the old days made families made their own pickles and houses had storage area for pickles. Now, most people purchase them at stores.
The variety of vegetables is staggering and the vegetable concoctions the Japanese dream up are delicious. Among the more unique varieties are tomburo (seeds from the broom plant, known as “caviar of the field”), slightly bitter shokuyogiku (edible chrysanthemum pedals), mountain mizu (crunchy, marble-shaped buds), and mountain vegetables such as warabi (bracken), udo (Aralia cordata) and makurage (stem lettuce).
The Japanese are very fond of massive white radishes ( daikon ), cabbage, sliced lotus roots (known for their wagon-wheel shape and crisp texture, often deep-fired as tempura), burdock (a high-fiber root with a nutty flavor) and mountain yams (cooked in starchy mass served with soup, noodles or fresh tuna). Spinach is a symbol of secret love. Giving someone a present wrapped in spinach-green paper is an expression of passion.
sukiyakiTypical Japanese dishes sukiyaki (thin sliced beef, tofu and vermicelli prepared in a special iron pan on the table and dipped in a small bowl of raw-beaten egg), shabu-shabu (thinly slice beef cooked with vegetables in a special broth and served with sauce mixed with vinegar or sesame), yakiniku (sliced beef or pork you barbecue yourself at your table) and okonomiyaki (meat-and-vegetable pancake, with generally with cabbage and shrimp, octopus, pork, or noodles, eaten with a brown sauce and mayonnaise).
Tempura is seafood, vegetables or meat coated with a light batter made from egg and wheat flour, deep fried in vegetable oil, and served with soy sauce with grated radish and ginger. Tendon is a casual, inexpensive and filling version of tempura in which batter-fried fish and vegetables are served as a topping for rice.
shabu shabuAmong some other Japanese dishes that are worth trying are kushiage (deep fried chicken, pork and vegetables skewered with a bamboo stick), yakitori ( means “skewered chicken,” but also including skewered pork, beef and vegetables dipped in a sweet soy-sauce-based barbecue sauce), tonkatsu (a deep-fried, bread-crumb-covered pork cutlet served with cabbage and a special brown sauce), and kabayaki or unagi (delicious delicately-flavored barbecued eel cooked on a charcoal fire and repeatedly dipped a special sticky, sweet barbecue sauce made with soy sauce and sake).
Kaiseki meals consist of delicious and beautifully arranged food---such as clear broth appetizer, boiled or broiled fish and vegetables, fried, steamed, heated or vinegared foods, soup, rice, picked vegetables, and fruit---served on small dishes.
Nabe is a kind stew or thick soup made with chicken, pork, seaweed, dried fish, seafood and vegetables boiled at the table in special earthenware pots and eaten with a sauce made from vinegar, horseradish, green onion and soy sauce. Chanko-nabe is a high-calorie nabe consumed by sumo wrestlers.
odon Seasonal and Regional Dishes: In the spring Japanese eat dishes such as takenoko-gohan (tangy sprouts of bamboo shoot), red snapper and giant clams. Popular summer foods includes hiyamugi (chilled noodle dishes), hiya-yakko (a tofu concoction), bonito (a fish with red fatty meat), and eel broiled in a tasty barbecue sauce.
In autumn people enjoy giant expensive matstake mushrooms, grilled sanma (succulent fish, saury pike, with few bones), and saba (mackerel). Popular winter dishes include oysters, sukiyaki, oden (a slow-simmering stew of root and sea vegetables, fish sausages, tofu, daikon and konnyal cooked in soy sauce broth and eaten with mustard). Fugu is the blowfish with its poisonous liver removed.
There are hundreds of others dishes and different regions often have their own specialties. Kyoto is known for its delicate seasoning, Tokyo for its robust cooking. Osaka is the one place that is especially famous for food. One popular Japanese food that Westerners generally don't like is natto, fermented soybean paste.
