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Japan has always been one of Asia’s swankiest destinations. Commonly seen as cost-prohibitive, it usually flies far over many budget travelers’ radars. While it may not be as great of a deal as say, China or Thailand, a trip to Japan can be both rewarding and easy on the wallet if you know where to look. This is particularly true when it comes to food.
Buying groceries and cooking at home is your first line of defense in keeping your budget in check. While fresh produce can be costly, other staples like noodles, rice, and tofu are very inexpensive. Want to know a secret? Grocery stores discount their prepackaged meals at the end of the day! Stop in an hour or two before closing and you’ll find sushi bentos, prepackaged salads, and yakitori bundles for less than ¥300. Don’t be surprised if you see locals doing the same on their way home from work.
Walk down the street in any Japanese city and it won’t be long until you run into a 7-Eleven, Family Mart, Ministop, or Lawson store. All of these places sell bento meals for ¥200-¥500. Eating lunch out of 7-Eleven might not sound appealing if you’re used to the US locations, but trust us, these guys are dedicated to serving quality food. You can even take this a step further and fish out a Lawson 100 Store, where they sell almost all of their goods for just ¥100 a piece. This is particularly useful if you’re really craving fruits or veggies (usually much more pricey if found elsewhere). The only caveat is that these chains don’t mark down their products at the end of the day, due to being open 24/7.
Craving a hot bowl of noodles? Get your fix at a standing-room-only joint, commonly found in train stations and shopping centers. Ramen, udon, soba, and even sushi are among the usual selections. Don’t be surprised if you’re asked to order via vending machine! Just pop in some cash, select your order, and take the ticket to the counter. And don’t worry if your Japanese skills aren’t up to snuff: the machines usually have pictures.
Forget McDonald’s! Trade in your usual fast food go-to’s for a gyudon, or beef bowl, meal. Here you’ll find delicious slices of beef shredded over rice, sometimes with a raw egg mixed in (trust us–it’s good). They won’t set you back more than ¥500. And here’s an insider tip: Go for breakfast! Many of these restaurants serve beautifully set meals before 11am, usually based around portions of mackerel or salmon. Yoshinoya, Matsuya, and Sukiya are among the most popular chains.
When you eat matters. Restaurants often serve meals during the day for a fraction of the price of what they would cost come evening. The best approach for eating on a budget? Hit up a restaurant for lunch, then grab a discounted bento later on in the day for dinner.
Japan doesn’t have to be expensive. Use the same strategies as the locals do, and you’ll be
eating like a king for just a few hundred yen per meal.