Five First Impressions of Japan

Nikishi Market Kyoto

In only two weeks I have not given myself enough time to fully understand the complexities of food and drink in Japan. While I admire and am intrigued by Japanese culture, I am without the ability to speak with any authority on this complex topic, so here are five of my first impressions of Japan.

Hospitality is an art form.

High-stress workplaces and small living spaces force many Japanese out to eat, drink and be merry. When you stoop under the low lintel of an Izikaya (or into any restaurant or retail shop,) an enthusiastic echo call of welcome “irasshaimase” is passed around the staff and the tone is set. These small restaurants, which usually seat only 5-20 people, are the epitome of great eating and drinking. Draft beer, sake and whisky are all served with share plates of beautifully prepared and presented food in even the smallest of venues. Eating, drinking and being merry is not just encouraged – it is infectious and near-impossible to deny. 

 
Ramen from out of this world at the Ramen Girls Festival
 

If it's worth doing…

The Japanese way is to complete everything they do flawlessly. From manicured slices of perfectly presented sushi to ramen recipes that are refined over 50 years of service. Leaving anything to chance or any stone unturned in the search for perfection is not even an option. It’s no surprise that Japanese whiskies and sakes reward drinkers with complexities from around the flavour wheel and garner awards from around the world in the process.

BIG BEER DOMINATES.

Advertisements are on every train and at every station. On literally every corner there are vending machines owned by Asahi, Suntory and Kirin selling not only beer but also prepackaged hot and cold coffee, juice, tea and many other unknown (to me) drinks. Every small restaurant has a draft beer system pouring crisp, clean and fantastically fresh lagers from one of the big players.

Y.Market Brewing Nagoya

The breweries are immaculate.

A sense of pride in how everything is presented permeates Japan’s growing craft beer scene. A new wave of Japanese brewers, inspired by the craft beer scene in North America, are driving a resurgence in small batch brewing. Stainless steel and copper are polished to mirror sheen and in each brewery I have visited every piece of equipment is in its right place. The suggestion that there is any other way brings only confusion. 

Baird Brewing Shuzenji

grain to glass, perfection is the only consideration.

Japanese attention to detail – sourcing only the best ingredients from across the world and minimum required conditioning times that extend beyond weeks – reduces brewery capacity and profit margins by unbelievable amounts. Despite each craft brewery I have visited being at full capacity and struggling with incredibly high taxes their methods remain the same and are not even questioned.