Sashimi is sliced raw fish. Sushi is raw fish served with rice. There are two main kinds of sushi: nigiri-zushi (raw fish placed on a small block of rice), the most common type of sushi, and maki-zushi (seaweed-wrapped discs of rice with tuna, cuttlefish, prawns, cucumbers, egg and pickled radish in the middle, wrapped with a bamboo mat). There are other kinds of sushi such as inari-zuchi (rice served is a pocket of sweet tofu) and chirashi-zushi (a layer of rice covered with a fish toppings).
Sushi rice is steamed with vinegar and sugar and sometimes a little wasabi (hot green mustard) and sake. Nigiri-zuchi consists of nigiri (hand-shaped rectangular block of rice) and sushidane (topping). Often there is a dab of wasabe between the nigiri and sushidane..
kinds of sushi
Typical raw seafood sushi toppings include akami maguro (red tuna), chutoro maguro (more expensive tuna with more fat), ohtoro maguro (even more expensive tuna with even more fat), aji (horse mackerel, often topped with chopped scallions and grated ginger), shima-aji (yellow jack), shake (salmon, sometimes topped with mayonnaise), ikura (salmon roe), isaki (similar to yellow tail), ika (squid), tako (octopus), anago (conger eel), unagi (barbecued eel), ama ebi (shrimp), hotategai (scallop), and uni (sea urchin).
You can also get hirame (flounder), iwashi (sardine), kohada (gizzard shad), kuruma-ebi (prawn), kazunoko (herring roe), geso ika (cuttlefish tentacles), mirugai (horse clam), akagai (ark shell), torihai (cockle), awabi (abalone), crab, bonito, and sea bream. Sushi restaurants often serve things like tamagoyaki (scrambled eggs), ham, seafood salad, raw beef, barbecued meat and even cakes and custard.
Sushi is usually consumed with hot green tea. Gari (thin slices of vinegar pickled ginger root) is offered free and eaten between bites to freshen the palate. Two kinds of sauces are usually available: one is soy sauce, which is poured on most kinds of sushi; the other is thick sweet sauce used on eel. Wasabe (hot, green Japanese horseradish) can be added to make it spicier
Nigiri-zuchia is typically served two to a plate and eaten in one or two bites. It can picked up with the fingers or with chopsticks. Before eating it you can dip the sushi in soy sauce or pour soy sauce on the sushi. See below for information sushi restaurants.
Rice, Noodles, Snacks and Desserts in Japan
miso udon Rice and Noodle Dishes: Japonica rice served in Japan is short and sticky. Common rice dishes include katsu-don (rice topped by a fried pork cutlet), oyako-don (rice topped with egg and chicken), niku-don (rice topped with sliced beef), ten-don (rice topped with tempura shrimp and vegetables). In some places people like to eat rice with a raw egg.
Noodle shops generally either sell ramen (thin Chinese-style noodles) or udon and soba (both Japanese-style noodles). Ramen is generally served in large bowls with a meat broth and a variety of toppings such as sliced pork, leeks and bean sprouts.
Udon are dense, chewy, white noodles made from wheat. Soba are brownish, thin noodles made from buckwheat. Many restaurants offer both udon and soba prepared in various ways or served in soups with a light fish-flavored broth various ingredients. Soba is often served cold without and dipped in a soy-sauce-based sauce. Zaru soba is cold buckwheat noodles that one dips into a sweetened soy sauce spiked with scallions and wasabi.
Among the most widely available noodle udon and soba dishes are kake (plain noodles in broth), kitsune (noodles with fried tofu), tempura (noodles with tempura shrimp) and tsukimi (noodles with raw egg).
rice balls Snacks and Fast Food: Yakitori bars serve grilled chicken, beef and vegetables served on a stick and other hot, snack foods. Takoyaki (gooey dumplings made with octopus legs) is a snack associated with the Osaka area. The golf-ball-sized, gooey, balls are made on special pitted grittles in stands along the sidewalks. They are extremely hot with fish flakes and a sweet brown sauce. The octopus is chewy, the outside is soft and the inside is gooey.
Western food includes things like curry rice (curry served on rice), omu rice (rice wrapped in scrambled eggs and topped by catsup), tonkatsu (deep fired, breaded pork cutlet, often served with a big pile of cabbage with a glob of mayonnaise on top). Rice balls often have a plum or some other surprise in the middle.
