4 Options for Cheap Eats in Japan

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On August 22, 2015
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Photo by kimishowota

A co-worker complained that food in Japan was too expensive. He ranted about not being able to get a decent meal for under 1000 yen. Confused, I told him that there were plenty of places where I ate for about 500 yen or less. His response was, “Where? You mean, like McDonald’s?” Sigh.

Like anywhere in the world, if you eat like a local, you don’t need to spend a lot. The trick in Tokyo? Eat these Japanese “fast foods”:

Soba

You can order these buckwheat noodles hot (Attakai) or cold (Tsumetai) for about 300 yen, and you can add a side of curry rice, Katsu-don, or Tempura for about 200 yen more. My favorite chain is Shibu Soba. Use a vending machine to order food, and then hand your ticket to the attendant. You will be asked if you want Soba or Udon noodles, Attakai or Tsumetai. There are many other Soba shops like this one, and if you’re on a budget, don’t hesitate to stop in.

Gyu-don

Rice? Good. Beef? GOOD. Starting at under 300 Yen? YES, please! Want more bang for your Yen? Dine at Matsuya because every Gyu-don comes with complimentary Miso soup. Up early? From 5am to 11am, Matsuya also serves sausage and egg breakfasts, that come with a side of rice, Miso soup, salad, and your choice of Natto, Tofu, or beef – all for 400 yen!

Sashimi-don

Your favorite raw fish doesn’t have to be expensive. For about 500 yen, you can get generous Sashimi pieces on top of a bowl of sushi rice. An example of this type of place is the chain Don Maru 丼丸, where the fish is fresh and the rice is oh so addicting! On rainy days, you can score free Miso soup. Best way to find Sashimi-don? While you’re walking along the street, keep your nose on alert for strong vinegar scents.

Late night grocery shopping

It’s true that you can also make all of the above yourself for even cheaper. Go grocery shopping when the market is about to close and scoop up what you can at a discount. Japanese markets like to stock only the freshest foods, so they are quick to cut prices on items to make way for new ones.

To clarify, I don’t eat at the above places to “save money”; I eat at them because I think the food is awesome and the availability of these eateries is luxury. To some, they might just seem like Japanese “fast food”, but to me, it’s frugal eating at its best!

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Traveling, eating, writing through Nihon.
  • lMIKUl says:

    You know cooking at home is cheaper… Unless you are in a place where you can’t physically cook, or you can’t cook… Then you go for half price/discounted price bento at your local market… muuuuch cheaper than eating out, and usually more balanced meal.

  • Caim Astraea says:

    Hello , is there an even cheaper alternative ? Seems a bit eccentric to pay 30,000 yen / month on food. Need to find the cheapest possible options ? Like supermarket ramen that you pour hot water on and stuff like that ? Can’t be more than 100 yen right ?

  • JetprintVisualMedia says:

    Tokyo Tendon Tempura is a pretty good Japanese “fast food” chain of restaurants also, great tempura options for 600 yen up (when I was last there)

  • maulinator says:

    The places tha author mentions are all chain places and the food quality is ambiguous. Better than mcdonalds, but not places I would eat at consistently. As the author says it is Japanese fast food. Nothing wrong with it, and I like it sometimes too, but you do want some “real” restaurant quality.
    The best deals in Tokyo are for lunch. Most of the business areas in Tokyo, Otemachi, Marunouchi, NIhonbashi will have lunch specials that are around 1000 yen. Clearly this is to service the salarymen in the area, but the prices are pretty much unbeatable for the quality. Go to Maru Bldg for lunch and most restaurants are around 1000 yen. If you are spending 1500 yen that is a bull market lunch. Even places like Roppongi and aoyama will have really good deals for lunch. Places like Robouchon and Quintessence will have screaming deals for lunch. If you are on a budget but still a foodie then seek out lunch.

    Cicada, Beacon and Crayon House all have cheap lunches as does Mercer House/Terrace…. I could go on and on but the best thing to do is just go and check out the lunch menus.

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