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TokyoTreat Japanese Snacks BlogWhy Are Spicy Foods Not Popular In Japan?

Why Are Spicy Foods Not Popular In Japan?

Bianca BacheBianca Bache
Published Time
Posted on 
March 30, 2023

If you’re a fan of spicy foods, you might be surprised to find that Japanese cuisine is not typically known for its heat. While other Asian cuisines are famous for their fiery dishes, you won’t find many mouth-burning specialties in Japan.

But don’t worry, fellow heat-seekers! There are still plenty of ways to get your spicy fix when you visit this delicious country!

Japan’s spicy food culinary history 

One of the main reasons that Japanese food is not typically spicy is due to the country’s culinary history. As an island nation with a long history of relying on seafood. The Japanese traditionally focused on bringing out the natural flavors of their fresh ingredients rather than adding a lot of spices. This emphasis on freshness and minimal seasoning has become a cornerstone of Japanese cuisine.

Close-up of a chef's hands. A Japanese chef making sushi in a restaurant. A young chef makes Japanese sushi.
Japan has a rich culinary history that consists of a lot of seafood. Image via Shutterstock

Another interesting factor to think about is that Japan’s climate may also have an impact on its cuisine. The country has a relatively mild climate, which means that the types of spices that grow well in other countries do not grow as well in Japan. This may explain why spices are not as prevalent in Japanese cuisine as they are in other Asian cuisines.

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How do people tolerate spicy foods in Japan?

While Japanese cuisine is not known for being spicy, there are still many people in Japan who enjoy spicy foods. In recent years, there has been a growing interest in spicy foods in Japan. Many Japanese people are experimenting with different types of spices and hot sauces.

One reason for this growing interest in spicy foods is the influence of other cultures. With many people traveling abroad and experiencing different cuisines, the interest has grown toward spicier food. 

Young chef in a Japanese restaurant making Japanese spicy foods dumplings
With a growing interest in spicy foods it has become more popular to add a bit of heat into traditional foods. Image via Shutterstock

Another reason is that the growing popularity of spicy foods in Japan may also be influenced by the younger generations. Younger Japanese people are more willing to experiment with different flavors and are more open to trying new things. This openness to new experiences has led to a greater interest in spicy foods.

Hot and Spicy Japanese Condiments

While Japanese cuisine may not be known for its spiciness, there are still many hot and spicy condiments that are popular in Japan. These condiments add a touch of heat to dishes without overwhelming the other flavors.

One popular condiment is shichimi togarashi, (しちみ とうがらし) also known as seven-spice powder. This condiment is a blend of seven different spices, including chili pepper, orange peel, and sesame seeds. It is commonly sprinkled on top of noodle dishes, udon, soups, and grilled meats.

Fresh hand made ramen being made while a chef holds it
Adding shichimi togarashi to noodles and ramen is a great way to get an extra kick into every slurp, Image via Shutterstock

Another popular condiment is yuzu kosho, (ゆずこしょう) a spicy paste made from chili peppers and yuzu, a citrus fruit native to Japan. This condiment is often served with seafood dishes and is also used as a marinade for meats.

Wasabi, (わさび) a spicy green paste made from Japanese horseradish, is another popular condiment in Japan. While wasabi is not traditionally considered a spicy condiment, it does have a specific heat that can add depth to dishes.

Wasabi paste and wasabi root are the original spicy foods of japan
Typically you will find wasabi with sushi. But is a great palate cleanser that adds depth to many different dishes. Image via Shutterstock

Spicy Foods you can find in Japan

Japanese cuisine may not be known for setting your mouth on fire, but don’t be fooled! There are plenty of dishes that will leave you reaching for a glass of water. Maybe not for the traditional spiciness, but much like a lot in Japan, a truly unique Japanese experience. Take, for instance, the popular karashi renkon, a dish made from lotus roots stuffed with fiery mustard and miso paste. 

Feeling adventurous? Try the motsu nikomi, a spicy hotpot made from beef intestines, miso paste, and chili peppers that will make your taste buds sing. And for those who can’t resist a bowl of ramen, tantanmen is a must-try!

Spicy Gyoza Combo and Spicy Sichuan Dandan Noodle Ramen at a Traditional Japanese Ramen Restaurant, Translation of Japanese Font and Sake Barrel
If you are craving spicy foods in Japan look no further than ramen! Image via Shutterstock

This spicy sesame paste and chili oil soup will keep you coming back for more, proving that Japanese cuisine can pack a punch while still maintaining its delicate and nuanced flavors.

While Japanese cuisine may not be known for its spiciness. There are plenty of hot and spicy dishes and condiments to explore. Japan’s culinary history and emphasis on using fresh ingredients with minimal seasoning may have contributed to the lack of spiciness in their cuisine. But with the influence of other cultures and younger generations, who knows what deliciously spicy dishes Japan will come up with next!

Would you try Japan’s take of spicy foods? Let us know in the comments below!

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Bianca Bache

Tokyo based writer that's very enthusiastic about snacks, treats and all things sweet!

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