We all know Japan is no stranger to eating whales, but did you know they also eat Vikings as well? Ever since the 1950s, eating Vikings has become a very regular thing in Japan. Everywhere from Okinawa to Hokkaido, Japanese folk enjoy Vikings on a daily basis. What’s that? You’re not following me here? Allow me to explain.

In Japan, the word for buffet is バイキング (バイキング = baikingu = Viking). But why did they choose the word Viking as their loan word for buffets? Seems kind of strange, doesn’t it? Well there just so happens to be a story behind this, so let’s get right to it.

The History of Vikings in Japan

Okay, so you all know where Japan is located, right (or do you)? Japan is a cluster of many islands located just east of Korea and China. Being an island nation, Japan’s natural resources had historically been a bit limited when compared to other larger nations with access to land based trade routes and wider shares of land. As such, the idea of an all-you-can-eat buffet was more or less blasphemous until Japan’s economy started to really pick up after World War II and Japan became more open to the rest of the world.

The old Imperial Hotel.

With this economic boom and globalization effect on Japan came many new ideas and advancements. One such idea came in 1957 when a restaurant manager from Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel (Teikoku Hoteru) traveled abroad to Sweden.

Upon his arrival, he was absolutely dumbfounded by the crazy Swedes and their Smörgåsbord (buffet) restaurants. He thought to himself, “I must take this idea back to my hotel and from there it will spread to all of Japan and become insanely popular! Muahahaha!” Okay, so maybe he didn’t really think that, but let’s just say he did.

Luckily for him, the rest of the hotel staff was very receptive to the idea and the hotel’s patrons ended up loving this new take on food. The menu was simple, consisting mainly of cold meats and salads, but the all-you-can-eat experience was received very well with the tight times in Japan post World War II. Anything that got the a Japanese person more food per yen was a good thing.

However, the name was the only part that needed some work. Smörgåsbord wasn’t exactly an easy word for the average Japanese person to pronounce. They would have pronounced it as sumougasuboudo (スモーガスボード). Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue now does it?

So here the hotel is with this great new food idea, they just don’t know what to call it. But all hope was not lost. Luckily, somebody from the restaurant decided to go and see the 1958 film The Vikings (narrated by Orson Welles and starring Kirk Douglas). The hotel staff-member was struck with inspiration and decided that Viking was the perfect name for their new food sensation.

Vikings are Scandinavian, smörgåsbords are Scandinavian; they’re pretty much the same thing, really. And to top it all off, Viking is much much easier to pronounce in Japanese than smörgåsbord is. As such, they changed the name of the hotel’s restaurant to “Imperial Viking.” And that is how Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel finally decided that buffets in Japan would hereon be known as Vikings (バイキング).

The Japanese Vikings of Today

The new Imperial Hotel.

Since the inception of Viking style buffets at the Imperial Hotel, they have spread all over Japan. The Imperial Hotel also became very successful and well known because of it. The hotel is located between the Imperial Palace and the Ginza shopping district in Tokyo. It is still one of Japan’s top hotels. For more information about the hotel’s Imperial Viking restaurant today, you can read more about it here.

With the popularity of Viking buffets, it should come as no surprise that Lunch Vikings or Dinner Vikings are served at other hotels all over the nation. Dessert Vikings are very popular as well, where one can eat from a buffet full of desserts. So the next time you’re in Japan, don’t be surprised if you’re offered a Viking meal. Knowing the history behind the concept, you can accept the offer with gusto and pillage and plunder the food to your heart’s content.

So tell me, have you ever had a Viking in Japan? How did it stack up to your home country’s equivalent? Let us know in the comments!

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  • Matthew Olson

    And it’s not just hotels either… you see this pretty much everywhere! Although most non-hotel restaurants still prefer the 食べ放題 over the バイキング. Still, a few weeks ago I went to a great Viking style pizza restaurant in Shinsaibashi in Osaka. Great place!

  • Cody Dalton

     Seems that most lunch or dinner vikings seem to be foreign places (IE curry/pizza) versus Japanese stuff. 

    I didn’t know there was viking pizza in Shinsaibashi, wish I woulda known when I was in Osaka for silver week!  >.<

  • Viet

    So.. Is this why the Minnesota Vikings has huge players?

  • Mescale

    I’ve never been to an all you can eat, but the places I went with drink a volonté, I always feel bad about plundering the soda so I get no benefit at all.

