If you’re in Japan now, you’ll be seeing advertisements for grilled Pacific saury and autumn editions of beers.
Ah, finally! This signals the arrival of autumn and delicious food.
If you’re reading this and it’s not currently autumn, that’s a darn shame—you’re about to get really nostalgic for those cool, crisp months.
Autumn in Japan generally runs from mid-September to mid-December. It’s a great time to start enjoying food made for colder weather such as soups, hot noodles and heartier dishes.
Stews and other hot dishes are introduced to keep you warm as the temperatures start to dip.
Japanese peoples’ lives revolve around the country’s four distinct seasons. The climate changes, the landscape changes and the food eaten daily changes as the seasons give way to each other.
Each season has its unique foods. The Japanese believe in aligning their diets and eating habits with the season. You’ll find them using lots of seasonal ingredients in their cooking.
Many of the dishes eaten during this period are traditional Japanese favorites that incorporate delicious seasonal fruits and vegetables.
What’s This “Autumn Appetite” You Keep Hearing About?
Autumn is known as the “season of healthy appetites” in Japan. The Japanese even have a phrase for it—食欲の秋 (しょくよくの あき), literally autumn appetite.
In Japan, people say autumn is the perfect season to have a good appetite. Japanese believe that the desire to eat is highest at this time of the year.
Nearly 70% of people surveyed here think their appetites increase in autumn!
Many magazine articles abound about how to control your appetite and keep your weight off in this season as appetites increase.
Why Do Appetites Increase in Autumn?
The Japanese believe that this is due to:
- Autumn being the time when many delicious foods are harvested. Many ingredients are in season.
- Evolutionary reason. People eat as much as possible to store energy to survive the cold winter. Their bodies are in accumulation mode. Carbohydrates and starchy foods (such as sweet potato) are very popular.
- Shorter daylight hours, so serotonin secretion decreases. To increase serotonin, people take in more sugar, dairy products and meat. Oh, and they sleep more.
- Recovery from summer heat. Japanese believe that during autumn, the coolness increases appetites, encouraging you to rest up and recharge.
How to Avoid Weight Gain, the Japanese Way
With all that eating, how do you avoid weight gain? Here are some tips from Japanese conventional wisdom:
- Eat at regular meal times and chew slowly.
- Quit the habit of mindless eating when watching TV or reading the newspapers.
- When you have a meal, have vegetables and soup first to get a feeling of fullness and prevent overeating.
- Accompany your meals with beverages like green tea, お茶 (おちゃ), or water, 水 (みず)—no sugar and calories.
- Maintain a good posture to consume energy while eating.
- Enjoy conversation with friends while eating and eat bit by bit.
Taste of Autumn — 秋の味覚 (あきの みかく)
According to a survey done by Dohouse in 2014, these are the foods that Japanese people associate most with autumn.
|1||秋刀魚 (さんま), Pacific saury or mackerel pike||53.2%|
|2||栗 (くり), chestnut||43.2%|
|3||松茸 (まつたけ), a kind of mushroom||30.9%|
|4||柿 (かき), Japanese persimmon||26.6%|
|5||梨 (なし), pear||16.6%|
|6||新米 (しんまい), new rice||16.6%|
|7||さつま芋 (さつまいも), sweet potato||14.4%|
|8||きのこ, mushrooms excluding 松茸||11.3%|
|9||鮭/秋鮭 (さけ/あきざけ), salmon or autumn salmon||7.8%|
|10||銀杏 (ぎんなん), ginkgo nuts||7.2%|
Below, we’re going to introduce you to some of the most popular autumn foods in Japan. If you visit Japan in autumn, you can be sure to come across them.
Here’s a hypothetical day as a tourist in Japan in beautiful fall.
49 Delicious Japanese Food Words That Cater to the Autumn Appetite
Whet your appetite for Japanese food words with the immersive experience of FluentU. You can find some of these and many other vocab words in this program That’s because FluentU takes real-world Japanese videos—like music videos, movie trailers, documentaries, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
It naturally and gradually eases you into learning Japanese language and culture. You’ll learn real Japanese as it’s spoken in real life.
