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Eating in Japan: Where to eat and drink

One of the most common types of Japanese restaurant is the shokudo (eating place), which serves a range of traditional and generally inexpensive dishes. Usually found near train and subway stations and in busy shopping districts, shokudo can be identified by the displays of plastic meals in their windows. Other restaurants (resutoran) usually serve just one type of food, for example sushi and sashimi (sushi-ya), or yakitori (yakitori-ya), or specialize in a particular style of cooking, such as kaiseki (haute cuisine) or teppan'yaki, where food is prepared on a steel griddle, either by yourself or a chef.

All over Japan, but particularly in the city suburbs, you'll find bright and breezy family restaurants, such as Royal Host and Dennys, specifically geared to family dining. These American-style operations serve Western and Japanese food that can be on the bland side, but are invariably keenly priced. They also have menus illustrated with photographs to make ordering easy. If you can't decide what to eat, head for the restaurant floors of major department stores, where you'll find a collection of Japanese and Western operations, often outlets of reputable local restaurants. Many will have plastic food displays in their front windows and daily special menus.

Western and other ethnic food restaurants proliferate in the cities, and it's seldom a problem finding popular foreign cuisines such as Italian (Itaria-ryori), French (Furansu-ryori), Korean (Kankoku-ryori), Chinese (Chpgoku - or Chpka-ryori) or Thai (Tai-ryori) food. However, the recipes are often adapted to suit Japanese tastes, so be prepared for the dishes to be less spicy than you may be used to.

Coffee shops (kissaten) are something of an institution in Japan, often designed to act as an alternative lounge or business meeting place for patrons starved of space at home or the office. Others have weird designs or specialize in, say, jazz or comic books. For this reason, in many of the old-style kissaten a speciality coffee or tea will usually set you back a pricey ¥500 or more. In recent years a caffeine-fuelled revolution has taken place, with cheap and cheerful operations like Doutor and Mister Donuts springing up across the country, serving drinks and nibbles at reasonable prices; search these places out for a cheap breakfast or snack.

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