Japan offers just about every dining experience one could dream up—kitten cafes, ninja-themed experiences and most definitely traditional selections. Outdoor dining is just another style perfected in the country, with historically rich Kyoto and Tokyo housing quite a handful of establishments. While mostly available in the warmer months, an outdoor meal in Japan is bucket list-worthy, and these are our favorite spots to soak it in.
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Umemura Kyoto, Kyoto
From May to the end of September, Kyoto kawadokos, which are wooden platforms that can sometimes even hang over the water, dot the rivers of the traditional city. Umemura beautifully presents its seasonal dining space, while also enriching the experience via geisha performances. Kaiseki cuisine, an authentic multi-course meal of delicacies such as rice dishes, sashimi, marinated veggies, soups and a sweet treat, rounds out a seamless night experiencing views and culture.
Amore Kiyamachi, Kyoto
Right beside the Kamogawa River, Amore Kiyamachi is more known for its sweeping water views from the outdoor wooden terrace than its Italian food. But eating spaghetti with chopsticks, or trying a wood-fired pizza in Japan sounds kind of intriguing. A selection of meats is also available, making the restaurant a good voice for those who aren’t big seafood fans. Overall, the wood accents and ambiance make for a neat environment to enjoy pizza and the famous river in Kyoto at the same time.
CICADA is located within Tokyo’s Minato City, featuring lovely wooden decks hovering over turquoise pools of water, shaded with expansive umbrellas. Joined by extended patio seating and indoor tables, CICADA is both versatile in style and taste. The Mediterranean eats include tender lamb, prosciutto stuffed calamari and bright greens are a nice change of pace if looking to veer from traditional Japanese foods for the night. Top off your taste buds with some Moroccan mint tea.
Pontocho Misoguigawa, Kyoto
Notice the trend that a lot of Japan’s amazing outdoor dining spots are in Kyoto? Pontocho Misoguigawa just adds to the list, ranking high in general, and offering an adorable elevated space constructed of natural wood and accented with paper lanterns. Kaiseki style meals are blended superbly with French cuisine, and the result is strikingly presented with unexpected treats. Pontocho Misoguigawa has it all—reviews praise the establishment for excellent service, mouthwatering food, and impeccable atmosphere.
Restaurant Luke with Sky Lounge, Tokyo
Even the indoor seating at Tokyo’s Restaurant Luke with Sky Lounge is adorned with gigantic windows, which peer outward to the city. Twinkling Tokyo lights add the most unbelievable background when dining at night. The outdoor terrace is spacious, being slightly easier to nab a seat versus smaller ones in Kyoto, but reservations are always a good thing. Elegantly prepared dishes are quite good, but the 47th-floor views would have to be front and center.
Kyoto Kitcho Arashiyama, Kyoto
Kyoto Kitcho features a hyper traditional experience within an authentic structure of wooden walls, tatami mats and low chabudai tables. Lit with lanterns and surrounded by lush Japanese foliage, some parts of the indoor dining space feel as if they actually sit on top of the river. Boats drift by the outdoor seating platform to create a magical ambiance. Above and beyond, the multiple course dinner often features puffer fish, crab, sushi, white strawberries and matcha tea. Keep in mind, you will likely need to book your meal months in advance.
T.Y. Harbor, Tokyo
T.Y. Harbor is located in Tokyo’s Shinagawa City and is nestled directly against the channel. Roasted chicken, ribs, pizza and other perfectly prepared American eats won’t disappoint, and neither will the local beer selection and creative cocktails. Inside the setting is gorgeous, but of course, the outdoor patio, which sits flush with the water and dotted with foliage, is where you’ll want to dine. Lights from the city reflect off the water and boats putter by.
Pontocho Fumiya, Kyoto
Pontocho Fumiya, not to be confused with other nearby establishments touting the Fumiya name, has been preparing traditional foods of Kyoto for 70 years, while also setting up a kawadoko during the warmer months. Tatami mats and chabudai tables sit snuggly outside, providing perfect views of the Kamogawa River. The entire space is quite traditional while managing to be a bit light and modern. Shabu Shabu—a rich soup meal paired with other delicacies for dipping, is one of the true regional dishes to enjoy here.
Ikariya Syokudo, Kyoto
Ikariya Shokudo sits within the Shimogyo-ku neighborhood of Kyoto, right on the river. While other restaurants feature their temporary, yet none-the-less stunning, river dining platforms, Ikariya offers a permanent terrace from which guests can enjoy a perfectly fusioned Japanese French meal. Tender meats, cherry pasta and fluffy pound cake appropriately fill the menu, and the outdoor wooden patio surrounded by bamboo screen and swaying trees couldn’t be better.
Starbucks Sanjo Ohashi, Kyoto
Get ready to be shocked, or maybe not, but Starbucks makes our list. In Kyoto yet again, Starbucks Sanjo Ohashi has a dreamy patio over the trickling waters below, and it ranks up there with some of the best in Japan. Of course, it’s Starbucks, so one can get a tasty espresso with a warm pastry, but then enjoy it in a supreme environment. Given that some of the riverside restaurants can get pricey, this is a cool way to experience Kyoto’s outdoor dining without spending too much.