Insect-based cuisine has a long history in Japan. For example, a 1919 study by entomologist Tsunekata Miyake listed 55 edible insects, with rice grasshoppers, crickets, and wasps being commonly consumed across the country. However, due to modernization, insects have become less familiar to people, many of whom now find them revolting.
Despite this, in certain regions, the tradition of insect-eating persists. For instance, n the Tenryu River area in Nagano Prefecture, aquatic insect larvae known as zazamushi are turned into tsukudani (a preserved food simmered in sugar and soy sauce) and sold as luxury delicacies.
Interest in consuming insects was boosted following a 2013 report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, highlighting edible insects for their potential role in enhancing food security. The report pointed out insects’ efficiency in converting feed into protein. For example, up to 80% of a cricket is edible and digestible, compared with only 40% for cattle and 55% for pigs and chickens. Moreover, crickets require much less feed and water resources to produce 1 kg of edible body weight compared to traditional livestock. Consequently, the UN promotes insects as an environmentally friendly food source for the future.
Reflecting this global sustainability trend, several businesses have started incorporating insects into their products. They do this by using insect powders, overwhelmingly made from farmed house crickets (acheta), into snack products like chips, crackers or cookies.
Despite these developments, skepticism remains regarding the widespread acceptance of insect consumption, especially among younger generations. A 2016 survey indicated that a significantly lower percentage of individuals in their 20s can handle insects compared to those in their 60s. This hesitation extends to even viewing insects, with instances of student complaints about “insect harassment” when pictures of insects are shown during lectures.
Given the popularity of eating insects several decades ago, it is a bit surprising that in present-day Japan, insect consumption is much less widespread, and you have to look hard to find examples. But you can find them. Insects are still eaten in modern-day Japan, just not at the rate they once were.
Nowadays, the most common bugs still eaten to some degree are:
- Locusts and grasshoppers (イナゴ・inago)
- Crickets (コオロギ・kōrogi)
- Bee larvae (蜂の子・hachinoko)
- Maggots (蛆・uji)
- Silk worms (蚕・kaiko)
Take the dish inago no tsukudani, for instance, a regional specialty which is also available in Tokyo. This dish consists of locusts simmered in a mixture of soy sauce and sugar or mirin (a type of sweet cooking sake). The tsukudani method, which involves simmering with soy sauce and sugar or mirin, is a traditional way of preparing food to extend its shelf life. You can even buy Inago Tsukudani on Amazon in Japan.
Other insects are also made into tsukudani. An example is Hachinoko, which you can find in some stores. These are the eggs and larvae of the Vespula flaviceps, a black and white variety of yellow jacket wasp.
Where to find edible insects in Tokyo
Apart from ordering various products online, like Amazon, you can find edible insects primarily in 4 locations: restaurants, convenience and other stores, food stalls, and vending machines.
Yup, vending machines. If you have ever been to Japan you are aware that there are clusters of vending machines at every corner, dispensing anything from soft drinks to popcorn and, yes, edible insects. T.I.S., the company that operates these machines, has 10 across Japan, 4 of them in Tokyo.
The company originally specialized in operating and selling coin-operated lockers. When there was a surplus of second-hand vending machines, they were researching for innovative new products to sell with these machines. They soon focused on edible insects.
On this page, scroll down to the bottom where you can see all locations on a map.
T.I.S. also operates an edible insect food specialty open air stall in Ueno called MUSHI-YA TOKYO (address: 4-7-8 Ueno, Taito-ku, Tokyo Ameyoko Center Building, 1F). Using edible insects in all menus, they offer skewers of crickets and silkworms, raw larvae, and snacks made with insect protein powders.
In addition, there are insect-scented alcoholic beverages and soft drinks, as well as soft ice cream made with sago worms, making this a place where beginners to entomophagy as well as advanced connoisseurs can get their money’s worth.
Then there are three proper restaurants either entirely or partially focused on serving insect cuisine: Take-Noko, Antcicada and Rice & Circus.
Take-Noko (2F, 1-3-14 Nishi-Asakusa, Taito-ku), a 3-minute walk from Tokyo Metro Ginza Line’s Tawaramachi Station) is a small café with 10 seats that sells edible insect dishes and drinks. The origin of the name of the shop, TAKE-NOKO, means bamboo shoot.
Sample menu items include silkworm feces tea, bee lemon soda, or watari grasshopper coffee; on weekends and holidays, there are also cricket-laced pasta dishes like Kyoto cricket pepperoncino or Hiroshima cricket squid ink pasta. There are often new and collaborative dishes, as well as events celebrating arthropods.
The café is an offshoot of food manufacturer Takeo, a Tokyo-based startup that is developing and manufacturing innovative insect products. It also operates an online store that sells a wide range of whole insects, insect protein powders, and an insect drink called Tagame Cider that contains water bug extract.
Next on the list is Kome to Circus, also known as Rice & Circus, in the labyrinth food basement at department store Parco Shibuya (Shibuya Parco B1F, 15-1 Udagawacho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo) that seats 22 guests. They have another location with insects on the menu in Kotobashi (New Kinshicho Building 1F, 3-9-21 Kotobashi, Sumida-ku, Tokyo).
Kome to Circus is an izakaya style restaurant, those typical Japanese informal food establishments, that has a wonderfully wild and weird menu that focuses on wildlife and insects and aims to throw away preconceived notions and experience delicious, fun and diverse food culture.
This food blogger’s visit is a nice summary of what eating at Kome to Circus is like (for a Westerner, at least).
Last on our list is Antcicada, by far the classiest on the list. Located in the Nihonbashi area (2-4-6 Nihonbashi Bakurochō, Chūō-ku, Tokyo), it is famous for its delicious cricket ramen, only available on Sundays. The rest of the week they do a tasting course menu.
You can buy some of their products in their online shop like the ramen, tsukudani style crickets, silkworms, and hachinoko or locust oil and silkworm XO sauce.
And finally, there are convenience stores, the ubiquitous konbini, where you sometimes can find some products with insect powders like this C. Tria corn snack with cricket powder (on the right), seen at Family Mart.
If you are lucky, sometimes you’ll be able to find insect fare at one of the numerous summer food festivals that pop up all-over Tokyo.
If none of this appeals to you or if you want to explore more about the world of edible insects, you can always check out the online offerings, that besides Amazon Japan include:
C.Tria’ Gryllus online with snacks like crisps and puffs
Bugs Farms online store with probably the largest selection of insects, powders, chocolates, coffees, teas, even cricket ice cream.
Takeo’s online store sells whole insects, insect protein powders, cookies, gyoza, and a range of Japanese language books on entomophagy.
Konchū Shoku’s online store features a wide selection of edible insects, from grasshoppers to bamboo worms and June beetles, insect powders, cricket ramen and rice crackers.