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Japan’s white-collar feeding grounds

by Steve Trautlein

Forget izakaya, soba restaurants and divey Chinese eateries — if you really want to see salarymen in mass munching mode, catch them in their natural habitat at the office shokudō (cafeteria), where colleagues rub shoulders daily over a tray of freshly made rations. Besides delivering sustenance to the world’s busiest worker bees, the spots featured here all offer a little something extra. (The News photo icon indicates venues open to the public.)

News photo Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

Many visitors to Tokyo make a point of stopping by the observation deck at City Hall in Nishi-Shinjuku. Very few of them stay for lunch. That’s a shame, because the corporate cafeteria on the 32nd floor of the TMG’s No. 1 Building is open to the public, and it offers much the same view. Bonus: Each Wednesday, a chef from the Hotel New Otani stops by to prepare a classic beef curry dish. www.metro.tokyo.jp/ENGLISH/TMG/outline.htm.

News photo MK Taxi

The shokudō at the Kyoto HQ of this leading cab company serves a ¥500 all-you-can-eat lunch buffet, with soba, curry, tempura, kara-age (deep-fried chicken) and lots more. But what earns it a spot on our list is the free-flowing draft beer at ¥400 a pop. We can only hope that the booze is for cabbies coming off a night shift — and that they have a designated driver to ferry them home. kamigamo.mkciel.net/viking.html.

GMO Internet Group

If you thought you had it pretty sweet in your office, check out the perks enjoyed by the staff at GMO Internet Group, based in Tokyo’s resplendent Cerulean Tower. Its so-called communication space Synergy Cafe GMO Yours is open 24 hours a day, all the food is free, and there’s a nutritionist on call to make sure employees don’t fall victim to the dreaded metabolic syndrome.

News photo Tanita

After the folks at bathroom-scale manufacturer Tanita Corp. published a cookbook featuring healthy dishes from their cafeteria, the response was so overwhelming that they spun off into a standalone restaurant in Tokyo: Marunouchi Tanita Shokudo. The specialties of the house are classic teishoku set menus that ring in at around 500 calories each. www.tanita.co.jp/company/shokudo/index.php.

Dai Nippon Printing Co.

The cafeteria at Dai Nippon’s Shinjuku headquarters is pretty much what you’d expect from one of the world’s largest printing companies: It has 400 seats and offers a buffet of 30 dishes. What tickles our fancy is that employees pay ¥1.2 per gram of food, and if the price works out to all the same digits — for example, ¥555 or ¥888 — they get their drink for free.

Google

Google’s Japan HQ, located in Tokyo’s upscale Mori Tower, might not have the freewheeling spirit of the company’s funky California campus, but at least the employees eat well. The corporate cafeteria, dubbed Yedo Cafe, is a design-heavy spot that offers a free buffet during breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a focus on a different world cuisine each day.

NHK

Staffers at Japan’s national broadcaster in central Tokyo have two fully stocked cafeterias to choose from day and night, but the lucky duckies are on the a.m. shift. For just ¥500, bleary-eyed newscasters can wake up to a spread of eggs, bread, salads, fresh fruit, croquettes, soup and all-you-can drink coffee and tea.

News photo Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Enjoying a midday meal with the government workers at MAFF gives new meaning to the term “power lunch.” Employees and visitors at the ministry’s offices in Tokyo’s Kasumigaseki have a choice of two venues: a Japanese-style cafeteria serving food made with exclusively domestic ingredients, and a noodle restaurant that features organic vegetables every second week of the month. www.maff.go.jp/j/heya/syokudo.

Recruit Co.

We can’t decide what’s the coolest thing about the corporate-dining program at this Ginza-based staffing and publishing giant. The organic salad bar with a chef who personally dresses your vegetables? The 41st-floor Sora Bako, which transforms into a sleek lounge bar at night? Or the bank of monitors by the elevators that let staffers see how crowded each of the four lunch spots are? Let’s just say all of the above.

Steve Trautlein is a freelance journalist eating his way through Japan. In his latest dispatch on the ongoing Yahoo! Japan and Japan Times Ramen Ambassador project, Steve introduces the nine “ambassadors” who will help take ramen to the world. Read more online: www.japantimes.co.jp/life/ramen.html.


Chinatown chow-down

One of Japan’s leading neighborhoods for cheap eats is in the midst of a three-week-long celebration. The Yokohama Chinatown Food Festival includes special deals at dozens of local restaurants, teahouses and gift shops. The event culminates in a gala dinner at the Rose Hotel Yokohama on Nov. 27, with 14 eateries unveiling special dishes created just for the occasion. This weekend, the fun spreads to nearby Yamashita Park, with free balloons and face-painting for the kids.

The Yokohama Chinatown Food Festival runs thru Nov. 30. For more information, visit www.chinatown.or.jp.