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It's easy to imagine what you’ll be eating for breakfast on a trip to France or England – a croissant or bacon and eggs respectively. But when it comes to a traditional breakfast in Japan, the image is a little more elusive.
Japanese breakfast has not been exported like sushi or ramen. Even in Japan, it’s not easily encountered unless you’re staying at a traditional bed and breakfast, like a minshuku (family-operated lodging) or a ryokan (inn).
Breakfast has long been regarded as the most important meal of the day in Japan and is traditionally prepared and eaten at home rather than at a restaurant. Until around the Edo era (1603–1868), breakfast was one of only two meals taken in a day, so it needed to be wholesome and hearty.
As a result, a traditional Japanese breakfast is similar to set meals commonly eaten at lunch, sharing the concept of ichiju-sansai, meaning ‘one soup, three sides’. The soup is always miso, while the sides include a (protein) main, pickles and a third small dish, all invariably served with a steaming bowl of freshly cooked rice. The combination of rice, protein and fat is widely regarded in Japan as essential for a balanced meal.
If all this sounds a bit heavy, try some of the traditional breakfast variations of okayu and ochazuke. The former is a Japanese take on congee – a rice porridge which comes with similar sides to a set breakfast. For ochazuke, the rice is served with a pot of tea or dashi (Japanese stock) and a selection of toppings. To eat, you simply add the toppings to the bowl of rice and pour over the hot broth.
Want to try it for yourself? Rise and shine the traditional Japanese way with our favourite breakfast spots in Tokyo.
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