Five reasons why dining in Japan may be the best in the world.

Japanese restaurants are famous for their delicious food and excellent service. There aren’t too many other restaurants in the world that people know by the owner’s name, but almost everyone knows about Jiro’s famous Sukiyabashi Jiro. And one of the most common praises Japan receives from tourists is the amazing dining experiences they had while there.

But what makes eating out in Japan so great? Aside from high-quality food – which can be subjective – what else makes Japanese restaurants better than others?

This week we’re counting down the top 5 crazy awesome features of Japanese restaurants. Is it something in the air? In the water? In the wasabi?! Today, we find out at last.

So let’s get to it! Starting off with…

Honorable Mention: Free “okawari” seconds of rice/bread/tea/water

wtf-restaurants-4Flickr/Kiyonobu Ito

After talking all about world-class sushi and service, it may seem kind of silly to bring up free extra food as one of the reasons Japanese restaurants are so great. But hey, I’m going to level with you: I’m a simple guy; the fancy stuff doesn’t do a lot for me, but I can definitely be enticed out of the house with the promise of free food.

While most Japanese restaurants don’t offer free extra helpings of the main dishes or special drinks, many of them offer free okawari (“seconds”) of rice or bread, and also tea and water, which can come as a surprise to those from countries where you usually have to pay.

You can usually get okawari three, four, five… as many times as you want. For those of us used to bigger portions than a typical Japanese meal, it really helps to fill in the cracks that would otherwise have you leaving still hungry.

The reason this is only an honorable mention is because not all Japanese restaurants offer it. But whenever you do see that magical phrase okawari jiyuu (おかわり自由) like on the menu above, you can rest assured that you’re guaranteed to go home stuffed.

#5. The “sumimasen!” bell


I’m not sure how it works in the rest of the world, but eating out in the U.S. is always a bit of an awkward experience. When you’re first ushered to your table by the server, you’re given about a three-second window to order your meal. If you know what you want, great. But if you want to look at the menu then you’re basically saying, “it could be anywhere from five minutes to five hours before I get a chance to order again.”

In the U.S. you’re at the complete mercy of your waiter/waitress. I’m not saying they do a bad job, but they are human, which means they can get busy and forget about you. All the while you’ve been sitting there for half an hour just wishing you could just order your food. Sure you could flag them down with a scream and a wild hand wave, but that’s even if you happen to spot them, and then you just feel bad.

Thankfully Japan is a bit more civilized. Most restaurants come equipped with a sumimasen (“excuse me”) bell at each table. Just one press and a few seconds later the server will be at your table ready to take your order.

And even if your table doesn’t have a bell, you can still just do it the old-fashioned way by yelling out sumimasen. It’s not seen as rude or strange, just something you’re supposed to do to get your server’s attention. What a country.

#4. Fake food sample displays

wtf-restaurants-2Wikimedia commons/Lombroso

Japan can be a pretty intimidating country for tourists. Most people don’t speak English, and the signs everywhere are in crazy kanji hieroglyphics. So you might expect that eating out would be another linguistic disaster of epic proportions as people attempted to decipher the menu.

But that couldn’t be further from the truth! In Japan, lots of restaurants have life-size displays outside of their most popular dishes, so you can get a good look at exactly what you’ll be ordering before it appears in front of you.

And these aren’t hastily thrown-together pieces of plastic either. These are high-quality art pieces that look just as tantalizing as the real thing.

▼ Many displays even go the extra mile by having chopsticks
or spoons floating in the air, showing off how to best savor them.

In the U.S. I’ve been enticed by menu pictures before only to be disappointed after seeing my meal placed in front of me, but almost never in Japan, because I was always able to see exactly what it would look like beforehand. There’s just something about a colorful 3-D model as opposed to 2-D photos that really get the stomach to make good decisions.

And if you’re a huge fan of Japan’s fake food like we are, then good news! You can now wear them on your head as an accessory.

#3. Paying at the cash register

wtf-restaurants-5Flickr/MIKI Yoshihito

Again I’m not sure how it works in other countries, but in the U.S. paying for your meal is often just as harrowing an experience as ordering it.

