When you’re travelling in Japan, it is quite easy to find food especially in big cities and tourist spots. It’s only in the rural countryside where there may be concerns but if you have a car, that can be easily solved too. The only place where I had a little trouble finding lunch was at Yonaguni (a small Okinawa island). Luckily, a bus trip to another village on the island solved that.
Here’s a list of food tips for Japan, do read on for more information.
TIP 1 – Pocket friendly food options
TIP 7 – Check reviews
TIP 2 – Morning/Seafood Markets and Shopping Streets
TIP 8 – Spurge if you have the budget
TIP 3 - Train Stations
TIP 9 – Hit the expensive spots for lunch
TIP 4 - Different types of dining places in Japan
TIP 10 – Try a different dish every meal
TIP 5 – Food Search Platforms
TIP 11 – Take a walk around the neighbourhood
TIP 6 – Vegetarian Food Search
Extra Tip for when you're driving
TIP 1 – Pocket friendly food options
If you’re on a budget, fret not! Japan has many options that are pocket friendly.
A good place to pick up budget friendly food and one of my favourite places to visit and shop in Japan too! The array of fresh produces and choices of drinks and snacks are ever so enticing.
Supermarkets in Japan often have a cooked food section and a sushi/sashimi section. If you want something simple and quick to eat, this section is where you should check. A lot of Japanese, especially the older folks, will buy some boxes of cooked food to eat with rice they cooked at home.
Most supermarkets will discount their cooked food and sushi after 6pm or if the item has been sitting around for a little too long. Discounts could be an amount off or a percentage off, with the bigger discount given closer to closing time. When the time comes for the discounts, you’ll notice customers hoovering around waiting for the staff to start tagging. I had snagged premium sashimi at 50% off before. Look for round yellow stickers with red word indicating the discount. 半額 means 50% off; while 2割 means 20% off.
If you have a place to cook, the supermarket is a great place to pick up fresh and cheaper produces instead of going to the restaurants. I’ve bought good wagyu beef at a fraction of what one would pay to eat in the restaurants. I’d even made myself a nice fresh Scallops with White Asparagus and Mushroom Tom Yum Soup in Hokkaido for dinner, which cost me about JPY600.
You can usually find supermarkets on the first floor of a shopping mall or the basements of large department stores.
There are food courts at some shopping malls and train stations. These are good places to get a decent meal at a pocket friendly price. There is usually a noodle stall and some stalls selling the local specialties.
Most large department stores have a Food Hall split into Cooked Food and Desserts/Sweets sections. You will be amazed by the colours, smells and sights. I’ve friends who got overwhelmed by their first visit to these Food Halls.
Just start walking from 1 aisle and see what catches your fancy. Buy what you like and bring it back to consume at your lodging; some Food Halls may have a small sit down area. These Food Halls are great places of interest to visit and try out different food items. Some stalls have discounts for their items nearer to closing time. Do note that some of the food items may be cold. If you prefer hot food, check with the stall if they can heat it up for you. Otherwise, you’ll need to find a microwave to heat them up.
Don’t miss out on trying out Japanese cakes and sweets at the Desserts/Sweets section. There is always space for desserts. For fresh crème/cake desserts, the shop will pack in nice little boxes with ice packs and spoons. You can also get Omiyage (souvenirs) such as Wagashi, Biscuits or Crackers, nicely wrapped in boxes as gifts for family and friends. There should be a bakery in this area too, good to get some for snacks or breakfast.
Konbini (Convenience Stores)
The number of Konbini (this is what the Japanese called Convenience Stores) in Japan is astonishing! If you’re in city area, there’s no lack of Konbini around. It’s only in Rural areas or some smaller islands where it would be impossible to find a Konbini. The Konbini in Japan are quite different from Convenient Shops in other countries. One can literally live off a Konbini as they stock everything from food, drinks to underwear and personal care.
To most tourists, Konbini are like Christmas Presents; there’s excitement in every corner. Different types of Onigiri, Bentos, Sandwiches, Hot and Cold Drinks, Instant Noodles, Snacks and more to be discovered. These Konbini also sell Oden, a dish that they sell only during Winter season.
Here’s some of the more well-known Konbinis though some may be regional brands and not found in all parts of Japan – Lawson, Family Mart, 7 Eleven, Circle K, Sunwalk.
Fast Food Chain
I’m referring to Japan local Fast Food Chains and not McDonald’s, KFC or Burger King. These local Fast Food Chains offer many different types of Japanese food from Gyudon (Beef Bowls) to Curry Rice to Ramen or Udon and even Japan cuisine inspired burgers. Prices are very economical, thus friendly to the pocket.
I like to eat at Coco Curry House and Freshness Burger. I have friends who would always hit Yoshinoya in Japan, and they said the Gyudon tasted better than in Singapore. Here’s a list of some Japanese Fast Food Chains.