Staring at the menu with all the wonderful looking food, but can’t read the words? I know the feeling all too well.
The point and finger count method
This method is so easy and intuitive. If you’ve been to a restaurant in Japan, you’ve probably already used it. The best part is you don’t need to know any Japanese for this to work.
Here’s how to do it:
Point at the menu item you want and then hold up a finger count of how many you want of it.
That’s it. Done. Guide complete.
Almost feels too easy it’s not worth talking about huh? Below you’ll learn just enough Japanese to make this process even smoother — and even impress the staff with your newfound mastery of Japanese.
The point and count method + Japanese
Okay, let’s add some Japanese to this method. Don’t worry, I won’t hammer you with too much, just a few words to help the wait staff take your order more easily.
— With your finger on the menu item you want say kore o hitotsu kudasai.
I feel like maybe I lost you already. Let’s go over this phrase a bit.
First, to pronounce this phrase let’s look at it phonetically: “ko-lay oh he-toe-tsu koo-duh-sigh.” Not too hard right?
Kore means this. O is a particle connecting the subject to the verb. Hitotsu means one. And kudasai means please.
The nice thing about this phrase is you only need to swap one word out: hitotsu — and that’s only if you want to change how many you order.
For example, kore o futatsu kudasai is two of this please.
Swap hitotsu in the phrase discussed above with the count you need below:
Order “just about” anything?
The headline of this guide is “How to order just about anything at a Japanese restaurant.” The “just about” part is important.
Because guess what. There’s a catch. What if the menu has no pictures at all!?
You won’t run into this too often, but I would say a good 10-15% of small restaurants, the mom-and-pop shops, will have text-only menus (often written in the traditional, vertical style Japanese).
They can be very cool looking, some even etched into wood. But it’s still full Japanese text.
Unfortunately here you’ll need to bring a Japanese friend, or learn to read Japanese.
TOUR: The Best of Shinjuku Izakaya
Practice your ordering skills but have a guide ready to help.
Enjoy a classic Japanese experience at selected Izakaya locations. Taste fresh local food and drinks as you journey through Tokyo’s busiest area in Shinjuku. Tour price includes full-size dinner samplings and alcoholic beverages of your choice.
- Taste more than 7 mouth-watering Japanese food samplings, enough for a full dinner meal, served from highly selected restaurants
- Enjoy unique views of Tokyo’s neon town, the Kabukicho and Shinjuku areas and discover hidden gems with a local guide
- Learn the history of Shinjuku and Japanese culture as you visit historically preserved places
- Try great quality Japanese sake that is not available in your home country
Hand-picked articles to help you out even more
Here are some articles I found while researching this topic that I feel are valuable resources to help you learn more.
Can you feed yourself in Japan with no Japanese?
Here is a nice video showing Americans visiting Tokyo and trying to order food without any Japanese skills at all.
What if the item is sold out!?
A different kind of situation that you might come across is the dreaded case that something you ordered is sold out.
For example, if your favorite food curry has somehow run out, your server will approach your table and say “申し訳ありません。カレーは本日売り切れてしまいました。メニューから他のものをお選び頂けますか?” (moushiwake arimasen. Karee wa honjitsu urikire te shimaimashita. Menyuu kara hoka no mono wo oerabi itadakemasu ka? – I am terribly sorry, but the curry has sold out… —FluentU
Eating Out: A Basic Guide to Restaurant Japanese
If you’re not too well-versed in the vernacular, eating out in Japan can be a bit stressful. Pointing and gesturing will get you somewhere, but it might also get you something you didn’t order!
Too cheap to pay for Japanese lessons? No problem. Print out this guide and prepare to dine like a pro… —TokyoCheapo
How to Order Food at a Japanese Restaurant in Fluent Japanese
There may be times when you need to convey something specific about your order (such as an allergy). Or ask something specific (such as whether the restaurant does take-out).
This article will teach you everything you need to know to place orders, ask questions, and make requests at any kind of Japanese restaurant. —KawaKawaLearningStudio
Easy Japanese For Dining Out In Japan
Some restaurants show pictures of the dishes on the menu or you can even find them on display in front of restaurants, but a basic list of useful phrases will allow you to eat where the locals eat, in the small family owned restaurants off the beaten track with the most delicious food in Japan.
Here is a guide to some of the most useful phrases to practice when dining and wining at Japanese restaurants. —SavvyTokyo
Dining Out in Japan: How to Order Food in Japanese like a Pro
Here is an article that goes in-depth on the whole process of entering a restaurant and ordering what you want. Very well written and formatted nicely.
Japan has some of the best food in the world. I’m talking about finger-licking, lip-smacking, and spine-shivering deliciousness. However, many restaurants in Japan don’t have an English speaking staff. Sure, you could use gestures and very simple English to your point across. Or you can follow these 7 steps and you’ll be ordering like a boss in any Japanese restaurant. —TheTrueJapan
5 Essential Words to Help Your Order Food and Drinks in Japan
This article by Japan Info goes into a few extra words to help you order various sizes — or even customize your order a bit.
Ordering food can be a pain if you don’t speak the local lingo. Sure, you can point and click, but in the end you just may find yourself with something undesirable on your plate.
Worse yet, be whisked away to the ER due to an emergency allergic reaction. These 5 words and phrases will help you navigate the wondrous world of food ordering in Japan. —JapanInfo