With pancakes queues on every corner, there is no doubt breakfast is the next big thing in Japan. On September 2, six of Japan’s top chefs gathered in one kitchen to determine the country’s best breakfast.

The Asagohan Festival (literally, breakfast festival), organized by Rakuten Travel, is the pinnacle of a contest that started with online votes followed by regional cook-off tournaments for over 1,000 dishes. The remaining six chefs got to work to prepare the tastiest breakfasts using local ingredients from different regions of Japan, under the judges’ eyes. The criteria for voting was based on taste, presentation, uniqueness, the ‘breakfast’ element (can you eat it first thing in the morning?), and of course, the omotenashi (hospitality) aspect expressed in the dish- perhaps one of the most important, considering the increasing influx of tourists in Japan.

Judges ranging from Iron Chefs to food critics made their way around the cozy kitchen quarters, amidst delectable whiffs of freshly baked pancakes and cooked eggs and citrusy aromas that would definitely be worth waking up for. To whet your appetite, here’s a sample of the dishes that were prepared for the contest:

The Bandai Atami Onsen Hotel Shikisai Ichiriki represented Eastern Japan with a fatty skilfish, a rare treat found in the depths of the sea, along with a stuffed lemon from Fukushima, which was designed to attract more tourists to the affected region. The Kyushu/Okinawa representatives Hotel & Residence Nanshukan whipped up a shabu-shabu with their Kagoshima black pork specialty, along with stewed bonito, while the Hotel Il Palazzo kept it lighter with a vegetable salad and colorful, nutrient-packed soy smoothie.

The Century Royal Hotel from Hokkaido created healthy baked doughnuts, along with brown rice-based pancakes. Served with Hokkaido cream cheese, we have no doubts this would be the sweetest way to start the day. Western Japan’s Hotel La Suite Kobe Harborland went with freshly baked French bread and salad, and Gero Onsen Ogawaya from Central Japan presented a medicinal congee (traditional rice porridge) and overnight dried sweetfish.

Although all the dishes looked equally delicious and aesthetically pleasing, one grand winner had to be decided: the medicinal congee of Gero Onsen Ogawaya took the honors, and judge Toshiro Kandagawa noted that the benefits of the Chinese medicine cooking method is displayed in this dish, and the ingredients reflect the autumn season. The runner-up was Hotel La Suite Kobe Harborland with their selection of breads, and the third prize was awarded to Hotel Il Palazzo, which created the fruit smoothie breakfast.

Breakfast is not only the most important meal of the day, but it’s also the last meal that is served before guests check out of hotels and ryokans, meaning it’s the chance to give this last impression. We personally wish to travel to all those regions to try those dishes firsthand, and we were pleased to find those hotels can all be booked via Rakuten Travel, which offers the service in English as well. See Rakuten Travel’s site here.