  • Heather Stewart

    I now have an official reason why this is my new favorite website: it combines the two things I love the most- vikings and Japan. :D

  • Jen

    There’s a Drink Viking at バーミヤン written in giant letters above the drink bar. My only assumption is that you must defeat the viking in order to obtain refreshment.

    (Hi Cody)

  • Jess S.

    One of the バイキング places I went to had a chocolate fountain, while another has so-it-yourself fried things on a stick Viking. Pretty sweet if you ask me. Also seen bread Viking and the pizza Viking too, though I’ve yet to see a place that did drink バイキング rather than 飲み放題 (which is amazing).
    Also, I’ve noticed that Japanese people are much much faster and don’t stay for very long at Vikings… Usually me and my foreigner friends are there long enough to see people arrive after us and leave before us! I suppose there’s not a culture of stuffing yourself until you feel like dying so you can get your money’s worth.

  • Michael S

    Interesting history lesson!

  • koichi

    Always wondered about this! I just assumed that vikings just ate their fill all-you-can-eat style. Cool history lesson!

  • Genkisan

    I went to two baikin in Japan. One was a pizza baikin, but the other was a yaki-niku baikin. It also had sushi and other Japanese food – sooo delicious!
    On a baikin related note. When I was in Japan I obviously learned about Anpanman. The bad guy in the Anpanman universe is Bacteria Man, which in Japanese is Baikin Man. I had learned that “baikin” means “buffet” before I learned that “baikin” also means “bacteria,” so for a while I thought that the enemy of Anpanman was some sort of strange all-you-can-eat supervillian. (I eventually saw that his name had kanji and I figured it out)

  • Kiriain

    I always assumed that Japan didn’t have these things because they just didn’t eat a lot. But I see now that they have buffets. Also, I think it was a couple of months ago, I remember watching a vlogger on YouTube go to this all-you-can-eat restaurant where you paid for 90 minutes and could eat all the desserts you want. I just never made the connection.
    Herp derp.

  • ಠ_ರೃ

    Yes, yes, that’s all well and good, but the article skipped over something very important. Do they have Zuckerburgers? Because when I think of Vikings, I think of eating Zuckerberg.

  • ಠ_ರೃ 2

    Mmm, yes, I refuse to go to any buffet without a Zuckerburger and a side of Instagrahamcrackers.

  • Japan Australia

    I’ve been lucky enough to have eaten  バイキング 
    all over Japan. The major hotels do quite a good one but there are now many speciality restaurants as well :)

  • Nicole Yamagawa

    Got a bit nervous there for a second.. Being Swedish and all… >_>

  • Leidi Armada

    oh my sister whos been in japan for almost 24 years, she always mentioned viking when they were out to eat. when she was here, i asked her about the food in the hotel she stayed, she said oishii and viking, i wonder what food is viking, thanks tofugu for the information. now i know what she meant to say, the hotel serves buffet.


    So this is the best place that I could find and sorry for taking up comment space but…

    I nominated your blog for the Versatile Blogger Award via my latest post,!!! The rules for the nomination are in the post. :c) Congrats and good luck!

  • Erick Reilly

    I’ll never look at that Viking ride in Mother 3 the same way again.

  • nagz

    we call this svédasztal (swedish table) in hungary.

  • John


  • Cruciano

    Yes…I now live in Minnesota and I can tell you that they really do grow ’em big out here. Could it be all the dairy? Hmmm…

  • Ggreg Snyder

    When i lived in Matsuyama in the mid-90’s, there was a viking restaurant called “The Mayple House” (i.e. Maple.) It was Canadian themed, in the log cabin design, though the only Canadian part of the viking was the all-you-can-drink beer. The cuisine was regular Japanese food. All of the other vikings I saw were summer only, on rooftops, and the attraction was the all-you-can-drink beer (included in the hefty price.)

  • Neko Nana~

    hahaha that was a really funny story though, sitting at work, laughing my ass off. My japanese co-worker looked at me in a funny way so I had to explain it to him. He started laughing, too, because he neither knew the real reason why it’s called a ‘baikingu’, though he also said that he remembers it being used mainly in the past and nowadays they’ve grown to use the word ‘buffet’ too. Still a funny history, especially if you’re swed and understand. :D