Bakeries are also a good place to grab snacks and finger food. Common snacks found on the streets and in convenience stores include various rice balls, cheap bento boxes, snacks, sweets, sandwiches, shrimp-flavored chips, sweet potato balls, fried lotus root stuffed with hot mustard, pea-flavored puffs, shredded dried squid..
There are tons of McDonald's, Kentucky Fried Chickens, Pizza Huts and other pizza and fast food restaurants. Many Japanese eat lunch at the numerous snack bars or noodle restaurants found everywhere in Japan.
mochi Desserts and Sweets: Japanese sweets and deserts tend to be less sweet than their Western counterparts. Many Japanese don't like overly sweet stuff and worried that eating to much sugar will give them diabetes or cause other health problems. Moreover, Japanese tend to eat sweets between meals with tea and not necessarily as a dessert. Desert is often fruit.
Japanese-style restaurants generally don’t offer desserts, although Western-style restaurants do. Most Japanese buy their goodies at plentiful bakeries or sweet shops and takes them home. The deserts sold at bakeries are good but sometimes expensive. Common desserts sold at bakeries include cream puffs ( su cream), cheesecake (similar to sponge cake), chocolate pastries, strawberry berries and a variety of cakes and pastries.
Japanese sweet shops sell a variety of concoctions that Westerners are unfamiliar with. Desserts served at coffee shops include things like shaved ice with apricot sauce or shaved ice with green and sweet red been topping.
A lot of deserts are made with sweet bean paste, jello-like jellies and agar (seaweed-based gelatin that has a slightly fishy taste). Sweet bean paste is served as toping on ice cream and found in side a wide variety of sweet buns and popsicles. Sweet potatoes are regarded as a sweet. They are roasted in large ovens on the back of trucks that roam neighborhoods and produce an awful, whining, droning noise. Kid are fond of eating frozen fruit jellies.
Restaurants in Japan
Japan has more restaurants per capita in part because people have so little room in their homes and go out when they entertain and socialize. Another reason is that Japanese restaurant tend to be small so there are a lot of them.
Many restaurants in Japan have plastic models of the dishes they serve in the display window so that you can choose what you want, even if you don't know Japanese, by pointing. Some restaurants have menus written English but most don't. Sometimes menus have pictures. If pictures, no plastic food models or English-language menus are available you can point to what other people are eating.
The main kinds of Japanese restaurants are: koryori-ya (similar to a pub with food); restoran (Western-style restaurant); ryori-ya (ordinary Japanese-style restaurant; soba-ya (noodle restaurant); shokuda (all-around eatery or cafeteria); chuka-ryoru-ya (Chinese restaurant); izakaya (drinking restaurant); robatayaki (drinking restaurant with grilled foods); kissaten (sandwiches and soft drinks). See: Izakaya, Yakitori Bars and Robatayaki under Bars and Entertainment Below
Katei ryori (home-style restaurants) are small one-room affairs with a counter and maybe a couple of tables. Dishes are often displayed on the counter and you often share what you order.
Most restaurants in Japan are specialty restaurants that serve one kind of cuisine or even one dish. In large cities, restaurants that sell similar kinds of foods are often group together. There are many restaurants that specialize in sukiyaki, shabu-shabu and nabe. Here, diners cook their own food in front of them in their own pot, collective pot or open fire at their table and pick out what they want to eat with chopsticks. Some of these restaurants offer Kobe beef and other high quality meats. There are restaurants the specialize in tempura. Expect to pat between U$20 and $100 per person at these restaurants.
Restaurants serving Italian, French, Chinese, Thai, Indian Korean and other ethnic cuisines are common. Chinese restaurants come in two varieties: Cheap neighborhood ones which all offer pretty much the same dishes and expensive one with fancy decors that specialize in multi-course meals. Avoid the French restaurants. They are famous for microscopic portions and astronomical prices. Italian restaurants are not much better.
Viking-style means "all you can eat." Some restaurants and bars feature all you can eat and all you drink deals that often have a time limit of one or two hours. Bars and restaurants are often filled with cigarette smoke. At crowded, busy restaurants, sharing tables with strangers is common. Restaurants generally serve water or tea for free. Sometimes no napkins are available.
