A Guide to Traditional Japanese Dishes From All 47 Prefectures of Japan
Sushi, tempura, shabu-shabu, sukiyaki, ramen... the list of famous dishes that represent Japan goes on and on, but there are plenty of lesser-known regional specialties from all around Japan. This article will introduce you to some delicious regional dishes from each of the 47 prefectures that are sure to make your visit worthwhile!
Aug 20 2019 (Jul 10 2020)
1. Jingisukan (Hokkaido)
"Jingisukan" is a local specialty dish from Hokkaido that involves cooking lamb or mutton meat with plenty of vegetables in a skillet with a raised center. Sheep breeding used to be common in Hokkaido for military goods, but post-war, they became a source of food, resulting in the popularization of this dish. The seasoning and serving method of this dish varies by restaurant, so make sure to check out as many of them as you can!
2. Towada Bara Yaki (Aomori)
In this dish, onions are piled on top of beef rib meat flavored with a sweet savory sauce, and grilled until the onions are softly caramelized. The dish was originally created in the 1950s near the US military base in Misawa City, and eventually spread to its neighboring city, Towada. Today, the dish is so popular that it is served by over 80 restaurants in Towada! The exquisite balance of the sweet and spicy flavors makes it a great combination with beer.
3. Morioka Reimen (Iwate)
"Morioka Reimen" is considered one of the three great noodle dishes of Morioka City, alongside "Wanko Soba" (noodles served in small portions) and "Jajamen" (noodles with cucumbers and miso meat sauce). Firm noodles are topped with ingredients such as kimchi, cucumbers, boiled eggs, and fruits. The finishing touch is a chilled soup made from beef and chicken broth.
It is believed that a noodle craftsman who was originally from Korea came up with this recipe post-war out of a craving to recall flavors from his birthplace. Instead of using buckwheat flour for the noodles as it is usually done for Korean "reimen", normal wheat flour was used, resulting in the signature semi-transparent noodles seen today.
4. Gyu Tan Yaki (Miyagi)
This dish, made with grilled slices of beef tongue flavored with either salt or sauce, is also considered a product of post-war Japan when meat consumption became widespread. It used to be considered a unique delicacy of Sendai, but its delicious flavor and healthy low-fat, high-protein content soon became popular and spread throughout Japan. Many restaurants now commonly serve this dish as a set, pairing it with beef tail soup.
5. Kiritanpo (Akita)
Kiritanpo is made by wrapping rice around wooden skewers and grilling them over a charcoal fire. It is believed that lumberjacks from the Odate and Hokuroku regions came up with this dish by molding leftover rice on long sticks, flavoring them with miso, and grilling them.
"Kiritanpo Nabe", which involves boiling the kiritanpo with ingredients such as jidori (domestically-sourced chicken), maitake (a type of mushroom), shironegi (a type of leek), burdock root, and seri (a type of parsley), is perfect for the cold winters of Akita.
6. Imo-ni (Yamagata)
This taro-based hot pot dish can include ingredients such as konnyaku (made from the konjac plant), spring onions, mushrooms, burdock root, and meat. The ingredients vary within the prefecture, with inland areas tending to use beef with a soy sauce based soup, and northern coastal areas using pork with a miso based soup. It is an autumnal tradition in Yamagata Prefecture to build a riverside furnace by stacking stones and cooking "Imo-ni" with groups of people during the taro harvesting period.
7. Kitakata Ramen (Fukushima)
The ingredients and soup (often a simple soy sauce base) for this dish varies, but the signature thick and wavy noodles are a staple. It is said that a young Chinese man used to sell "Shina Soba" (a similar noodle dish) from his mobile food stall, and that eventually evolved into this dish.
Kitakata City has long housed many soy sauce, miso, and sake breweries, attracting tourists from all over to take photos of the traditional buildings. As a result, "Kitakata Ramen" became well known and the city now boasts the largest ramen restaurant to population ratio in the entire country.
Take the opportunity to enjoy the "morning ramen" culture unique to this city by visiting one of the many restaurants that are open from 7 am in the morning!