Just take a look at the wide variety of authentic video content available in the program. Here’s a small sample:
You’ll discover tons of new Japanese vocabulary through these great clips.
Don’t worry about your skill level being an issue when it comes to understanding the language. FluentU makes native Japanese videos approachable through interactive transcripts.
Tap on any word to look it up instantly.
You’ll see definitions, in-context usage examples and helpful illustrations. Simply tap “add” to send interesting vocabulary words to your personal vocab list for later review.
FluentU even uses a learning program which adapts to your specific needs, to turn every video into a language learning lesson and get you to actively practice your newly-learned language.
Access FluentU on the website to use it with your computer or tablet or, better yet, start learning Japanese on the go with the FluentU app!
Snacks — スナック (すなっく) or おやつ
You’ve been out the whole day sightseeing with your Japanese friend and your stomach is growling. You need a snack right now. What are your options?
Your friend informs you that sweet potato is a very popular snack in Japan during autumn. And that it starts making an appearance on street corners and stores around September.
Sweet potato — さつま芋 (さつまいも)
Unlike the standard American sweet potatoes, Japanese sweet potatoes have a drier texture, but taste creamy.
Similar to yams, the outside skin is purplish in color and the inside is more yellow than orange. There are many ways to prepare it, as we’ll see below.
Baked sweet potato — 焼き芋 (やきいも)
This can be purchased from the store or the 焼き芋屋 (やきいもや), the baked sweet potato man, who drives his truck around residential neighborhoods.
Sweet potato croquette — さつま芋コロッケ (さつまいも ころっけ)
This fried food is a big hit among foreigners and kids. While croquettes are not considered an original Japanese food, the deep-fried delicacy evokes the image of an autumn comfort food for many.
Croquettes are often a homemade snack, but they can also be found in the food aisles of department stores.
Pumpkin croquette — 南瓜コロッケ (かぼちゃころっけ)
An alternative is the pumpkin croquette, which is a breaded ball of pumpkin pureed.
Pumpkins abound during this period and are a staple in Japanese cuisine. Japanese winter pumpkins are of a slightly sweeter variety and have a rich, butternut-squash-like flavor.
Like the sweet potato, there are many ways to cook it. A popular way is to fry it as a croquette. It’s delicious when combined with the croquette’s hot, crispy breading.
Traditional Japanese croquette is made with potatoes, and is often mixed with ingredients such as ground beef, onions, corn or other vegetables, and curry seasoning.
But the pumpkin croquette is made entirely of Japanese winter pumpkin, and seasoned simply with salt, pepper and caramelized onions. It is breaded in crumbs, then fried.
It can be enjoyed as is or dipped in a sauce. It’s great as finger food, and can be served as a meal with 味噌汁 (みそしる), miso soup, steamed rice and a salad.
Appetizers 前菜 (ぜんさい) or アペタイザー (あぺたいざー) or 肴 (さかな)
It is now dinner time and you start off with the obligatory beer and appetizer to go with it. In Japan, an appetizer or snack served as an accompaniment for (alcoholic) drinks is called 肴 (さかな).
Ginkgo nuts — 銀杏 (ぎんなん)
Ginkgo nuts are often eaten as an appetizer and accompaniment to beer or 酒 (さけ), Japanese rice wine.
They are also found as a topping on 茶碗蒸し (ちゃわんむし), a Japanese steamed egg custard containing shrimp and mushrooms.
茶碗蒸し is a popular side dish to the main course of an autumn or winter meal.
Beer — ビール (びーる)
The autumn influence is not restricted to food. Brewers, like Sapporo, introduce special versions of their beers, giving them names like “Colors of Japan” or “Good Fortune of Autumn.”
Mains — メインディッシュ (めいんでぃっしゅ) or 主菜 (しゅさい)
Time to move on to the mains! The waiter recommended these autumn favorites. So many options, so little stomach space, which should you choose?
Matsutake mushroom broth — 松茸土瓶蒸し (まつたけ どびんむし)
松茸 is an expensive type of pine mushroom known for its unique smoky aroma and flavor.
It is often eaten in a hearty soup dish called 松茸土瓶蒸し (まつたけ どびんむし), matsutake and broth steamed in an earthenware teapot, which consists of a clear broth, seasonal vegetables, slivers of chicken or shrimp, and the star ingredient, 松茸.
