|Dining in Japan
I think that dining in Japan is not more complicated for western tourist than in other countries of the world. Of course, you need some knowledge about the restaurants and the dishes they serve. But you can be sure that all people will be very kind and will try to help you as good as they can. There might be a problem if you don't like fish -- you will miss some of the best things that Japan has to offer in its restaurants.
Japanese restaurants are often specialized. Although there are specialized restaurants in the western world, too ( you probably don't expect to get a grill steak in a Pizza restaurant), there are a lot more different types of restaurants in Japan than in western countries.
This sign at the entrance of a bar should convince you (at least if you are a German) that it can be (sometimes) quite easy to find out the specialities of a certain restaurant. Japan has many breweries like Asahi, Sapporo or Kirin that produce good beer.
It is very common that restaurants have plastified models of their dishes on display at the entrance. Therefore, you can try to make your decision before entering the restaurant. If you have problems to order the meal, you can show it outside to the waiter. It can be more complicated if the display is at the entrance on the first floor, while the restaurant is at the fifth floor.
A soba-ya is a restaurant that serves dishes with noodles called soba and udon. Udon, as in the picture, are served in a bowl together with vegetables. They are delicious and inexpensive. Eat the noodles with your chopsticks and drink the soup when it has cooled down a bit.
Sushis have become famous around the world in recent years. It is my favorite Japanese specialty, and I think they are the most delicious way to eat cooked rice. I rather frequently prepare them at home. There are many descriptions available in the web (see links)
In a Sushi-ya or sushi bar they are served as a main dish, while in other restaurants they can be served as a part of a meal. Pick them with your chopsticks, dip them into the soy sauce and eat them. Sushis can be expensive -- the price depends mostly on the kind of fish. Vegetable sushis are unsually inexpensive.
The four letters on the left upper sign mean Ya-ki-to-ri in Hiragana writing. Yakitori is skewered and grilled chicken. It is said that the more red lanterns a restaurant has, the lower the prices will be. A Yakitori-ya mostly has many red lanterns and therefore is often low-priced.
A traditional style of dining is Kaiseki-ryori, served as in the picture on a more formal occasion. The meal can last two or three hours, while several courses with a variety of different small dishes are served.
Japan has two kinds of hotels, western-style hotels and Japanese-style hotels (ryokan). Although the ryokan perhaps will have a restaurant, the dinner will normally be served in the room. When Carola-san had finished her work, we afterwards relaxed in this ryokan. A dinner in a very peaceful and quiet atmosphere, a hot bath after dinner, and you probably can forget anything that stressed you.
Japan has many restaurants that are specialized on meals from other asiatic countries, like China or Korea. Grilled beef (bulgogi) that you prepare by yourself at the table is one of the typical dishes in a Korean restaurant.
After all, you will perhaps like to go to a western-style restaurant. In the picture, the letters in Katakana writing are spelled ma-ku do-na-ru-do, and you can find out yourself how it sounds, if you know that the "u" is not pronounced and the "r" is pronounced like a western "l". Sometimes, problems can occur even here. When Carola-san ordered just a cheeseburger once, she did not get it immediately , but several people from the staff tried to explain something to her. The reason was simple: the combination of a cheeseburger, a coke and french fries was cheaper during that week than the cheeseburger alone.