Floating meals are just the start of what makes this restaurant so memorable.

Conveyor-belt sushi restaurants, where sushi is delivered to diners by conveyor belt, is a Japanese system that’s become well known around the world, but did you know there are some restaurants that deliver meals to diners by boat?

One of these hard-to-find restaurants is Irori-yaki and Tofu Nabe Hinatoriyama, located in Hachioji, a city in Tokyo that’s just over an hour by train or car from Tokyo Station.

▼ The restaurant has parking for 100 vehicles, and welcomes diners to its relaxing oasis with a beautiful entrance gate.

The grounds are like a park, with benches, restrooms, and a small shrine to be found on the way to the restaurant, which has a water wheel out front.

The lush moss and forest air create an incredibly relaxing atmosphere, making visitors feel as if they’ve escaped to an oasis away from the outside world. The building itself is filled with charm and character, like an old countryside folk house you might hear about in folk tales.

▼ Diners are led along this balcony to their private dining room, with the lanterns and wooden plaques outside bearing the name of each room.

▼ Stepping inside, you’ll feel like a special guest in your own private room, complete with an irori (hearth).

As indicated by the full name of the restaurant — Irori-yaki and Tofu Nabe Hinatoriyama — the big draw here is tofu nabe (tofu hotpot), and irori-yaki (food grilled on an irori), and staff place charcoal in the hearth for you after you enter the room.

Every room is private, so even solo diners will be able to relax in privacy, and though the course meal (the menu only consists of course meals) is over an hour long, you’ll only interact with staff on three occasions: when they guide you to your room, when they add charcoal to the hearth, and when you pay the bill.

“What about when they bring you your order?” You might be asking. Well, because of the unusual boat-delivery system, staff don’t bring your order to you — you simply collect it yourself…

▼ …via this window on the back wall of the room.

▼ Gently slide the window open here and you’ll be amazed to find…

▼ …a waterway!

All the windows of the private tatami rooms open up onto the waterway, and the water is always flowing so you get the feeling that you’re dining by a river. Only on this river, you won’t find people on boats, you’ll find meals on boats, with perfect platters of food arriving at your window.

▼ How’s this for a delivery?

Diners are alerted to their food deliveries by the sound of chirping birds — once you hear the birdsong, simply open your window and you’ll be able to collect your tray of food from the boat.

▼ Remember to pick up only the metal tray and leave the actual boat in the water.

Making this delivery system even more impressive is the fact that there’s no special high-tech wizardry behind it. Each window simply has a plastic tab that gets pushed up by a stream of high pressure water, likely released by a control in the kitchen, that stops the tray at the appropriate window. Once the food is collected, the water becomes calm, lowering the tab and allowing the boat to continue on its merry way back to the kitchen.

With the basic Hinatoriyaki Course, you get a couple of waterside deliveries with different trays of food, starting with the appetisers, which consist of a side salad and skewered konnyaku dengaku (miso-glazed yam cakes).

▼ You also get a tofu hotpot.

The tofu hotpot comes on a burner with solid fuel, which diners light using the lighter that gets delivered with the meal.

▼ A little later, you’ll receive the ingredients to grill on the hearth.

The basic Hinatoriyaki Course costs 3,820 yen (US$27.68) and includes the appetisers and hotpot, as well as four chicken skewers, two vegetable skewers and one skewer of chicken meatballs.

▼ Each skewer contains generous portions, as they’re heavy to hold.

Different courses offer different skewers, with some including sausage, prawn, sea bream, and even ayu sweetfish. If you decide you want to add more drinks or skewers to your course, you can order them at an additional cost via the phone in the room.

Diners cook the skewers themselves, but it’s easy to do as the hearth is cleverly designed so the skewers slot into the gap to sit at just the right angle for grilling.

Simply turn the skewers occasionally to prevent them from burning, and enjoy the tantalising aroma of grilled meat while you wait for them to be ready.

▼ Skewers taste even more delicious when you grill them yourself.

Biting into these skewers will leave you at a loss for words with their fantastic flavour. The chicken ones in particular are an absolute standout, with a moist deliciousness that you can only get with charcoal grilling.

The tofu in the hotpot was also delicious, and the broth is made with homemade dashi (dried and smoked bonito fish stock), which gives it an extra depth of umami flavour, and a slight sweetness that makes it taste a bit like a thick potage.

▼ An excellent soup you’ll want to savour until the very last drop.

The course includes a choice of green tea soba, nabeyaki udon, Sanuki udon, or white rice as your final dish. The nabeyaki udon comes highly recommended, with its delicious broth and thick, chewy noodles.

▼ So hearty and warming, particularly on a cold wintry day.

The final dish of the course usually arrives about an hour-and-a-half after the start of the course, but if you’re in a hurry, you can use the phone in your room to speak to staff and ask them to speed things up a bit.

▼ Otherwise you can take your time and pour yourself a cup of tea after your meal.

Having a spacious private room all to yourself makes it tempting to stay here all afternoon, but alas, once your meal is over, it’s time to take your room tag and return it to reception, where they’ll use it to tally up your meal.

▼ The room tag has the name of the room printed on it so staff will know what to charge you.

Once you’ve paid the bill and stepped out into the gardens, you’ll probably vow to visit again.

Not only is this a beautiful escape from the hustle and bustle of the modern world, but the service and quality of the food is excellent. Plus, of course, the novel waterway system is something you don’t get to see in Japan every day, and the luxury of a private room makes the whole experience all the more special.

This is one restaurant you’ll want to visit again and again, and introduce all your friends and family to as well. And if you’re looking for another restaurant that delivers food to diners by water instead of a conveyor belt, you’ll want to head over to Shizuoka, where the charm of wooden tubs will mesmerise you as they float by.

Restaurant information
Iroriyaki to Tofu Nabe Hinatoriyama / いろり焼と とうふ鍋 ひな鳥山
Address: Tokyo-to, Hachioji-shi, Kamiyuzuki 1602-4
Open 11 a.m.-10:00 p.m. (last entry 8:30 p.m.)
Closed Wednesdays (excluding public holidays)

All images © SoraNews24
● Want to hear about SoraNews24’s latest articles as soon as they’re published? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter!
[ Read in Japanese ]