The dish is traditionally prepared and served in a clay teapot called a 土瓶 (どびん). You pour out the broth into a small cup or dish and pick out the rest from the teapot with chopsticks.
It can be complimented with a few drops of citrus, such as 柚 (ゆず). This strong soup is the perfect thing to take away the chill of an autumn evening.
While 松茸土瓶蒸し is available in restaurants around Japan, the price range can differ depending on whether domestic or imported mushrooms are used.
松茸 cannot be cultivated and are becoming scarce in Japan, thus leading to very high domestic prices.
Salt-grilled Pacific saury or mackerel pike — 秋刀魚の塩焼き (さんまの しおやき)
Known as Pacific saury or mackerel pike in the US, the same fish is called 秋刀魚 (さんま) in Japan. 秋刀魚 is composed of three kanji characters and it literally means “autumn sword fish.”
The first character (秋/あき) means autumn, the second (刀/かたな) means sword, and the third (魚/さかな) means fish. 秋刀魚 can be found in abundance off the coast of Japan in autumn.
Autumn is the best time to eat it because that is when it has more fat content—around 20% compared to around 10% during summer.
The sleek, silver fish is best enjoyed grilled with salt, called 秋刀魚の塩焼き (さんまの しおやき), due to its distinctive oiliness and fatty content.
It is lightly seasoned with a pinch of salt and then served in the skin with soy sauce and grated 大根 (だいこん) radish on the side. 秋刀魚の塩焼き is served whole.
You should start eating from the crispy skin, adding a squirt of lime juice, 大根 radishes, or soy sauce to the flesh as a light garnish.
You can then use chopsticks to pick out portions until only the bones are left. Salt-grilled Pacific saury can be enjoyed in traditional pubs with a mild 酒 (さけ).
Steamed chestnut rice — 栗ご飯 (くりごはん)
This dish has two components—rice and chestnut.
New Rice — 新米 (しんまい)
Rice, Japan’s staple food, is seasonal and the first of the rice crop is harvested in autumn.
The first harvests of rice in autumn, called 新米 (しんまい), new rice, are considered to have a completely different taste than the rice harvested year-round.
It is softer, whiter and shinier than rice harvested more than a year earlier. Japanese will often say that new rice is moister, sweeter, and more aesthetically pleasing.
This is something not to be missed if you’re visiting in autumn.
Chestnut — 栗 (くり)
Chestnuts, known in Japanese as 栗, are harvested in the fall. They can be roasted, peeled and eaten as is for a snack or dessert.
They can also be steamed, boiled or cooked in rice to make 栗ご飯 (くりごはん), rice with chestnuts. This is one of the simplest ways to incorporate this delicious nut in your daily diet.
栗ご飯 is one of the most popular fall dishes in Japan and is a hearty dish with a tiny dose of sweetness.
Besides chestnuts, mushrooms and sweet potatoes are also popular rice toppings. Ginkgo nuts are also considered to be a subtle accompaniment to new rice that doesn’t overpower its flavor.
Desserts or Sweets — デザート (でざーと) or お菓子 (おかし)
Burp, time for something sweet! How about a dessert or お菓子 (traditional Japanese confectionery, sweets or candy) to finish the meal?
Persimmon — 柿 (かき)
Persimmon is not a fruit you’d find commonly in the US. But in Japan, you’d see dried persimmons hanging from farmhouses everywhere in mid-fall. It has a brown-orange color that symbolizes autumn.
The fruit is eaten as a snack or after-meal dessert. There are two varieties—soft (柔らかい (やわらかい)) and hard (硬い (かたい)).
For the soft variety, you can spoon out the flesh. For the hard variety, you can munch on it like an apple.
Sweet potato confectionery — スイートポテト (すいーと ぽてと)
While さつま芋 is used to refer to sweet potato itself, “sweet potato confectionery” refers to a confectionery made of sweet potatoes as the main ingredient.
It is made by steaming or boiling sweet potatoes. Then the sweet potatoes are peeled, crushed and mixed with sugar, butter, milk and egg yolk.
