Last week we looked at 15 ways to travel Japan on the cheap, focusing on accommodation and transportation. This week I’m sharing 12 more useful tips for traveling in Japan on a budget.
Cheap Food in Japan
You may have heard of Japan’s 10,000 yen melons, but these aren’t what most people eat. Imported food is more expensive, as is the packaged gift fruit, but you can find plenty of everyday, affordable eats depending on where you shop.
1. Shop department store basements. The basement usually has a variety of shops selling prepared or packaged food. It’s not always the cheapest, but sometimes will save you money.
2. Conveniences stores or コンビニ, such as 7-11, Circle K, Lawson, Family Mart and Mini Stop, among others, offer plenty of cheap options. You can find prepared noodle dishes–not just cup ramen!–such as soba or ramen for less than 500 yen, an array of onigiri (お握り, rice balls) for around 100 yen a piece, bentos (boxed meals), and sometimes salads. You can also find yogurt or granola bars, and sometimes bananas, for breakfast. For healthier conbini options in Tokyo, look for Natural Lawson.
Beverages, snacks and fruit usually cost more at コンビニ than supermarkets, though, with the exception of store brand 100 yen snacks.
3. Find the nearest supermarket, or スーパー. Most supermarkets sell prepared food such as bentos, noodles, salads, onigiri, fried food, and sushi, among other items, for a fair price. Water, snacks and other beverages are generally more affordable here. Some department stores have supermarkets in the basement.
4. For fresh, cheap produce, visit a farmer’s market or morning market. Some farmer’s markets operate six days a week, and morning markets are generally held Saturday or Sunday mornings. To find one nearby, try asking the hotel staff to help you locate one, or search for “ファーマーズマーケット” or “朝市”. Visiting a market also gives you a chance to speak with the locals and see a different side of Japan.
5. Eat at cheap (but good) places. Try ramen (ラーメン), soba (そば), udon (うどん), Japanese curry (カレー), and conveyor belt sushi (回転寿司, かいてんずし). Also look for chains like Yoshinoya, Coco Ichibanya, and Kappa-zushi. Shakey’s Pizza offers an all-you-can-eat buffet, lunch or dinner, for around or under 1000 yen. Indian food (インド料理) can also be inexpensive. For other cheap places, visit a shopping mall food court or expressway service areas.
Japan does have McDonald’s and other fast food joints, but if you buy a meal’s worth of food, the price can end up costing as much or more than what you could get at a decent restaurant.
6. Search a restaurant site, such as Tabelog, although it’s all in Japanese. You can search by region, train station, cuisine, and price. If you want to find a cheap place to eat in Tokyo, click on “東京” on the map, and then under 予算 (よさん, budget), choose your price range and press the green button that says 検索 (けんさく, search). Tokyo is a large city, so narrow your choices on the next page using the options on the left side.
7. Splurge on lunch and eat a small dinner. Lunch sets are popular and usually cheaper than dinner, although portions can vary. Not all restaurants offer these, so it does depend, but it’s something to keep in mind when deciding where to eat.
8. Search websites for coupons or deals before visiting, if you plan to go to an amusement park, a water park, the movies, or any other specific place that charges admission. If the website is in English and Japanese, look at both versions–use a browser translation tool if necessary. Most of the time only the Japanese version of a site offers coupons and deals. Keywords to look or search for: クーポン or 割引券 (わりびきけん), or just 割引 (わりびき).
9. Shop at Daiso for souvenirs. They have a great selection of Japanese gift items and no one at home will know how much you really spent. Green tea or Japanese candy also make excellent, affordable gifts. To find a store, go here (Japanese only).
10. Explore for free. Walking around any neighborhood in Japan will surprise you with hidden shrines, temples, hole-in-the-wall cafes or other interesting sites. Go for a hike or visit the beach if they aren’t too far from where you’re staying. Go window shopping, and definitely browse Tokyu Hands or Loft, a Japan-specific experience.
11. For free internet, try Starbucks, which you can sign up to use here. You could also try this free wi-fi resource for visitors if you’ll be in eastern or northern Japan. Sometimes internet cafes or manga cafes offer cheap internet for an hour or two, but some of them can be used to stay the night in. Most offer food, and some offer showers as well.
12. If you’re traveling to a major city, look at hotels just outside of it. You’ll want to check train fares first, though, to ensure you aren’t spending more money on transportation than the money you might save on a hotel.
Enjoy your trip!