Issen Yoshoku — The Origins of Western Food in Japan

Issen Yoshoku (壹銭洋食)
The Origins of Western Food in Japan

Issen Yoshoku Teaser

Issen Yoshoku is located in Gion and serves a variation of the popular dish, okonomiyaki. Issen Yoshiku combines a comical interior with a one dish menu. It is a popular destination for locals and tourists. While somewhat kitschy, at Issen Yoshoku you can taste what is said to be the original ‘Western food’ in Japan. Plus, a tasty meal for 630 yen in Gion is a real bargain!

Issen Yoshoku — ‘Western food’
Issen Yoshoku

Teppanyaki, okonomiyaki and takoyaki are dishes well loved by Japanese that are cooked on an iron griddle. Okonomiyaki and takoyaki you may not be familiar with. And if you are visiting the Kanto area (Tokyo), you will have a chance to try monjyayaki (but it sucks).

The original ‘Western food’ (洋食, yoshoku) in Japan, at least that eaten by commoners, was defined as something made with wheat flour (merikenko, literally American powder) and/or ‘sauce’, as in the (very Japanese) sauce used on this dish. This dish was called Issen Yoshoku (一銭, one sen would be about 1 U.S. cent and 洋食 is literally ‘Western food’)

The owner of Issen Yoshoku, Tatsuo Kinoshita started some 30 years ago. He wanted to serve the original Western food in Japan that during the Taisho Period (early 1900’s) cost about 1 U.S. cent and was sold by street vendors and served in news paper.

Issen Yoshoku is both the name of the dish and the name of this restaurant. The owner trademarked the name by using a very old Chinese character for ‘one’ (‘壹’ old, ‘一’ modern). So, 壹銭洋食’s 一銭洋食 is very famous! Now if you didn’t get that, don’t worry!

Issen Yoshoku consists of a wheat flour based batter cooked like a crepe on the griddle (see photo below), chopped scallions, egg and thinly sliced pork are added and after cooking for 7 or 8 minutes half is folded over and cooked for a bit more then served garnished with lots of sauce and strips of nori.

The owner of Issen Yoshoku is quite a jokester, starting with the menu. The bright red menu is gigantic and when you open it, the only dish served is prominently displayed.

The interior is hot and heavy with sexual innuendo, however it isn’t sleazy. The owner says that as he grew up in Gion, as a child he saw the entire world of adults, the ‘front and the back’ and while Gion was not and is not a redlight district, after food and drink, sex is often next on the menu, so to speak.

At each table in the establishment is a cute, young kimono clad mannequin, to keep you company. The owner says it is to trick drunken men as they pass by at night, they see what appears to be cute single young ladies all alone and step in for a bite to eat. I highly doubt that anyone is really fooled. Many of the modern drinking establishments in Gion are ‘hostess bars’ where young gals keep the male patrons company while they drink. These bars are often very expensive, Issen Yoshoku on the other hand is a very reasonably priced place, so the gals are just mannequins!

On the walls are ema (絵馬) these small wooden plaques are a staple of Shinto shrines. They are purchased then a wish or prayer is written on them, then it is hung up to receive the blessing of the gods. Here at Issen Yoshoku, there are a few hundred of them on the walls, all on the theme of sex. (See below) The owner says that even the jaded police officers that come in for a bite from the police box around the corner just laugh.

Issen Yoshoku’s match books are a real scream. Be sure to pick some up for a one of a kind souvenir for everyone back home!

I have never eaten in a place like this and I can’t imagine that there is anything like this elsewhere in Japan. The sexual innuendo is pervasive, but being in the style of an era past, it has a charm to it, it is refreshing. Though Issen Yoshoku is a very popular destination for junior high school and senior high school students on their school excursions, all the innuendo doesn’t bother anyone, illustrating Japanese attitudes about sexuality in an interesting way.

The drinks offered are also of this era gone by. I had hiyashi ame (literally, cold candy). This is a sweet, ginger based drink that is great in summer. There is also ramune (lemonade), a very light, lemon flavored carbonated drink. These drinks were the Coca-Cola of Japan 80 or 100 years ago.

I am not big on okonomiyaki, or kitsch, but I have always liked Issen Yoshoku. If you are in Kyoto for a few days and want to try something quite out of the ordinary — and very reasonably priced in Gion, try Issen Yoshoku. Take out is also available.

Issen Yoshoku

Issen Yoshoku Sauce
Additional sauce is available spicy (辛口) and sweet (甘口)

Issen Yoshoku Hiyashiame
hiyashiame (cold sweet ginger drink)

Issen Yoshoku Menu
the oversized menu

Issen Yoshoku Menu

Issen Yoshoku Interior
My dining companion — she didn’t say much!

Issen Yoshoku Interior

Issen Yoshoku Interior
The ema wooden plaques on the wall behind my ‘date’.

Issen Yoshoku Interior
Ema: Can you guess what she is praying for?

Issen Yoshoku Dog Bite
Next to the entry, this has become the symbol of Issen Yoshoku.

Issen Yoshoku Exterior Grill Take Away
The teppan griddle next to the entry, take away is available

Issen Yoshoku Storefront
Issen Yoshoku storefront

Egg: The egg, as you can probably see in the photos is very runny, pretty close to raw. Again, I have never had any trouble with raw egg and it does go very well with Japanese food.

京都、祇園、壹銭洋食

8 Responses to “Issen Yoshoku — The Origins of Western Food in Japan”

  1. Ricardo says:

    I’ve been looking for the name of this place for months! I’ve eaten a lot of delicious dishes when I was in Japan last April, but I.Y. was the most memourable. Thanks for posting and the detailed descriptions and explanation. Sayonara!

  2. PekoPeko says:

    Here there Ricardo,

    Thanks for stopping by and glad that you could find the name of the restaurant here!

    Did you like the interior decor of I.Y.?

    What else did you have that was memorable when you were here?

  3. Pepy says:

    I learned how to make takoyaki from a Japanese student who came to Winnipeg a while ago to learn English.

  4. psteier says:

    The ema of the woman spraying milk from her breasts is a traditional one – it was given by women who had problems feeding their baby.
    From http://www.interculturaljapan.com/wordpress/2006/08/ema-votive-plates/ “for example a nursing mother might donate a picture of a woman squirting milk from her full breasts”.

  5. Peko Peko says:

    Hellp Pepy, Wow, takoyaki has made it all the way to Winnipeg. Imagine that!

    Hello pseier, Thank you for the info and link. (I think I knew that.) I like your site, I see that we use the same theme too!

  6. […] To clarify, Issen Yoshoku is both the name of the restaurant, and the name of the only dish it serves. It’s apparently the ‘original Western food’ in Japan, created during the early 1900s and sold by street vendors for 1 US cent wrapped in newspaper. (Source: Kyoto Foodie) […]

  7. Gina Astafan says:

    Fantastic blogpost, thanks so much!

  8. mabel says:

    My husband and I ate here when we were in Kyoto last spring and I’ve been looking for its name and what sort of dish it was that we ate. Thanks for the post! The mannequins are also a funny touch.

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