Budget Travel Guide Part 1: Food

Take on Japan's incredible cuisine one affordable meal at a time

By Ignatius Koh   May 18, 2018

Forget the notion that Japan is expensive. With Japan Travel's budget travel guides, you can discover Japan on a shoestring, but not miss out on anything this country has to offer.

Overview

We kick off this series with one of the biggest reasons people come to Japan: food. Japan has a diverse cuisine that is unique as it is mouthwatering, making it a haven for foodies. However, the constant eating might be a cause for monetary concern. But with this guide, you can satisfy yourself with all kinds of Japanese food and still have money to spare.

Gyudon Eateries

These are where the salarymen have a quick lunch or dinner — places such as Matsuya, Yoshinoya, and Sukiya top the list. These incredibly cheap places offer meals for as low as ¥400 for a bowl of gyudon (beef bowl). Imagine paying with only one coin! And with unlimited refills of ice water, your hunger and thirst will definitely be satiated. Most of these outlets can be found across Tokyo, and in Japan's bigger cities, making it a convenient and affordable dining option.

Matsuya is a classic and affordable chain restaurant
Matsuya is a classic and affordable chain restaurant

B-Grade Gourmet

These are more specialised places, which means they usually serve one kind of food i.e. ramen, curry rice, soba. These places usually serve better food than chain restaurants or gyudon eateries as they have specialties. Popular names such as Ichiran, Go Go Curry, and Abura Soba are the places to go for a delicious and filling meal. What's even better is that a regular meal at these outlets only cost an average of ¥700-850! Of course, additional toppings increases the price but a standard meal is still good for value. For sushi lovers, the Hamazushi chain offers a plate of sushi at only ¥100 (subject to tax) so your options are not limited.

Ichiran is a famous ramen chain that offers affordable specialised cuisine that is a cut above regular shops (Photo: Chantelle Silva)
Ichiran is a famous ramen chain that offers affordable specialised cuisine that is a cut above regular shops (Photo: Chantelle Silva)

Hidden Eats

These are the shops you find while wandering aimlessly through the back alleys or smaller streets. They are hidden from sight but usually have the best tasting food, made from recipes known only to the owners. As these shops are located in places with lower human traffic, rent is typically cheaper, and so the price of food is also lower than what you would get from shops along main streets. The most appealing option to the avid traveller, standalone indie shops are gems waiting to be discovered all over Japan so start exploring!

Shops hidden in the back alleys often provide good value and are delicious
Shops hidden in the back alleys often provide good value and are delicious

Convenience Stores/Supermarkets

A late night option, food at convenience stores — better known as "combini" — and supermarkets like bento, and other hot food (karaage, croquettes, yakitori) that were unsold during the day are packed into bags and sold at discounted prices up to 50% during closing hours. This means that if a single yakitori stick costs ¥200 normally, unsold ones may be grouped in sets of three sticks and sold for a total of ¥300 instead of the ¥600 it might cost during the day. For someone not fussy with food, these are good options for supper as the food is still very much edible, albeit a little cold.

There will always be a combini within 100 metres from where you are so you will never go hungry or thirsty
There will always be a combini within 100 metres from where you are so you will never go hungry or thirsty

Of course, if your budget allows for more extravagant dining, feel free to indulge in Japan's thriving food scene. But don't feel bad for travelling on a budget when you can still enjoy similar food at a more affordable rate.

Japan Travel Editor

Join the discussion

Kim B 2 months ago
This is always a hot topic for many of my friends who come and visit Japan - food can really eat into the budget (if you pardon the pun!) so tips like this are very useful!