If you’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting a hibachi restaurant, you know that it’s as much an entertaining experience as a delicious one! But what you might not know is hibachi’s origin story, which is full of twists, turns, and other spicy surprises. Read on to learn the history of hibachi!

Humble Beginnings

The direct translation of the Japanese word “hibachi” is a clue to its true origin: the “hi” means fire, while “bachi” means bowl or pot. Putting these together, “hibachi” translates to “fire bowl.” This fire bowl was one of the heating devices used by Japanese households. Its use has been traced back as early as the Heian period (794-1185 BCE). Burning charcoal was placed into the bowl, and an open-grate grill was placed over the opening. 

While any form of heat was better than nothing, the heat the hibachi provided for rooms was relatively weak. By the 1900s, people had mainly begun to use it for other purposes, such as cooking food and boiling water for tea. However, this method did not truly become popular to cook food until post-WWII Japan, when the history of hibachi really begins.

Teppanyaki: Hibachi’s Close Relative

To fully understand the history of hibachi as a dining experience, it’s important to first understand another Japanese cuisine preparation method: teppanyaki. Teppanyaki involves foods such as simple proteins and vegetables prepared via grilling over an iron griddle or iron plate. (“Teppan” means iron plate, “yaki” means grilled, pan-fried, or broiled.) Teppanyaki became widely popular in Japan after WWII, but the first chef to combine Western ingredients with this cooking style was Shigeji Fujioka, who worked for the Japanese chain restaurant Misono. 

Even though Shigeji Fujioka’s flashy cooking style and “open-air” dining performance drew crowds from all over Japan, soon, the chef found that he was gaining more of an audience with foreigners. The cooking styles grew more elaborate and entertaining to attract more customers, and the cycle continued. 

Hibachi Gains Its Name

The next step in the history of hibachi as we know it came about by happy mistake. Teppanyaki became popular in the United States in the 1960s. At the Benihana restaurant chain, which is an “Americanized” Japanese restaurant chain, teppanyaki became especially famous thanks to a variety of fun tricks and displays of amazing culinary skills by chefs. Because the Benihana restaurant chain also offered some hibachi cooking, at some point, the word hibachi began to be used interchangeably with teppanyaki. Now, hibachi or hibachi grilling refers to many styles of Japanese grilling and food preparation, all involving this same panache and display of “tricks of the trade.”

Modern Hibachi

The history of hibachi cooking doesn’t end there — it’s still undergoing a remarkable evolution today! The modern hibachi meals that you may know and love feature hibachi grilling staples on the menu such as grilled shrimp, chicken, and other non-grilled dishes such as miso soup and sushi paired with delicious soy sauce. No matter what you think of how hibachi got its name, you’ll know you’re in for a treat when you visit a hibachi-style restaurant! From the decor — with accents such as cypress wood and clay hibachi grills — to the mouthwatering food, your stomach will be rumbling as soon as you walk in the door.

Come Dine at Kabuto Today

Now that you’ve read some more about the history of hibachi, you’re probably more than a little hungry! Are you looking for an authentic hibachi experience with delicious food prepared right in front of you? Check out our menu, read up about us, or visit Kabuto today!