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Do Japanese Kitchens Have Ovens?

The Rise of the Microwave Oven.

Japanese kitchen
A photo of a Japanese flat I took a long time ago

Sometimes I wonder whether to dedicate an entire article to something or not. If it gives you, the reader, information and value, then it’s probably a good idea.

So, whilst this question might seem like a very specific topic, its answers reveal a whole load about Japanese culture. And that’s exactly what this website is about!

In short, some Japanese kitchens do have ovens but not nearly as large as the ones you’re likely used to. They often have smaller appliances that cook specific foods rather than a big oven to do everything.

There are actually a whole host of traditional reasons why this is the case.

Let’s find out what those are:

History of ovens in Japan

The history of ovens in Japan (honestly never thought I’d be typing that sentence…) started with the Kamado (竈).

The Kamado started it’s life as a Chinese grill, called a Yan-steamer around 3000 years ago, after which it was brought over to Japan in their Kofun period (250-538 A.D.).

By Miya.m – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Skip to the beginner of the 1900’s, the end of the Meiji period (1868-1912), and the hearth like cooking range we see above had all but disappeared.

The principal was the same, but the design and materials had completely changed.

In the kitchen, they were also accompanied by Irori (a sunken hearth), and a hibachi (A fire pot).

With the introduction of western technology, and the increasing population, from around 44 million in 1900 to 128 million in 2000, something had to change.

Do most Japanese homes have ovens?

No, most Japanese homes, modern or traditional, do not have full on ovens like the ones you or I do.

There are, however, a few exceptions to the rule around Japan:

Hotels and large complexes: Due to the large amount of people needed to be served in hotels or cruise ships, and events, it is very likely that they will have a traditional western oven. Whether they use it or not is another matter, but it’s important to be prepared for any eventuality.

Homes: It’s possible, but very unlikely that the average Japanese home will include an oven like the one you’re thinking of. I’ve been to a number of Japanese homes and never seen a western style oven. We’ll get into why that is in just a moment. The one exception, of course, is expat homes. Though if I ever retire to Japan I seriously doubt I would have one in mine.

Restaurants: Probably the most likely place you’re going to see an oven in Japan. It makes sense when you realise how many different types of food one restaurant may have to cook, so it’s understandable to think they’ll need an oven to operate effectively.

Why do Japanese kitchens not have ovens?

Ah, the part of the article you’ve probably scrolled to, to find out the answer.

I think you’ll know most of these before I tell you, so see if you can guess before hand!

Space

Japanese space is at a premium. In fact, the price of land in Tokyo has been steadily increasing since 2012.

Due to an incredibly high cost per square meter of land, and only a small amount of land available anyway, many people likely find themselves in small homes or flats.

The smaller the home, the more important every last bit of space is. Unfortunately that means no room for an AGA!

Cuisine

Whilst we might throw a pizza (or two, if i’m feeling hungry…) into the oven for dinner, this isn’t the kind of food people from Japan would normally consider eating on a normal day.

No pies, pasta bakes, or pastries.

Basically next to nothing that would lead them to want a full sized oven.

The many times I’ve been to Japan and stayed at someones home (most of the time), I’ve never been cooked anything from an oven. Instead it’s been almost entirely from the hob.

It’s an interesting fact, for sure, but I don’t think it’s too shocking to realise other cultures don’t eat the same food as you!

What do they have instead?

Microwave ovens

Since 1970, Microwave ovens have been growing at an exponential rate.

Worldwide, the sector is expected to grow by 2.97% annually until at least 2026, proving the demand is still high.

Why are microwave ovens so popular in Japan?

They’re the perfect space saving appliance combining a mini oven and a microwave.

We already know that Japan has a shrinking population, for a number of reasons, and as a result more and more people are living alone.

So, the thought of cooking for multiple people isn’t really an issue as the microwave oven has plenty of space for food for a single person.

And that’s only if they decide to eat something that needs an oven in the first place.

Trust me when I tell you, these things are ridiculously popular in Japan.

Toaster Ovens

Great for breads, pastry, and pizza, toaster ovens are again extremely popular to have in a Japanese kitchen.

Also for some reason, normal toasters don’t seem to be too popular in Japan so a toaster oven is great if you want your toast in the morning!

Still, it’s a little strange seeing a pizza cook in a tiny microwave size appliance on the worktop, rather than in a massive oven.

It honestly makes me wonder why other countries haven’t done it a long time ago!

Fish Grill

A tiny little pull-out style drawer underneath the gas burners used to grill fish.

Most Japanese homes have this grill, which shows just how popular fish is in Japans diet. It’s perfectly hidden for space saving, and is far more useful than a full size oven.

I don’t entirely know it works, but I would assume just the same as a normal grill? If so, it’s like the perfect size for a single person to use.

Gas burners (Hob)

The standard cooking appliance for the majority of homes in Japan.

Some homes will literally just have a portable plug in set of two hobs to save even more space. They’ll prepare their meal, unfold the gas burners, cook the meal, and fold them back up.

It makes complete sense when you think about it, I mean who really needs to use 4 gas burners at the same time? …Or maybe I’m just terrible at cooking and can only make one pot meals… Ha!

Conclusion

As you can see, most homes in Japan do not have ovens, but rather specific products designed for specific things. They save space by being incredibly small and giving the homeowner the choice to either have it or not have it.

So, if like me, you eat a mostly Japanese diet in a western country, unfortunately we’re stuck with a flipping massive oven in our house whether we like it or not!

Jonny Gleason

Photographer, Magazine owner, Matcha drinker. One of these is definitely the most important, just unsure which...

Instagram: @jonny.gleason

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