Affordable Dining in Japan – Eat & Drink for Less

in Japan, Trip Locations

Japan is a gourmand’s delight, with more Michelin-star rated restaurants than Paris. Sushi Saito is a favorite of Michelin guide director Jean-Luc Naret, Rokkaku is the first izakaya to make the list, and Birdland’s creative poultry dishes must be seen to be believed. And that’s all before you even leave the capital! But frequenting these high class establishments will empty your wallet faster than you can say “I’ll have the sashimi plate.” However it is possible to save yen on food and drink without starving by following our simple advice.

Firstly, consider looking for accommodation that includes meals. Dinner and breakfast will be complimentary at most traditional Japanese ryokan inns and the country’s bed and breakfasts known as minshuku. A light breakfast is also often provided at the manga kiss internet cafes and capsule hotels. Just make sure to compare the prices, as it’s sometimes cheaper to find your own tucker.

Thought that vending machines were just for snacks and soda? Think again. While the dishes don’t actually come from the machines in a vending machine café, they’re an inexpensive option, and great for anyone who doesn’t speak the language. Simply pop a couple of coins in the machine, choose a tasty looking dish, and take the dispensed receipt to the counter. The photo buttons make it easy to select a tasty rice dish, some ramen noodles, or a hearty soup. And it’ll only cost you the equivalent of a few dollars!

Slightly more expensive, but only ever so slightly, are the ramen noodle houses and curry cafes. These cheap and cheerful establishments are specialists, so the quality is excellent. This certainly isn’t a case of getting what you pay for. For around 400 yen, or five dollars US, you’ll enjoy a delicious dish with sides of rice, a soup, and salad.

Lunch is also often more affordable than dinner. If you fill up at midday on a discounted restaurant set menu or a cheap bento box, you’ll only need something light once dinner rolls around. Even high class restaurants tend to offer cheaper alternatives during the day. Perhaps that Michelin-star rated meal isn’t out of the question after all!

But a tourist can’t survive on food alone. After a busy day of sightseeing nothing goes down better than a few cleansing ales. Look for bars and clubs offering meal deals. Many establishments will package dinner and a beer for around 400 yen. If you’re only looking for a drink though, you may want to leave the bars behind. While they offer atmosphere, they also charge a premium on the alcohol. Instead search for your booze at supermarkets, convenience stores, and vending machines. While we love our beer the world over, it’s worth trying Japan’s cheeky alternative Happoshu Beer. While it’s called beer, and tastes like beer, it’s actually brewed with less malt than a regular ale. The makers pass the savings on to you; this tasty beverage is much cheaper than a standard pint!

Map of Japan

As a more general rule, steer clear of the main streets and look for smaller restaurants and cafes. The main drags cater for tourists; the prices are higher and the dishes not so authentic. A good trick is peeking at the clientele. If the Japanese people aren’t eating or drinking there, you probably don’t want to either. Eat and drink as the locals do and you can return home from Japan with more yen in your pocket than you’d expect.

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