Last Updated on July 25, 2023 by Jerardo Gomez
You must have read at this point of your travel planning journey that Japan can either be expensive or cheap for food. While it is true, it’s not dirt cheap and you should start saving money as Japan is actually more expensive than you think with inflation hitting the country.
🥢Eating out in Japan is expensive, but there are plenty of ways to save money on food. Japanese convenience stores, grocery stores, and supermarkets offer a variety of affordable options for travelers.
From bento boxes to onigiri, Konbini and Japanese supermarkets offer a wide range of delicious and affordable meals and snacks. This is your travel guide to help you save money on food in Japan.
What is a Japanese Supermarket & How to Find One
When it comes to finding food in Japan, you may be surprised to find that there are a variety of options available. One of the most popular options for travelers looking to save money in Japan is the Japanese supermarket.
Japanese supermarkets are a great way to get fresh, affordable food while still enjoying the convenience of a konbini (Japanese convenience store). Plus, you can find a variety of items such as produce, snacks, and even prepared meals.
Japanese supermarkets are not always easy to find, but many of them are located in convenient locations. From small local markets to large chains, there are a variety of options to choose from.
You can find Japanese supermarkets in large buildings, or train stations in major cities. Buildings in Japan are often multi-use in central areas with hotels, food, shopping, etc. all in one.
The grocery stores in Japan are almost always on the first level or basement level of buildings and underground at train stations. I found many great stores around Tokyo (Shibuya, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, etc.) that have cheap prepared meals for travelers.
Eating Out vs. Eating In in Japan
Eating out in Japan can be a great experience, but it can also be expensive. Eating in is a much more economical option, and with the right tips, you can save a lot of money without sacrificing flavor. Here are some tips on each:
- Shop at the local supermarkets. Supermarkets in Japan offer fresh, delicious food at great prices. Look for bento boxes, sushi, and pre-made meals that are ready to go. The side dishes also are amazing, 100% better than in American stores.
- Take advantage of convenience stores. Convenience stores in Japan offer a wide variety of snacks and meals that are much cheaper than eating out. Look for onigiri, sandwiches, salads, and even hot meals.
- Try street food. Street food in Japan is delicious and inexpensive. Look for yakitori, takoyaki, and okonomiyaki. I would avoid any places that have cover charges, they are often scammy.
- Look for set meals. Many restaurants offer set meals that are cheaper than ordering individual dishes.
- Look for lunch specials. Many restaurants offer lunch specials that are much cheaper than dinner.
- Try smaller restaurants. Smaller restaurants often offer cheaper meals than bigger restaurants.
- Avoid touristy areas. Touristy areas are often more expensive than other areas. If you are at a touristy area, just walk a few blocks away.
- Sushi and ramen can be cheap eats under 1000 yen.
- Avoid specialty alcoholic beverages. Alcoholic beverages can add up quickly, so it’s best to avoid them if you want to save money. Beer can range from 300-600 yen on average.
Going to a local supermarket is something you can also expect to be different in Japan.
First, it’s important to understand the basics of Japanese supermarket etiquette. For instance, it’s customary to use the provided plastic bags when shopping and to place your produce on the provided scales before you go to the checkout counter.
Place money on the tray on the counter when paying.
Also if you are buying bread, always use the tray and tongs available, even if the only piece of bread you get is wrapped in plastic.
How to Save Money on Food in Japan
Supermarkets offer a budget-friendly option with a variety of convenience and variety. From pre-made meals to fresh produce, you can find anything you need at a Japanese supermarket. With a few tips, you can make the most of your budget and enjoy the delicious food Japan has to offer.
1. Buy food from supermarkets
Instead of dining out which can set you back on your budget depending on where you eat, the prepared foods at supermarkets are affordable and ready to eat! Most likely, you will find them on your trip to Japan often as you are exploring, so you don’t have to really make special planning for this.
💴Ready-to-eat food here can range from 5-15$ depending on what you get. There really is a crazy amount of options and a lot of side dishes to pick from as well which are only a few hundred yen.
Another great way to save money at a Japanese supermarket is to buy in bulk. Many supermarkets offer discounts for buying in bulk, so if you’re planning on staying in one place for a while, it’s worth stocking up on items you’ll need.
Additionally, many supermarkets offer pre-made meals and snacks at a discounted price. These can be a great way to save money while still enjoying the delicious cuisine Japan has to offer.
