Take a delicious journey to these Japanese destinations, where you’re encouraged to experiment with your meal!
Some visitors travel to Japan to see the old temples of Kyoto, to test their mind and body on a walk up Mt. Fuji, or to participate in one of the many annual summer matsuri (festivals). Then there are those of us who come to Japan to pursue our culinary dreams. We explore the streets to eat like locals, the Anthony Bourdain of tourists, sampling Japanese culinary masterworks.
The beauty of Japanese cuisine culture is that it is prevalent throughout the country. When you walk into a ramen café for a bowl of noodles, you may notice a culinary show on TV overhead arguing the merits of shio (salt) against miso broth. Even convenience stores in Japan sell food that rivals that of fine dining establishments. Japan is a foodie’s paradise, so it’s no wonder that there are food-themed parks and museums all across the country. Whether it’s takoyaki (octopus dumplings) or pollock roe ice cream, the Japanese showcase some of their most cherished and adored foods at these locations.
Here are seven food-themed parks and museums for folks who are usually hungry while on vacation or wish to exhibit their strong love for Japanese culinary heritage.
1. Konnyaku Park
Konnyaku Park, in Gunma Prefecture, features one of Japan’s most popular foodstuffs. Konnyaku, commonly known as konjac, is a gelatinous snack derived from processed konnyaku “potato.” Because it is low in calories and carbohydrates, it has long been used as a diet meal. What makes Konnyaku Park so special is that after seeing the building and seeing how this low-calorie cuisine is manufactured, you get to enjoy all of the konnyaku dishes for free at a buffet. In fact, there isn’t even an entrance fee. Upon arrival, visitors are just asked to complete a brief survey, after which they are granted entry to the konnyaku factory and buffet. Ramen and curries are just a few of the dishes available.
Fun fact: Konnyaku Park has lately gotten a lot of media attention after appearing in an episode of the addictive Japanese reality TV show Terrace House.
- 204-1 Obata, Kanra-machi, Kanra-gun, Gunma-ken
2. Mentai Park
Mentai Park, run by Kanefuku, a major mentaiko (pollock roe) producer, aims to teach visitors about the mentaiko processing process. To complete the experience, enjoy some of the famed mentaiko rice balls or mentaiko soft serve ice cream after viewing the facilities. All Mentai Parks are easily identifiable by their cute mentaiko mascot, which can be seen in Ibaraki, Aichi, Kobe, and other places throughout Japan. Who’d have guessed that fish eggs could be so cute?
- Kannami, Shizuoka Prefecture – Map
- Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture
- Ooarai, Ibaraki Prefecture
- Osaka, Osaka Prefecture
- Tokoname, Aichi Prefecture
3. Naniwa Kuishinbo Yokocho
One of Osaka’s many nicknames is kuidaoremachi ((食い倒れ街), which translates to “city of eating until you drop.” You can do all of this and more at Naniwa Kuishinbo Yokocho! You are transported back to the 1960s streets of Osaka after entering the yokocho, or side street. While soaking in the Showa vibes, you can enter numerous eateries and get classic Kansai food from over 20 restaurants. Western Japanese dishes include takoyaki, okonomiyaki (savory pancakes), and kushikatsu (deep-fried, skewered meat and vegetables).
- 1-1-10 Kaigandori, Minato-ku, Osaka-shi, Osaka Prefecture
4. New Ginger Museum
The warm pink décor of this tiny restaurant, as well as the hands-on activities, will change your perspective on ginger. The New Ginger Museum in Tochigi Prefecture is suitable for visitors of all ages, as it has a wealth of information about Iwashi Ginger (in Japanese only) as well as a variety of props and toys for children to play with. Following that, visit the New Ginger Café to sample a variety of ginger meals and beverages, including pink ginger ice cream and ginger beer.
- 1-25 Honcho, Tochigi-shi, Tochigi Prefecture
5. Ryogoku Edo Noren
Ryogoku is a district in Tokyo known for sumo wrestling. Every year, a large number of people go to this quieter part of the city to watch the morning sumo sessions or to visit Ryogoku Edo Noren. The 11 restaurants in this Edo-themed venue are arranged in a circle around a sumo ring. The eateries serve everything from chanko nabe, a popular sumo wrestler’s staple meal, to sashimi and tempura.
- 1-3-20 Yokoami, Sumida-ku, Tokyo
6. Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum
Cup Noodles were invented in 1958, which is crucial to all die-hard ramen enthusiasts. When building this time capsule culinary park, the organizers of Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum did not overlook this aspect.
You stroll through what look to be ancient Tokyo alleyways in the 1950s, packed with Showa-era advertisements and memorabilia, as you first enter the complex. On the ground floor, nine well-known ramen eateries serve noodle variants from all around Japan. You can order a regular bowl of ramen or a mini-size bowl and go from restaurant to restaurant sampling the many kinds and areas of Japanese ramen.
Fun fact: If you’re a fan of instant ramen, the Yokohama Cup Noodle Museum is nearby, where you can learn about the history of instant cup noodles and try your hand at constructing your own noodles cup as a keepsake!
- 2-14-21 Shin-Yokohama, Kohoku, Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture
7. Shiroi Koibito Park
Shiroi Koibito is one of the many unique foods found on Hokkaido. Shiroi Koibito consists of two lang de chat cookies with either a white or milk chocolate filling, if you haven’t had the pleasure of trying one of these made-only-in-Sapporo treats. If you happen to be in Sapporo, you must go to this cookie park. Visitors may see the cookies being prepared and even try their hand at baking their own!
- 600yen for the regular tour, 1500yen for the premium factory tour
- 2-11-36 Miyanosawa, Nishi, Sapporo, Hokkaido
Whether you taste pollock roe ice cream or not, it’s indisputable that experiencing food via all five senses, whether delicious or not, is more exciting than reading about it on the wall of an exhibit or in food-related blog articles.
Food-themed parks and museums are designed to make learning about a region’s cuisine or specialties enjoyable for visitors of all ages and backgrounds. Visiting one of these locations is not only an interesting — and perhaps amusing — experience, but it also allows tourists to see, smell, touch, and taste Japan’s food culture firsthand.