I went on an extended Japan trip a while back. During the trip I had to plan out my budget meticulously as I planned on visiting several cities, and I didn’t want to be stranded in the middle of nowhere. I was kind of nervous at the time, because my friends had warned me Japan would be expensive, and all the websites I visited seemed to agree with them. But honestly, Japan didn’t end up breaking my bank account.
My spending would fluctuate between one city and another, but not so significantly that I had to keep checking the daily budget I had set for myself. Food played a huge part in cutting costs. It’s not like I avoided good restaurants, but I picked a few that I wanted to try, and for the rest of my meals – I chose quite tasty meals that were still on the cheap side.
CONVENIENCE STORE FOOD
Convenience stores slap on a 50% discount on perishable food after 21.00, and the great things is 7-Elevens and Family Marts are easy to find. Perishables are stocked daily so you’ll even be fine eating the food the next day, it’s just that they don’t want to sell anything that’s not on-the-day fresh. I usually buy a mini bento and a few onigiri for midnight snacks, and/or breakfast or lunch. ALL HAIL RICE! Ha. I’m Asian to the bone, or in this case, to the stomach.
RUMAGE THROUGH TRADITIONAL MARKETS
There’s a traditional market in every district no matter where you go in Japan. They’ll have a variety of food to sample inside, my favourite is definitely the array of freshly cut sashimi! If you’re not up for adventuring, you’ll also find a supermarket inside where you can buy stuff like katsu, onigiri, and even bento sets – the bento sets go for about ¥300 – ¥500, depending on the food you choose.
DO YOUR RESEARCH
It might be easy to find recommendations on Google, but nothing beats recommendations from people who actually live there. Don’t be shy to strike a conversation with the guy sitting next to you on the bus, or the girl who is in the queue behind you – just make sure they’re in the mood to talk. Some people might not welcome random intrusions into their lives by tourists, so always be polite.
STRAY FROM THE BEATEN PATH
Restaurants at touristy areas spike up their prices, so head out to where the tourist population thins, and scout the area for interesting places to eat. You’ll probably find more options too! When I was in Osaka, I found a place by the market that sold udon with shrimp tempura through vending machines for only ¥150. I know people who live there would probably scoff, but the experience was a novelty for a tourist like me.
When you’re exhausted but you want something a little warmer than convenience food, ignore the fast food places you can find in other places. Japan has its own chain of restaurants that can be found practically everywhere, serving up piping hot food at affordable prices. Try these:
– Yoshinoya – Rice bowls! Strips of meat on top of rice, you can’t possibly go wrong.
– Sukiya – Similar to Yoshinoya, but Sukiya has more options on their menus. And they can be found everywhere in Tokyo. Prices range between ¥350 – ¥700.
– Musashi Sushi – You have to try Musashi Sushi. Technically Musashi Sushi does not belong in this list, because it’s specific to Kyoto but it’s worth mentioning because it’s delicious. Super fresh sashimi, and super cheap. There’s only two prices, ¥146 and ¥346. I ended up polishing off 13 plates of sushi on my own.
What about you guys? Are there any tricks you’ve discovered to find cheap food in Japan?