When visiting Japan, one of the food items atop many people’s lists is ramen. Having experienced a boom in popularity in the US and around the world, ramen is something many travelers want to try in its “home” country.
But where should a first-time or repeat visitor to Japan try ramen? Is ramen guaranteed to be good everywhere? Are there “famous” or “best” ramen shops that are not to be missed? We’ll answer these questions and more, so let’s dive in and discover where to eat ramen in Japan.
Ramen Can Be Found Virtually Everywhere in Japan
Unlike North America, Europe or elsewhere, ramen doesn’t necessarily have to be “sought out” in Japan. You’ll find ramen shops in practically every neighborhood of any city or town you happen to be.
From nationwide ramen chains to the local ramen shop, visitors will surely not encounter a ramen shortage in Japan. On the contrary, your biggest challenge will likely be found in how to sort through the many options and choose the best one(s) for your ramen dining pleasure.
Depending on where you are on your travels, pull up Google Maps and look for ramen near you. Check out the reviews – and note that, outside of touristy areas, review scores may seem lower, since Japanese people tend to be a bit more strict on their star rating process. Then search for the kind of ramen you’d prefer (miso ramen, tonkotsu, shio, shoyu, etc.). If you’re in an area that gets a lot of foot traffic, especially from tourists, it’s likely that one of the national ramen chains will have a location near you. If not, no worries, a local ramen shop with a rating of 3.5-stars or above will be a pretty solid bet for a great meal.
The Boom Of Ramen Chains
As ramen’s popularity took hold across Japan, most ramen shops were local, the proverbial mom-and-pop variety. Much like a pub or a diner in other countries, the local ramen shop has been a vital part of Japanese culture.
Having said that, some enterprising ramen shop owners saw an opportunity to capitalize on their shop’s popularity and grow through expansion, either by opening new stores that they themselves owned and operated; or through the franchising concept. The biggest two chains that came from this evolution are well-known to ramen lovers in and outside Japan: Ippudo and Ichiran.
Ippudo got its start in Fukuoka, the home of tonkotsu ramen, in the mid 1980s. By the 90s it was expanding across Japan, invading culinary hotspots like Tokyo and Osaka; and in the new millennium it oversaw expansion to New York and then to Australia, Asia, Europe and elsewhere. No matter where you choose to eat Ippudo (with a location count approaching 200 worldwide), it’s said that you are guaranteed to get the same quality level and flavor profile of the original Ippudo tonkotsu ramen.
Ichiran is another popular ramen chain, akin to Ippudo in many ways but probably more accessible. It also has a unique twist in that patrons each sit in individual cubicles and are served by a staff member who appears from behind a miniature curtain and doesn’t make eye contact. Given that one orders from a vending machine prior to being seated (which is common for ramen restaurants in Japan), it’s possible for a customer to have no interaction with any humans whatsoever.
The ramen is good and is consistently true in flavor as a benchmark for tonkotsu ramen. Like many popular ramen places nowadays, you have a wide choice of toppings, cooking styles, and add-ons. Ichiran might be ideal for introverts. If you seek a personable and human-driven ramen experience, though, this might not be the ramen you’re looking for.
Other Notable Ramen Chains
Other chains include Hokkaido Santouka Ramen (which started in Asahikawa and has grown by franchise model across Asia and North America); Tenkaippin, originally from Kyoto but now nationwide; and Korakuen, from Fukushima but again nationwide. If you’re visiting Japan and happen to see one of these on the map near your hotel or other attraction, you’re more or less guaranteed to get a consistently good bowl of ramen. Many chains have English menus, English signage, and/or English-speaking staff.
Visiting A Local Ramen Joint
If you want to venture beyond and enjoy ramen in a local shop, though, your efforts are likely to reap rewards. Sure, it’s possible that none of the staff will converse with you in English. But pointing to items on a menu or using a translation app on your phone should get the job done. You may very well be the only non-Japanese in the restaurant, which could draw a stare or two from patrons but generally is greeted with enthusiasm by staff who will appreciate that you’ve taken the time to visit their establishment.
From Humble Ramen Shops To Michelin Star Gems: Our Ramen Recommendations
When visitors ask “where’s the best ramen?” It's honestly hard not to laugh. There’s so much good ramen in this country, and one really can’t go wrong with picking any ramen restaurant on Google Maps (Japanese review scores tend to be more strict, so any shop rated 3.4 or over tends to be good or great).