8. Mito Natto (Ibaraki)
Natto (fermented soybeans) is Japan's staple fermented product, of which there are quite a few. Mito City in Ibaraki Prefecture is one of the main producers of small soybeans, and over half of the natto sold in Japanese markets come from Ibaraki.
"Mito Natto" in particular gained popularity after the opening of the railroads to Ibaraki in 1889. When the local train station first opened, the natto was sold in the plaza in front of the station, but once they began to be sold as souvenirs on the station platform, they became so popular that passengers on the train would reach their hands out of the windows to get a chance to grab them first!
9. Utsunomiya Gyoza (Tochigi)
Army soldiers who were stationed in Utsunomiya City during the war were sent to the northeastern part of China, and when they returned to Japan they opened restaurants that recreated the gyoza (dumplings) they ate in China. The dish became popular with the residents of the city - so much so that Utsunomiya was called "the gyoza town". There are now over 200 shops and restaurants that serve gyoza in the city, and the amount of money spent on gyoza by each household here is the highest in the country!
As opposed to the more common kind of gyoza that uses plenty of meat and garlic, the "Utsunomiya Gyoza" prioritizes vegetables, which makes for a refreshing dish paired with vinegar and chili oil.
10. Mizusawa Udon (Gunma)
The "Mizusawa Udon" has a history of over 400 years, and is one of the famed udon dishes of Japan alongside Kagawa Prefecture's "Sanuki Udon", Akita Prefecture's "Inaniwa Udon", Nagasaki Prefecture's "Goto Udon", and Toyama Prefecture's "Himi Udon". Its origins are said to be from the handmade udon that used to be sold to visitors around Mizusawa Temple in the town of Ikaho in Gunma Prefecture. Even now, there are 13 restaurants that line what is now called the "Mizusawa Udon Road".
The noodles, made simply with flour, salt, and water from Mizusawa, are known for their thick and firm texture. Visit one of the restaurants along the road to try the chilled udon served on a bamboo plate called "zaru", with either a sesame or soy sauce based dipping sauce!
11. Hiyajiru Udon (Saitama)
This dish has been favored by many as a summertime home-cooked dish in the cities of Omiya, Kawagoe, and Kazo in Saitama Prefecture. Ground sesame, miso, and sugar are put into "tsuyu" (soy sauce based soup) and combined with either cold water or "dashi" (stock). The noodles are dipped into this soup, which can also be topped with ingredients such as ginger and cucumber.
12. Namero (Chiba)
To prepare "Namero", which is a traditional dish from the Boso Peninsula, three slices of fish such as horse mackerel, saury, and sardine, are finely chopped and beaten with ingredients such as miso, spring onions, aojiso (a type of perilla plant), and ginger. The dish is said to have been created by busy fishermen who used the back of their knives to pound the fish meat, bones and all, to prepare a quick meal. The name is supposedly a reference to the saying, "It is so delicious that it will have you licking (in Japanese "nameru") the plate after you've finished it!"
13. Monjayaki (Tokyo)
This traditional dish from Tokyo is prepared on an iron plate and is made by mixing various ingredients such as seafood and vegetables with flour dissolved in water. Once the ingredients have been adequately cooked first, they are molded into a doughnut shape so that the batter can be poured into the middle. As the batter begins to solidify, it is mixed with the rest of the ingredients and is ready to be eaten from the edges using small spatulas. "Monjayaki" is a highly popular dish in Tsukishima, a downtown part of Tokyo, with over 70 restaurants lining what is referred to as the "Monja Street" in the area.
14. Shirasu-don (Kanagawa)
Kanagawa Prefecture's Shonan area is one of the main fishing grounds for whitebait ("shirasu"). Many people like to enjoy fresh whitebait here inbetween visiting nearby sightseeing spots such as Enoshima and Kamakura. You can even opt for the luxurious "Shirasu-don", which are rice bowls topped with shirasu (fresh or cooked) caught that same day! Please note that whitebait fishing is prohibited from January to March every year, so fresh whitebait cannot be served during those months.
