I’ve now lived in Japan for a little over two years, and in that short time, I’ve seen how the culture has influenced and changed me. I’ve gone from hating, resenting, or fearing aspects of the culture to actively enjoying and loving them. I’d like to say that change is a sign of my maturity and open-mindedness, but it was probably immaturity and ignorance in the first place. Either way, I’m proud now to share this list of five foods I learned to love in Japan.

1. Shabu-shabu

Shabu-shabu is a feature in Japanese culture, and over the years I’ve had it several times with my Japanese friends. At first, I wanted to fit in, so I forced it down and smiled. But then I proved the old adage, “Fake it ‘til you make it.” Before long, I was calling for more meat and swishing with relish. Many restaurants also offer flavored broths, and I enjoy trying them all. I’m still not familiar enough to know the good shabu-shabu restaurants, but I’m excited when one of my friends suggests one.

A two-part hot pot with vegetables and meat in it
Getting the shabu-shabu started

I decided that cooking at the table ain’t too bad. Which brings us to #2…

2. BBQ

BBQ is popular in the Caribbean too, but I had to learn to love it the Japanese way. Now, I appreciate the small meat cuts as opposed to a messy hunk of chicken breast or thigh.

Yakiniku grill with several kinds of meat being grilled on it
The grill is just getting started and the meat is ready

And small grills at the table is much more convenient than one large grill that one person mans. Also, restaurants offer an array of vegetables that can be enjoyed grilled or fresh. Unfortunately, my favorite BBQ restaurant is a rooftop beer garden that’s only open during spring and summer so this isn’t fare I can enjoy year round. Unlike…

3. Anko

Peas and beans are a West Indian staple and I love them. However, anko was the first variation I encountered that was sweet and served as a dessert, not in the main meal. But once I learned about special anko dishes like manju and daifuku, I grew to enjoy the texture and it no longer feels too heavy for a dessert. In fact, I feel healthier for having peas and not cake.

Speaking of healthy…

4. Green tea

Green tea is ubiquitous in Japan. And I live in Shizuoka, which is famous for its green tea. So restaurants, festivals, or any business or service will offer green tea to customers. It may be easier to get green tea than water. So I’ve had it enough times to get used to the taste. I prefer the powder to the tea leaves and I don’t know the different types of teas but a few days can hardly go by without me drinking tea. I even miss it when I travel. And as far as habits go, green tea drinking is a healthy and economical habit to have.

A three-part photo, one of green tea leaves in a pot, another of a tea mug, and the other of two tea pots and a tea leaves container lined together
My green tea ritual in school

Economical choices bring us to…

5. Onigiri

The rice ball is the last on my list but the first that I did not have an aversion to initially. It just took me a long time to try it. Then one day one of my students offered to make one for me when I told her I hadn’t eaten it yet. Of course, I could not turn down such a generous offer, and the next day I ate my first onigiri. Not only was it delicious but it was quite satisfying. It’s now my go-to when I want a simple and fast dinner.

Two onigiri rice balls with umeboshi served on a bamboo leaf
Onigiri, which is not actually a ball of rice. The triangle is the most popular shape.

A common theme in my experience with Japanese food is that I was resistant to change, a silly attitude considering that I sought the move to Japan so eagerly. And my consistent enjoyment once I relaxed and participated in the culture is proof that embracing change can only enhance your experience. Also, Japanese food is delicious. I’m a slow but steady learner and I’m very happy with my expanded menu of favorite foods.

Two-part photo, the left of a hot pot with tofu, meat and vegetables and the right of sashimi on a dish
Honorable mention to nabe and sashimi
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