Some people are surprised to find when they get to Japan—their apartment doesn’t have an oven. What’s going on here? Do Japanese people not use ovens? What is going on here?
Most Japanese kitchens do not have large convection ovens like those common in the West. Instead, they have smaller fish grills, microwaves with built-in oven features, toaster ovens, or similar. This difference is due to the traditional needs of Japanese cuisine and the smaller size of Japanese kitchens.
Below, I’ll explain more about 4 kinds of “ovens” you’ll find in Japan, and how to navigate the ovenless life. I’ll also share 3 more interesting differences between Japanese kitchens and what you may be accustomed to in the West!
Do Homes in Japan Have Ovens?
Most homes in Japan do not have large convection ovens like you will find in the West. This is for a few reasons I’ll cover in more depth below.
There are some Japanese homes with large Western-style ovens, but they are rare. Mostly, they’re found in higher-end places, and in homes that are marketed to expats. These ovens are a sort of status symbol, in that regard.
So, what do most Japanese houses and apartments have instead of large, Western-style ovens? There are a few options you’ll commonly see:
- Small convection ovens – Same idea as the ovens you know from back home, but these are smaller—they typically sit on the counter. You may not be able to fit a whole chicken or turkey, but you can make cookies, pies, or even bread.
- Toaster ovens – These can function as a toaster or oven. They’re not insulated as well as an oven, so the temperature control is not as precise. They’re also small. But they can be used for miniature pizzas, French fries, and more.
- Microwaves with oven features – Most of the microwaves in Japan actually include a “toaster oven” sort of feature. They are smaller than Western ovens, but can be used to bake cakes.
- Fish grills / fish ovens (often under the stove) – These are most commonly used for grilling fish. You can also use them to make toast, as well as grilling things like steak or vegetables.
Why Are Ovens So Rare in Japan?
One of the main reasons why ovens are uncommon in Japan is the cuisine. For example, Japanese cuisine doesn’t include much baking or roasting of whole turkeys or chickens at home.
In fact, it can be rare to even find whole turkeys or chickens for sale in Japanese grocery stores.
It is also less common in Japan to bake things like pies, cookies, and breads at home. So, it just hasn’t been as necessary to have a large oven like those found in America and Europe.
Another big reason is that space tends to be limited in Japanese kitchens. The average Japanese kitchen is quite a bit smaller than an American kitchen.
I’ve heard someone explain that the small size of Japanese kitchens actually has to do with gender relations in Japan.
He argued that since the kitchen is traditionally the domain of the woman, and since men designed most of the homes, the male architects devalued the kitchens and made them smaller. (I’m not sure if this explanation is true.)
I’ve also heard the explanation that the power supply in some Japanese kitchens couldn’t run multiple big appliances like ovens at once. But again, I don’t know if that’s really accurate.
As a side note: It’s also rare to find full-size Western-style ovens in China. So it’s not just Japan!
To recap: Cuisine and kitchen size seem to be the main reasons that homes in Japan rarely have Western-style ovens.
Can You Buy Ovens in Japan?
You can indeed buy ovens in Japan. The big box stores even sell large, Western-style ovens today. There are also all of the smaller and more common options listed above—microwaves with oven features, toaster ovens, and so on.
Buyer Tip: If you’re buying any kind of oven in Japan, especially one of the small ones, check if you’re getting one that heats from the top and bottom. Some only heat from the top down. This will result in less even heating, it may require flipping, and it will limit what you can do.
Do Japanese Homes Have Stoves?
Japanese kitchens typically have gas stoves with one to three burners. These stoves also often have a built-in fish grill (魚焼きグリル, sakana yakiguriru) below the range, which can fit about two pieces of salmon at a time.
Many of the fish grills require filling a tray on the bottom with water to avoid catching fire. Often, the burners may be very close to where you’re inserting your fish or other food, as well—so it’s a bit different than using a large Western oven, and it can take some getting used to.
How Else Are Japanese Kitchens Different?
If you were surprised by the lack of ovens in most Japanese kitchens, I’ve got a few more fun facts for you. Here are three more ways Japanese kitchens differ from what you may be accustomed to:
- Water boilers – In most Japanese homes, they don’t use kettles on the stove to boil water. Instead, they have a small electric water boiler appliance. These are used for coffee, tea, instant noodles, or whatever else you need boiled water for.
- Rice cookers (suihanki, 炊飯器) – We have rice cookers in the U.S., too, but the rice cookers in Japan are on another level. They often have timers, so you can even set your rice to cook in the morning for breakfast before you wake up. (Rice is a common component to Japanese breakfasts.)
- No Dishwashers? – Dishwashers are not common in Japan. This may be an effect of the small apartment spaces or cultural beliefs about the superiority of hand-washing—but in any case, don’t expect a dishwasher.