15. Hegi Soba (Niigata)
"Hegi Soba" is a style of soba (buckwheat noodles) served by placing bite sized portions of chilled soba on a square wooden serving plate called "hegi". The noodles are made with a type of glue plant called "funori", which gives its signature firm texture. When this dish was first introduced in the Uonuma region in Japan, wasabi was not available, so karashi (Japanese mustard) and chopped spring onions were used instead to season the noodles. Serving the noodles this way has since become a tradition in this prefecture.
16. Toyama Black Ramen (Toyama)
As the name suggests, the "Toyama Black Ramen" is a type of ramen with a soy sauce based black soup, seasoned with plenty of pepper. The ramen was created as a way to support the sodium intake of laborers who were working tirelessly to rebuild Toyama City after the air raids in 1945. The salty and spicy menma (fermented bamboo shoots) with the thick slices of char siu (braised pork) make this ramen a perfect pairing with rice. Beyond the initial saltiness lies an irresistible deliciousness!
17. Nodoguro (Ishikawa)
"Nodoguro" is a type of rockfish, and its name in Japanese is a combination of the words "neck" and "black" due to the dark color inside its mouth. It is widely fished on the coasts of Ishikawa Prefecture, and is highly valued for its taste and high nutrient value, even surprassing fish like red sea bream and olive flounder.
Nodoguro is delicious served as sashimi, but stewed or salt-grilled nodoguro is also delightful. Dried nodoguro, on the other hand, condenses the flavors and makes a great souvenir. September and October are the best months if you want to enjoy wonderfully fatty nodoguro.
18. Saba Sushi (Fukui)
"Saba Sushi" is made by molding sushi rice into a long rectangular shape, and placing half of a mackerel ("saba") on top. Once that has been neatly shaped using a bamboo mat or cloth, the sushi is wrapped in kombu (a type of kelp) and bamboo leaves. Obama City in Fukui Prefecture, arguably the home of "Saba Sushi", is the starting point of what is referred to as the "Saba Road". The road is used to transport fish from the Sea of Japan to Kyoto Prefecture, which has no coast. Try various versions of "Saba Sushi", such as "Shime Saba Sushi" (with vinegar) and "Yaki Saba Sushi" (grilled) to find a favorite!
19. Hoto (Yamanashi)
"Hoto" is a hot pot dish that combines flat and wide flour noodles with vegetables such as pumpkin, spring onions, and shiitake (a type of mushroom) in a miso-flavored soup. It is said that the samurai commander Takeda Shingen ate this meal in the battlefield during the Sengoku period (1467 - 1600) in Japan. Later, "Hoto" became a staple dish for the peasantry, as well as an alternative for rice when rice became scarce during and after World War II. Today, it is considered a traditional regional dish of Yamanashi Prefecture.
20. Shinshu Soba (Nagano)
Nagano Prefecture has long been a popular cultivator of buckwheat due to the crop's resilience to cold highland temperatures. Buckwheat as a source of food was introduced by monk apprentices who would carry around buckwheat seeds for consumption. The flour from the seeds was kneaded and boiled to make a dish called "sobagaki" in the earlier days, and that was eventually cut into thin strips to become the noodles we are familiar with today. It can be prepared to your taste by adjusting the ratio of buckwheat in the noodles and changing up the toppings. There is a Japanese tradition to enjoy this dish among relatives on special holidays.
21. Hida Beef Steak (Gifu)
Hida beef is a product of Gifu Prefecture's vast landscapes, clear waters, and large ranges of seasonal and daily temperatures. As a highly acclaimed brand of meat in Japan, only the meat from cattle that have passed strict standards are certified as Hida beef. The best way to enjoy the tenderness of the meat and its full-flavored aroma that melts in your mouth is by trying the delightfully simple "Hida Beef Steak". This dish can be found in restaurants around Takayama City, as well in various locations around Gifu Prefecture.
22. Sakura Shrimp Kakiage (Shizuoka)
Sakura shrimp is a rare type of shrimp that can only be caught at Suruga Bay in Shizuoka Prefecture, with a major portion being caught at Yui Port. "Sakura Shrimp Kakiage" is prepared by deep-frying sakura shrimp mixed with tempura batter, resulting in a deliciously crunchy texture with the exquisite aroma of the shrimp. Visitors from other prefectures flock to enjoy this dish, so prepare for long lines during the fishing seasons between mid-March to early June and late October to late December!