Is it worth your precious time while visiting Japan to stand in line for one, two or even three hours for a bowl of ramen? Only you can be the judge of that. The good news is that you’ll be fulfilled no matter whether the answer is “yes” or no.”
If you want to spend a half-day (including travel time) and pay a higher price, there are numerous high-end ramen restaurants in Tokyo and elsewhere that will serve up a memorable experience. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a more “authentic” Japanese experience and want to eat ramen as Japanese do (the slurp-and-go of it), use the aforementioned Google Maps technique in whatever city, ward, neighborhood, town or stretch of highway you happen to be at, and you’ll always find good ramen nearby.
A few notable examples (but don’t take this as gospel) on some of the tourist routes include:
Asahikawa’s (located in Hokkaido) Historic Ramen Shop for Shoyu Ramen (but also miso & shio).
Address: Japan, 〒070-0032 Hokkaido, Asahikawa, ２条8 Chome, ２条ビル名店街
Sapporo Ramen Shops
If you’re a fan of miso ramen and happen to find yourself in Sapporo, then we recommend these four old-school miso ramen shops: Aji no Sanpei, Sumire, Shingen, Menya Saimi.
Aji no Sanpei – Known as the birthplace of miso ramen!
Address: Japan, 〒060-0061 Hokkaido, Sapporo, Chuo Ward, Minami 1 Jonishi, 3 Chome−2 大丸藤井セントラル4F
Sumire – One of the richest bowls of Miso Ramen in Hokkaido!
Address: Japan, 〒060-0063 Hokkaido, Sapporo, Chuo Ward, Minami 3 Jonishi, 3 Chome−9-2 ピクシスビル 2F
Shingen – One of the most reputable Miso Ramen shops in all of Hokkaido.
Address: Japan, 〒064-0806 Hokkaido, Sapporo, Chuo Ward, Minami 6 Jonishi, 8 Chome−８−2
Menya Saimi – Often referred to as “The Sapporo Miso Ramen King”.
Address: 5 Chome-3-12 Misono 10 Jo, Toyohira Ward, Sapporo, Hokkaido 062-0010
Rated the top ramen in Japan; must be booked months in advance!
Michelin Star Ramen Shops In Tokyo
Want the Michelin star ramen experience? 3 options in Tokyo: Tsuta, Nakiryu, Soba House.
Tsuta – The first ramen shop to receive a Michelin Star!
Address: 〒151-0066 Tokyo, Shibuya City, Nishihara, 3 Chome−2−4 フロンティア代々木上原 B1
Nakiryu – Tokyo’s second ramen restaurant to be granted a Michelin Star.
Address: Japan, 〒170-0005 Tokyo, Toshima City, Minamiotsuka, 2 Chome−34−4 ＳＫＹ南大塚 １F
Soba House – The third ramen restaurant in the world to receive a Michelin star.
Address: Japan, 〒160-0022 Tokyo, Shinjuku City, Shinjuku, 2 Chome−4−1 第22宮庭マンション 1階105号室
Other Notable Tokyo Ramen Shops
Be sure to check out Ramen Jiro & Menya Musashi.
Ramen Jiro – One of the most aggressive bowls of ramen out there. You’ll just have to check it out to understand what we mean.
Address: 2 Chome-16-4 Mita, 港区 Minato City, Tokyo 108-0073, Japan
Menya Musashi – Often regarded as “legendary ramen”.
Address: Japan, 〒160-0023 Tokyo, Shinjuku City, Nishishinjuku, 7 Chome−2−6 西新宿Ｋ－１ビル 1F
Hakata Ramen Shops In Fukuoka & Kyushu
Any of these venerable Hakata ramen shops would be incredible choices: https://www.5amramen.com/post/best-fukuoka-ramen
Another great Fukuoka ramen joint to try would be Hakata Shinpu Ramen. Their Tonkotsu-style ramen comes in red and white options, with the red version favored for its robust flavor. Add delicious side dishes like chashu don and gyoza for an extra treat!
But really, you can’t go wrong with ramen in Japan. Have you been to any of these ramen shops? Or do you have any of your own suggestions? Let us know in the comments below.