Cheap Restaurants: The cheapest restaurants are noodle restaurants. Ramen shop often offer noodel soups for around $5 and Chinese side dishes like dumplings. Soba and udon restaurants are little more expensive but not much. Their noodle soups generally go for around $6 or $7.
There are many places that specialize in okonomiyaki (meat-and-vegetable pancake eaten with a brown sauce and mayonnaise). Many of these places have griddle at the tables. Sometimes the pancakes are prepared at brought to your table. Other times a bowl full batter is brought to your table and you cook it yourself.
To save money you can buy food, bento lunches and prepared meals at the supermarkets, 7-11s and other convenience stores like Family Mart and Lawsons. For breakfast it is best to hit a bakery.
In many cities, especially Tokyo, there are an increasing number of yatai trucks that offer take-away items like tacos, hot dogs, doner kebabs, curry and rice, sandwiches, pastas, and fruit drinks. Typically a lunch costs around $5. Dotour Coffee is Japan’s largest coffee shop chain. Mos Burger is a good burger chain. One of the cheapest meals is a bowl of rice sold with meat on top. It sells for as little as ¥230 in some places such Yoshinoya. There are also McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken and other American fast food joints.
Department Stores are among the best places to get snack and picnic food. Many department stores contain a basement floor devoted entirely to gourmet foods, snacks and sweets. The selection is astounding and the food looks quite good. Much of these stuff is displayed in glass cases and dished out deli style, If you don’t speak Japanese simply point at what you want and nod your head when they put the proper amount on the scales.
. Often located near train stations, the department stores are good places to pick out food you can later eat in a park, on a train or in a hotel room and get some vegetables as well as meat and snacks. The offerings include grilled meats, rice balls, tempura, grilled fish, French-style pastries and cakes, spring rolls, cream puffs, salads, sea food, deli meat and Japanese-style sweets, salads made with things like lotus root, burdock and tofu or main dish meat items like sweat and sour pork and skewered meats. Snacks include koroke (bred-crumb-covered croquettes), sushi rolls, spring rolls.
Sushi Restaurants: Sushiyas (sushi restaurants) are generally expensive. Some are bars. Some are sit down restaurants. Some are both. Customers can choose small plates with two pieces of sushi or plates with a half dozen or a dozen different sushis. Many sushi restaurant special deals for a large plate of sushi.
When at a restaurant you can simply order by pointing. Palate-freshening ginger water and tea are offered for free. In Japan, many people like to drink beer with sushi. Be careful. Eating at a regular sushi restaurants can be very expensive.
Relatively inexpensive sushi can be purchased at kaitenzushi (conveyor-belt sushi restaurants), in which plates of sushi move past customers on conveyor belts and customers grab what they want. Each plate has two pieces of sushi and is color coded according price. Thing like squid and cheap cuts of tuna go for as little as ¥100 yen while expensive cuts of tuna, abalone, sea urchin, salmon roe and eel go for ¥300 or ¥500 a plate. The price of the meal is determined by counting up the plates.
It is an entertaining way to eat. You have to make snap decision: should I take this one or wait for something better to possible come down the pike. If you don't like what is being served you can special order what you want. At some kaiten sushi restaurants every dish is ¥100.
Prices and Paying at Restaurants: Meals at good restaurants are very expensive and it is not unusual for the bill for two people to be US$200 or more. A lot more if you drink a lot. Don't worry though. There are plenty of good cheap restaurant with meals for two under US$20 or even US$10.
The cheapest food items on the menu in Japanese restaurants are usually soba and udon. Many restaurants serve set meals, especially at lunch time, that are relatively cheap, around US$8 or so. They usually include a main meat of fish dish, a bowl of rice, miso soup, shredded cabbage and some tsukemono (Japanese pickles). Some restaurants have set lunches in lacquered o-bento boxes with four separate compartments: one with rice and others with miso soup, fish or meat, and vegetables. There are also more expensive and pretty bento box lunches and meals with other combinations of food.