23. Hitsumabushi (Aichi)
One of Nagoya Prefecture's famous dishes, "Hitsumabushi" is served in a small wooden rice tub. Eel is grilled with sauce in a style called "kabayaki", and sliced into thin pieces to be placed on top of the rice. The dish is often eaten in 3 servings by portioning some of the "Hitsumabushi" into a separate bowl. For example, the first bowl is eaten on its own, the second with condiments such as wasabi, dried seaweed, and mitsuba (a type of parsley), and the final bowl with green tea or dashi poured over it.
24. Matsuzaka Beef Sukiyaki (Mie)
Matsuzaka beef is one of the top 3 brands of Japanese beef. "Matsuzaka Beef Sukiyaki" (hot pot stew) is a great way to enjoy the high-quality beef's rich flavor and aroma. Slices of Matsuzaka beef are grilled on an iron skillet, and slowly stewed into a mixture of soy sauce, dashi, and sugar to bring out the flavors. Once you've devoured the delicately tender meat, enjoy the vegetables that have absorbed the delicious fats from the meat!
25. Omi Beef (Shiga)
Omi beef is designated as the oldest type of Kuroge Wagyu that has been produced in the abundant nature of Shiga Prefecture, with around 400 years of history. While its quality matches that of Matsuzaka beef and Kobe beef, the price point is relatively lower, making it a more affordable way to thoroughly enjoy various beef dishes such as sukiyaki.
26. Yu-dofu (Kyoto)
"Yu-dofu" is a hot pot dish in which tofu is boiled in water with kombu (Japanese kelp) and eaten with condiments, soy sauce, and/or ponzu (citrus flavored sauce). The dish originated from the Buddhist cuisine served at Nanzenji Temple, and there are still many specialty yu-dofu shops around the temple. While this dish is quite simple, it is considered one of Kyoto's staple regional dishes for the sheer quality of the tofu.
27. Takoyaki (Osaka)
This Osaka-born fast food is made by mixing in pieces of octopus meat and other ingredients into a flour and dashi batter. Once they are cooked into balls with a diameter of around 3-5cm, they are glazed with Worcester sauce and topped with condiments like bonito flakes and dried seaweed. There are plenty of specialty "Takoyaki" restaurants and stalls around, and watching them being twirled on the iron plates is an experience that must be had!
28. Kobe Beef Steak (Hyogo)
The world-famous Kobe beef requires no introduction. The harmony between the delicate sweetness and marbling with a melting point so low it melts at the touch of skin is irresistible! In fact, only 0.16% of the total beef distributed in Japan are certified as Kobe beef because of the strict standards. Accordingly, the price of Kobe beef is rather high, but there is no experience quite like enjoying Kobe beef in the atmosphere of Kobe Prefecture's long-standing trading port.
29. Kaki no Ha Sushi (Nara)
To make "Kaki no Ha Sushi", slices of fish such as mackerel and salmon are placed on sushi rice and wrapped in Nara Prefecture's specialty persimmon leaves, which have antibacterial properties. Sometime around the 18th century, fishermen from the neighboring Wakayama Prefecture took salted mackerel caught in the Kumano Sea to sell in the landlocked Nara Prefecture, where a festival was coincidentally being celebrated. The Nara locals took great liking to the sushi, and as a result, it became a popular festival food during the summer and autumn months.
30. Wakayama Ramen (Wakayama)
People are often split between ordering the tonkotsu soy sauce or plain soy sauce versions of this dish, but both types are made with relatively thin and straight noodles, and topped simply with char siu, menma, and spring onions. The hardness of the noodles can be customized by order, and recently a new type of "Wakayama Ramen" that fits into neither type is increasing in popularity. Try them all to find a favorite!
