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How to Handle Waiting Lines

Baltimore, MD
Level Contributor
229 posts
How to Handle Waiting Lines

It seems that waiting in a line for good food for a half to two hours is pretty common in Japan. As a tourist, how do you handle such a line? Every minute is precious when you want to see and experience as much as you can with limited time. Do you just skip places where you have to stand in a line?

What was your longest wait in Japan and what was it for?

Hong Kong, China
Destination Expert
for Hong Kong, Osaka
Level Contributor
67,161 posts
178 reviews
179 helpful votes
1. Re: How to Handle Waiting Lines

My advice is don't wait in any line that you feel would last more than X minutes (insert your own time restriction). For me, I usually don't wait for anything that looks more than 30-45 minutes. Two hours take too much away from precious vacation and sightseeing time. I go on trips to relax and enjoy, not to wait in line. It's really your own call.

The longest I had waited before was at a Shinjuku ramen place called Menya Musashi. We had nothing planned right before noon and happened to walk by the place. It was reputed to be the #1 ramen place according to some TV survey back then. The line didn't seem too long, probably around 20+. However, it took us 75 minutes to get in due to preparation time and the limited number of seats. And it wasn't worth it.

Tokyo, Japan
Level Contributor
350 posts
90 reviews
168 helpful votes
2. Re: How to Handle Waiting Lines

There are only lines if the food at the restaurant is exceptional, and the locals know it. If you have time, and you know what the dish it, it might be worth it. I might do this if it's the latter days of a trip and I am ahead of schedule, and if the dish really looks delicious! Often, the restaurant might be advertised in a tourist brochure.

Keep in mind that if you travel during Golden Week (last week of April-1st week of May), many ordinary restaurants will have long lines. Many of the people waiting are tourists (from out of town) so that doesn't mean the food at the restaurant is exceptional.

The most recent time for me is the sakura festival at Kitakami last May. A vendor was selling four huge plump Ichinoseki (?) oysters in the shell, freshly steamed for 1000 yen. I went back twice. Only had to wait 10' in line as it moved fast.

Another related topic is are you willing to blow $50-100 on a meal that is a specialty of the area. For example, Wangyu beef in Yonezawa or flounder in Iwaki or that large blue crab in Kyushu between Nagasaki and Kumamoto, whose name betrays me right now. Where you've found a restaurant and it looks like a good deal. I ask myself, will I ever be back here again? Is it in season for the dish? More often than not, I go for it. Life is too short.

Level Contributor
4,569 posts
7 reviews
30 helpful votes
3. Re: How to Handle Waiting Lines

Longest wait I ever did was at (Chiba) Disney Sea waiting for a fast pass.

Otherwise at other regular tourist places in Tokyo and Japan there shouldn't be major lines (but again it just depends on the attractions you want to go to). However, regular things like local temples, shrines, etc there shouldn't be any major wait at all if there is no special event going on. Same for regular old restaurants. Honesly speaking, I don't care how good a food a place has, I never stand in line for an hour just to get a taste (IT's JUST ME), the vast majority of other restrauants or places to eat that don't require a wait in 2 hour line (waiting that long is an rare exception to the norm).

Toronto, Canada
Level Contributor
13,270 posts
25 reviews
52 helpful votes
4. Re: How to Handle Waiting Lines

It seems that waiting in a line for good food for a half to two hours is pretty common in Japan.


Certainly has never seemed common to me, and I can assure you I have never waited that long, or really any time at all. I guess if you just "HAVE' to go to that specific sushi place near Tsukiji, you might have to cool your heels and wait.

Would I do it? No. Is it common throughout Japan? No.

Edited: 1:20 pm, July 10, 2013
United States
Level Contributor
1,259 posts
8 reviews
5 helpful votes
5. Re: How to Handle Waiting Lines

You are exactly right about time being precious when you are a tourist with limited time to spend. There are so many excellent places to eat in Japan that I personally can't see waiting in a long line for a restaurant, and I just never do. If there is a specific place that I really want to go to and it doesn't take reservations, I will try to get there early (this often works extremely well at lunchtime--arrive 15 or 20 minutes before they open and usually you will be among the first patrons seated). But it's always good to come armed with a backup plan or else you can tend to waste a lot of time wandering around looking for another place and not finding anything that tickles your fancy. In that case you might be better off waiting in the stupid line.

Seattle, Washington
Level Contributor
272 posts
191 reviews
83 helpful votes
6. Re: How to Handle Waiting Lines

The longest I've waited for a restaurant in Japan was 90 minutes, but that was the Straw Hat Cafe at the Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka... It was in August, right in the middle of Obon and the Japanese School Holiday, but in the end I thought the experience and the meal was worth it.

Would I do it again? No, but the waiting area was nice, plenty of Ghibli reading material, and it was also fun to people watch. It was pretty dang hot though...

Edited: 3:11 pm, July 10, 2013
Destination Expert
for Tokyo
Level Contributor
27,550 posts
30 reviews
56 helpful votes
7. Re: How to Handle Waiting Lines

No restaurant is worth my time waiting in line for more than 20 minutes, even if it's michelin 3 star and the food is free.

Tokyo and California
Destination Expert
for Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Shinjuku, Japan
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31,968 posts
212 reviews
112 helpful votes
8. Re: How to Handle Waiting Lines

I'm with bibimbob. I never understand why people wait for 2-3 hours for a bowl of ramen or some sushi...

Level Contributor
1,585 posts
15 reviews
20 helpful votes
9. Re: How to Handle Waiting Lines

I have never waited in line at a restaurant for more than a few minutes. There always seem to be other good options close by.

Hong Kong, China
Destination Expert
for Hong Kong, Osaka
Level Contributor
67,161 posts
178 reviews
179 helpful votes
10. Re: How to Handle Waiting Lines

Remember that as a visitor, you normally should have more flexible hours so try to avoid the peak meal times. For example, going 15 minutes early before the opening means you will get in with the first group for sure, which could save you an hour or two down the road.