7 essential seasonings for Japanese food

Japanese basic seasonings are sugar, salt, vinegar, soy sauce, and miso. But in fact, there are several other seasonings that are essential to Japanese food.


Today, I talk about basic seasonings in Japan.
It must be useful for those who want to know Japanese cuisine well.


Sugar is “Satou” in Japanese. This “Satou” is not the same as “Sato,” the most common surname in Japan.

We use mainly “Johaku-tou” for Japanese cooking. This sugar is often said “custard sugar”, “superfine sugar” and so on…But I think these are different from any other sugar.

Johaku-tou is finer and more moist than granulated sugar.

It is said that the reason why we use custard sugar instead of granulated sugar is related to the humidity climate.

We do not use granulated sugar for cooking. Because, these sugar is too sweet for us.

Johakuto (上白糖)


Although there are many types of salt overseas, as for sugar, Japan has the most kinds of one in the world.

I will talk about sugar on Sugar page.


Salt is “Shio” in Japanese language. The kinds of salt is sea salt only in Japan.
These salt have effect of tightened taste depends on the grain or land. It is more bitter than one overseas.

The interesting thing is that sea salt is used as a charm against evil influence in Japan. This means as same as white sage herb in western country.

Before sumo

Before beginning Sumo wrestling, Sumo wrestlers scatter salt to purify their place. Salt from the sea has the meaning of purifying everything.
Because, Sumo is a one of Shinto ritual not entertainment.

Morishio (盛り塩)


By the way, Sake is also used as one of the purifying thing as well. If I were God, I’d be happier sprinkled Sake instead of salt.

Salt is often displayed in a corner of the entrance of Japanese restaurants. This is called ” mori-shio”.
Japanese spirits are purified with sake and salt… they want to drink it in heaven even, may be?

As side dish


We often eat sushi and tempura with salt. We also drink sake with salt as a side dish.
This is a connoisseur’s preference.

As gift

These gifts of cooking salt are very popular in Japan. They’re all made of natural salt and can be used for cooking!

Variety Salts

This is a popular 5 flavour salt set.

Yuzu, Ume, Mulberry leaf tea, Black seaweeds and just salt. We often give as a gift.

I would like to Japanese salt on another page also.


Vinegar is “Su” or “Osu” in Japanese.
Actually, there are many kinds of vinegar as well as sugar kinds making from rice, kuro-zu, for sushi or so.

Japanese often uses vinegar instead of lemon.


Japanese assumes that drinking vinegar makes their body softer. Is that true?!

Junmai-su by Iio Jozo(純米酢 飯尾醸造)

The most popular type of vinegar is the non-pesticide junmai vinegar made by Iio Jozo, which has been made in Kyoto for 120 years. This vinegar has no bitterness unique to vinegar, and taste is clearer than others. It has the taste of real vinegar.


It is called “Shoyu” or “Hishio”. We cannot talk about Japanese cuisine without soy sauce. “Hishio” is used by old people.
Indeed the taste of soy sauce has strong and light.

Kinds soy sauce

Light color soy sauce has a stronger saltiness than thick color. This is called “Usukuchi shoyu”.
So we often use for stewed dishes.

Thick brown is often used in home cooking. We call usually “Koikuchi shoyu” or just “Shoyu”.

Tamari soy sauce is richer flavor and thicker texture than regular soy sauce.

We use it as the simmer, teriyaki, or yakitori sauce. As it reduce fishy smell, we use it red fish sashimi and horse sashimi also garnished with grated ginger and leeks.


Miso is a traditional seasoning in the form of a paste, with a smooth to chunky texture. It is made by fermented soy beans boiled with salt and malts.

I introduce it’s kinds here.


We often add sake to simmer dish like wine.  Sake makes the taste be stronger. It is also added to fish dishes to mask the smell of the fish.

Of course we use not only sake, but also white wine as cooking wine.


Mirin is sweet sake condiment. It is made from steamed glutinous rice. We often use this for Teriyaki. Because, this seasoning has glaze and the broth adds elegant flavor.

This mirin is often used in Japanese recipes, but it costs very expensive overseas.

Therefore, when I was living in Germany and Canada, I often substituted mirin as follows.

≪Lightly flavored dishes≫
White wine or Sake: Table spoon 1
Sugar: Tea spoon 1 or Honey: Tea spoon 2/3( Honey is more glossy than sugar)

*Distilled spirits are not a good substitute for mirin. Because they have a strong taste and make the ingredients be hard

≪Strong taste dishes≫
Cola…this especially goes well for strong soy sauce. My friend who lives in USA said ginger ale + honey for teriyaki. This is also good idea, right?
Balsamic vinegar + honey + white wine

Today I introduced 7 basic seasonings that Japanese have at home…To be honest, Mirin can be substituted for Sake and sugar, so it may not be at home.

Enjoy Japanese cooking at home!

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