A Budget Traveller’s Guide to the Best Cheap Food in Japan

Traveling to other places, especially to foreign countries located overseas, constitutes the need for a certain amount of money based on how long one would be staying abroad. Depending on the country that one would be visiting, it can either downright cheap or really expensive. If one would be traveling to Asia, there are certain countries that would be great even for people on a tight budget. On the other hand, these are also those that would require visitors to have some money in their wallet, as expenses can be rather pricey. 

Among the many countries that is most visited in Asia is Japan. Now, most people often mistake Japan as an expensive travel destination. While it is true that the cost of living is higher compared to its Asian neighbors, exploring the country on a budget is possible if one knew the right places to sleep, shop, and eat. A decent meal can cost as low as just 300 yen, which is equivalent to about $3, to 1,500 yen, which is equivalent to about $14. The awesome thing about Japan is that great food choices come aplenty regardless of budget.

Good But Cheap Japanese Food Along the Streets of Japan

The Japanese love their cheap eats so looking for a nice affordable meal is easier than one might think. If one is looking for good authentic Japanese food, restaurant chains like Sukiya, Matsuya, and Yoshinoya are popular choices among budget travelers. A typical bowl of gyudon, which is a bowl of rice topped with beef and onions, would cost only around 500 yen to 800 yen. A visit to CoCo Ichibanya, the most beloved curry chain in the Land of the Sun, is also a must. For around 800 yen, one can take his or her pick of meat drenched in delicious curry sauce.

Another option is convenience stores. Convenience stores in Japan take convenience quite seriously. Stores like Family Mart, 7-11, and Lawson can be found in just about every corner of the country, as there are more than 50,000 convenience stores nationwide. Offering bread, snacks, desserts, noodles, rice dishes and other kinds of hot food, a budget of 1000 yen can last from breakfast to dinner for the real thrifty.

The cheapest cuts of fresh fish and other seafood are best sourced from the local market. Most supermarkets will have one or two restaurants serving sushi and fried meat, as well as a couple of food stalls where people can grab a quick bite while shopping for necessities. Train stations would often also have food stands serving authentic Japanese ramen and bento boxes.

Best Cheap Food in Tokyo, Japan

If one would be staying in Tokyo, there are also numerous choices of where to buy cheap food without compromising the taste and quality of the dishes. A good choice for sushi would be Mawashi-zushi Katsu, which is a restaurant with conveyor-belt sushi. Located at 8F Seibu Ikebukuro, 1-28-1 Minami-ikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo, this restaurant is operated by a famous sushi chain known as Midori Zushi. More than 200 kinds of dishes are prepared and offered by this restaurant. Costing from only 100 yen to 500 yen, one can already get a taste of fresh ingredients incorporated in their sushi.

As for people craving for seafood donburi, the place to go to would be Minatoya Shokuhin. Located at Ueno 4 chome 1-9, Taito-ku, Tokyo, this restaurant is quite famous for its seafood donburi bowl. Having two shops in Ameyoko, their menu consists of a wide range of dishes, along with photos so that customers can visualize what they are being offered. Fresh ingredients are guaranteed as they are sourced from the Tsukiji market. The price for their dishes is about 500 yen, which is a steal considering the amount and quality of the food. Both branches are situated within walking distance from their respective stations, namely, Ueno Station and Okachimachi Station.

If kushikatsu is what one is looking for, then head on over to Eichan. For the unaware, kushikatsu are basically deep-fried skewers that are just mouth-watering. Located at B1 FI Builiding, 1-26-5 Takadanobaba, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, Eichan is a branch of a restaurant chain that specializes in kushikatsu from Osaka. For only 100 yen, one can already get kushikatsu or even oden. Lunch menus are also being offered for only 500 yen. However, it is important to note that they charge seats at night for 200 yen each, but it comes with unlimited cabbage. The average price for a lunch meal in this restaurant would be less than 1,000 yen while a dinner set may cost around 2,000 yen. It is also accessible as it is only a 1-minute walk from Takadanobaba Station.

For small snacks, one may opt for just gyoza. An affordable place to get gyoza would be Harajuku Gyoza Lou. Located at 6-2-4 Jungumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, this restaurant is highly specialized in making gyoza. Just 260 meters from the Metro Meiji Jingumae Station, this place is easily accessible for anyone craving for gyoza but on a tight budget. Six pieces of either fried or boiled gyoza costs only 290 yen, which is already a steal. A regular meal from this restaurant usually costs less than 1,000 yen. Hence, it is not surprising that the restaurant is highly popular and is constantly packed with customers. 

During the cold weather, one of the most popular dishes would be ramen. There are several ramen joints in Japan that offer mouth-watering dishes, though some of them may be a bit expensive. If one is looking for a cheaper option, a trip to Ramentei is a good choice. Located at 1-39-9 Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo, it is a place to visit after shopping along Denbouin Dori. Just a 6-minute walk from Asakusa Station, this small shop is easily accessible. A delicious standard bowl of ramen costs below 500 yen, which is pretty cheap in comparison to other ramen joints in Tokyo. Other bestsellers include wonton men noodles and shumai dumplings.