The confectionery is coated with egg yolk to give its golden brown color after baking. According to the Dohouse survey, this is Japanese women’s favorite autumn dessert!
Candied chestnuts — 栗きんとん (くり きんとん)
栗きんとん (candied chestnuts) are a simple sweet treat in which chestnuts are steamed, mashed and combined with a delicate confectionery sugar before being twisted into a bun shape using a cloth. 栗きんとん is a traditional Japanese New Years’s food.
Sweet potatoes may be added to heighten the flavor, and the snack is best enjoyed with a cup of hot tea.
Boxes of 栗きんとん are popular gifts for friends and family in the autumn. They are available wherever traditional sweets are sold.
Did you enjoy the culinary journey? What would you have chosen? With all that abundance, it is understandable why autumn is called “the season to eat.”
Disclaimer: Whatever you choose to savor, we are not responsible for any weight gain!
List of 49 Food Words
- 食欲 (しょくよく) — appetite
- 食欲の秋 (しょくよくの あき) — autumn appetite
- お茶 (おちゃ) — tea, usually green tea
- 水 (みず) — water
- 味覚 (みかく) — taste
- 秋の味覚 (あきの みかく) — taste of autumn
- 秋刀魚 (さんま) — Pacific saury or mackerel pike
- 栗 (くり) — chestnut
- 松茸 (まつたけ) — a kind of mushroom (AKA: The king of all mushrooms in Japan)
- 柿 (かき) — Japanese persimmon
- 梨 (なし) — pear
- 新米 (しんまい) — new rice
- さつま芋 (さつまいも) — sweet potato
- きのこ — mushrooms
- 鮭/秋鮭 (さけ/あきざけ) — salmon or Autumn salmon
- 銀杏 (ぎんなん) — ginkgo nuts
- スナック (すなっく) or おやつ — snack
- 焼き (やき) — bake
- 焼き芋 (やきいも) — baked sweet potato
- コロッケ (ころっけ) — croquette
- さつま芋コロッケ (さつまいも ころっけ) — sweet potato croquette
- 南瓜 (かぼちゃ) — pumpkin
- 南瓜コロッケ (かぼちゃ ころっけ) — pumpkin croquette
- 味噌 (みそ) — miso, fermented condiment usually made from soybeans
- 味噌汁 (みそしる) — miso soup
- 前菜 (ぜんさい) or アペタイザー (あぺたいざー) — appetizer
- 肴 (さかな) — accompaniment snack for alcoholic drinks
- 酒(さけ) — sake, Japanese alcohol
- 茶碗 (ちゃわん) — tea bowl
- 蒸し (むし) — steaming
- 茶碗蒸し (ちゃわんむし) — chawan mushi, savory steamed egg custard with chicken, mushrooms, etc.
- ビール (びーる) — beer
- メインディッシュ (めいんでぃっしゅ) or 主菜 (しゅさい) — mains
- 土瓶 (どびん) — earthenware teapot
- 土瓶蒸し (どびんむし) — food steam-boiled in an earthenware teapot
- 松茸土瓶蒸し (まつたけ どびんむし) — matsutake and broth steamed in an earthenware teapot
- 柚 (ゆず) — yuzu, citrus fruit
- 塩 (しお) — salt
- 塩焼き (しおやき) — grilled or broiled with salt
- 秋刀魚の塩焼き (さんまの しおやき) — salt-grilled Pacific saury or mackerel pike
- 大根 (だいこん) — daikon, a kind of radish
- ご飯 (ごはん) — cooked rice
- 栗ご飯 (くりごはん) — steamed chestnut rice
- デザート (でざーと) — desserts
- お菓子 (おかし) — traditional Japanese confection, sweets or candy
- 柔らかい (やわらかい) — soft
- 硬い (かたい) — hard
- スイートポテト (すいーと ぽてと) — sweet potato confection
- 栗きんとん (くりきんとん) — candied chestnuts
Karen Foo’s love affair with the Japanese language started from the song “Say Yes” by Chage & Aska. She currently runs a Japanese learning website to marry her love of Japanese and flash games. You can learn and listen to other useful Japanese phrases at her website, JapaneseUp.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Japanese with real-world videos.