There are an amazing variety of restaurants in Japan, and they can be fond almost everywhere. Eating out is reasonably priced and popular, and the food good quality and healthy. All kinds of food is available, from traditional Japanese recipes to European dishes to fast food. Tokyo has been named the best place in the world to eat out by Michelin.
Restaurants offer a number of things that are not so common in the west.
Menus: Menus often feature pictures of the food so even if you don't read Japanese you can use them. The larger chains often put the name of the dish in English as well.
Plastic food models: Most restaurants have extremely realistic plastic models of the food they serve in the window. This helps you choose a restaurant, and if you see something you like you can take a photo of the model to help find it in the menu or show it to the staff.
Free water / tea: Water or tea is almost always offered for free. Often the staff will give you a glass and refill it if it gets low, or there will be flasks at the table. In the lowest cost restaurants you have to go and get your own glass, but it's still free.
Ticket vending machines: Many small restaurants have a ticket machine near the door which you use to select the food you want. Often each button has a picture of the dish next to it as well as Japanese text. Once you have purchased the tickets you want you hand them to the staff who prepare the selected food for you. This way the staff don't have to handle money and can concentrate on cooking and serving you.
Hand towels: Wet towels, either disposable or more washable ones are often offered before a meal. Sometimes the staff will hand them over, but the disposable ones are more commonly found in a little box at the table along with condiments. Use the tower to clean your hands before and after eating.
Toothpicks: Handy for cleaning your teeth before you leave!
Hidden shelves: At counters there is often a hidden shelf right above your knees. You can place your bag on the shelf while you eat. Don't forget to take it when you leave, as it is easily forgotten!
Where to eat
Restaurants are everywhere, but there are a few places where you can be sure of finding certain types.
Shopping centres and department stores usually have one or two restaurant floors at the top. The restaurants tend to be on the more expensive side and are very popular, so often packed at weekends.
Local shopping areas tend to have more independent and smaller restaurants. Often these serve Japanese food like ramen or soba noodles, rice bowl or katsu. Chinese style curry is popular too.
At train stations there are almost always very cheap, quick places to eat. The food is usually Japanese style, e.g. "eki soba" (station soba noodles) or "eki bento" (station packed lunch).