Japan Travel

Eating On The Cheap In Japan: 5 Budget Friendly Food Options In Kyoto And Tokyo

Eating On The Cheap In Japan 5 Budget Friendly Food Options

See My Full Itinerary For 10 Days In Japan


As any travelling blogger will tell you, exploration can be expensive. Transportation and accommodation tend not to sneak up on you, as they are fixed costs that are easy to budget for. Food can be a very different story.  While traveling, it’s not always easy to plan exactly where you want to eat and know with precision how much things are going to cost. For this reason, I always like to do research ahead of time, and know what my budget friendly options are. This saved Julia and I quite a bit of money in Japan. Here are my 5 budget friendly food options to help you save money in Japan.

Eating On The Cheap In Japan 5 Budget Friendly Food Options


1.) Convenience Stores And Supermarkets

The are three main store names you should know here: 7-11, Lawson Station, and Family Mart. These three convenience stores can be found all over Japan, and are densely clustered in Kyoto and Tokyo. On our first night in Japan, we paid for the breakfast at our ryokan. This cost us 2400 Yen for the two of us. We knew that wasn’t sustainable and instead opted to pick up breakfast at convenience stores for the rest of our trip. We were able to get fruit, seaweed wraps, tea, baked goods, and just about anything else you can think of at the three convenience stores listed above. Unlike the convenience store food found here in the US, the food in Japanese quick marts was actually of pretty decent quality. Most importantly, Julia and I were able to eat for about 500 Yen each morning for the two of us. That’s a savings of about $15.00 US when compared to a breakfast served at a ryokan.

Eating On The Cheap In Japan 5 Budget Friendly Options
Food Options In Family Mart

The main reason we grabbed breakfast at quick marts was the fact that it made getting breakfast on the train much easier. Julia and I took a lot of day trips from Tokyo and Kyoto on shinkansen that left early in the morning. Stopping at Family Mart or 7-11 allowed us to grab breakfast, water, green tea, and snacks for the day without breaking the budget. Keep in mind that these marts can be found inside of large train stations as well. Julia and I also grabbed the pre-cooked meals for lunch or dinner on a few occasions when we wanted to eat in our hotels. They also sell the instant noodles that we were able to make in our hotel microwave. Not the fanciest options, but it allowed us to use more of our budget to explore Japan.

Eating On The Cheap In Japan 5 Budget Friendly Options
My Favorite Breakfast (Fried Rice Seaweed Wraps)
Eating On The Cheap Budget Friendly Food in Japan Kyoto Tokyo
Quick Lunch On The Train

 2.) Street Stalls And Vending Machines

Street stalls are one of my favorite places to grab food in any travel location, but Japan had some that were especially good. Street vendors sell the food locals love to eat, the sweet treats and delicious favorites people can’t say no to. When I’m in the states, I’m a sucker for taco trucks, churros, and hot dogs. I wasn’t always sure what it was I was eating in Japan, but it was always good.

Eating On The Cheap In Japan 5 Budget Friendly Options
Hot Dogs
Eating On The Cheap In Japan 5 Budget Friendly Options
Noodles
Eating On The Cheap In Japan 5 Budget Friendly Options
Toasted Rice Balls?
Eating On The Cheap In Japan 5 Budget Friendly Options
Red Bean Bun

Japan is famous for vending machines, so it goes without saying that you can grab just about any food or drink item at any moment from one. I really loved that I could even grab hot drinks! This came in handy while in Koyosan (27F at night) and Nikko (35F during our visit). I also loved the full digital displays on some of the higher end vending machines. These machines are everywhere and reasonable priced, so plan on grabbing some treats when you’re on the go.

Eating On The Cheap In Japan 5 Budget Friendly OptionsEating On The Cheap In Japan 5 Budget Friendly Options
Vending Machine At Night
Eating On The Cheap In Japan 5 Budget Friendly Options
Fully Digital

 3.) Gyudon, Soba, and Stand Up Noodle Restaurants

Of all the places Julia and I ate at while in Japan, these were our favorite options. Gyudon is a beef bowl, and one of my favorite cheap food options in Japan. These bowls are just delicious! Soba was another order that found it’s way to our plate often, as the hot buckwheat noodles made for some really great soups. I actually preferred the soba to udon, which was surprising as I don’t eat it much here at home. Ramen is another staple, and something we ordered for lunch and dinner quite regularly. For sides, we ordered quite a bit of gyoza dumplings which are cheap, good, and filling.

Eating On The Cheap In Japan 5 Budget Friendly Options
Pork
Eating On The Cheap In Japan 5 Budget Friendly Options
Stand Up In Shinjuku
Eating On The Cheap In Japan 5 Budget Friendly Options
In Kyoto
Eating On The Cheap In Japan 5 Budget Friendly Options
Wild Vegetables
Eating On The Cheap In Japan 5 Budget Friendly Options
Chicken Katsu: My Favorite
Eating On The Cheap In Japan 5 Budget Friendly Options
Pork

At some of these restaurants you’ll select your food and pay at a vending machine at the entry door. You’ll then receive a ticket that you show the hostess inside. Some restaurants will have tables with chairs and others will just have counters. The vending machines gave us a little trouble at first, but we soon realized that most places have English menus and/or plastic food displays to help with ordering.