You either have to flag down your server or wait for them to come by and ask if you’d like your check, wait for them to take all the dishes away, wait again for them to bring the check, wait for them to come by again and take your payment, then wait for them to come by yet again to bring your change/card back. It can easily add an extra year or two to your mealtime.

But in Japan, it’s streamlined. There’s no waiting involved. As soon as you’re done with your meal, you just walk over to the register by the front of the restaurant and pay like you would for anything else. And… that’s it! You’re done. You’re free. You can go home a free human being.

▼ America, the land of the free… except for inside restaurants.
Then you should expect cruel and unusual punishment.


#2. Polite staff


I don’t want to rag on waiters/waitresses in the U.S., I know they have a super stressful job and are already under-appreciated enough as it is. But there’s just something about Japanese servers that makes going out to eat always feel like a trip to a mini Disney World.

It all starts with a warm, welcoming irasshaimse (“welcome!”) yelled out by the servers, making you feel like you’re their number-one concern. You’re guided to your table, told to ring the sumimasen bell whenever you need, and then left in peace to peruse the menu at your leisure. When you’re ready to order, they’re there at the push of a button, and after you pay and leave they thank you with a bow and arigato gozaimashita (“thank you very much”).

That may not sound very different from an average restaurant experience anywhere else in the world, but those who have dined out in Japan probably know what I mean when I say there’s just “something different” about it. Maybe it’s the smiles, or the extremely polite language that they use, or just the fact that they exude an aura that really makes it feel like they honestly want you to have the best possible dining experience of your life.

Maybe that’s why Japanese people feel like they’re being treated rudely when they go to other countries. It’s not that servers outside of Japan are mean, it’s just that the ones in Japan are so nice and pleasant than anything else feels rude in comparison. But then again when you’re used to restaurants that will even help name your baby, it’s tough to compete.

And the #1 most crazy awesome feature of Japanese restaurants is…











1. No tipping

wtf-restaurants-7Flickr/Lea Latumahina (edited by RocketNews24)

Oh yes. If you’ve been to Japan before then chances are you were expecting this one right from there start. And now here it is, at #1, right where it belongs.

Tipping is one of the biggest reasons I don’t go out to eat in the U.S. As soon as the bill comes, it’s like you’re playing a game of balancing your crying wallet against the amount of shame you mind enduring. How much do you tip? Is 10-percent too little? Is 20-percent too much? Do you base it on how they served you? Does it really matter if they forgot your side order of fries when they have kids to feed at home?

It’s just terrible. I don’t understand why food servers aren’t paid the same kind of hourly wage that everyone else is, and Japan agrees.

▼ If you leave yen on table when you leave a restaurant, you shouldn’t expect
to be thanked, only chased down to have it returned to you.


I have a theory that most of the other crazy awesome features on this list stem from having no tips. Why do they have bells to call your server? Because the servers aren’t trying to impress you with how well they can read your mind to get a bigger tip. Why do you pay at the cash register? Because there’s no tip-calculating that needs to be done in hushed whispers.

And perhaps most importantly: why is the service so great? This one is just my personal opinion, but as someone who has worked in a U.S. cafe that had tips, it was very easy to get jaded toward the customers. I’d go out of my way for customers and get no tip, or I’d do nothing special and get a tip – it felt random. That caused me to just perform the bare-minimum level of service, which I don’t think would’ve happened if I’d just been paid a little more and then didn’t have to feel mad at customers when they “didn’t pay me enough.”

Maybe I’m wrong, but either way, not worrying that my restaurant bill is going to be 20-percent larger when I’m done makes it a lot more appealing to go out to eat in Japan. In the U.S. I almost never leave my cave of homemade slop and swill. But in Japan I’m happy to go out with friends and family anytime, and no tips has a lot to do with that.

So there you have it, the top five most crazy awesome features of Japanese restaurants. Did we miss something that you really like about eating out in Japan? Let us know in the comments, so that we can add yet another reason to why you may want to consider immigrating to Japan.

Top image: GATAG (edited by RocketNews24)

W.T.F. Japan will be back next Thursday. In the meantime, give me a follow on Twitter and let me know if there’s any topics you’d like to see covered. See you next week!