31. Matsuba Crab (Tottori)
"Matsuba Crab" is Tottori Prefecture's winter specialty. The name is given to mature snow crabs, which are caught during the high tide season in the Sea of Japan between the beginning of November and March. The firm texture of the tightly packed meat of these large crabs is delicious, both boiled or grilled. The crab innards are also highly recommended, and wonderfully complement alcohol and rice!
32. Izumo Soba (Shimane)
"Izumo Soba" is known for its relatively darker noodles compared to regular soba. The buckwheat seeds are ground up into a powder, shell included, to make the flour, increasing the nutrient value and aroma of the noodles. There are two types - the "Warigo Soba" (chilled) and the "Kama-age Soba" (warm) - both of which are eaten with tsuyu (soy sauce based soup). There are many specialty shops and restaurants for this dish in the Izumo Shrine area, as well as within Izumo City.
33. Tsuyama Horumon Udon (Okayama)
Located in the northern part of Okayama Prefecture, Tsuyama has a long history as a trading city for horse meat and beef, and was known as a prime place to find cheaper high-quality meats. The "Tsuyama Offal Udon" used to only be eaten by locals after drinking alcohol. It is made by combining udon noodles with offal ("horumon" in Japanese) grilled on a teppanyaki (iron griddle). When the dish was promoted alongside efforts to revitalize the town, it gradually became known throughout the country.
34. Kaki (Hiroshima)
Hiroshima Prefecture is the largest producer of oysters ("kaki") in the country. With calm tides, moderate salinity, and abundant plankton, the natural conditions of the gulf of Hiroshima produce delicious oysters. January and February is generally the prime season for oysters, but summer oysters have been introduced more recently, making it possible to enjoy them all year round. There are so many oyster shops available in the prefecture that it may be difficult to choose, but fresh or grilled is the best way to experience the flavors.
35. Fugu (Yamaguchi)
Shimonoseki City, known for its long-established fugu (pufferfish) industry, is the first place in Japan that lifted the ban in 1888 that prohibited fugu from being served. Since then, Shimonoseki has become a symbol for fugu. Techniques to remove the poisonous parts of the fish, as well as the art of slicing them very thinly and arranging them, have advanced significantly. Apart from the standard method of eating fugu, either boiled or as sashimi, many types of fugu dishes are readily available in Shimonoseki.
36. Tokushima Ramen (Tokushima)
Tokushima Prefecture's regional ramen is categorized into 3 types based on the color of their soup: brown, yellow, and white. It is locally referred to as "chuka soba" (Chinese noodles) or just simply "soba". The ramen has straight noodles and is distinguished by its plentiful toppings, including pork belly, bean sprouts, and raw eggs. Because it pairs so well with rice, the portion sizes are relatively small, making it convenient for visitors to try all of the different types!
37. Sanuki Udon (Kagawa)
Kagawa Prefecture has the highest consumption rate of udon in Japan. There are many udon restaurants around that sell these noodles at reasonable prices. The "Sanuki Udon" in particular is known for its unique texture created by kneading the dough by foot. The tsuyu is made with a special dashi known for its subtle yet rich sweetness. There are many ways to enjoy this udon, including "Kake Udon" (with hot soup), "Bukkake Udon" (hot soup with various condiments), "Zaru Udon" (chilled noodles), and "Kama-age Udon" (served in a pot).
38. Tai Meshi (Ehime)
Ehime Prefecture is abound with red sea bream ("tai" in Japanese) farms, and "Tai Meshi" is one of the staple dishes out of many that are made using this fish. It is considered a regional cuisine of the cities of Imabari and Matsuyama, and is made by cooking the rice with the whole fish in a clay or iron pot. There are variations within "Tai Meshi" dishes depending on the region, and the version served in Uwajima City in Ehime Prefecture is made by placing fresh slices of red sea bream mixed with a special sauce and other condiments on top of rice.
39. Katsuo no Tataki (Kochi)
This sashimi dish is made by descaling a bonito fish, slicing the meat into 5 pieces, and lightly searing the outer surface. It is enjoyed with various condiments on the side such as garlic, ginger, and spring onions, and the aroma of the cooked surface interacts deliciously with the tender texture of the meat. Because the dish is from Kochi Prefecture's Tosa City, it is also sometimes called "Tosa-zukuri".
