What Are the Most Popular Restaurants in Shinjuku for Tourists?

What Are the Most Popular Restaurants in Shinjuku for Tourists?

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Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho
Picture: まちゃー / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
Tokyo's culinary scene is a magnet for tourists, but some eateries have truly captivated the hearts — and stomachs — of inbound travelers. One company broke down the numbers to find out what's most popular among visitors in Shinjuku.

Japanese food has a magnetic pull for travelers worldwide. It’s one of those food scenes that is just about everywhere, having taken the world by storm some time ago. With Japanese restaurants springing up left and right, people from all corners are eager to explore the delicious world of Japanese flavors.

Now, a brand-new ranking reveals the hottest dining spots in Tokyo’s Shinjuku neighborhood among inbound tourists. Both Japanese and worldwide cuisine score strong representation in the rankings. Is there an idea here that might spark your next unforgettable Japanese food journey?

Prime picks on the plate

Shinjuku at night
Picture: K@zuTa / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

Mov Co., Ltd., which operates the site “Houjin Labo,” thoroughly investigates Japan’s cultural landscape through independent analyses, utilizing user reviews to gauge interests and drive sales. We’ve previously discussed their insights on the most popular castles among tourists.

Now, their latest ranking focuses on a topic close to everyone’s heart: food. Specifically, they’ve unveiled the top restaurants in Shinjuku district, drawing from Google Maps reviews by inbound tourists.

Targeting over 5,000 restaurants around Shinjuku Station, they amassed a total of 33,587 reviews – including 6,860 in foreign languages – from December 1, 2023, to February 15, 2024. Below is the complete updated ranking of the top 10 spots.

1: Haidilao Hot Pot Shinjuku Store
2: Hinomaru Kabukicho Shinjuku Store
3: Meat Juicy Dumplings Gyoza Shinjuku Store
4: All-You-Can-Eat Yakiniku Doraku Shinjuku Store
5: Tenraku Yakiniku Shabu Shabu
6: Gyuu no Maryoku (Beef Magic)
7: Yakiniku Washino Shinjuku Main Store
8: Bangkok 77 Thai Dining Bar Shinjuku Store
9: Yakiniku & Wine Nikuen Shinjuku Kabukicho Store
10: Shinjuku Yakiniku Beef Tongue Lemon

A hot pot joint in Shinjuku clinched the top spot, boasting over 350 foreign language reviews in just two and a half months and an impressive average rating of 4.8 stars. Reviews often praised the service and mentioned staff members. Of course, rankings may differ based on nationalities and cultural preferences.

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The investigation also uncovers the top restaurant categories favored by groups of foreigners. While English speakers gravitate towards bars, potentially including izakaya, Korean speakers lean towards yakiniku.

Interestingly, yakiniku dominates the rankings, featuring 11 out of the top 30 spots, with 9 garnering over 50% foreign reviews. Shinjuku emerges as a hotspot for yakiniku experiences, praised by tourists for its warm hospitality and inviting ambiance.

Washoku beyond borders

While it’s easy to assume Japanese cuisine’s popularity among tourists today, that wasn’t always the case. The global explosion of Japanese food kicked off in the late 1960s, first gaining traction in the United States. This was a time when the government was pushing for healthier eating habits. The minimalist appeal of Japanese cuisine fit the bill perfectly.

As sushi bars started popping up across American cities, Japanese food swiftly reached major European hubs. The aesthetic of Japanese cuisine in movies and animations captured people’s imagination, sparking a trend embraced by all ages.

In the following years, Japanese restaurants abroad flourished steadily, initially propelled by Japanese nationals, particularly in the U.S. But by the 1990s, the trend expanded to include non-Japanese owners, from sushi spots to noodle shops. According to the Financial Times, in 2004 alone, Japanese eateries in the UK surged by a whopping 20%, making it the fastest-growing market alongside Thai cuisine.

The surge was fueled by multiple factors, with nations shifting towards health-conscious eating habits taking the lead. Japan, renowned for its remarkable longevity, stood out for its cuisine, drawing attention worldwide.

