Can You Eat Outside in Japan? A Guide to Outdoor Dining Etiquette

Okay, you’re planning a trip to Japan and can’t wait to try all the fantastic food. But you’ve heard that it’s not common to eat outside there. So what gives?

Is it okay to grab some takoyaki from a street vendor and munch it while walking around, or will that make locals clutch their pearls?

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In Japanese society, the rules around outdoor dining etiquette are a little nuanced, but we’ve got you covered. 

In this article, we’ll explain everything you need to know about eating al fresco in the Land of the Rising Sun.

From when it is and isn’t cool to chow down outside to key tips for minding your manners, you’ll be an expert on Japanese outdoor dining etiquette when you’re done reading.

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Casual Dining 

Eating while walking outside Japan usually means grabbing some tasty vending machine snacks, delicious street food, a cup of popular coffee, or a quick lunch at a casual restaurant. 

Outdoor seating is popular in tourist spots in Japan. In places like those temples in Kyoto and Hiroshima, you’ll find small tables and chairs along the sidewalk. It’s a great way for tourists to watch and soak in the atmosphere. 

Some popular options are traditional Japanese yakitori (grilled chicken skewers), okonomiyaki (savory pancakes), takoyaki (fried octopus balls), and ramen stalls. 

Upscale Dining

For a fancier meal al fresco, look for restaurants advertising ‘beer gardens’ or ‘roof gardens.’  Japanese people like these as they offer a more upscale experience with full menus and table service.

Cuisine ranges from yakiniku (grilled meats) to sushi, along with an extensive drink list.

Many hotels also have rooftop bars or patios with stunning city views.  However, these spots often require reservations and have a dress code.

My Outdoor Dining Okonomiyaki Experience: Oagari vs. Donguri

In Kyoto, I tried Okonomiyaki at both Oagari and Donguri. Oagari, located in Southern Higashiyama, was my favorite.

The restaurant had a nice atmosphere, and the Okonomiyaki, made with local ingredients, tasted delicious. Eating there was enjoyable, with a sense of community among diners.

Moreover, Oagari boasted a remarkable array of sake choices, leaving me pleasantly surprised. As I checked out the extensive menu, I felt a sense of excitement at the diverse options before me.

With each sip, I indulged in the richness of Oagari’s curated selection. The “karakuchi” or dry sake stood out as a personal favorite, perfectly complementing the savory delights of Okonomiyaki.

For those seeking a refreshing twist, the nihonshu and lime cocktail offered a delightful fusion of flavors that made me want to imbibe. Its light and tangy notes provided the perfect accompaniment to the hearty dishes.

Donguri in Downtown Kyoto was more budget-friendly, but the atmosphere was simpler. While the Okonomiyaki was decent, it didn’t match the taste and experience of Oagari.

Overall, I prefer Oagari for its great taste and enjoyable dining experience. If you’re in Kyoto, it’s worth trying.

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Etiquette Tips

If eating Japanese food outside, be mindful of a few etiquette points. First, don’t walk and eat simultaneously – find a place to sit. 

Second, slurping noodles is fine, but don’t sound like your life depends on it!  

Third, it’s polite to say “itadakimasu” before eating and “gochisosama deshita” to the chef when finished. 

Finally, don’t stick chopsticks upright in rice or pass food with chopsticks you’ve put inside your mouth.  

Just be mindful to finish the food you bought, as taking home leftover food is not common due to hygiene concerns.

Eating outside in Japan can be a memorable experience with many delicious options and settings.  So next time you’re there, grab a seat on a sidewalk or rooftop, order some tasty grub, and soak in the atmosphere.  Kanpai!

Etiquette Tips for Eating Outside in Japan

Look for Available Seating

Not all restaurants in Japan offer outdoor eating nooks, so look for those with patios, balconies, or beer gardens. Many izakaya (Japanese pubs), grilled chicken, and yakiniku (Korean BBQ) places will have a dedicated area outside. 

Sitting down is usually okay if you see empty tables and chairs outside, but check with staff first, especially at smaller restaurants. They may have the area reserved for larger groups. 

Don’t Be Loud or Rowdy

Japanese culture values politeness, so avoid being loud, rowdy, or drunk when eating outside. Keep your voice down, don’t make a mess, and be respectful of others around you.

Noisy, messy, or intoxicated behavior may offend staff and other customers.

While having a meal outdoors with my American pals at Royal Garden Cafe Aoyama in Tokyo, we had a moment that taught us something important. We didn’t realize it, but our loud talking disturbed others trying to enjoy their meal quietly.

Then, the owner kindly asked us to talk more softly. It made us realize that we needed to be more thoughtful about how our actions affect others, especially in a place where people value quiet.

