If you’re a frugal, budget traveler like me, then you LOVE finding the best food at affordable prices.
Many think that Japan is extremely expensive, but it’s actually one of the cheapest places in the world to eat (if you’re really smart). And if you love Japan as much as I do, then it has easily become one of your favourite places in the world to travel.
Below are some of my recommendations for the top places for cheap (and delicious) food in Japan.
Sukiya is my absolute favourite chain of this entire list. It’s considered the leading gyuydon (beef bowl) chain, with over 2,000 locations nationwide, and you won’t miss its trademark red and yellow sign on the outside.
When I lived in Kumamoto, I ate here practically every single day. There are so many locations, you never need to Google – they usually end up being in main shopping arcades and main streets of areas where you stroll.
I’ve found the gyudon bowls here to be the tastiest, although Matsuya also gives it a run for its money (detailed below). An average beef bowl costs around ¥500 (some even less!), and you can customise its size (S, M, L). I always went for the biggest one; yes, I’ve eaten two bowls in one sitting before. I eat that much.
I used to get their bowls as takeaway so often because the service was always within minutes. Japan is extremely efficient, so you can always count on these gyudon bowl spots for a cheap, very fast, and delicious meal.
Locations: Throughout Japan, often in big cities. Google Maps link here.
Yoshinoya is another gyudon bowl chain with about 1,200 locations nationwide. Their menu isn’t as great as Sukiya and Matsuya (in my opinion), but my boyfriend loved how they had curry options.
Additionally, they also have hotpot options and set meals (like unagi, or eel), for affordable prices. They usually run specials that are advertised on their menus, so be sure to lookout for those (especially as they’re seasonal).
The prices are around the same as Sukiya, about ¥500 for a bowl (nothing is generally over ¥1200 here), and the portions are great.
Locations here, throughout Japan.
Matsuya is similar to Sukiya and Yoshinoya, but I like it even more since it offers a hearty bibimbap bowl with kimchi (one of my personal FAVOURITE foods in the world).
Matsuya is recognised by its signature yellow and blue signage and typically located in busy prefectures or near train stations.
It’s the third largest gyudon chain, with about 1,000 locations nationwide.
Locations here, throughout Japan.
Also, if you’re looking for a comparison of the three chains mentioned above, this is a great video (although you’ll end up salivating like me):
Hanamaru is a casual udon chain that is extremely cheap and efficient – and it’s definitely the cheapest thing on this list.
How cheap is it? You can order a basic bowl of udon noodles for just ¥130 (approximately $1.22 USD)! Other options range from $3-$6, depending on the type and size you purchase. They also offer a “toppings bar,” much like a salad bar, with plenty of tempura add-ons to top off your delicious bowl of udon.
Locations: Mapped out here
I found this place accidentally while in Shinjuku, and it’s actually labeled as a Chinese chain. You can get delicious gyoza for ¥150 and fried rice for ¥350 – and they’re stellar!
Ichibankan is located on one of the touristic streets of Shinjuku on a corner, so it’s usually quite crowded. However, like most things in Japan, service was extremely efficient and I barely had to wait for my food despite the restaurant being packed.
Location: Shinjuku (click for Google Maps location)
Nakau is another popular and fast Japanese food chain with over 470 locations spread out through the country. The chain is distinguished by its red, white, and green signage.
Their specialties include donburi (rice bowls) with meat, udon, and delicious beef curry. They also offer Japanese breakfast set menu options that include grilled salmon, miso soup, and egg.
Their vending machine displays large photos of each food (along with its price), so you never have to worry about being confused. Like other chains, they also have an English option (for those who need descriptions).
Take a look at their menu here.
Locations: Nakau is mainly in Tokyo and Fukuoka, but find all the locations listed here.
Fuku Soba is a tiny noodle shop that offers a standing-only counter for true noodle fanatics. You can purchase tickets for soba and udon at the vending machine, where options start at a cheap ¥310.
It’s known for its delicious tempura, featuring things like beni shoga (pickled ginger), small shrimp, burdock, or kakiage (carrot and onion). A tempura set is only ¥440, with individual tempura priced at a bargain of ¥130 each.
Locations: Ningyocho & Kyoto
Fuji Soba is a 24-hour cheap and efficient dining option to satiate the appetites of hungry travellers and workers.
The menu ranges from ¥270 to ¥500; nothing is over ¥500 (amazing, right?!). A plain bowl of soba (buckwheat noodles) and soup is ¥270, while tempura and mini donburi (rice bowl with eggs and/or meat) sets are ¥500. They even have ikaten (squid) soba in tempura batter for just ¥390! You can also order udon (thicker, wheat noodles), which is about the same price as a bowl of soba.
You order via vending machine and cash, but the majority of the buttons are all in Japanese. Definitely ask for assistance or use the camera in Google Translate when ordering.
Locations: Near (almost) every train station. I went to the one in Shibuya.
Oreyu Shio Ramen
Oreyu Shio Ramen’s large ramen menu lists more than 30 options (?!), which might make things difficult for the indecisive eater. Rule of thumb: if you’re feeling overwhelmed, just go with the classics.
The Oreryu shio ramen (¥670) is a light yet flavourful bowl topped with pork, spring onions, spinach, and mushrooms. The Oreryu juku shio ramen is more customisable, with three broth options. The most popular one is jukusei (rich salt), which features a creamy, dairy-free chicken bone broth.
You can also spice up your meal with condiments such as yuzu kosho (yuzu chilli paste), garlic paste, umeboshi (pickled plum), and chili oil.
Locations: Throughout Tokyo, such as Shibuya, Setagaya, and Meguro. Google Maps link here.
Gonbei is a small udon shop in Shinjuku that offers tasty noodles on a student-friendly budget since it’s on the outskirts of Waseda University. Udon sets start at ¥450 and include free refills of takikomi gohan (rice seasoned with dashi broth and vegetables), which is a real steal (you usually have to pay for rice elsewhere).
It also offers several variations of dipping noodles such as chilled sesame and hot broths like nikujaga (meat and potato) udon. Avoid going between 12-1 p.m., when it’s peak rush hour of lunch.
Location: Shinjuku (near Waseda University). Link here.
Tajima offers incredible budget-friendly seafood meals, which are rare in Japan. Located just outside Nakano-Sakaue Station, this sushi restaurant offers three seafood donburi rice bowls for ¥1000 each: kaisendon topped with fresh seafood, zeitakudon topped with mixed seafood (tuna, octopus, salmon roe, whitebait), and bakudandon, with the aforementioned minced seafood, natto (fermented soybeans), and a raw egg.
If you prefer sushi, you can also get a seven-piece onigiri set with maki rolls and tamagoyaki (egg roll) for ¥1000 as well – what a deal! All lunch dishes come with miso soup and a side dish.
Location: Nakano, Tokyo
Convenience Stores: 7-11, Family Mart, Lawson
Did you know that Japan is home to over 50,000 convenience stores?! They’re not like the sketchy convenience stores in America, either.
Instead, convenience stores (konbini) are scattered around every region of Japan, practically around every corner. My absolute favourite is Family Mart, since we’ve always found that they have the best variety and selection of food.
If you’re really frugal (like me), you can get ¥110 onigiris (rice balls), and Lawson sells them for ¥100. Lawson also has a chain called Lawson Store 100, in which everything in the store is ¥100.
There are other convenience store chains, but some are a little pricier (i.e. Daily Yamazaki).
Whether you’re looking for a full-blown meal or a quick snack, Japan has you covered when it comes to cheap, delicious food. Save this article for when you plan your next Japan trip and need to pinpoint all the best, cheap food spots!
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