There are plenty of ways to secure cheap eats in Japan. In this article, we will recommend our best five tips to save money on food in Japan.
Save Money at Japan’s Cheap Supermarkets
In Japan, you can easily buy food at convenience stores, or combini like SevenEleven, FamilyMart, or Lawson. However, if you are a “new guy” in Japan and you want to buy food at an economical price, the first thing you should do is to go around and explore most – if not, all the supermarkets and combinis around your place and compare the general price they sell stuff at. Since there isn’t a set price, having a general knowledge of the cost each store sells at is a good idea.
Typically, the general price of foods in combini is higher than in supermarkets. Thus, if you want to bulk buy some fresh ingredients for your meals, drinks, or spices, you will want to go to check the supermarkets around you. Examples of some of the low-priced supermarket in Japan are Hanamasa (ハナマサ), Seiyu (西友) supermarket, Gyomu (業務) supermarket, Aeon, etc. Also, Lawson 100 stores (the 100 yen shop, not the normal combini) can have some pretty great deals because of the flat 100 yen price. My recommendation, though? If you want fresh vegetables at the most economical price, you should check out yaoya (fruit and vegetable stores 八百屋).
Late Night Shopping
Different supermarkets have different discount periods. For the already-made food lineup such as bento (Japanese meal box), which is usually made during the day, you can wait around 1-2 hours before the closing time, and often most of them will become discounted. For fresh products such as meat and fish try to wait until there are only one or two days left until they are expired, and they would usually be discounted by 10%, 20% to 50% (１割、２割、半額). On the other hand, products like bread, noodles, and fruits will usually be discounted by the end of the day.
It depends on the supermarket (different supermarkets, different rules). However, generally, the staff will go around and put some yellow stickers on the products that will be discounted. This usually starts three to four hours from the closing time. To those supermarkets which open for 24 hours, there will be fewer discount products.
Look closely at the yellow stickers, and you might see the word “~円引” (“xx yen biki”). This shows the amount of money that has been discounted, not the final price.
Another character you might see is the kanji 半額 (hangaku), which means “half price down.”
The discounted one could be laid up to the undiscounted one, so be very careful when checking the price! Remember: “Yellow sticker, red line, black words!”
Think like a university student if you’re trying to live cheaply.
With a total of 112 universities in greater Tokyo, we assume that there is at least an equivalent number of cafeterias where an affordable lunch can be found (most of these cafeterias are open to outsiders).
Waseda University, for example, has five different dining facilities on campus alone, with at least one available between 8:30 am and 7:45 pm when the last closes.
According to TokyoCheapo, college students in the States pay about $10.50 for lunch and $12.75 for dinner generally. On the other hand, at Waseda’s Okuma Garden House, Kitsune udon (traditional Japanese rice noodle with sweet fried tofu on top) costs 304 yen; miso ramen about 346 yen; buta yakiniku don (pork bowls) at 399 yen. In other words, each dish costs less than $5. During lunchtime, you just need about 2 dollars (200 yen) to buy a medium-sized curry set.
Once you are familiar with your local supermarkets, you should make a point card to get some discount deals or you can pay attention to the discount campaigns that they do.
Don’t forget to check your smartphone when you’re in the mood to eat at chain restaurants like McDonald’s or Yoshinoya. You can usually get some coupons or receive discounts if you subscribe to their Line mailing lists or participate in their campaigns.
One more thing, be careful with drinks! Since vending machines are so convenient, you might be tempted just to buy drinks at these machines every time you go out. However, the money you splash out at vending machines can eventually pile up, and when you realise it, you might have spent more than a thousand or two thousand yen a month just on drinks!
Using a thermos is a simple way to save money. Prepare your drink in the morning, and your thermos will keep your drink cold (during the summer) or warm (during the winter) for the whole day. Each month you can save up to $100 in total.
ALSO, always try to restrain yourself, even if you love beer. A small glass of beer will cost as much or more than the main meal in many restaurants! You can “kanpai!” with other drinks! Remember that you are trying to save money!
This one is for people who are thinking about finding part-time jobs!
In Japan, if you work for a restaurant (baito and such) you usually get free or discounted meals from the restaurant, which is one of the biggest perks of working in a restaurant. Students who work part-time at a restaurant do just this. There are variations in the kind of perks. Generally, for regular family restaurants and the like, you will get free food. While with high-class restaurants, it varies. Some will offer you straight-up free meals, some will require you to pay for the meal, but will usually discount the meals by a large amount.
Start Saving Money on Food in Japan Today
Were any of these tips useful to you? Some of them may be more accessible to you than others. We’d love to know if you’ve implemented any of these suggestions!
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