Food for thought

How to travel Japan on a budget

By December 12, 2018 May 31st, 2019 One Comment

Well…more so how to keep your costs down in Japan to stick to your budget. And we’re talking about eating well at the conbini. Spoiler: No advice like “make a cheese and cold meat sandwich with ingredients from the grocery store” over here.

Okay, let’s start with a clarification

Convenience stores, or conbini, are expensive. Don’t be fooled.

Everyone talks about the convenience of the conbini (duh). They really are. They usually have anything you need, save for a pack of UNO cards. I say this from experience. I’m looking at you, FamilyMart.

But you pay for that convenience. You pay a lot. I’ll say it again: don’t be fooled. If you don’t want to read the whole article, skip to the end. I’ll reveal the key to sticking to a budget at the end.

So how is this helping my travel budget in Japan?

Well, the cheapest option for eating in Japan would be cooking your own full meal from scratch by using Japanese ingredients like miso and udon noodles. Alternatively, buying a ready-made meal on discount at the grocery store (which often requires a microwave at least, unless you’re cool with salad).

But if you don’t have the luxury of that, well…Conbini for you. Ironically, you’re more likely to have a kitchen if you’re staying in a hostel than a hotel. Though if you’re staying in a hotel in Japan, you probably aren’t too concerned about your budget. Anyways, let’s dive in.

The best convenient Japanese food is only available in winter

1. Grab yourself a bowl of oden

Mmm, oden. Oden is that stew-looking thing at the counter in the conbini. It’s got quite a strong smell, a clear broth, and a whole bunch of food items simmering inside.

Pick the items you want, and it’s placed in a nice container that you can take home and eat. The standard items to add are daikon (Japanese radish), an egg, shirataki noodles, and perhaps tofu. Each item costs around about 120 yen to add to the soup, so with four or five items, you’re looking at about 480 – 600 yen for dinner. Not too bad, huh? But for an extra 200 yen, you could probably go to a restaurant and eat a bowl of ramen. So, uhhh…This is cheaper but not necessarily cheap. So…neeeeext.

2. Or eat a delicious bread bun…thing. Just read on

Okay, in all honesty, I’m not too sure what these things are actually called – but they look pretty similar to the Chinese bao. Maybe they’re called niku-man, but this alludes to meat, which isn’t always the case.

Nonetheless, you’ll also see these buns right by the counter, in a big three-tray contraption with glass windows. They have pizza buns (huh? ‘Pizza buns Japan’. Google it), pork buns, sweet bean paste buns, and so on.

They’re good, try them out. For about 150 yen each, you can save quite a bit with these. You might need a bit more than this to fill you up, but it’s a great place to start.

Ready-to-eat meals and snacks from the conbini

Microwavable meals and vegetable snacks

This is your healthiest option. Note: Not healthy, but healthiest. There’s a fine line and you’re probably going to cross it.

You’ll typically find these near the counter in the refrigerated section. The ready-made meals in winter are typically rice with fried chicken, tempura or something of the sort. They’re great, and they’re about 400 – 450 yen per meal, and they’re more than enough for a single meal.

Supplement this with a veggie juice for 100 or so yen, or a pack of vegetable sticks for about 200 yen.

The secret to saving money in Japan?…Don’t stray too far from the counter

Seriously, conbini are expensive. The key is to get in, and get out. That’s how you stick to your budget. There are cool things in there, there are a lot of them, and you’ll pay a fortune for them over time without noticing.

Remember that oden mentioned earlier on? Two slices of daikon could buy you a whole one in the store. Stick to the food at the counter, and don’t tempt fate.

Unless you have self-control. In which case, browse and don’t buy. I guess stating the direct intention works too, right?

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