After that, we thought about how our noise might have bothered others and decided to be more careful in the future.

It was a good lesson in being considerate and understanding different cultures better.

Don’t Smoke Unless Designated 

Japan has strict anti-smoking laws, so you can only smoke in designated outdoor smoking areas, not just anywhere outside. Look for ‘smoking area’ signs to know where it’s ok to light up.

Smoking at the table or in non-smoking areas can result in fines.

Dress Appropriately 

While eating outdoors in Japan tends to be more casual, you should still dress neatly and avoid overly revealing clothing.

For men, a T-shirt and shorts are ok, but avoid wearing just tank tops. 

For women, a summery dress, blouse, and skirt are suitable, but not spaghetti strap tops or short shorts. The general rule is to dress in a way that shows respect to others around you. 

Don’t Walk and Eat

It’s considered rude in Japan to walk the street eating or drinking. Find a place to sit down, whether at the restaurant, on a park bench, or under some shade. Walking and eating simultaneously is frowned upon and may offend some locals.

Following these tips for eating al fresco in Japan will ensure an enjoyable meal outside without offending anyone or breaking any rules.

Minding your manners and respecting the local culture will make your dining experience smooth sailing.

Japan has some of the most vibrant outdoor dining scenes. You’ll find many options for eating al fresco in cities like Tokyo and Osaka.

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Best Foods to Enjoy Al Fresco in Japan

Yakitori Alleys

Yakitori, chicken skewers, is a popular street food in Japan.  You’ll find grilled chicken skewers in alleys filled with small restaurants specializing in the dish.

Head to Omoide Yokocho (Memory Alley) in Shinjuku, Tokyo, or Hozenji Yokocho in Osaka.

Pick a joint, grab a beer, and enjoy perfectly grilled chicken, sausage, and veggies. 

Beer Gardens  

When the weather warms up, beer gardens open for the summer.

Department stores, hotels, and public parks will set up dedicated areas for eating outdoors where you can enjoy Japanese snacks like edamame, yakitori, and kara-age (fried chicken), along with a cold beer.

Some popular spots are the Sapporo Beer Garden in Tokyo and the Umeda Beer Garden in Osaka.

River and Canal-side Dining

Many cities have walkways along rivers, canals, and harbors lined with outdoor restaurants. In Tokyo, head to the Meguro River or Odaiba Seaside Park for dining with a view.

Osaka’s Dotonbori Riverwalk and Kyoto’s Pontocho Alley are fabulous for people-watching over a meal. Seafoods like fresh crab, and oysters are popular in the water.  

Izakaya Street Dining 

Izakaya, Japanese gastropubs, often have outdoor seating in the warmer months. Areas like Golden Gai in Shinjuku, Tokyo, and Dotonbori in Osaka have streets filled with izakaya offering al fresco dining. 

Pull up a seat and order some fried snacks to share, like karaage, gyoza, or agedashi tofu, along with beer, sake, or cocktails. 

Soak in the lively atmosphere on these popular dining streets.

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FAQ: Can You Eat Outside in Japan?

Sushi and Sashimi

What’s better than fresh sushi and sashimi? Enjoying it outside in the open air.

Many restaurants have outdoor seating where you can savor raw fish specialties like tuna, salmon, and yellowtail.

The light, delicate flavors of sushi are perfect for a sunny day. Just eat the fish quickly before it gets warm in the heat.

Yakitori

Yakitori, or chicken skewers, is a classic casual Japanese dish for sharing with friends or family over drinks. 

Most yakitori-ya, or grilled chicken restaurants, have outdoor seating ideal for a relaxed al fresco meal.

You’ll find skewers with chicken parts like thighs, skin, liver, gizzards, and vegetables like shiitake mushrooms, bell peppers, and scallions.

Tempura

Light and crispy tempura are always tasty, but there’s something extra special about eating it outside on a nice day.

Tempura restaurants, or tempura-ya, offer outdoor tables to snack on fried foods like shrimp, eggplant, green beans, and kakiage (mixed vegetable) fritters.

The crunchy coating and airy, hot interior combine for a delicious flavor and texture with every bite under the open sky.  

Yakisoba

Fried soba noodles, known as yakisoba, make for an ideal casual street food to enjoy outside. Restaurants specializing in yakisoba usually have outdoor counters or tables, some with just a few seats.

The hearty portions of noodles, meat or seafood, and vegetables, all stir-fried in a flavorful sauce, are perfect for a quick open-air meal. Add some pickled ginger and beni shoga for extra zing.

Eating outside in Japan allows you to soak in the atmosphere and appreciate the season’s flavors. With so many options, you’ll want to take your time sampling all the delicious foods Japan offers al fresco.