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5 Appliances to Level Up Your Japanese Apartment Kitchen

Get Closer To Your Dream Kitchen

By Elizabeth Sok
July 6, 2022

When you’re struggling to healthily feed a family on two burners (and hopefully a rice cooker!), consider the five purchases below to make cooking more simple and enjoyable.

When I used to vacation in Japan, I had fun getting creative with the kitchens or kitchenettes in my Airbnbs. The lack of equipment and space made for both excitement and last-minute trips to the hundred yen store: Could I cook pasta, a sauce and a side vegetable all on one hot plate? Could I produce a tasty stir-fry on a burner that inexplicably turned itself off every two minutes? When I moved here with my family, however, amusing inconveniences became closer to my reality. Unlike the four-burner stove and oven setup that I was used to in Canada, in the beginning, I had two occasionally temperamental gas burners, with a tiny fish grill underneath them. 

Because I love cooking and I am feeding a family, we outgrew this setup almost immediately. While my pocketbook wept, we quickly added a rice cooker to the mix, alongside some other small appliances to make procuring three meals a day much more pleasant and convenient. Below is my list of five that are not leaving my kitchen anytime soon and that I heartily recommend to get you on track for more home cooking and all the health benefits it brings. 

1. Hot Plate

5 Appliances to Level Up Your Japanese Apartment Kitchen© Photo by iStock: yamasan

The first item on this list is perhaps as well used as the stove in my house: the Bruno hot plate. The Bruno, with its sleek design, fashionable colors and multi-insert functionality, first wowed me years ago in a Tokyu Hands display on a trip to Japan. The base model and “grande” large model both come with a non-stick flat pan and a takoyaki (grilled octopus ball) pan for endless riffs on meals and snacks. Indeed, in one of its forms (including the grill pan which I bought separately!), the Bruno is in use every lunch and supper, often for one of the vegetable side dishes I am making; like roasting eggplants or bell peppers. But, it also often takes on pancake duty in the morning when the two stove burners are in use for other purposes. With its powerful cooking ability and adjustable heat, I also confidently cook meat and fish on it. Long story short: consider this fancy hot plate the solution to many of your mansion cooking needs. 

2. Toaster Oven

5 Appliances to Level Up Your Japanese Apartment Kitchen© Photo by iStock: Katelin Kinney

While toasting our bread over the fish grill did provide a certain enviable crispiness for the first few months, it wasn’t long before I caved and bought a toaster oven. More than just producing beautiful roasted bread, however, I was interested in one to rekindle another pre-Japan hobby of mine: baking. By choosing a toaster oven that has customizable temperature dials, we were soon awash in muffins, brownies and cakes. Although certainly smaller than a conventional oven, my toaster oven fits conveniently in my small kitchen, while providing the same benefits. Of course, you can also use it to bake vegetables, fish and meat, making it a multi-functional item. But, for our family, its real value lies in the ability to whip up sweet and savory treats and fill the home with the inimitable perfume of baked goods. 

3. Food Processor

5 Appliances to Level Up Your Japanese Apartment Kitchen© Photo by iStock: Andrii Zorii

I have seen kitchen blogs and magazines label compact food processors as useless but hear me out: I’m not sure they ever tried to cook in a tiny apartment kitchen without an oven or four burners! So you need to upgrade your appliances, but, admittedly, the space to put said appliances are also limited and so your cooking prep space will be reduced to…not much. This is where the food processor comes in! While I have no problem cutting all my veggies by hand (I actually find it rather meditative for whatever reason), I do run out of space, especially if we are chopping on separate cutting boards. Our compact food processor, which we can easily relocate, can condense the time and area necessary to, for example, chop carrots for a sauce. And with two little ones around, saving on time and space simultaneously is worth another purchase! (For the record, I went brand-loyal and matchy and bought the Bruno blender and food processor combo, but a simple food processor will also accomplish the same thing).

4. Portable Gas Grill

5 Appliances to Level Up Your Japanese Apartment Kitchen© Photo by iStock: Gyro

A portable gas grill is more than just a convenient way to do yakiniku (Japanese barbeque) at the beach or while camping (although that is a lot of fun!). Indeed, with the exchangeable attachments, such as the yakiniku grill plate or the nabe (hot pot) pan, this appliance also vastly increased the range of cooking options in my small kitchen and dining room. Gas grills are also undoubtedly practical as they can be ported wherever you go, but most of the time, mine is simply brought to the kitchen-adjacent dining room table. For example, I’ve lost count of all the cold wintery days where we have warmed up in front of a bubbling nabe while my little ones delight in food cooking on the table in front of them. And let’s not forget how essential gas grills are during natural disasters: you can easily keep spare gas canisters in your home emergency kit and use the grill to feed your family if the electricity is out.

5. Water Boiler

5 Appliances to Level Up Your Japanese Apartment Kitchen© Photo by iStock: nathaphat

Last, but no less essential, is a water boiler. A key appliance in any Japanese household for its ability to maintain the temperature of boiling water for extended periods of time. I personally lugged a water boiler with numerous functions from Narita to Canada, enduring the mocking of a Canadian customs agent. But no matter, whether in my home country or in Japan, I didn’t want to be without the convenience of never needing to wait for the water to boil to get a late-night ramen fix, or having to cool down my own water to make the perfect cup of sencha. And, at home in our Japanese mansion, the water boiler is indispensable in compensating for the lack of more gas burners on our stove: the pre-boiled water can be transferred to a pan to quickly steam or boil vegetables, and cook pasta or noodles. I went with a Zoujirushi, but only you know how much customization you need!

In the wonder-inducing consumer paradise (or prison, depending on your viewpoint!) that is a Japanese electronics and home appliance store, I stand by these small appliance powerhouses. With a hot plate, toaster oven, food processor, gas grill and water boiler, your little kitchen will buzz along more smoothly than ever before.

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