Japan All You Can Eat – A Guide for Visitors

I'm sure you've heard of all you can eat places. Perhaps you even knew they had them in Japan. But were you aware of the enormous variety on offer? If not, we're here to guide you through the weird and wonderful world of all you can eat in Japan.

In Japan, all you can eat places can be traced back to the post-war period as economic prosperity and ample food supplies paved the way for the culinary craziness that is “tabehoudai”.

There are many different types of all you can eat places in Japan, each with their own specialty and quirks. We’ll introduce you to some of the best varieties and give you an idea of what you can get for your cash.

A small warning: in Japan, foreigners have been known to be refused the all you can eat option in certain restaurants, whether for eating too much or some other misdemeanor. This is highly unlikely but be aware that good manners will never be out of place, even if it’s a relatively cheap all you can eat place. 

All You Can Eat in Japanese

If you’re in search of an all you can eat place in Japan, you’d probably better use the Japanese term(s), as “all you can eat” is not likely to be understood by most people. Use one of the following two:

Tabehoudai – 食べ放題

The literal translation of “all you can eat”. It can also be applied to “all you can drink” by changing the first part to “nomi”. You then get “nomihoudai”.

Viking – バイキング

In 1957, a restaurant manager at Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel was so impressed by the all you can eat buffets in Sweden, he just had to bring the idea back to Japan. The name the Swedes had given this style of eating (Smörgåsbord, lit. “buffet”) wasn’t really a viable option for Japan, so he came up with “Viking” after having seen the 1958 film “The Vikings”. 

Photo credit: Easchiff via Wikimedia Commons

Photo credit: Easchiff via Wikimedia Commons

All You Can Eat Manners

As mentioned above, there are some things to keep in mind while going crazy about food in Japan:

  1. Don’t pile your plate full of food. It’s considered impolite and you can always go and get more, so keep it reasonable.
  2. Finish eating what you have on your plate before getting more. This is a pretty basic rule most all you can eat places have.
  3. Keep it clean and polite. Don’t scramble to the buffet, shove people and make a mess of the food displays.

Types of Japanese All You Can Eat

We’ve compiled a list of some of the best and most interesting all you can eat foods and restaurants to act as your guide. This is by no means a complete list – there are always new variations popping up – but it’ll definitely get you started. 

Usually, tabehoudai places have time limits of either 90 or 120 minutes and may request different prices according to gender, due to perceived differences in appetite.

Now it’s time to explore the world of Japanese all you can eat…

1. BBQ (Yakiniku) All You Can Eat

2. Sushi All You Can Eat

3. Sukiyaki and ShabuShabu All You Can Eat

4. Pizza All You Can Eat

5. Cake All You Can Eat

6. Pancake All You Can Eat

7. Salad Buffet

8. Brunch Buffet

9. Natto All You Can Eat

10. Cod Roe (Mentaiko) All You Can Eat

 

1. BBQ (Yakiniku) All You Can Eat

Photo credit: Dick Thomas Johnson via flickr

Photo credit: Dick Thomas Johnson via flickr cc

“Yakiniku” (grilled meat) all you can eat is one of the most popular types of tabehoudai you’ll find in Japan. Usually, you can choose between chicken, pork, beef or a mixed set, of which the beef is the most expensive. Prices for yakiniku tabehoudai range from around 2,000 to 5,000 yen depending on obvious factors like quality and location.  

Tip: Check if there is a cheap “nomihoudai” (all you can drink) option to add to your food.

Check out these places:

Gyu Kaku (multiple locations)

Karubi Chan (multiple locations)

Okuu

 

2. Sushi All You Can Eat

Photo credit: John Pastor via flickr

Photo credit: John Pastor via flickr cc

A classic, of course, and very popular alongside the perhaps more usual conveyor belt sushi. In this case, you want to make sure you’re extremely hungry to get a good deal. Conveyor belt sushi can be very cheap so you’d better be confident you can eat more than you usually would at one of these places when opting for tabehoudai. Naturally, there will also be differences in the kind of fish and the quality you’re getting, so checking for these details is also important.

Check out these places:

Kagurazaka Sushi Academy (Japanese only)

Kizunasushi

Staminataro (also great for yakiniku/cake/more)

 

3. Sukiyaki and ShabuShabu All You Can Eat

Photo credit: saeru via flickr

Photo credit: saeru via flickr cc

Sukiyaki is a Japanese dish where tons of veggies and delicious beef come in a big pot set at the center of the table. It’s a very popular family or group dish, as everyone bonds over eating this hearty meal huddled together over the same pot. ShabuShabu is similar, but not cooked in as strong of a broth and more subtle in flavor and texture than Sukiyaki. With ShabuShabu, after boiling, you dip the meat into different sauces to complete the taste experience. Due to the amount of beef used with Sukiyaki/ShabuShabu, it can be quite pricey in the all you can eat setting but a great experience all the same. 