Packaged Food Options at Japanese Supermarkets
Japanese supermarkets offer a wide range of packaged food options to help travelers save money while exploring Japan. Bento boxes, sushi, and convenience stores are all great options for travelers looking to save money on food.
You don’t have to make your own meals in Japan to save money, although you can try to go to a local market to see if they have any food at cheap prices.
In some places, I randomly found big supermarkets with a variety of packaged foods at competitive prices such as rice bowls, bento boxes, Chinese food, Japanese food, and hot food sets which can be your main meal.
Most Japanese supermarkets can provide really tasty and reasonable price items, which would be otherwise used at a restaurant with the same quality but more costly items.
2. Shop late
🎇Another tip is that shopping in the evening for dinner after 7 PM, you may start to find workers adding discount stickers on same-day prepared foods. This is a good way to save even more yen and maybe even breakfast if your hotel has a fridge.
3. Use the 7/11 coin machine!
💰You will find that Japan uses a lot of coins due with the smallest bill being 1,000 yen. The most annoying part of carrying so many coins is the useless 1 yen coins. 😩
Luckily, 7-11 has the option to insert coins of all denominations when purchasing items. This is how I got rid of the dozens of 1, 10, and 50 yen coins I accumulated every day.
4. The Konbini Experience
When traveling to Japan, the konbini experience is one of the most unique and budget-friendly ways to get a taste of the culture. Konbinis, or convenience stores, are ubiquitous in Japan and offer an array of food and drinks at a fraction of the cost of eating out. 😱
*Pro Tip* Honestly the food, drinks, and snacks here are good and cheap. Spicy chicken, onigiri/sandwich/dessert/or curry pan, and a cold drink were the ultimate combo I had often.😍
Look for ready-made sandwiches, which are typically filled with meat and vegetables. The iconic egg sandwich is amazing, and having tried it from a variety of places, 7/11 has the best one hands down. If you’re looking for a snack, look for onigiri, which are rice balls wrapped in seaweed and filled with a variety of fillings located at every konbini.
🤗Lawson’s also has the best hot food, and the spicy chicken is just amazing. I had one maybe every other night because there was a Lawson’s at my hotel, and it was so juicy and tasty. 🍗
I honestly had no use for 1 and 10 yen coins because they are not worth a lot and a big hassle to use as payment. Because so many accumulate, I found a way to get rid of them without actually throwing them out, and that is by going to 7/11 Konbini.
Most vending machines do not accept 1 yen coins so going to a 7-11 konbini is the only place where it can easily be accepted and used.
🍘You can think of these as Japanese fast food except healthier.
Take advantage of the hot food section. Many konbini have a hot food section, where you can find freshly cooked meals for a fraction of the cost of a restaurant. The variety of choices can be overwhelming, so it’s best to go with something familiar, like an instant ramen or a bento box.
Don’t forget to check out the pre-packaged snacks. Konbini offers a wide selection of snacks, such as rice balls, sushi, and onigiri, that are perfect for a quick and budget-friendly snack.
The 3 most common Konbini’s are 7/11, Family Mart, and Lawson’s. My favorite is Lawson’s and 7/11 comes second.😅
5. Purchasing Alcohol
One way to save money on alcohol in Japan is to buy beer at convenience stores. They offer a lot of options at half the price of a restaurant.
The various liquors such as sake and shōchū are cheap. I recommend getting a small bottle which you can find for as little as 400-600 yen! 😀I love using a yuzu soda as a mixer.
6. Skip Food Vending Machines
Vending machines are a great place to get drinks, but not food in Japan. There are so many vending machines everywhere of many different kinds such as cake in a can, or packaged foods.
7. Shopping in the right places
🛍️When it comes to saving money on food in Japan, choosing the right location can make a big difference. Areas like Ginza and Shinjuku tend to be more expensive, but walking a few blocks away from the central areas will make a difference:
- Avoid tourist attractions like Tskuiji Market, Golden Gai, Omoide Yokocho, etc. These places are catered to tourists, so you will find prices are significantly higher or have cover charges that will break the bank. At Omoide Yokocho, I was charged 700 yen just to sit down and prices were not cheap.
- Look for Izakayas and Local Eateries: Dive into the local food scene by exploring izakayas and small local eateries. These establishments often offer reasonably priced dishes that are authentic and tasty. Don’t be afraid to venture away from crowded tourist areas in search of hidden gems.
