In Japan, food is more than just nourishment; it’s an important element of the culture, with layers of symbolism used to represent deeply rooted traditions. Food is a form of expression, as everything from the colors and flavors to preparation and etiquette represents something more than just a meal or snack.
One important area of Japanese cuisine is street food. Not only is it a staple element in many people’s diets, but it has influenced and inspired a lot of other elements of Japanese food as well. You’ll find that many Japanese snacks and treats were inspired by traditional street food found in Japan.
Japanese Street Food Background
The concept of Japanese street food originated centuries ago. During the Edo Period of 1603-1868, mobile food carts or stalls (yatai) appeared at destinations where travelers would seek out temples and festivals. At this time, Japan was fairly isolated from the outside world but there was a high volume of domestic travelers which helped to increase the popularity of yatai and street food in general. Yatai typically sold regional delicacies and cuisines, which helped a number of regions develop a more diverse culinary identity.
Today, Japanese street food can be most easily found at festivals and celebrations. Many yatai vendors even follow a festival or event circuit around the entire country to showcase their creations in different regions and locations. With more than 100,000 annual festivals in Japan, these food vendors never have any issue staying busy.
Of course you can find street food vendors of all flavors in Japan, especially in big cities or more densely populated regions throughout the country. An increased tourist presence has also helped fuel the love for street foods as it’s a fun and convenient way to try an assortment of traditional Japanese dishes and snacks. Here are just a few of some common street food options you can find in Japan.