Kaiseki Ryori

Kaiseki ryori is traditional Japanese multi-course haute cuisine. Its origins are found many centuries ago in the simple meals served at the tea ceremony, but later it evolved into an elaborate dining style popular among aristocratic circles. Today, kaiseki is served in specialized restaurants or can be enjoyed by staying at a ryokan (Japanese style inn).

Kaiseki meals have a prescribed order to their dishes, most of which are prepared by using one of the common techniques of Japanese cooking. However, kaiseki chefs have considerable freedom to add, omit or substitute courses in order to highlight regional and seasonal delicacies and personal style. Below is a list of courses as they typically appear in a kaiseki meal:


Aperitif (Shokuzen-shu)
The meal may be started off with a small glass of alcohol. Usually it is a sweet wine or local alcohol.

A selection of beautifully prepared, bite-sized appetizers start the meal. This is often served on a long dish known as a hassun named after its typical length of eight sun (about 24 cm).

Main Courses

Kaiseki courses are categorized by cooking method, with each dish representing one of the methods. Not all dishes may be present, however, as chefs will often include or omit dishes depending on the season and the chef's individual style.

Soup (Suimono)
The soup is an integral part of a kaiseki meal. It is often a simple clear broth sparingly garnished with vegetables, tofu or seafood.

Sashimi (Otsukuri)
Sashimi is thinly sliced, raw fish, usually served on a bed of shredded daikon (Japanese radish) and accompanied by soya sauce and a small amount of wasabi paste. Sashimi is sometimes served with the starters.

Boiled Dish (Nimono)
Nimono is a dish made by boiling, simmering or stewing vegetables and meat or seafood, often in a mixture of soya sauce, sweet cooking sake and sugar.

Grilled Dish (Yakimono)
Yakimono dishes are usually either grilled fish or meat. Grilled fish may be a local fresh water variety or seafood depending on the region. Grilled meat often features local wagyu (prime Japanese beef).

Deep Fried Dish (Agemono)
The fried dish is commonly tempura (seafood and vegetables deep fried in a light flour batter). It is commonly served towards the end of the meal, alongside a light dipping sauce or salt seasoning.

Steamed Dish (Mushimono)
The most common steamed dish is chawanmushi, a savory egg custard flavored with fish stock, that contains small morsels of mushrooms, chicken, ginko nuts and seafood. It is served in a teacup shaped, lidded dish and eaten with a small spoon.

Vinegared Dish (Sunomono)
Sunomono dishes usually consist of vegetables and seafood (often shrimp or octopus) dressed in a vinegar based sauce. These dishes are usually served in small, shallow bowls to accommodate their vinegar dressings.


The shokuji set consists of rice, miso soup and pickles (tsukemono) and is always served toward the end of the meal before dessert.

A bowl of white rice is most commonly served, although some ryokan have come up with creative variations such as mugi gohan (rice with barley), okayu (rice porridge), takenoko gohan (rice with bamboo shoots) and other seasonal rice dishes.

Miso Soup
Accompanying the rice is a bowl of miso soup, made by dissolving miso paste in fish stock and adding additional ingredients such as seafood, vegetables and tofu.

Pickles (Tsukemono)
A small assortment of pickled vegetables is the third element of the shokuji. It may include pickles such as takuan (pickled daikon radish), umeboshi (pickled plum) or hakusai no sokusekizuke (pickled Chinese cabbage).


A dessert, such as local or seasonal fresh fruit, sorbet or other light dessert makes up the final course.

Anything we can improve?  Let us know
We strive to keep Japan Guide up-to-date and accurate, and we're always looking for ways to improve. If you have any updates, suggestions, corrections or opinions, please let us know:
Thank you for your feedback.
Page last updated: March 14, 2010