Contrary to popular belief, eating in Japan doesn’t always have to be expensive. You don’t have to dumpster dive or beg for food either..! In this article, I’ve outlined the best ways to eat cheap and healthy in Japan.
#1. Supermarket Daily Sales
Head over to the nearest supermarket or the grocery section of department stores (usually located at the basement) to get some discounted Bentos, including sushi, fried rice, dumplings, sashimi and so on. Many supermarkets begin to offer a discount for their unsold lunch Bentos around 2 pm. Typically, discounts start off at 20% and mark down by 50% or more (sometimes up to 70%) towards the closing.
For example, I was able to snatch three delicious Origini for just 60 Yen. The Originis were the perfect snack to bring along during our journey in Japan because we walk a lot (more than 100km in a week!).
Most of the time, these discounted Bentos are fresh and in top-notch taste, especially in renowned department stores like Takasimaya and Daimaru. The items are prepared every morning and they do not keep them overnight. Take notes though, some of the supermarket close quite early (~8 pm, check their operating hours from Google anyway) so plan your schedule accordingly!
The thing is, your choices can be limited since it’s the end of the day. If you have dietary restrictions or are picky eaters, this may not work for you. Otherwise, it’s a great experience and a recommended way to eat cheap. In fact, the locals do the same all the time!
Here are some of the famous supermarkets in Japan: AEON, MaxValu, Seiyu, Apita, Piago, Halloday, Maruetsu, OK Supermarket. If you are in smaller towns, try Googling “supermarket near me”.
Useful vocab : to find out the latest price, look out for the yellow stickers on the Bentos.
”半額” indicates 50% off the original price.
“~円引” (“xx yen biki”) indicated the “xx” amount of yen discounted from the original price.
#2. Gyudon Restaurants
Gyudon (牛丼) is literally beef bowl, typically consists of bowl of rice topped with sliced beef and onions. It’s something you can try when you need a quick bite but on a tight budget. The typical meal costs about 400 Yen. Some stores have ticket vending machine, and most offer menus in English.
Here’s a breakfast set I had, consists of bowl of rice, pickles, hash brown (or you can choose Natto), Toufu, and Miso soup. The price? Just 400 Yen! See here:
There are thousands of Gyudon chain stores all over Japan. In addition to beef bowl, many stores also sell pork bowl and curry rice.
The service is fast, and many Gyudon restaurants open 24/7. Interestingly, you won’t see many local female customers during day time!
The four major Gyudon chains are as followed:
Yoshinoya (吉野家) (Official Website )
Note: Yoshinoya has recently launched high protein meals consists of beef, chicken, veggies, and beans.
It’s not really a Gyudon restaurants, but you will want to check out “Matsunoya” (松乃家), which also owned by Matsuya. Matsunoya specialized in pork cutlet.
#3. Family Restaurants
Sick and tired of eating rice & ramen? Then head over to the Japanese family restaurants, the casual dining restaurants with a wide variety of menus. They usually serve a combination of Japanese and Western meals, though sometimes you can also find Chinese cuisine.
The meals are reasonably priced, between 500 to 2000 Yen. Many restaurants offers well illustrated menus in both Japanese and English.
Here’s a list of recommended family restaurants in Japan:
Gusto (Official website, English menu, coupons)
Note: Gusto is one of the most popular family restaurants in Japan, with more than 1000 branches. Our picks are the hamburgers and pancake. Also, don’t forget to check out the happy hour deal: a glass of beer starting from 200 Yen from 2-6pm!
Coco’s (Official website, English Menu)
Notes: on weekdays, Tokyo Coco’s offers eat-all-you-can buffet breakfast from 7-10am at just 680 Yen for adults. The dishes consist of both local and Japanese styles, including rice, salad, potatoes, fish, bread and waffles.
#4. Tachigui stand
Tachigui (立ち食い) means standing while eating. Due to the limited number of space, you will come across many Tachigui restaurants in Japan, especially areas surrounding metro and train stations. These tiny restaurants usually have a vending machine selling food tickets near the entrance. The machines display the price and pictures of the food. The menu usually consists of soba, Udon and rice balls.
The meals are cheaply priced yet satisfying – you can get a bowl of Udon for just 300 Yen. As well, most Tachiguis stands have clean and nice deco.
#5. Convenience Stores (Konbini)
The Konbini is the great place to get quick and tasty meals in Japan. You can get a hearty Bento for just 500 Yen, and original brand Onigiri rice ball from just 100 Yen, not to mention wide selection of drinks, chocolates, snack etc. The major Konibis are: Newdays, Mini Shops, Lawson and Family Mart. Most of them open 24/7, and the food quality is surprisingly decent!
Note that there are three difference type of Lawsons: 100 Lawson, ordinary Lawson and Natural Lawson that sells organic products. Everything in 100 Lawson is priced at 100 Yen (108 Yen with the consumption tax).
#6. Make your own meals
It’s actually my favourite way to stay on a budget. If your guesthouse have a full kitchen, then cooking is the best way to eat cheap and healthy.
To prepare a quick meals, stick to easy to prepare food like curry, Soba, noodles, microwave pre-made rice packets, Gyoza (dumpling) and toast.
As well, you can findexcellent pre-marinated meat available in the supermarket. These items are super easy to cook and you don’t need to buy extra seasoning! My favorite is the Yakitori (grilled-chicken, see below):
Finally.. the bonus tip: if you are in Osaka, visit the Kuromon market before the closing time (6 pm). Many shops would mark down the price of their food items, just like the supermarket