I didn’t speak any Japanese when I first came to Japan, but I quickly understood the terms tabehodai and nomihodai. Tabemasu means to eat and nomimasu means to drink, and hodai means all you can.
When you put those words together, tabehodai means all you can eat, and nomihodai means all you can drink. Knowing this might make your life or stay in Japan more enjoyable for many reasons.
Restaurants often have an ‘all you can eat’ (tabehodai) option which is more than sufficient to satisfy the appetite of any hungry beast. Of course they have sushi and sashimi, but they also have grilled meat (yakiniku), noodles, an assortment of seafood and much more. The ~hodai not only applies to food, but drinks (nomihodai), alcoholic and non-alcoholic, and believe it or not, movies (mihodai)!
This is actually the preferred option amongst a majority of people, as you get your money’s worth. The hodai option can some times have a set menu or in some cases a special menu where you can select what you want from a list.
Unlike the buffet style which is unlimited, the hodai is sadly a limited time, which can usually range from around ninety minutes to three hours depending on the place. Japan is very good at controlling chaos and keeping things under control, so things don’t get too out of hand.
As for the mihodai, a number of video rental shops like Tsutaya and Geo offer this option either for weekends, holidays or just as a monthly campaign. Not only do restaurants and selected movie rental shops have “the hodai”, but also a lot of hotels, ryokans and bus tours. This is a huge selling point for a lot of people.
There’s more. The hodai also applies to fruit picking. There are many greenhouses and farms Japan-wide, that have an “all you can eat” option. So get out in the city and keep an eye out for those “hodai” options and get a belly full of delicious Japanese foods.