Around the World in Houston: Discover Japan

Photo courtesy of Houston Japan Festival

With a labyrinth of cultures represented in every nook and cranny of town, Houston is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in America. To celebrate this world-class melting pot, we’ll be exploring a new region of the globe through a Houston lens each week, from annual festivals and museums to restaurants and cultural experiences. Join the journey with our Around the World in Houston series.

Explore a serene Japanese Garden, enjoy traditional music and dance at the Japan Festival, fill up on everything from flawless cuts of sashimi to chawanmush (egg custard), and get a taste of Japan without leaving Houston.

Annual Festivals & Cultural Events

  • Japan Festival Houston – This annual festival celebrates the rich cultural heritage of Japan, featuring traditional and contemporary performances of Japanese music, dance and martial arts; Japanese and Japanese-inspired food; and demonstrations and displays from Ikebana flower arrangements and tea ceremonies to origami and bonsai.
  • Asia Fest – Asia Society’s annual Asia Fest celebrates Asian Pacific American heritage through family-friendly and creative activities, community performances, exciting artwork and vendors, and plenty of tasty fusion cuisine. The annual event is typically held in May (Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month) each year.

Museums & Cultural Organizations

  • Japan America Society of Houston – The Japan America Society of Houston aims to build friendships while connecting Houston’s diverse community to advance the mutual interest of American and Japanese peoples. Programs include language and education, arts and culture, kids days, and business initiatives and networking.
  • Japanese Association of Greater Houston – This nonprofit organization is operated by volunteers living in the Houston metropolitan area, connecting those who enjoy Japanese traditions, language, and culture.
  • Asia Society Texas Center – The Asia Society Texas Center focuses on enriching and engaging the vast diversity of Houston through innovative, relevant programs in arts and culture, business and policy, education and community outreach. Look out for film festivals, family days, food and architecture tours, student programs, art exhibits, and night markets,
  • Arts of Asia at Museum of Fine Arts, Houston – The museum’s collections of Asian art span nearly five millennia and encompass the cultures of Asia, including Japan, China, the Himalayas, India, Korea, and Southeast Asia. The arts of Japan collection includes Buddhist sculptures, contemporary ceramics, 17th to 19th-century hanging scroll paintings, illustrated books, woodblock prints, and lacquer. Contemporary installations and video are also on view.
  • Asian Pacific American Heritage Association – Formed in 1992 and serving the Greater Houston area and beyond, this heritage association strives to promote awareness and increase understanding of the Asian/Pacific American culture and its diversity through education and celebration. The group focuses on Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (May) and continues with programs, events, and educational opportunities throughout the year.

Japanese Food & Drink

Restaurants & Bars

  • Aka Sushi House – Try the happy hour at this popular sushi spot on West Alabama, offered Monday through Friday from 3pm to 7pm along with reverse happy hour 9pm to close and all day happy hour on weekends.
  • Asahi Sushi – This Kirby strip center joint offers sushi and sake with ramen, katsu, and tempura ice cream to boot.
  • Azuma – With locations in Downtown, Upper Kirby, and Sugar Land, Azuma pleases with dishes like hot rock kobe, scallop motoyaki, and a lineup of maki, temaki, nigiri, and sashimi.
  • Cafe Kubo’s Sushi – This Chinatown haunt offers nigiri sushi and sashimi, rolls filled with everything from yellowtail and spicy tuna to smoked salmon and cream cheese, and dishes like takoyaki (octopus dumplings), miso soup, and pork cutlet curry.
  • Genji Japanese Restaurant & Karaoke Bar – Get karaoke and traditional Japanese eats in a casual setting at this fun Chinatown joint.
  • Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ – Meaning “Horn of the Bull” in Japanese, Gyu-Kaku provides an authentic Japanese yakiniku (grilled barbecue) dining experience. Cook your own meat and veggies over a flaming charcoal grill and sip on Japanese sake, shochu, and frosty cold beers.
  • Izakaya – In Midtown, this Japanese-fusion pub offers an impressive selection of sake, beers, and booze alongside dishes like tori kawa chicken skin, panko-crusted katsu, Japanese beef curry, and bacon-wrapped mochi. Check it out for lunch, happy hour, dinner, or ramen brunch.
  • Izakaya Wa – Not to be confused with the Midtown Izakaya, this Asiatown haunt specializes in sushi and skewers, with skewer offerings including chicken yakitori, enoki bacon, panko-fried quail egg, ginger sea scallop, and kurobuta sausage.
  • Jinya Ramen – This ramen chain has locations in Midtown, Katy, The Woodlands, FM1960, and Nasa, rocking a hip vibe, delicious slow-simmered stocks, and daily-made noodles.
  • KA Sushi – Hit this Heights spot to get nigiri, sashimi, and maki alongside dishes like 48-hour miso marinated yellowtail, whole fried flounder with spicy ponzu, wagyu short rib, and silken tofu with bonito flakes.
  • Kaneyama Japanese Restaurant – Get authentic eats in a traditional setting, from chawanmush (egg custard) and beef tataki to sushi with salmon roe, egg omelet, and uni.
  • Kata Robata – Chef Manabu “Hori-san” Horiuchi’s flawless preparations of rice and fish make this Upper Kirby eatery one of the finest in town. Get razor-sharp cuts of hamachi sashimi, spoons of uni king crab, miso lobster mac, and 72-hour slow-cooked Texas kobe beef; and look out for seasonal specials featuring truffles, figs and more.
  • Kukuri – Michelin starred Chef Shimao Ishikawa has brought his sushi and sashimi prowess to this Washington Ave spot. In addition to the freshest fish, enjoy menu in-season delicacies from its ever-changing omakase menu.
  • Kuu – This Memorial City spot offers modern Japanese in a sleek setting, with chef Adison Lee perfecting his technique at Nobu before bringing his skills to Houston. Dine on beautiful preparations of sake crudo, toro sashimi, crispy duck with wasabi beet reduction, and uni-crusted king crab with uni custard.
  • MF Sushi – Any meal at this Museum District haunt is a good one, but it’s the omakase tasting at the sushi bar takes the cake. Omakase basically means “trust chef,” and with Chef Chris Kinjo – aka “Magic Fingers” – behind the concept, you can be sure you’ve put your trust in the right hands. Each course is as aesthetically pleasing as it is tasty, from the classic preparations to novel delights.
  • Ninja Ramen – Slurp Asahikawa-style ramen at this late-night Washington Avenue favorite.
  • Nippon – The Yoshida has been bringing authentic Japanese flavors to Houston since 1986. Hit the Montrose spot for everything from soba noodles and vegetable tempura to rolls, nigiri, and sashimi.
  • Osaka Japanese Restaurant – With four locations dotting the city, Osaka offers sushi and rolls ranging from the decadent – think lobster katsu, pepper tuna, and creamy wasabi – to the classic, alongside Japanese plates like udon, beef tataki, and shrimp shumai.
  • Ramen Bar Ichi – Located next to Japanese food store Seiwa Market, head to this ramen bar for freshly made noodles and flavor-packed broth in a casual setting.
  • Ramen Tatsu-Ya – Tase the soul food of Japan at this Montrose ramen shop, which goes big on flavor with add on “bombs” in flavors like corn-honey-butter, red pepper paste, and yuzo kosho.
  • Roka Akor – This Japanese steakhouse and seafood restaurant is among a very select group of restaurants in Texas to offer certified Japanese wagyu, with certified Kobe from Tajima, certified Miyazaki from Kysho Island, and certified Shiga from Hokkaido. The eatery also has an award-winning sushi program will feature fresh fish flown in daily.
  • Shabu House – Hit this do-it-yourself Asiatown spot to get down on traditional Japanese hot pot.
  • Teppay Japanese Restaurant – Located on Voss and Westheimer, Teppay is known for its sushi, though you’ll find a selection of ramen, udon, and rice bowls, too.
  • Tiger Den – This cool kid’s Japanese izakaya specializes in both char-grilled skewers (from grilled beef tongue and pork jowel to chicken skins and shrimp) and ramen with housemade noodles and 20-hour broth.
  • Uchi – There’s a reason you’ll find a line out the door at this Montrose hotspot, and that’s because the experience is worth it. Melding culinary innovation with an approachable vibe, the kitchen dreams up bites like machi cure with yuca crisp, bigeye tuna and goat cheese, 72-hour short rib, and Japanese pumpkin tempura. Be sure to try the sake social happy hour to dine on the cheap.
  • Zen Japanese Izakaya – Discover the authentic Japanese tastes at this Montrose haunt, which boasts a carefully selected menu of dishes found in Japan. Special fish selections come from Tokyo Tsukiji Fish Market.

