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How to Order Food in Japan- No Language Skills Required!

Updated on July 12, 2010
Mmm.  Okonomiyaki.  Impossible to order? Not a bit!
Mmm. Okonomiyaki. Impossible to order? Not a bit!

In the exciting world of international travel, people often express concerns over their ability to order food in foreign languages. Travel guides are stuffed with common food terms to enable rushed, pre-order translation, and often travellers opt for touristy restaurants simply because they offer menus in English.

But what a shame it is to miss out on the world's delicious restaurants! More often than not, the only way travellers can find and order good, off-the-beaten-track food is to travel with a local or guide who can do the ordering for them. This need not necessarily be the case- especially in Japan.

Many Japanese stores display the dishes they serve in front windows
Many Japanese stores display the dishes they serve in front windows
Note: I took these photos in San Francisco's Japantown- that explains the English labeling ^_^
Note: I took these photos in San Francisco's Japantown- that explains the English labeling ^_^
Simply snap a photo and you'll be able to SHOW what you want- no words needed!
Simply snap a photo and you'll be able to SHOW what you want- no words needed!
Yum yum!
Yum yum!

Plastic Food Displays - The Perfect Ordering Tool

Many Japanese restaurants display plastic replicas of dishes they offer in their front windows.  This is a lovely practice as it allows illiterate foreigners to see what they might actually order- plus that plastic food simply looks cool!

There is another reason why these plastic food displays are wonderful- they allow you to order food with absolutely no language skills.

Even if you are in a completely remote area of Japan and nobody speaks a word of English, you can still order exactly what you want by...

  1. Photographing the plastic display meal that you would like to order
  2. Showing the waiter or waitress that photo on the screen of your digital camera so try know what you want

It's that simple! Even if your waiter or waitress speaks a bit of English, they might be very happy to be released from the burden of doing so, and by sharing a photo of exactly what you want, you are less likely to be the victim of miscommunication.

Keep In Mind...

I have rarely had to resort to this measure in Japan as so many restaurants have English menus and so many people speak English.  With regard to being a language-less foreigner in Japan, you really have nothing to worry about.  Simply be patient, be polite, and have fun.

That said, it is nice to know you have the ordering-via-food-photography option!  I hope it might be of use to you someday.  Happy ordering!


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    • Simone Smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      8 years ago from San Francisco

      lol - And *we* sent the Japanese comics, television dramas, food, and a litany of other things by way of apology, which they then improved, sold back to us, and profited off of- so they accepted too!

      But alas, while we were shallow, they were industrious. The Japanese always win.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      The Japanese sent me this by way of an apology for WW2 being the shallow sod I am I have decided to accept


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