Self-Service | Meal Tickets

Japan has a large selection of restaurants of an almost endless variety. While every place is different, the following points will help make dining out in Japan a smooth and enjoyable experience. Generally when ordering food, if the language barrier becomes a problem, simply pointing out the item you want on the menu can be substituted for saying it (this works great when getting fast food somewhere like KFC or McDonald’s). Just remember to thank them profusely (“Arigatou!”).


Japan has a very unique food service at some restaurants. There are many places that require you to, essentially, cook your own foodYou will occasionally find a burner in the middle of your table that is either heating up an iron sheet, boiling a pot of soup, or heating coals for a grill. There are a few specific meals associated with cooking it yourself at restaurants (such as Yakiniku, Okonomiyaki and Shabu-Shabu). That is not to say that every time you eat this type of food it will be self-service, but more often than not, the self-service appeal can be the reason you’ll want to go out and eat that particular food in the first place.

Now, don’t worry if you aren’t sure how to cook the meal. Most come with directions, either on the table, the menu or from the wait staff or chef himself (depending on the size of the restaurant, of course). However, another great thing about these meals is that they are basically all ingredients thrown together and cooked in one pot, so not much can go wrong!

In most restaurants, you are supposed to bring your bill to the cashier near the exit when leaving, as it is not common to pay at the table.

The different types of grills and burners available | via Shiki Book Japan

The different types of grills and burners available

   stir fry on cooker | via Shiki Book Japan Burner in restaurant | via Shiki Book Japan


Meal Tickets

Meal tickets are a different matter entirely. Most travellers have commented on how hard they are to use, or how difficult it was to grasp the concept of them. I personally found it easy (and cheaper). Once taught, it’s not that hard at all. Most meal ticket systems are used at noodle stands or the cheaper restaurants in town.

Meal ticket machine | via Shiki Book Japan

The premise is this;

  • You go up to the vending-like-machine at the entry to the restaurant.
  • You select your meal using the buttons available and pay the corresponding amount (or vice-versa; insert your coins/cash and then select the meal you want).
  • The machine will dispense a ticket for you to take to the counter inside.
  • You give it to the staff at the counter and they will seat you. Once seated, all you have to do is wait for your meal to be served.
  • Once finished, you may compliment or thank the staff/chef, but basically, you have already paid so you are essentially free to leave.

Meal ticket machine | via Shiki Book Japan

It is not customary to tip in Japan, and if you do, you will probably find the restaurant staff chasing you down in order to give back any money “left behind”. Instead, it is polite to say “gochisosama deshita” (“thank you for the meal”) when leaving.

Now, not all restaurants have pictorials available on the machines. If they don’t and there isn’t an English translation provided, you can ask the wait staff for help or simply avoid eating there for the time being.

Meal ticket machine | via Shiki Book Japan

Close up of meal options available


What restaurants have you experienced in Japan? Comment below!


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