Check out these places:

Hachinoki

Nabezou

Mo-Mo-Paradise

 

4. Pizza All You Can Eat

Photo credit: russellstreet via flickr

Photo credit: russellstreet via flickr cc

Not much to say about this one, but be aware Japan goes in for some crazy toppings on the classic pizza, including bananas, chocolate sauce, marshmallows and berries. Many of these places also include a small salad bar and some other simple foods like spaghetti or rice with their all you can eat buffet option.

Tip: Try not to eat too much rice or spaghetti, as this will just fill your stomach, preventing you from properly going after the main attraction – the pizza!

Check out these places:

Shakey’s

Papamilano (multiple locations)

Napoli’s (multiple locations)

 

5. Cake All You Can Eat

Photo credit: Odyssey via flickr

Photo credit: Odyssey via flickr cc

Okay, so this one is definitely for those with a sweet tooth. There are a variety of shops offering different deals including chocolate fountains, all you can drink coffee/tea/water and more on top of the all-important cake. Experience shows, eating large quantities of very sweet cake can get the better of you quickly and – as with a lot of things – you’ll swear to never make the same mistake twice. Just until the next craving sets in, that is. All you can eat cake is not very expensive, so it’s not too hard to get your money’s worth, however.

Check out these places:

Sweets Paradise (multiple locations)

Fujiya (Japanese only)

Bitter Sweets Buffet (Japanese only)

 

6. Pancake All You Can Eat

Photo credit: OiMax via flickr

Photo credit: OiMax via flickr cc

Perhaps you’d rather indulge your sweet tooth with some pancakes? In Japan, they’re either called ‘pan keeki’ (pancakes) or ‘hotto keeki’ (hotcakes), so don’t worry if you stumble upon either name, they’re the same thing. Usually, the shops will offer liberal amounts of syrup, fruit and whipped cream with the pancakes and they’ll be glad to give you refills should you need them. Rather than a buffet, it’s most common for these places to have table service and they are generally pretty cheap. 

Check out these places:

L loves R

Rusaruka

Frufrull

 

7. Salad Buffet

Provided by Foursquare

Provided by Foursquare

Finally, breaking from all that sugary, fatty goodness, we come to the healthy option: salad. Now, I understand that some of you might not see salad as a “meal” per se, so I’ll elaborate here.

Most of the salad buffet places in Japan are steakhouses or other restaurant chains that also offer a salad bar. It’s a foreign concept here to eat just a salad as a meal. The salad bars at some places are, however, quite impressive. Offering not just lettuce and the standard tomato, cucumber and onion combo, but a plethora of veggies, fruits and ready made salads bowls also. If you’ve had a rough day of yakiniku and cake, you may want to consider the salad option for dinner.

Check out these places:

Sizzler (multiple locations)

Steak Ken (multiple locations)

Den Yakiniku and Salad Bar (multiple locations, salad all you can eat with order of main course)

 

8. Brunch Buffet

Brunch is a pretty new concept in Japan and specialty restaurants are rare, so your best bet is hotels. Pricey hotels. If you’re out for that perfect lazy morning and have a few yen left over from the night before this is a great way to greet the weekend or a Sunday morning. Don’t let the prices shock you, the quality and selection are definitely worth it (especially considering how expensive fruit is in Japan). If you’re not feeling too peckish or your bank balance is less than healthy, however, we’d recommend a visit to a normal coffee shop or diner instead. Brunch buffets are definitely for special occasions here in Japan. Perhaps a romantic breakfast with your better half?

Check out these places:

The French Kitchen (Grand Hyatt)

Cerise (Conrad Tokyo Hotel)

Trader Vic’s (New Otani Hotel)

 

9. Natto All You Can Eat

Provided by Foursquare

Provided by Foursquare

Okay, we promised weird and I’m delivering: natto (fermented beans) all you can eat is definitely not something every restaurant here offers. Strong in smell and slimy in texture, natto is a signature Japanese dish that is often given to foreigners to see how they react. It’s pretty popular with Japanese, however, and the place we found with natto all you can eat is definitely a natto-lover’s dream. You can try a variety of different natto with your rice and miso soup at this shop, ensuring that you’re able to cleanse your palate in between the fermented goodness. Natto is actually pretty healthy, so if there are any health lovers out there: don’t miss it!

Check this place:

Natto Koubou Sendaya

 

10. Cod Roe (Mentaiko) All You Can Eat

Provided by Foursquare

Provided by Foursquare

If you’re up for another quintessentially Japanese option, test your mettle with all you can eat mentaiko, or ‘cod roe’ for the non-Japanese speakers. Although served with rice and other sides, if you’re entering one of these places, chances are you’re entering for the mentaiko and not much else. The rice, though, will impart some energy and perhaps stop you going too overboard. The restaurant we found this unusual tabehoudai at also offers other dishes if you need to switch it as well.

Check this place:
Yamaya

 

Samantha Khairallah

Samantha Khairallah

Originally from Switzerland, currently studying in Tokyo. With a wide array of interests, including travel, I'm passionate about what I write here at Compathy Magazine.



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# What to Eat in Japan # Japan Travel Tips

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