When I tell someone that I’m traveling to Japan, one of the most common response I get is, “But food in Japan is super expensive.”
Now whilst I do agree with them to a certain extent, I have to admit that like everywhere in the world, there are definitely realistic ways that you can eat for cheap and be full, without having to live on tap water and air the entire day.
So that brings us to today’s post: 5 Proven Ways to Eat For Cheap in Japan. Here, I’ll share with you the top five ways to eat affordably in Japan, that I have tried and tested myself during my one-month adventure in Japan. Let’s commence!
1. Embrace the combini
“Combinis” refer to the multitude of Japanese convenience stores such as Lawson, 7-Eleven, and Family Mart. In Japan, there is one or more of these super little shops at every corner of the street and get this — you can definitely live off eating only affordable and yummy convenience store food.
I wrote an entire post on eating for one whole day at 7-Eleven, where I provide information such as what types of food and drinks you can find there, the prices and what my experience was like. If you want to find out how I spent $13 on a full day’s meal (breakfast + lunch + snacks + dinner), you can take a look here.
2. Food kiosks
Upon arriving in Japan, you will notice vending machines everywhere. These brightly-lit oasis dispense both hot and cold drinks at a low price (¥100). Food kiosks work quite similarly.
Usually you will find food kiosks right outside or by the entrance of some restaurants. These places usually serve ramen and/or rice dishes, and they’re generally cheaper than normal restaurants. On the machine, the picture of each dish and the price is displayed, either on the selection buttons or on the display screen.
The first time I tried ordering from one of these machines, I took 3 tries and 10 minutes. Later on, I found an instruction in English right next to the machine. Most of you would probably get it right the first time, but if you’re technology-challenged like me, here is a brief guide to ordering food from a food kiosk:
3. Conveyor belt sushi
Yes, conveyer belt like the one at baggage reclaim. Chances are, you will not have a hard time finding these in major cities. I ate conveyor belt sushis quite frequently during my time in Japan.
As the name suggests, the plates of sushi are rotated on the conveyor belt and you take whichever one right off the belt. Kinda like fishing for your own fish, except your fish is prepared and cooked for you. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, you can also order directly from the menu.
The greatest part about conveyor belt sushis? Most of them cost ¥100 ($0.90) per plate! Also, you usually get free refillable matcha green tea!
So if you love sushi like me, and you also love eating affordably and well, definitely check out conveyor belt sushi restaurants when in Japan.
4. Japanese ‘fast food’ chains
Now you might be thinking, is she for real? And the answer is, yes, I am for real. ‘Fast food’ in Japan is not what you think. Forget about greasy fried burgers, salty fries and diabetes-in-a-cup coke; although they have that here too.
I am referring to steamed white rice, stir-fried beef, miso soup and a side of fermented vegetables. Yup. Japan, like everything else, does fast food differently. These chains usually serve incredibly affordable meals, beginning at ¥300 for a bowl of beef rice. Add ¥100 more and you have yourself a full set with soup and side dishes. You might be wondering, what about the drinks? Well, my friend, you can usually get free refillable tea here too!
Here are some of the ‘fast food’ chains that I ate at during my time in Japan:
- Yoshinoya — a beef bowl (gyūdon) restaurant chain *mimi recommended!
- Matsuya — another a beef bowl restaurant chain that also serves curry rice dishes
- Sukiya — a beef bowl restaurant chain
- CoCo Ichibanya — their curry rice bowls are amazing!
- Tenya — a tempura rice chain
5. Hit the streets
No, not that kind. I’m referring to eating street food.
Coming from a culture that considers street food as a huge part of the local cuisine, I was delighted to discover the vibrant street food scene in Japan. From takoyaki (my favourite!) to taiyaki, there are many affordable savoury and sweet food options from the streets of Japan.
You can find these small food stalls, also known as yatai, on the streets or during special festivals. I usually go from one stall to the next, eating as I go along because the food are meant to be eaten on-the-go and they’re super affordable! What a great way to start your Japanese adventure by getting to know the local food!
So there you go! These are ways that I myself have personally tried and tested during my month-long adventure here in Japan. I did of course indulged in good foodie experiences (hello ¥8000 wagyu beef sukiyaki!), but I only ate like this about 30% of the time. Most of the time I’m with my chicken teriyaki onigiris from 7-Eleven and you know what? I loved every minute of it.