Tipping is not necessary. A three percent consumption tax is levied on restaurant charges under 7,500 yen and six percent tax is added bills over 7,500 yen. A service charge is usually not added to bills, except at some hotel restaurants and fancy restaurants, where a 10 to 15 percent total surcharge may be added.
There is often no need to flag a waiter down to get the bill as the bill is often kept at table and all one has to take it to the cashier to pay. It is a good idea to bring cash. Many restaurants except credits cards but sometimes they don't.
Restaurant Hours: see Time Facts.
DRINK IN JAPAN
Alcoholic beverages are expensive, partly because there is a high tax on them. Beer is the most popular alcoholic drink (Japan is the world's fifth largest beer market) but wine has gained in popularity in recent years. It is customary to eat food while drinking, and most bars and drinking establishments expect you to order some side dishes to go along with your drinks.
Japanese beer is good. Kirin, Asahi, Sapparo, and Suntory are the main Japanese brands. Foreign beers are available but expensive. Hops, Malts and other similar beer-like beverages, have the same amount of alcohol content as beer and taste like beer but are different enough that they get away without being taxed and are therefore much cheaper than beer.
The best wines are imported. Whiskey and many kinds of hard alcohol, both domestic and imported, are also available. Sake, the national drink, is made from white rice. It is often served hot and it goes well with Japanese cuisine. See Drink Under Living
Non-Alcoholic Drinks: Japanese green tea is served at Japanese restaurants free of charge. Unlike like black tea, green tea is not fermented and the leaves are kept green by a process of steaming and heating to prevent oxidation. Japanese sometimes drink tea in a bowl without a handle.
Coffee is expensive at coffee shops but relatively cheap at coffee chains such as Starbucks, Pronto and Doutor. Specify whether you want hot coffee or cold coffee. Hot and cold coffee are widely available from vending machines.
Japan sells its own brands of soft drinks (many are made with tea) in addition to Coke, Pepsi, and Fanta. A wide variety of hot and cold drinks are available from vending machines which can be found everywhere in Japan. Water is sometimes served at restaurants. The tap water is generally safe to drink.
BARS AND ENTERTAINMENT IN JAPAN
Japan has a lot of drinking places in part because people have so little room in their homes and go out when they entertain and socialize. Another reason is that bars are often small so there are a lot of them. Bars are filled with cigarette smoke.
A flask of sake begins at around ¥600. The cheapest glasses of beer start at around ¥400 A large bottle of beer that can fill small glasses for two people sells sometimes can be had for around ¥500. "Bottle keep" refers to custom of keeping your own bottle of liquor at a bar that you frequent regularly.
Some restaurants, bars and pubs bring tsukidashi (?appetizers”) with the drinks. Sometimes these are free. Sometimes---especially with the fancy ones---they are not. If you are worried about the bill ask before you eat.
Places to go out for a good time include discos (not many though), gaijin bars (bars where foreigners hang out), hostess bars (where men are served and flattered by women) and host bars (where women are served and flattered by men).
You can also find live music clubs that specialize in a particular kind of music such as jazz, techno, blues or punk rock. There are also theme bars such Irish pubs and Sports bars. Soaplands, Turkish Baths and Image Rooms are kinds of sex clubs. Some restaurants and bars feature all you can eat and all you drink deals that often have a time limit of one or two hors.
Tokyo and Osaka and other cities have English-language entertainment magazines such as Time Out that list restaurants, nightclubs, theaters and other types of entertainment that appeals to foreigners.
Izakaya are the Japanese equivalent of bars. They offers a variety of drinks but generally serve mostly beer and to lesser extent sake and have a wide range of small, tasty dishes and snack food such as yakitori (small kebab-like foods), grilled fish and sashimi. Customers can sit at the bar, a table or on a tatami mat floor. Parts of the kitchen are often expose so customers can see the food items being prepared. There is a lot of interaction between the staff and customers. Izakyas are often identified by red lanterns outside their doors.
Izakayas have traditionally been places were company employees drank with their work mates and young people gathered to party. Equal emphasis is put on eating and drinking. The food items come in small portions and are meant to be savored and shared. They are definitely tasty but also can be overpriced. If you let you guard down and order too many you can end up with a hefty bill.
