This post is an overview of Japanese-English bilingual food guide books sold at the Tsutaya bookstore in Ginza, central Tokyo. The books I focus on have English, with the intention that these books can serve as alternative Japan travel or restaurant guide books that are written by Japanese people. Most of these books are available on Amazon, though they are much cheaper on Amazon.co.jp or bought in-store in Japan because they are published in Japan, rather than in the US. Having flipped through a number of them, I think they’re much better than the guide books found outside of Japan as they actually go into much more detail about the food categories discussed, whether it’s about the type of fish or the season a certain dish is presented.
This post focuses on guides for:
- Japanese cuisines
- Sushi and seafood
- Vegetarian and vegan foods
- Seasonal dessert: kakigori
Before you start, here are my two main points of emphasis:
I believe this Tsutaya Bookstore in Ginza is a travel destination itself because it has beautiful spacial design, showcases gorgeous (often collectible) books, and is perhaps the best place to find a large collection of high quality Japanese cultural books that are available in English.
I highly recommend that you either order the books via Amazon.co.jp and have the books delivered to the closest convenience store to your hotel or AirBnB, OR just buy them in-store at this Tsutaya. Though many of these cultural and travel books are useful resources, the Tsutaya does rotate its collection depending on the season. The displays will definitely have a feature section for every seasonal food (nabe hotpot for winter, kakigori shaved ice for summer, and so forth).
Why the Tsutaya at Ginza 6
Tsutaya 蔦屋 is one of Japan’s major booksellers, but the flagship store in Ginza (which is basically across from the flagship UNIQLO store) differs from its usual branches as a mecca for culture, design, and art books. This centrally located bookstore has an extensive English selection of books for Japan travel, Japanese cuisine, history, and other cultural points of interst, such as kabuki, design, and architecture.
I visit the Tsutaya every time I am in Tokyo because it is such a delight to flip through and read, but also because it is the most reliable place for me to find cultural Japanese books, whether they are coffee table hardcovers or kids books with illustrations.
The books I am covering form a small fraction of the books on offer, even in English. For example, there is a shelf dedicated to Japanese cooking books in the English language. Again, I would recommend picking up a book here as opposed to overseas mostly because there is a higher ratio of decent books written by Japanese. Of course, the Japanese cookbook section will have many recognised English staples such as Nobu, Morimoto, or Elizabeth Andoh’s Washoku.
If you are a book lover and anticipate getting some other books, then take advantage of the instant Tax-Free rebate of purchases over ¥5000 (approx US$50) pre-tax upon showing your passport at the checkout.
Smarter Ways to Order or Buy Books
Japan has an incredible print culture, which means you get books with beautiful photography and printing — often at pocketbook sizes. Japan has perfected the art of small books intended for reading on the train and priced that way as well (usually ¥1000 or US$10 and under). This means you get informative and visual pocket-sized guides to take with you to restaurants (to help order) and back home.
These books are all available on Amazon Japan, and in most cases on Amazon.com (which range from comparable to much higher prices). Note that delivery in Japan, especially to Tokyo, only takes about a day or so, so you could order the books just before your trip and deliver to your hotel / AirBnB.
In addition, it’s possible to have deliveries to 24/7 convenience stores in Japan. For example, I ordered my keyboard from Amazon Japan and just picked it up at a 7/11 close to my AirBnB after I arrived. In fact, you can do all your shopping with Amazon and spend your time sight seeing instead, but that’s for another post.
Japanese Food Guides
Below, you will find the title of the books in English, and occasionally in Japanese if it is a Japanese-only book. Each book comes with a link to the Amazon Japan item because the books are always cheaper there. I have also included the link to the Amazon.com listing in the author’s name.
I have formatted the links as [book title link goes to Amazon.jp] while [English author links to Amazon.com].
An llustrated Guide to Japanese Cooking and Annual Events Edited by Hattori Yukio
I am going to start with An Illustrated Guide to Japanese Cooking and Annual Events edited by Hattori Yukio because book because it is not only delightful to look at, but incredibly useful. With illustrations, Japanese, English pronounciation, and English translations, this book serves as both a great introduction and a handy reference for people already familiar with Japanese cuisine. It covers food categories, such as noodles, but also includes types of dishes and cuisines so that a reader can see the themes that thread dishes together. But it goes even further to include the tableware that food can be served in.
The Bilingual Japanese-English [Food] Book Series
This black book series retails at ¥1620 (〜US$20) per book in Japan, but the prices varied on Amazon.com. The books are the same irrespective of where you get them. Though these books are in English and Japanese, I don’t remember much from them, mostly because these are not the topics that I personally research on for food. However, I think they make a nice handy set that would be good to carry around and also display on your shelf at home.