- Try Lunch Specials: Many restaurants in Japan offer discounted lunch menus known as “lunch specials” or “lunch sets.” These sets often include a main dish, rice, miso soup, and a small side, providing excellent value for money. Take advantage of these deals and enjoy a satisfying meal at a fraction of the dinner price
- Compare Prices and Menus: When you’re in a more expensive area like Ginza or Shinjuku, take the time to compare prices and menus before choosing a place to eat. Walk around and look for restaurants that offer fixed-price menus, daily specials, or lunchtime discounts. By doing a little research, you can find reasonably priced options even in these high-end areas.
💳Remember, exploring different neighborhoods and trying local cuisine adds to the overall experience of your trip. While it’s good to be mindful of your budget, don’t hesitate to treat yourself to a special meal occasionally.
8. Kissaten (cafe)
You will come across a lot of cafes in Japan. Some of them offer sets of food and drinks with reasonable prices that will fill you up until dinner.
This can be tea or coffee, with a salad, sandwich, soup, eggs, or bread. Sets can range from 800-1400 yen or even up to 2200 yen for more premium sets.
9. Free samples
On my journey in Japan, I found myself with the problem of having too many samples from various places that I did not have enough room to eat dinner. 🙃
Let me explain. As you do shopping, many stores offer free samples of their goodies. I was handed a lot of mochi, tea, rice, and a lot of random things. This ends up getting you filled up pretty quickly.
Sensoji temple is a great example. There is a free tea stand outside the main temple as well as cold water. Many of the shops in the area also were handing me samples of their products, cookies, cakes, etc.
10. Be aware of English Menus
It has been noted by various tourists that found out that they were being ripped off for being tourists. Known as the foreigner tax, English menus would end up having a higher price on the menu than the same thing on a Japanese menu.
This can be avoided by using a Japanese menu and pointing your order, or comparing menus if a tablet is used to order and you can change the language to see if there is a difference. Touristy places like Yokocho or Kabukicho Tower in Shinjuku are places to be wary of.
11. Splitting food
I would do this a lot, not to save money but to try more food. A lot of conveyor belt sushi restaurants sell sushi in multiple pieces such as 2 , 3 or an entire roll. Since my travel buddy and I wanted to try different things and we did not want to eat each an entire roll, we ordered sushi that had multiple pieces and split it between us.
It should also be noted that a lot of info on the Internet states that Japan has smaller portions than America. It is true but it’s not small, one meal set was often too much to finish. I was never able to actually finish any bowls of ramen.
Saving Money on Food in Japan – Final Thoughts
Savoring the food culture in Japan doesn’t have to break the bank. By following the tips outlined in this blog, you can enjoy the experience of Japanese food on a budget. From convenience store bento boxes to supermarket meals, there are many ways to enjoy the culture without overspending.
With the tips provided in this article, readers can enjoy the experience of being in Japan without breaking the bank. Rember to subscribe to get my latest articles.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1: What is a Japanese Supermarket?
A1: A Japanese Supermarket is a retail store that sells a variety of food items and other goods. They are typically large and offer a wide selection of products, including fresh produce, seafood, meat, dairy, and packaged food items. They are also known for their unique selection of Japanese products and traditional ingredients.
Q2: How do I find a Japanese Supermarket?
A2: Japanese Supermarkets can be found in most major cities in Japan. They are typically located in shopping malls and near train stations. You can also search online for “Japanese Supermarket” and you will find a list of locations in your area.
Q3: What is the Konbini Experience?
A3: The Konbini Experience is a unique shopping experience that is popular in Japan. Konbini are convenience stores that sell a variety of items, including snacks, drinks, and other convenience items. They are typically open 24 hours a day and provide a convenient way to purchase items quickly.
Q4: What are some tips for shopping at a Japanese Supermarket?
A4: Some tips for shopping at a Japanese Supermarket include: being aware of the prices of items, looking for discounts and special offers, and asking staff for help if you need it. Additionally, it is important to be aware of the store’s etiquette and to pay attention to the store’s rules.
Q5: What are some tips for saving money on eating out in Japan?
A5: Some tips for saving money on eating out in Japan include: looking for discounts and special offers, eating at lunchtime for cheaper prices, and avoiding tourist areas. Additionally, it is important to research the area for cheaper restaurants and to be aware of the local customs and etiquette.
Q6: What are some tips for eating out cheaply in Japan?
A6: Some tips for eating out cheaply in Japan include: looking for restaurants that offer set meals, taking advantage of happy hour specials, and choosing restaurants that offer discounts for students or seniors. Additionally, it is important to look for restaurants with cheaper menu items and