In the year 2013, washoku (Japanese cuisine) was declared a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage and Japan won the bid to host the 2020 Olympics. Since then, tourism in Japan has been booming. And if you ask visitors to Japan about their reason for travel, many say they were motivated by Japanese food. Let’s unpack this, and explore the reasons for the increase in food tourism in Japan.
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In 2019, Tokyo was ranked as the city with the most Michelin stars in the world for the 12th straight year, with 308 total Michelin stars. But Tokyo is not the only city in Japan that has received culinary accolades. Three of the top five Michelin-ranked cities in the world are in Japan, flanking Paris (#2), with Kyoto and Osaka coming in at #3 and #4.
(Keen to dip a toe into the world of fine dining without drowning in debt? See our posts, Most Affordable Michelin-Starred Restaurants in Tokyo and Michelin-Starred Ramen.)
The variety of Japanese food is another reason why food tourism in Japan has been booming, with Tokyo among the cities with the most restaurants per capita. For every restaurant in Tokyo, there are 101 Tokyo residents. Nationwide, there is also a staggering number of restaurants, with 893,345 restaurants in Japan (according to Tabelog, September 2019). There are over 145,000 izakaya (Japanese gastropubs) and 50,000 ramen shops in Japan.
Check out our Japanese food guide and get lost in the immense variety of food experiences.
Japan is considered to have the world’s healthiest cuisine, responsible for the highest life expectancy in the world. According to the World Health Organization's average life expectancy findings, Japan is number one, followed by Switzerland, Singapore, Australia, and Spain, with the U.S. trailing behind at 31st. Healthy Japanese food is likely one of the contributing factors, with fermented foods like natto and miso as staples in the Japanese diet and emphasis on drinks like green tea, rather than soda.
Another main reason for the increase in food tourism in Japan is the worldwide recognition and popularity of Japanese cuisine. Between 2006 and 2017, the number of Japanese restaurants abroad increased nearly fivefold! In 2019, New York City gained 16 Michelin-starred restaurants; of these, half are Japanese restaurants. This illustrates a trend of Japanese cuisine being regarded as fashionable abroad. The Japan External Trade Organization also reports that Japanese food is the most popular foreign cuisine overseas, likely sparking curiosity about traveling to Japan.
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