Grocery Shops & Bakeries

  • Nippan Daido Japanese Grocery Store – Though it’s not very large, this Japanese maket rocks a serious selection of product. Shop for things like fresh sashimi, Kuroushi beef, crispy noodles, yuzu kosho, and green tea cream puffs.
  • Seiwa Market – Over on South Dairy Ashford next to Ramen Bar Ichi, this Japanese supermarket has everything you need to create an authentic Japanese meal at home, from yellowfin tuna sashimi, and Berkshire pork ready for shabu shabu to fresh produce and imported noodles, rice and seasonings, plus plenty of prepared foods and baked goods, drinks, snacks, and candies. Hit the café for bento boxes and udon bowls, and look out for in-store events like sake demos, sales and more.

Language Classes, Education Centers, Groups & Meet-Ups

  • Japanese Language Program – The Japan America Society of Houston’s language program offers classes from beginner to advanced.
  • Houston Japanese Language Meetup – This public meetup group brings together local Japanese language speakers in a fun environment, with members ranging from beginner to native level Japanese.
  • Japanese Culture and Language Association at the University of Houston – This student organization is dedicated to the study, discussion, and promotion of Japanese language and culture, offering events like traditional/modern craft workshops and group outings to Japanese restaurants.
  • Origami: Friday Folding – The Jung Center offers origami folding workshops, focusing on different techniques and creating focus and zen.

Other Notables

  • Japanese Garden at Hermann Park Conservacy – Designed by world-renowned landscape architect, Ken Nakajima, the Japanese Garden uses natural materials like rock, wood, and plants to give a feeling of serenity. Explore the winding paths and lush gardens, unwind at the teahouse and get zen among crepe myrtles, azaleas, Japanese maples, dogwoods, and cherry trees. The Japanese Garden is open daily (hours vary seasonally) and is free to check out.
  • Fit JP Store – This Asian household store stocks over 15,000 products, including Japanese cosmetics, kitchenware, health and cleaning products, gifts, crafts, and toys.
  • Ichimaru Japanese Beauty – Shop for unique and hard to score Japanese beauty products at this Chinatown shop store.
  • Japan House – Located on South Dairy Ashford, this retail shop sells various Japanese goods, from kitchenware and housewares to stationery, beauty supplies, and anime.
  • Moshi Moshi – Hit this Asian gift store to find popular items from Japan, including jewelry, pens and pencils, toys, stickers, clocks, and Hello Kitty and Pokémon goods.
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Brooke Viggiano is a food and lifestyle writer residing in Houston. When she's not contributing to publications like 365 Things to Do in Houston, Thrillist Houston and the Houston Press, she's on the hunt for the coolest happenings in the city. You can follow her musings on Twitter @BrookeViggiano .