You’ll be able to find gyudon, soba, and stand up noodle restaurants all over Kyoto and Tokyo. We ate at some on the street, some in train stations, and some in shopping malls. The locations in train stations and shopping malls were a little more expensive, but not bad when you consider the convenience of their location.

Eating On The Cheap In Japan 5 Budget Friendly Options
The Menu
Eating On The Cheap In Japan 5 Budget Friendly Options
Vending Machine
Eating On The Cheap In Japan 5 Budget Friendly Options
Vending Machine
Eating On The Cheap In Japan 5 Budget Friendly Options
Tickets

 4.) Fast Food

Fast food is another low-cost food options while traveling in Japan. Although Julia and I did not eat at many of these establishments, we did see McDonald’s and Yoshinoya which we have here in the States. We also saw a lot of Moss Burgers and Lotterias which seemed to be local joints. One Japanese establishment that did get my business was Mister Donut! They have these in train stations,and I was a sucker for their donuts and tea as an afternoon snack.

Eating On The Cheap In Japan 5 Budget Friendly Options
Mister Donut

 5.) Train Stations And Shopping Malls

This is an all encompassing addition to my list of 5, as train stations and malls tend to include the previous four money saving food options I listed above. This is especially true of Kyoto Station and Tokyo Station, but also larger stations like the ones found in Shinjuku and Shibuya. The nice thing about train stations and shopping malls is that you get a huge selection of places to choose from. Many have food courts with 10 to 20 restaurants occupying a walkway. This makes it easy to browse menus and find a place you like. Almost all of the restaurants in malls and stations also have Englsih menus and/or the plastic food display menus in their windows. You’ll also find quick marts, vending machines, and fast food. If it’s your first day in Japan and you’re feeling a bit anxious about the language and managing a Japanese language only restaurant, the food options in a station or mall are a good place to start. Once you get your oars in the water, the world is your oyster!

Eating On The Cheap In Japan 5 Budget Friendly Options
7-11 Kyoto Station
Eating On The Cheap In Japan 5 Budget Friendly Options
Bento Boxes To Go
Eating On The Cheap In Japan 5 Budget Friendly Options
Porta Dining Kyoto Station
Eating On The Cheap In Japan 5 Budget Friendly Options
Platform Kiosk
Eating On The Cheap In Japan 5 Budget Friendly Options
Porta Dining Options
Eating On The Cheap In Japan 5 Budget Friendly Options
Porta Dining Food Lane

I'm Drew, creator of Trail to Peak. Trail to Peak brings content to life on the web through breath-taking photography and captivating video. I launched Trail to Peak in 2014 with a goal to inspire readers to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors. I have traveled to 19 countries, walked Camino de Santiago, hiked the John Muir Trail, trekked through the Andes of Peru, and am constantly seeking new adventures in my home state of California. Joining me on my weekly adventures is my partner, Julia, our son, Owen, and our two goldendoodles, Isla and Lilly.

20 comments on “Eating On The Cheap In Japan: 5 Budget Friendly Food Options In Kyoto And Tokyo

  1. Very straightforward advice here! You gave a lot of options that I tend to do as a resident when I don’t want to cook, so it’s good for both residents and visitors alike to know these tips!

  2. I am hoping to travel there in May and I will be on a budget so this is great.

  3. Great advice! I want to travel but don’t know any bit of the language. I feel like I’ll be lost. Does that happen to you?

    • I didn’t know any Japanese when I arrived other than the common greetings and phrases. It wasn’t a problem. In the big cities, all sings are posted in Japanese and English. Most people working at train stations spoke English. When I communicated with those who didn’t speak English, I just got creative and did my best. Everyone I met in Japan was incredible nice and understanding. It’s not just a beautiful country because of the land, the people are equally beautiful.

  4. Would you recommend travelers to look into Ma & Pa shops and eateries?

  5. I would like to travel to Japan, as you say when travelling to somewhere you haven’t been before, trying to plan food or meals, or even know what you can buy (or what it is) is difficult, but if I travel to Japan – I’m referring to your article straight away, thank you!

  6. I really enjoyed how simple and calm you made it all sound! My partner and I are headed over in March ’17 and you’ve made me just that more excited.

  7. Hi! Thank you for these tips! I just want to ask what is the estimated amount of the food in the convenient stores as well as the street foods?

    Thanks.
    *Hope you can respond via email*

    • There is a lot of food available at the convenience stores. For the street food it depends on where you are. The price is usually around 200-1000 Yen per item, depending on what you’re buying. My rice cakes were around 300 Yen, and the green tea drinks were around 150 Yen. The street foods were a little more expensive, but still reasonable. Meals were usually from 800-1500 Yen.

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