40. Motsu Nabe (Fukuoka)
The main ingredient of this hot pot dish is beef or pork offal. It is said to have been first cooked by Korean coal miners after the war, who would steam offals and chives flavored with soy sauce in aluminum pots. There are many restaurants that serve "Motsu Nabe" around Fukuoka City, especially in the Hakata Ward area, and it is enjoyed as a deliciously healthy dish rich with collagen!
41. Yobuko no Ika (Saga)
The town of Yobuko, located at the northern tip of the East Matsuura peninsula, is home to a thriving squid fishing industry. Freshness is the key to enjoying good squid as they are sensitive to changes in temperature, and what better place to enjoy it than Yobuko? The squid is transported directly from the fishing boat to the restaurants so that the freshest "iki-zukuri" (preparing dishes from live seafood) can be served. Experiencing the translucent Yobuko squid as it wriggles on the plate is a must!
42. Nagasaki Champon (Nagasaki)
"Champon" is a noodle dish made with ingredients such as pork, seafood, and vegetables. It is thought to have been introduced by a Chinese person who ran a restaurant in Nagasaki Prefecture sometime in the 19th century. The chef, who was originally from the Fujian province, sought to come up with a cheap and nourishing dish for his fellow countrymen based on a traditional Fujian dish. The soup, made from pork and chicken broth, can be enjoyed in various ways by adding extra condiments like vinegar and Worcester sauce.
43. Basashi (Kumamoto)
Kumamoto Prefecture's staple dish, "Basashi", is made with thinly sliced pieces of horse meat served raw. It is said that horse meat began to be consumed as food when samurai who were sent to Korea around 400 years ago had to eat their horses to avoid starvation. Today, it is enjoyed around the country for its low fat content, which makes it a healthy meat option. Kumamoto Prefecture has the highest consumption rate of horse meat in Japan and also is the largest producer of horse meat in the country.
44. Toriten (Oita)
This dish is a popular menu item in Oita Prefecture, which has the highest chicken consumption rate in Japan. It is a type of tempura made by deboning chicken, cutting them into smaller pieces, and frying them with batter made from flour, water, and eggs. The popular way to enjoy this dish is with fresh vegetables like shredded cabbage and dipping it in tempura tsuyu, ponzu, or sujoyu (vinegar mixed with soy sauce) with some chili.
45. Miyazaki Jitokko (Miyazaki)
In 1943, the jitokko, which is a breed of chicken that has long been bred in parts of Miyazaki Prefecture and Kagoshima Prefecture, was established as a national treasure of Japan. The "Miyazaki Jitokko" is a local chicken brand, developed from extensive selective breeding of the jitokko. Because the chicken are raised on expansive land, their meat is known for its firm texture that releases flavor with every bite. The luxurious charcoal-grilled jitokko is the ultimate way to enjoy every last inch of it.
46. Kurobuta (Kagoshima)
The introduction of "Kurobuta" (a type of high-quality pork) dates back around 400 years ago when the pigs were brought in from Okinawa. Since then, crossbreeding with Berkshire pigs from England is said to have refined the taste of the meat even further. To maximize the refreshing flavors of the pork and properly experience its firm meaty texture, it is recommended that you eat it as shabu-shabu (a kind of hot pot dish)!
47. Soki Soba (Okinawa)
"Soki Soba" is a type of Okinawa soba made with wheat flour as opposed to the more commonly used buckwheat flour. The soup for this dish is made from tonkotsu dashi and soy sauce. The name "Soki" comes from the word used in Okinawa to refer to pork spare ribs, and so "Soki Soba" refers to Okinawan soba topped with pork spare ribs. The dish is said to have been introduced when soki, which used to be sold separately, was topped on the Okinawan soba served at a restaurant and received great reviews from customers.
Note that this article only introduced one specialty dish for every prefecture in Japan when, in reality, most prefectures have multiple specialties. The next time you travel to Japan, take the time to try out both the dishes listed here and ones that aren't. It's the best way to get to know all the different parts of the country!
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.