Overseas, the image of Japanese food became synonymous with impeccable presentation, top-notch quality, and a healthy, fresh appeal. This made it a hit in luxury sectors like finance and fashion, where Japanese cuisine epitomized elegance and sophistication.

Since the UNESCO registration of washoku as an intangible cultural heritage in 2013, the Japanese food boom has gained fresh momentum. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the number of Japanese restaurants abroad reached 159,000 in 2021, jumping to 187,000 by 2023. Japanese cuisine still embodies its signature traits of high quality and healthiness. However, now, certain foods like ramen, noodles, tempura, and sukiyaki evoke a newfound sense of comfort, whether shared with others or savored alone.

360° gastronomic journey

In recent decades, there has been a noticeable shift in tourists’ preferences from material to experiential consumption. Japan is no stranger to this trend, and when it comes to experiences, food takes center stage as the ultimate attraction.

Japanese cuisine has emerged as a top reason for tourists worldwide to visit Japan. Often, it shapes their choice of accommodations, be it modern hotels or traditional ryokan. Beyond mere shopping, tourists are now splurging on food experiences, with the average expense per person during a trip exceeding 30,000 yen.

Setting costs aside, surveys reveal that tourists eagerly plan their trips with the anticipation of indulging in Japanese cuisine. As per the Japan Tourism Agency, in 2023 over 70% of tourists expressed the expectation of enjoying Japanese food before even setting foot in the country.

The 2023 Norinchukin Bank survey, polling 1,200 visitors from five countries who explored Japan, solidified this trend. Most respondents were excited to taste Japanese cuisine outside their homeland and draw comparisons. Interestingly, nearly 90% of them found Japanese food to be distinctly different from what they were used to back home.

Japanese cuisine goes beyond the food itself. According to a 2017 Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO) survey, the overall dining experience is a major part of its enjoyment. When asked about the most memorable aspects of Japanese meals, 50.9% of respondents emphasized table manners, including greetings before and after the meal, while 42.7% were enchanted by the beautiful presentation of the dishes.

Japanese essence on a plate

Japanese food
Picture: さるとびサスケ / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

As evident from the ranking, certain restaurants have won over tourists more than others. However, exploring the worldwide appeal of Japanese cuisine offers deeper insights into what travelers truly seek. Many arrive already enamored with Japanese food, having tasted it in their own countries. Yet, upon arriving in Japan, they’re not just looking for a meal. They’re after the whole package – from the lively ambiance of dining spots to the artful presentation of the dishes.

This perspective might help explain the prevalence of yakiniku in the Shinjuku ranking. In Japan, yakiniku restaurants, akin to izakaya, plunge visitors into the lively nocturnal scene of the country. Here, the atmosphere is casual and carefree, with a tangible sense of communal enjoyment filling the air.

The overall experience elevates the flavors to new heights. In other words, while the taste is undeniably important, it’s just one facet of a more comprehensive culinary experience that is inherently Japanese.

Want to experience the full variety of Japanese food? Let Unseen Japan Tours plan your itinerary to Japan and introduce you to some truly “unseen” experiences you might otherwise never have found!

What to read next

Sources

【独自調査】外国人に人気の飲食店ランキング【新宿編】寿司・焼肉店を抑えた1位は?:インバウンド人気飲食店ランキング PR Times

インバウンド人気飲食店ランキング[新宿編] 口コミコム

海外における日本食レストランの現状について 農林水産省

昔ながらの素材が大人気…世界市場における「日本食人気」の現状 JTB

インバウンドでは和食が人気? 外国人観光客に喜ばれる料理とは リゾLAB

訪日外国人、最も好きな日本食はすし!―農林中金調査 nippon.com

地方を旅する欧米豪旅行者の「日本食体験」の実態 JNTO自主調査レポート(番外編)日本政府観光局

日本滞在経験者5カ国1200人に聞く~ 訪日外国人からみた日本の“食”に関する調査 観光経済新聞

5カ国の訪日外国人に聞く日本の“食” 農林中央金庫

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