When you think of foods that are popular in Japan, things like sushi, ramen and udon more than likely come to mind. But, you may be surprised to learn that pizza is also hugely popular in Japan. Pizza first came to Japan following World War II and since then, like many Western foods in Japan, developed its own unique Japanese style.
Japan is host to a surprising range of pizza flavours that may either appeal or repulse depending on how adventurous you are. Based on the menus of Japan’s top pizza chains, here are some unique Japanese pizzas you should consider trying when you’re in Japan.
This one is probably a good gateway into the world of Japanese pizza. Chicken pizza itself isn’t a stranger to Western palates and teriyaki chicken pizzas do occasionally appear on pizza menus in Australia. This one offers a nice sweet-savoury flavour combo that’s familiar enough to make it an easy introduction to Japanese pizzas.
You wouldn’t really expect rice cakes (mochi) to appear on a pizza but mochi and cheese make an unexpectedly great combination. While carb-on-carb may seem strange to some people, the interesting contrast in textures makes it a fun eating experience.
Of course, seafood pizza is a pretty common option in Australia but where a Japanese seafood pizza differs is in the sheer amount of topping variations. These include things like squid, salmon, crab and even scallops! Rather than a tomato sauce, these seafood pizzas usually have a mayonnaise based sauce, so they are quite rich.
For some reason, pizza and corn go hand in hand in Japan. While not the most exciting topping, it is one of the most popular pizza ingredients and often appears on menus. So while a corn and mayonnaise pizza might not sound like the most appetising thing in the world, it’s popularity suggests it might be worth a try.
This pizza is on the menus of most major pizza chains in Japan but is a particular specialty of Pizza Hut, where it is one of their most popular items. What makes this unique pizza interesting is that it’s a triple fusion of culinary ideas: Spicy Korean bulgogi on an American style pizza is an idea that could have only been conceived in Japan. This beef topped pizza will certainly fill you up.
Natto tends to be something you either love or hate, but if you’ve been scared to try Japan’s infamous sticky fermented beans, having it on a pizza is a good way to start. The cheese reduces the smell and that slimy natto texture. And on the plus side, natto is extremely nutritious, so you can pretend you’re making a healthy choice with this one.
Here we have another odd combination that people might feel uncertain about but honey goes very well with most kinds of cheese and I imagine the same goes with a cheesy pizza. This must make for an interesting savoury and sweet combination and a good pairing with wine.
This isn’t really a specific type of pizza so much as a concept. A four in one pizza is pretty common in Australia where its often called a four corners pizza, but Japan really takes the idea to another level. This type of pizza is so popular in Japan that it always appears near the top of menus and the variety of options are staggering. They also give a great opportunity to try some of Japan’s unique pizzas in one go.
This spicy cod roe is a popular ingredient in Japan and can be found in many foods from pasta to bread, so its inclusion here should come as no surprise. Cheese, mentaiko and nori make a great combination, especially on a pizza.
One thing to keep in mind, is that even ‘standard’ pizza flavours in Japan will likely taste a little different to their Western counterparts. The crust actually tends to be the biggest difference in Japanese pizza. This is often thinner than even the thinnest crust you may be used to and is almost crepe-like. The major delivery chains have sturdier bases but it’s something to keep in mind when you order pizza in a restaurant.
The Major Japanese Pizza Chains
If you’ve decided to dive into the world of Japan’s takeaway and delivery pizzas, there are a few popular companies to choose from. Let’s analyse the four biggest contenders on the Japanese pizza market: US imports Domino’s and Pizza Hut, and Japanese owned chains Pizza-La and Aoki’s Pizza.
Domino’s has the benefit of being the largest pizza chain in Japan and offers and offers some hearty, generously topped pizzas. They also experiment a lot with their menu so there’s always new flavours to try.
Pizza Hut’s menu is probably the most conventional in terms of toppings which makes it popular with expats. It also tends to offer fairly good discounts through its website so it is one of the more reasonably priced pizza options in Japan.
Pizza-La is a Japanese company with a 30 year history and is Japan’s second largest pizza chain. They offer a wide range of toppings and can be found pretty much everywhere in Japan.
If you’re after a true Japanese pizza experience, Aoki’s is possibly your best bet. Aoki’s offers high quality ingredients and lots of options. One downside however is that Aoki’s has far fewer stores than the other chains and is only present in a handful of prefectures.
Wait, the pizza is how much??
Unfortunately, it’s an indisputable fact that pizza is pretty expensive in Japan compared to other countries. A medium-sized pizza, on average, starts at around 2,500 yen. Large size can put you somewhere close to 4,000 yen, probably 2-3 times the cost of pizza in some other countries. Pizza picked up at the store can be cheaper, but the delivery price is often surprisingly high.
Why are pizzas so expensive in Japan? There are a few theories for this.
First of all, the ingredients: As anyone who’s lived in Japan for any length of time can tell you, cheese is significantly more expensive than in the West. Other ingredients that are staples on Western pizza like pepperoni and olives also have much higher price points.
In Japan, pizza is still somewhat seen as a food for special occasions. Home delivered pizza in the West is often considered food for when you don’t feel like cooking whereas in Japan, this niche is dominated by convenience stores and ramen restaurants. Pizza is seen mainly as a food for when you’re having a large gathering of people together. Pizza’s price tag and its impressive presentation in Japan make it more suitable as a food you share with your friends.
While Pizza itself has been in Japan for a long time, pizza delivery only started to take off in the 1980s. While take away food was by no means new on the Japanese food scene, the idea of delivery was quite new. More diverse delivery options have appeared in Japan over the last few years but before this, home delivery was almost exclusively pizza. This added to the appeal of the food, and also increased the cost of production, as companies had to cover their delivery staff’s vehicles, fuel, insurance etc.
Japan’s unique pizza culture
As you can see, pizza can be quite different in Japan compared to its Western counterparts. Which unique flavour appeals most to you?