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Japan's Family Restaurants

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Japan In-depth

Japan's Family Restaurants – A Paradise for Foreigners!?

Welcome to a world of extensive menus at reasonable prices in an easy-going atmosphere with no reservations required

Au Yeung Yu Leung (Hong Kong)

Japan is famous all over the world as a food lover's paradise. In Japan, you can enjoy a wide range of traditional dishes like sushi and sashimi, teppanyaki, wagyu beef, ramen and tempura, snacks like kushiyaki, okonomiyaki and takoyaki, not to mention Japanese sweets or all the food from other parts of Asia. These are served everywhere from internationally celebrated Michelin-starred places and upscale Japanese-style restaurants to izakaya, ramen joints, cheap restaurant chains, yakiniku places, department store basements and street corner stalls.

But there is yet another type of restaurants that are perhaps not so well known among foreigners, a kind of uniquely Japanese gastronomical melting pots found all over the country: the “family restaurants," or famiresu, as they are popularly called. You certainly can't call yourself an expert on Japanese food until you've eaten your fill at these places!

Although the name might imply that these restaurants are just oriented towards families, they in fact welcome absolutely everybody – from couples, groups of friends or business associates to people who come just by themselves.

They have all kinds of food, Japanese, Western and Chinese, appetizers, main dishes and desserts, and usually a much wider selection than a standard restaurant. If you're hungry, they have extra large portions, or you can simply chat away for hours over a light snack. There is something for everyone.

It is this wide variety of foods that makes family restaurants a Mecca for forlorn foreigners. Some British exchange student friends of mine had a hard time adjusting to Japanese food, and just went to fast food places like McDonald's and KFC every day. When I heard about their sorry state of affairs I took them to a family restaurant, and it was as if they had discovered a new continent. Their happiness knew no bounds. Now they frequently go to family restaurants, where they are sure to find something that appeals to the foreign palate, the staff are friendly, and the cuisine is much healthier than in the fast food joints as well.

Family restaurants are usually fairly large with spaciously arranged tables, where each group – or solitary guest – can relax and enjoy their food at their own pace. Many have large windows, and you can sit for hours just glancing at the streetscape outside. Actually, this laid-back, easy-going atmosphere is rather special to family restaurants in Japan. It is almost like another country. Plentiful food and drinks in a cozy Japanese atmosphere – now, there's luxury!  

Since many family restaurants are open 24 hours, you can of course go there to have a meal just like in any regular restaurant, but you can also spend all night there talking with your friends, or order up some cakes and steaks, chicken, juice and beer and have a party.

Most family restaurants belong to chains with nationwide networks. The prices vary from places like the economical Saizeriya chain to fancier alternatives like Royal Host, but in general, family restaurants are cheaper than ordinary Japanese restaurants or izakaya. You may get away with as little as 500 yen per person, and usually won't have to pay more than 2000. Even so, both the food, the drinks and the atmosphere are first-rate, and you can spend as long as you like and drink as much as you like from the drink bar. Cost performance-wise it's a dining experience that is hard to beat.

Even if you have never been to a family restaurant yet, you may recognize them from Japanese TV dramas, games and anime, where they are often used as locations. For some reason, the number of foreigners who frequent family restaurants is still rather low, but if you have the chance, a visit to a famiresu is something you shouldn't miss for a different taste of Japan!

Au Yeung Yu Leung
Yu Leung holds a First-Class Honours Bachelor of Arts degree from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and later became a doctor at the University of Tokyo. She served as Senior Multilingual Director at "NHK WORLD," the International Broadcasting Bureau of NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation),

Related Information

Some major family restaurant chains offering drink bars (Japanese)