Not every person eats meat so for those who are vegetarians, it might be a challenge to look for vegetarian restaurants that sell vegan dishes at an affordable price. Let one be the guide for a cheap vegetarian restaurant and visit Saishoku Kenbi. An all-vegetarian restaurant, their menu is composed of no meat or fish dishes. On the other hand, their menu also consists of the words “chicken” and “Hamburg steak.” Set menus are also being offered for only 1,300 yen. Located at 2-21-26 Hyakunin-cho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, it is situated near JR Okubo Station.

It is customary for Japanese people to drink on certain occasions. However, if one is specifically looking for Japanese sake but is on a budget, a great option would be Kuri. Located at 2F Tony Building, 6-4-15 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo, Kuri is a tiny bar that specialized in Japanese sake and shochu. With more than 100 varieties of sake, it is quite popular among people who like to drink during their free time. One can already get a 60 mL glass of sake for only 300 yen though the bar also offers tasting sets. The location is also quite easy to spot on a map, as it is only a 3-minute walk from the C2 exit of Ginza Station. 

Best Cheap Food in Osaka, Japan

As for people staying in Osaka, there are also various cheap restaurants and food shops that one can find there. If one is feeling like having a steak-don for a meal, then head on over to Honmiyake. Located at Hankyuu Sanbanmachi B2F, 1 Chome-1-3 Shibata Kita-ku, Osaka, this restaurant is famous for their steak-don, which costs less than $10. Considered affordable, their steak-don is composed of steak on top of rice.

Osaka also houses hundreds of takoyaki stands, which people go to year-round when they are craving for takoyaki during snack time. While there are numerous shops that offer takoyaki, probably the most popular in all of Osaka is Kougaryu. Often recommended in magazines, blogs, and television shows, Kougaryu offers cheap but great-tasting takoyaki that the masses just love. Not only is it affordable but is fast food as well. Located at 2 Chome-18-4 Nishishinsaibashi Chuo-ku, Osaka, the price for their takoyaki ranges from $3 to $5 only. 

As for people who love meat, head on over to 298. Located at 1F, 10-2 Doyamacho Kita-ku, Osaka-shi, Osaka, this restaurant offers all-you-can-eat yakiniku. This is like haven for people who love to eat meat. For only $10, one can already have a 90-minute course of unlimited yakiniku. This is quite a steal, especially for the amount of food that one would be getting. This is definitely filling to the stomach so come in with a hungry tummy.

As for the seafood-lovers out there, there is also an all-you-can-eat crab restaurant. Known as Kani Koubou, this restaurant specializes in crab dishes. Located at 2 Chome-2-2, Nakaicho, Kishiwada-shi, Osaka, this restaurant offers buffet of not less than 60 dishes, including sushi, salad, dessert, and, of course, crab and other kinds of seafood. Situated on the coast of Kishiwada, freshness of the food is guaranteed. Their lunch buffet costs only about $25 for an adult with the course of 90 minutes.

Best Cheap Food in Nara, Japan

If one is staying in Nara, there are still other great but cheap restaurant options. For the people craving for some Japanese curry, another option aside from the usual Coco Ichibanya is Wakakusa Curry Hompo. Located at 38-1 Mochiidonocho, Nara 630-8222, Nara Prefecture, their curries are just delicious but tagged at an affordable price. Their curry bread is also a must-try. Worry not for foreigners because the restaurant also has English menus. Open from 11:30 in the morning to 8:30 in the evening, this restaurant can be accessed by getting off at Kintetsu Nara Station.

On the other hand, if one would like to have a bite of a burger, try visiting Sakura Burger Restaurant. Located at 6 Higashimuki Kitamachi, Nara 630-8214, Nara Prefecture, this restaurant specializes in making burgers. Because great-tasting burgers is not easy to find in Nara, this restaurant is highly popular to the masses. Not only are their burgers affordable, but the patty is just big and juicy. Another must-try from their menu is the apple pie. Open from 11 in the morning to 9 in the evening, this restaurant can also be accessed by getting off at Kintetsu Nara Station.

One of the must-try dishes in Japan is okonomiyaki. When one is staying in Nara, definitely try this great but affordable restaurant known as Kameya. Located at Taruicho, Nara 630-8218, Nara Prefecture, Kameya offers delicious okonomiyaki. Despite the restaurant being small, it is very popular among the locals. As it is only a few minutes away from the temple, dropping by this restaurant after a religious visit is recommended. Open from 11:30 in the morning to 9:30 in the evening, this restaurant can also be accessed by getting off at Kintetsu Nara Station.

Affordable Indian and Halal Food in the Land of the Sun

Indian and Halal-certified restaurants are quite hard to find in the Land of the Sun. Looking for a cheap one is even harder. A recommendation for cheap but great Indian and Halal restaurant would be KARACHI. Located at B1 7-10-10 Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, this restaurant offers traditional Indian and Pakistan cuisine. Their dishes are made of Halal ingredients. They offer an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet for only 1,000 yen on weekdays and 1,500 yen on weekends. This includes four types of curry, salad, and non-alcoholic beverages. It is also accessible as it is only a 5-minute walk from Shinjuku Nishiguchi Station.

Affordable food in Japan can be found not only in Tokyo, Osaka, and Nara but in other cities as well such as Kyoto and Yokohama. The notion that everything in Japan is expensive is not true at all, given these many choices of cheap but great affordable restaurants. Indeed, one can enjoy great and high-quality food in Japan even on a tight budget.