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How to Eat Anywhere in Japan for Under $5

by Jessica Dawdy

“I’d like to go to Japan, but it’s really expensive, so I’ll stick to Southeast Asia.” – Everyone

Japan is on virtually everyone’s travel list, yet its reputation for high prices holds many people back from going. However, it’s very possible to travel on a budget in Japan, if you know where to look and what to buy. One of my best strategies for saving money is to eat at fast food chains. But I’m not talking about McDonald’s and Pizza Hut. I mean Japanese fast food chains, which offer surprisingly tasty food and country-wide locations.

Let me introduce you to a few of my favourite places to eat in Japan for under $5.

Yoshinoya
Credit: Jessica Dawdy

Credit: Jessica Dawdy

Yoshinoya has a small menu that includes a few different rice dishes, but their specialty is gyudon, which is a bowl of rice topped with beef. You can stick with the basic beef bowl or add a side, like kimchi or miso soup, for about $1 extra. The bowls are a little light on the beef and heavy on the rice, but for about $3 per bowl, it’s a pretty decent, filling meal. The menus have a picture of every item, so ordering is easy regardless of what language you speak.

Curry House CoCo Ichibanya
Credit: Jessica Dawdy

Credit: Jessica Dawdy

One of my favourite foodie discoveries in Japan was Japanese curry, which is thicker, darker and sweeter than its Indian equivalent. Curry House CoCo Ichibanya is a perfect place to try this popular Japanese food. CoCo’s serves over 30 different kinds of curry, all of which are in the $3 to $10 price range. You can even customize one of the basic curries by adding extra toppings for $1 or $2 more. CoCo’s also has a variety of cheap side salads, and desserts for less than $2. As an added bonus, their menu comes in multiple languages.

Nakau
Credit: Jessica Dawdy

Credit: Jessica Dawdy

Nakau serves udon noodles in broth and beef bowls for about $3 to $6 each. Ordering is typically done by purchasing a food ticket at a vending machine inside the restaurant. Each button on the machine has a picture of the meal, so you’ll know what you’re getting even if you can’t read Japanese. Alternatively, you can ask for the English menu and order directly with one of the staff members.

Hamazushi
Credit: Jessica Dawdy

Credit: Jessica Dawdy

There’s probably no better endorsement for Hamazushi than the fact that I’ve eaten there almost once a week since I came to Japan. This fast food sushi restaurant has an enormous menu, with each two-piece plate of sushi priced at less than $1. Not only is the food ridiculously cheap, but the sushi is served by a conveyor belt that runs through the entire restaurant, so ordering is a fun experience in itself. You can take plates directly off the conveyor, or make custom orders using the touch screen at your table.

Sukiya
Credit: Jessica Dawdy

Credit: Jessica Dawdy

Sukiya serves Japanese curry and donburi, which is fish, meat or vegetables served over rice. The menu is varied enough that you can go back over and over again, and still try a different dish every time. Every meal comes in several sizes, from mini to large, and you can add a side dish for less than $1. There is a picture of every item on the menu, and you simply press a button at your table to let the staff know when you’re ready to order.

Conveniences Stores
Credit: Jessica Dawdy

Credit: Jessica Dawdy

I admit that this is pushing the definition of fast food a little, but convenience stores in Japan are similarly budget-friendly and can be found on every street corner. While they carry the usual chips and chocolate you’d expect to find in their North American counterparts, Japanese conveniences stores also have a large selection of relatively healthy pre-made meals. You can find sandwiches, salads, instant ramen and bento lunch boxes. I particularly love onigiri, which is a rice triangle wrapped in seaweed with a variety of different fillings. It’s a simple, cheap snack that’s easy to eat right away or throw in your bag for later.

 

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