Japan is one of the most expensive countries in the world, so it can be a challenge to eat cheaply. These are our recommendations on where to find cheap food in Japan, and the best places to find good food for low prices.
With options ranging from convenience stores to sit-down restaurants, there are plenty of options for finding cheap food in Japan. Some of the best Japanese staple foods that people hope to try when they visits are available in these options.
Finding Cheap Food In Japan
Yatai (Street Food Stalls)
Yatai is a mobile street food stall, usually set up in the morning and put up overnight until the next morning. The variety you can get from these street food stalls is excellent, with everything from ramen to sweet treats like taiyaki.
Here are some of the popular street food options you’ll find in Japan for cheap.
Yakitori is chicken cut into bite-size pieces, grilled, and then served on a skewer. The portable quality of yakitori makes for great street food!
Taiyaki is a sweet dish that is a cake shaped like a fish. Its shape comes from the metal cast it’s cooked in (similar to a waffle iron). The taiyaki typically has red bean paste inside.
Ramen is a noodle soup served with noodles and several other toppings. The most common toppings for ramen are sliced pork, nori (seaweed), scallions, and fish cakes.
Often called “potstickers” in other countries, gyoza is small dumplings filled with vegetables and meat wrapped up in a thin layer of dough. Gyoza is either pan-fried or steamed.
Takoyaki means “octopus balls,” and it’s a convenient snack. The wheat dough balls have diced octopus, pickled ginger, green onion, and tempura scraps inside and are then cooked to maintain their ball shape. The outside has a special sauce similar to Worcestershire sauce and mayonnaise, then dried bonito flakes (fish flakes) go on top.
Donburi means a rice bowl with a specific food as a topping. There are several chain restaurants located in Japan that offer a wide variety of donburi for cheap. The most popular donburi chain restaurants are Nakau and Tenya. Both restaurants have locations all around and even offer delivery.
Prices vary, but in general, most donburi restaurants offer different sizes at different price points. A small donburi meal will typically cost around 350 yen (about three dollars in US currency), and a large one will cost around 600 yen (about five dollars in US currency).
Restaurants like Nakau offer “value sets” as well, which can make things even cheaper. At Nakau, you can get a regular size Chicken and Egg Rice Bowl (Oyakodon), a piece of fried chicken, and a bowl of miso soup for just 640 yen (about five dollars in US currency).
Here are some of the most popular donburi dishes you can get.
Oyakodon is one of the most popular donburi dishes and Nakau’s all-time bestseller. The name oyakodon means either “Mother and Child” or “Parent and Child” and refers to the dish’s two main ingredients, chicken and egg. The dish features chicken and onions simmered in a sweet soy sauce and combined with soft scrambled eggs.
Katsudon is a donburi dish served with tonkatsu on top, which is a deep-fried and breaded pork cutlet. It also comes with soft scrambled eggs and thinly sliced onions.
Tendon is the dish that the restaurant chain Tenya is famous for. Tendon is a type of tempura donburi. Tempura is either vegetables or seafood that are dipped in batter and deep-fried. In the tendon donburi, the pieces of tempura are glazed in a soy-based sauce and served on top of rice.
Japan is home to the most 7-11 stores in the world. Convenience stores in Japan go to the next level, with far more food options than your average corner store. That makes it an excellent source of cheap food to try in Japan. 7-11 is one of the most popular options for convenience stores in Japan (and the most available, with locations pretty much anywhere you go), but there are local convenience stores that will also serve similar options.
Onigiri and sando are by far the most popular cheap Japanese food at convenience stores. Onigiri is rice balls filled with different options, such as tuna or pickled plums, then wrapped in nori sheets (seaweed). Sando is a small sandwich, the most popular being egg salad and katsu (pork cutlet).
Kaitenzushi (Conveyor Belt Sushi)
If you’re looking for cheap but delicious Japanese staples, kaitenzushi (also referred to as conveyor belt sushi) is a great option. Kaitenzushi is known as conveyor belt sushi because of the conveyor belt that circles all of the tables or the counter in the restaurant.
If the kaitenzushi spot you choose uses the ordering method, you will take your seat and pick out the sushi that looks best to you. Many restaurants now are equipped with an electronic touchscreen where you can find all your options and input your order.
Most kaitenzushi restaurants operate on a “take what you want” system. With this system, the conveyor belt will pass by your table with all different kinds of fresh sushi then you pick the plate off of the conveyor belt if you want it. If you don’t see your preferred sushi passing by for a while, you can either use the touchscreen at the table or directly order from a chef or waiter.
Whether you order or simply pick your plates, most kaitenzushi spots use the plate colors to indicate the sushi prices. There will typically be a chart on your table indicating what color equals what price, so whichever plate you choose, you know how much you’ll pay. At the end of your meal, the restaurant will use your stack of plates to calculate your total. Remember to never put your plate back on the conveyor belt!
Kaitenzushi is one of the best options for cheap Japanese meals, with prices starting at around 100 yen per plate (about 76 cents in US currency) and most having a max of 500 yen per plate (about four dollars in US currency). You can get full on this sushi for less than 1300 yen (about ten US dollars).
Conclusion – Where To Find Cheap Food In Japan
As you can see, there are tons of options for cheap foods in Japan. Stop by a yatai food stall or step into a kaitenzushi restaurant to get some of the best Japanese food options for cheap!