Yakitori Bars are izakaya that specialize in yakatori. Tachinomiya are “new-style stand up izakayas.” Robatayaki are similar to izakaya except they specialize in meats grilled over a charcoal fire. There are fun to eat at. Simply point to what you want and the cook will prepare and hand it to you on a wooden paddle. Eating at the places can be expensive. The dishes are small and good. It is easy to get carried away ad order a lot of them and a lot of beer to go with them.
Nightclubs are generally very expensive and some have colorful floor shows and hostesses that are paid to chat with male customers. Hotel Bars are lounges or bars found in first class hotels. Their atmosphere is cozy and many are located on the top floor of the hotels, where there are wonderful views of the city.
Beer Halls and Beer Gardens are plentiful in Japan and prices vary a great deal from place to place. In many cities the roofs of large buildings have been converted into beer gardens which are open from May to early September. Inexpensive Downtown Pubs are clustered in the downtown areas of the large cities. Seating anywhere from 50 to 200 people, these pubs fill up with office workers of all ages and both sexes after 7:00pm.
Coffee Shops are different from their counterparts in the West. Customers come here to relax over a cup of coffee or a desert drink (meal food is generally not served) and chat with their friends. Many coffee shops specialize in a certain kinds of music such as classical music, hard rock or jazz.
Karaoke-Boxes are karaoke-style singing rooms. Very popular in Japan, they consist of rooms large enough for a group of friends and are rented by the hour. Generally you buy drinks at bar and bring them to your room. These days they are more common than karaoke ares.
THINGS TO BUY IN JAPAN
Japan is famous for its electronic and consumer items such as mini-TVs, fancy cell phones, small DVD players, lap top computers, electronic toys, video games, VCRs, video cameras, cameras, binoculars, watches, and small gadgets. There is generally a wider variety of stuff available in Japan than outside it and the prices can be quite good if you shop in the right place.
Among the other interesting items you can buy are pearls (available is variety of shapes, sizes and colors), local crafts, dolls, folding fans, kimonos (with elaborate dyeing, weaving and embroidery techniques), obis (kimono belts), lacquerware, Gifu paper lanterns, kites, pottery (plates, vases and tea sets), clothes, damascene (with designs made from silver and gold foils inlaid in black steel), antiques, silk goods (high quality, beautifully dyed and woven into lovely patterns) and woodblock prints (color prints of landscapes and everyday Japanese life).
Antique shoppers can find traditional Japanese things like byobu (folding screen painted on silk or paper), colorful Imari porcelain from southern Japan, old iron tea kettles, porcelain bowls and tea cups, wooden chests, hibachis (made of lacquer, bronze, ceramic and wood), lamps made from old Chinese ginger jars, ramma (carved wooden panels traditionally mounted above sliding doors), silk-framed bamboo blinds, and handwoven baskets. Bargaining is not generally practiced. Sometimes you can negotiate if you but a lot of stuff. Credit cards are not widely used and people often put their cash on a small tray at the cashier.
Shoppers usually gravitate to the specialty shops (often grouped by theme on streets in large cities), underground arcades, hotel arcades, shopping centers and department stores. Some department stores and malls are very elaborate and gimmicky. Some have English speaking shop girls and playgrounds on their roofs for children. Some large temples and shrine host weekend antique and flea markets.
A number or articles can be purchased tax-free at authorized stores posting the "Tax-Free" sign. These stores include many specialty shops, major department stores and shops in hotel arcades. A form titled "Record of Purchase of Commodities Tax-Free," which is available at participating stores, must be filled out and shown to customs officials when leaving Japan or sending goods out of the country. Bargaining is not practiced.
Image Sources: 1) Liza Dalby site 2) 16) Andrew Gray Photosensibility 3) 6) 8) 11) 12) 13) 19) 20) Ray Kinnane 4) 5) 17) JNTO 7) 9) Jun from Goods from Japan 10) Japan 101 14) 15) Japan Zone 18) Tokyo Pictures
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.