Japanese food and drink is certainly not a complete mystery to the average Brit. Sushi has become very popular in the more affluent and metropolitan areas of the country. And probably most Brits have tried various tasty Japanese treats wrapped in seaweed, or the warming taste of a shot of sake at some point.
If you go out to dine in a Japanese restaurant in the UK, the most likely dishes you'll be served are usually sushi, (cooked 'shari' rice combined combined with various ingredients), sashimi (raw or very lightly cooked meat/fish, thinly sliced) and gyoza (Chinese style dumplings).
And although these can all be quite delicious and enjoyable, they're just the tip of the iceberg. After all, there are more than 47 prefectures and 127 million people living in Japan, and there are a great many more dishes that you aren't likely to get at your typical British sushi bar.
So why not take a trip to 'the land of the rising sun' with us, as we explore what Japanese culture has to offer our tastebuds in a little more detail...
Like almost any other country in the world, Japan has a certain amount of regional variety, which means what you get in one area of Japan isn't necessarily going to be the same as you get elsewhere.
We asked three experts on Japanese cuisine about the different kinds of food available in Japan...
Mike Lewis is the Executive Chef at YO! Sushi. With over 13 years experience working with Japanese food, and tasked with overseeing the development of YO! Sushi's menu it's hard to find a man outside of Japan with Mike's level of expertise.
Mike: "Many regional specialities have originated from dishes that have been prepared with local ingredients and traditional recipes, for example Hokkaido specialises in great seafood and curry soup, Osaka focuses on Okonomiyaki (savoury pancakes) and Tokyo specialises in Monja-yaki (pan fried batter with various ingredients)."
Ian Pengelley is executive chef at Pan-Asian restaurant Gilgamesh in Camden, where he has been since the opening six years ago. Ian's passion for Asian cuisine developed at a young age, both during his time living in Hong Kong and from travelling extensively across the continent.
Ian: "The two most distinctive regions in Japan, food wise, are the Kanto (eastern area of the main island) and Kansai regions (western area of the main island). The cuisine generally differs across Japan due to the use of local ingredients. Kanto cuisine is known to be stronger in flavour, whereas Kansai food is lightly seasoned. In the Kanto region, udon noodles are served with dashi based broth, in the Kansi region, clear udon noodles are made with soy sauce. In addition, the Kansai curry tends to be made with beef, while Kanto curry is made with pork."
Jordan Sclare started cooking at home at the age of five, apprenticing for four years at the five star Savoy Hotel, before doing two years at the three Michelin starred Gordon Ramsey. He then took an interest in Japanese food and moved to a series of Japanese restaurants before ending up where he works today at Aqua Kyoto, in central London.
Jordan: "Japan's culinary development and regional differences can be loosely categorised into four types: traditional, late 19th century influx of foreign ideas, post-World War II food shortages (which led to new dishes and returning soldiers bringing back recipes from abroad) and modern chefs inventing new dishes which became popular locally."
Of course, most cultures have some extreme dishes, and Japan is no exception. Perhaps two of the most well known and unusual are...
Fugu - The Japanese word for "pufferfish". This fish contains poisonous toxins which, if not prepared properly, can actually kill whoever is eating it. In Japan, laws regulate which restaurants can prepare fugu and only specially qualified chefs are allowed to work with it. The liver is said to be the tastiest part but is also the most poisonous area.
Natto - A dish comprised of fermented soybeans. It's very slimy, salty, a dark brown colour and has been described as having an odour like 'old socks'. It is traditionally served with steamed rice, and usually tastes better than it looks!
The Japanese have spent centuries refining their brewing and tea-making techniques, along with adopting Western staples to their taste. In Japan today, some of the more popular alcoholic drinks are:
Sake - A type of wine made from rice water. In Japan, the word 'sake' is a word used to describe any alcoholic drink, and the process of making sake is more like beer brewing than wine fermentation.
Kirin - Japan's most popular beer. Kirin also make soft drinks and sponsor an international football tournament called the Kirin Cup.
Sochu - A distilled spirit with a high alcohol content usually between 20 per cent and 40 per cent. Commonly made from rice, sweet potatoes, wheat and/or sugar cane, sochu is usually served mixed with water and ice, fruit juice and sparkling water, or oolong tea.
Common non-alcoholic beverages include:
Green tea - Made from unfermented tea leaves, giving it a green colour when brewed. There are many varieties, including genmaicha (made with roasted brown rice and sorghum), sencha (green tea with nothing added), hojicha (made with roasted tea leaves), and matcha (usually the most expensive kind, made from the highest quality leaves, which have been powdered).
Ramune - A fizzy soft drink that varies in flavours from lemon and lime, orange and apple to bubblegum, curry and wasabi.
Pocari Sweat - A sports recovery drink marketed at exercisers, Pocari is a bit like the Japanese version of Lucozade, supposedly very good for 'ion replenishment'.
Calpis - Frequently referred to as calpico outside of Japan, calpis comes in an incredible array of flavours and is described as "a tasty and healthy lactic acid beverage". It's marketed as a digestive health product.
Conclusion: 'Real' Japanese food is...
In parting, we asked our experts what they thought they thought made for authentic Japanese food.
Ian: "A Japanese family would sit down to traditional home cooking. Toban yaki is Japan's version of a hotpot and is delicious, it actually translates as 'to roast on a ceramic plate'. It's one of my favourites, is easy to make and is something everyone should try. It can be made using beef, seafood or vegetables, it's very versatile. I recommend people to visit the city centre in which they live. Japanese ingredients are a lot more accessible than you think - Asian markets and supermarkets sell everything you need."
Jordan: "Japanese people call authentic taste "mother's taste". In Japanese it is called "ofukuronoaji" and is normally found at home where the mother cooks to her palette and experience."
Mike: "Authentic Japanese food is about using very specific ingredients to create the correct balance of flavours, along with clean presentation."