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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!