Deciphering a Japanese menu   メニューを読めるように

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Sushi menu

A sushi menu. This one luckily has pictures...

Pork character

Do you recognize this character ?

The kanji for "fish", resembling a real fish

This restaurant has made the kanji for "fish" actually resemble a real fish!

A menu in Japanese

A menu in Japanese

Don't open whitout reading : it's written "violently spicy" !

Don't try it without reading: it says "super spicy"!

Pork donburi menu

Pork donburi menu

Restaurant Survival Guide

You've finally found a good restaurant to eat at - but the menu is only in Japanese... and without pictures. Don't panic! Here's a survival guide to help ensure your dish contains what you really want.

Have a look at these words and kanji characters that will help you understand a Japanese menu. It might help prevent the ramen you thought you ordered turning out to be a platter of raw fish!

肉 (niku): meat

Vegetarians, look away now! This character, representing a piece of meat with two ^ shaped bones, appears in the names of most meat-based dishes: 鶏肉(toriniku): chicken, 豚肉(butaniku): pork or 牛肉 (gyuniku): beef.

It's also used in the word 焼肉: yakiniku, meaning grilled meat. The left kanji means "grill". It is found in the word 焼き鳥: yakitori, grilled chicken, as well as たこ焼き (takoyaki), grilled octopus dumplings, and features in お好み焼き: okonomiyaki.

串 (kushi): Imagine two bites of meat on a stick, and you're looking at the kanji for "skewer"!

魚 (sakana): fish

Do you see head at the top, the scales in the middle and four small fins below? This is the character that makes up the (very) long list of Japanese fish, such as 鮭 (shake): salmon, or (maguro): tuna. Also the kanji for sushi 鮨, although it's more commonly written in this form: 寿司.

Don't get caught out - the "fish" character does not appear in the word sashimi (raw fish): 刺身 (literally "sliced body").

ご飯 (gohan): rice

Rice is the basis of the Japanese diet, so much so that the word also simply means "meal".

丼 (donburi): the character represents the bowl (here, a square) with rice and toppings inside.

カレー (karee): the popular dish curry.

Other delights

味噌汁 (misoshiru): miso soup. Concentrate on the last character: the 十 with its three small drops of water on the left side, which shows that we are dealing with a soup.

麺 (men): noodles. The kanji may look painfully complicated, but noodles like ramen (often written in katakana as ラーメン) and somen are a pleasure for the taste buds!

定食 (teishoku): the equivalent of all inclusive set meal (often a main dish with rice, soup and a side), for those who are struggling to choose a la carte.

一品 (ippin): dishes and appetizers to choose one by one.

天ぷら: tempura. The word, like the recipe, comes from Portuguese.

鍋 (nabe): a pot, and all the stew-like dishes cooked in it.

辛 (kara): spicy, a little, a lot ...

甘口 (amakuchi): slightly spicy

中辛 (chukara): moderately spicy

辛口 (karakuchi): spicy

激辛 (gekikara): literally "violently spicy": proceed with caution!

飲み物 (nomimono): beverages

酒 (sake) like the kanji for soup, there are three 'water drops' on the left side, which show it's a liquid-related word. Sake here can also mean alcoholic beverages in general.

ワイン (wain): wine, 赤ワイン(aka wain) for red, 白ワイン(shiro wain) for white.

ビール (biiru): beer.

お茶 (ocha): tea.

...And the bill

Finally, to avoid a nasty shock when the bill arrives, keep an eye on the character 円: it means "yen"...

Comments Read comments from our travellers


I really enjoyed this! The visualizations of the kanji made it really easy for me to remember them.