Bilingual Japanese-English Sushi Guide Books
The sushi section will always be here and I think coming just for these books alone is worthwhile. Most people know that sushi is an art, but bookstores abroad do nothing to help educate on what aspects of sushi to pay attention to for quality. What are you really eating when you pay US$200 for a meal? How does that differ from a kaiten sushi? I can’t say these books will go into that, but the sushi section does one thing for travellers that Japanese take for granted: it tells you the types of fish available, when they are available, and (depending on the book) how they are prepared and what they are appreciated for.
In order from left to right, you have:
The Sushi Handbook in English and Japanese by Imada 今田 洋輔 (監修) The Sushi Guidebook English and Japanese by 野村 祐三 A Visual Guide to Sushi Menues: Bilingual English and Japanese Edition (Kindle version available) — the English Amazon.com option is a rip off
The Jiro pocket book is for fans of the Jiro documentary. I don’t have much else to say beyond that.
Between the Sushi Menu Book, Sushi Handbook, and Sushi Guidebook, all of them provide the basics and then some. It depends more on how you like your information laid out. For example, do you prefer text-based explanations, or a wider selection of fish with matching images? I would say pick based depending on whether you anticipate using it to order, or using it to do further reading after your trip.
If you are going to a respected sushi establishment do not expect to have all these options. A respectable sushi establishment will be serving you the freshest sushi, which goes according to what fish are in season. Japanese fish guides will always include information on the seasonal availability or quality of each fish they introduce. Look for a bar with coloured boxes, or something that says １月〜３月 （January to March, as an example).
The Seasonal Beauty of Japanese Cuisine by [Amazon.com version] 永坂早苗(著), 上田義彦(著, 写真)
Japanology Book Series ジャパノロジー・コレクション (Japanese Only)
Though the Japanology series is only in Japanese, they are small and filled with pictures. They are only about ¥1000 each, so a great lightweight and affordable souvenir to take home with photography that shows off Japanese cultural items (not just food) that’s not taken under a Western lense.
Vegetarian and Vegan Food Books
Japan is a bit of a mine field when it comes to vegetarian and vegan cuisine because the concepts do not neatly fit into Western conceptions of the two terms. For one thing, if you tell someone you are vegetarian, they may not associate fish with meat and tell you that their food does not have meat. On the other hand, if you tell someone that you do not eat X or Y, they may take it extremely seriously and ask for a full list of things you don’t eat because they are worried about food allergies.
The good news is that even in the five years since I have lived in Japan, the visibility of plant-based cuisine has increased in local consciousness. This is great news because it means that there is now more information for vegetarians travelling in Japan.
Another tip that I would give most people is that while some things that seem vegetarian are not (for example, some onigiri rice balls still have fish-stock dashi for flavouring), local Japanese also forget to think about many ordinary foods as vegetarian (such as wagashi, Japanese sweets, and kakigori.) The best way to open doors for what you can eat is to a bit of research on recipes for certain dishes to get a sense of what the base ingredients are.
I recommend looking at the kakigori and wagashi books recommended below, as they’re both vegetarian and likely also vegan.
Plant-Based Tokyo in print version is a coffee-table book, with a hard cover, photos, and in-depth profiles of the restaurants they cover. Though a number of the restaurants covered are also casual cafes, a number of them are a bit more high-end, such as the profile of Tsuchitone’s Naoko Yokozawa.
Tokyo Healthy Choice Restaurant – Japanese Only 東京カラダにいい店ううまい店 – Japanese book
There is no English version of this book, but I am including it because it’s fairly cheap and it’s laid out in a way that is quite straight forward if you already know some hiragana and katakana and can work out the addresses of restaurants.
トーキョーベジガイド (Japanese only)
There are some mouth watering photos of restaurant recommendations by Japanese to Japanese. There’s basically one recommendation in every local hip area. In addition to the usual Omotesando, Shibuya, and Shinjuku, you will have trendy neighbourhoods like Ebisu, Futago Tamagawa, Nakameguro, Nezu, and Jiyugaoka.
Tokyo Vegan Guide 2018: The Plant-Based Foodie’s Guide to Japan’s Capital (English Only) by Chiara Park Terzuolo
I did not see this in the Tsutaya, but it popped up in my Amazon recommendations, so I have put it in here as well in case anyone is interested. This book is an affordably US$10.99 with a Kindle version. I have never read it, but it might be a good place to start.
Because I was in Japan over the summer this year, the food section happened to have a section for the summer food item: kakigori, shaved ice. I have to say, I was not a fan based off of my limited exposure to the coloured ice rapidly melting at summer festival stands. But a good friend of mine is a huge fan and a few other friends were making use of the stroke-inducing heat to explore the various manifestations of this cold refeshment.
In the end, I only went to one, though an incredibly famous little establishment opened by an opinonated woman, patroned by equally persistent people holding on to their position in the line.
The most creative one I have seen is on my friend Alison’s post — a CAKE.
Unfortunately kakigori is an art form that has not penetrated into the English speaking visitors. There isn’t an English book that I know of that recommends the most respected establishments in Tokyo. So I will include the ones that Japanese hold in high esteem. All these books below are in Japanese only.