Food Survival in Japan

Visiting Japan is neither just enjoying the sweet scenery of cherry blossoms nor having a glimpse of おたく [o-ta-ku] life in Akihabara. It can be just experiencing an authentic 温泉 [on-sen ; hot spring] after you learn the modern life in Tokyo. I do know some people who ended up doing shopping only because Japan fashion is so upbeat and fun. Like me, you probably listed Japan in your bucketlist because experiencing their culture will be a good shock to what you are used to.

Or…

Maybe you just want to indulge in sushi. Who could blame you for such reason? The love of many for Japanese cuisine may have started from loving the sushi first. I loved sushi first then went on with ramen and takoyaki…and now, sake.

Sake

I barely eat in Japanese restaurants in Philippines because they are so expensive. Most of the time , after we pay for an expensive set of sushi platter and gyudon, the authentic taste the Japanese restaurants claimed they can give was just not there.

So we still end up daydreaming of eating a real ラーメン [ra-men] or enjoying a mouthful of 餃子 [gyo-za]. And where else can this come true? Only In Japan. In the Land of the Rising Sun.

It is dissuading to know sometimes that spending on your food in Japan also means that you need to pay double the price you are used to pay in Philippines. In my previous blog, Food is the fourth most expensive you might spend in Japan. Even if we use to joke “Dala na lang ako ng de-lata para makatipid” (I’ll just bring canned food to save), we still hope that we will only eat Japanese food. If you are going to eat in a foreign land, might as well, eat what the local eat, right?

So here we go. I have gathered few tips on how you can enjoy eating お好み焼き [o-ko-no-mi-ya-ki] or たこ焼き [ta-ko-ya-ki] in Osaka while saving more peso for your food escapade the next day.

CONVENIENCE STORE

Probably the most common tip you will get. Unlike in Philippines, コンビニ [kon-bi-ni; convenience store] in Japan offers literally almost everything. And it is a good thing. Konbini is really like a miniature supermarket. When it comes to food, they are so generous with varieties. It is not that Ministop and 7/11 offer near-expiry breads but the breads in konbini look like they just got out from oven. The plastic packaging is not overly crumpled and free from exaggerated design that you can’t barely see the bread inside. One pack is enough for me as a morning meal. The sizes are not “big” but “just enough”. The nicely-done breads look like they were bought from The Bread Talk and are just being sold for a lower price in convenience store.

They also sell お握り [o-ni-gi-ri; rice ball]. Rice ball is usually a mix of salmon, roe, dried tuna and pickled plum wrapped in a sheet of のり [no-ri; seaweed] and then formed into triangular or oval shapes. Onigiri is like a light meal that was mixed then shaped together. You can eat it while strolling around in Shinjuku Gyoen without the need for utensils. And it can really make you full.

You can find konbini everywhere but not really every place. So if you are walking around in Arashiyama or in any mountain or shopping mall, make sure that you buy snack in konbini first. I always keep snacks and a drink in my bagsack just to make sure I don’t have to buy food from just any store if ever I get hungry. Usually, if you are in a tourist place, stores sell food at a higher price.

Be a proactive scout.

RESTAURANTS

Regardless if they are small or big restaurants, they are the same – capable to make you full. Japanese meal is always a big meal. I even wondered how the Japanese people keep slim figures if they always eat 3 big meals every day.  How come?!

There are McDonalds and KFC and other western restaurants. I am not sure if Japanese restaurants franchised heavily like McDonalds. Probably the Yoshinoya which you would always see in a shopping district. But if you are staying far from the main district, you will most likely see more small restaurants owned and tended by Japanese families. You will recognize them usually with a red cloth hanging on its front roof or attach in a pole with words like うどん [u-don] or ラーメン [ra-men]. Some have big lanterns outside their door printed with the same writing. Some put their menu outside or have a prototype of the meals they serve. Some of the workers are also out and inviting customers.

I would recommend to eat in these small restaurants because I found myself more immersed with Japanese cuisine here. Commercialized restaurants tend to be more stiff with their servings and you can expect a more expensive meal. But in small restaurants like the one above, meals are cheaper but bigger. IMG_8643 copy copy resize

You can divide a big meal into two or you can order two meals and then divide it to three.  This is a sure-win way to save more. You will still be full. So if a meal is 900 yen, you can pay 450 yen only because you share it with your friend. You can even request bowls 器 [u-tsu-wa]. If it is not enough, then you can buy ala-carte to compensate. Again, share the ala-carte with your friend. With this style, you can save more.

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IMG_7091 edit resizeIf you fear that you might not be able to speak English with the servers, do not worry. They have menu. You just have to point the meal you like. They will understand right away that you can’t speak Japanese. No further question. If in case, well, English is not the only universal language in the world. We have charade. Haha. The server will try her best to show you what she wants to relay (e.g. kettle, water, condiments) just to make her question gets through to your understanding.

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VENDO MACHINES

You might probably have heard that Japan has the most vendo machines in the world. If not, it will shock you. Read this, and this and this one.

Vendo Machines are everywhere. You are most likely to see one or two or even four vendo machines in every street corner of Japan. The most common vendo machine is the one that dispenses both hot and cold drinks. Water. Flavored Water. Yakult. Flavored Tea. Energy Drink. Coffee.

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We only have one size for Yakult in Philippines. I even thought that since Yakult fights bad bacteria, maybe, the small size in my country is the recommended size to fight bacteria. But, I learned that Japan offers varieties of Yakult sizes and flavors. So does it mean, I will be cleaner if I drink a bigger size? Hmm.

Anyway. Hot drinks are helpful when it is freezing cold. I had to buy a hot canned coffee when I can’t take anymore the cold wind and then rub it in between my hands.

It is expensive to always buy your drinks from these machines. So be sure that aside from choosing the drink and flavor you want, you also check if the bottle is thick enough for series of refills. You can always refill in your hostel’s kitchen. Water from the kitchen faucet are usually drinkable.

FREE 

This does not mean that you should always expect to get these. I just want to share that being vigilant can be good for you.

After we roamed around in Asakusa Shrine, we sat down for few minutes to relax our tired legs. It happened that there was a small kiosk offering free tea. Instead of dropping 130 yen in a vendo machine in exchange for a hot drink, we just lined up and got our free tea.

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Another one is in Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto. This is the only place we visited in Japan that do not have an entrance fee and offers free tea.IMG_8917 copy copy

DISCOUNTS AT THE END OF THE DAY

And finally, the Discounts!

All food have an expiration so that means all food can be bought at a lower price…only if you are still out and about by 9pm or so.

Go to Hanshin Department Store in Umeda Station in Osaka. It is Heaven. Department stores in Japan have an entire floor dedicated for sweets, bento, cakes, chocolates, sake and etc. It was a torture to see these delicacies seducing us. As much as we want to buy all the strawberry cakes and chocolates, we just can’t. They are all expensive. Ah!

So what we did is we just roamed around….for like an almost 2 hours. Just Window Shopping. We couldn’t bring ourselves outside the store and continue our way to Osaka Castle.

One Big Tip: Do Not Get In If You Don’t Have Enough Time.

If you find a department store such as Hanshin Department Store and want to roam inside, you can save more money and time if you will be back later in the evening. This is the time they will sell their products at a very lower price. Ask what time they will close or better yet check the closing time printed on the entrance door. Be there an hour earlier.

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弁と [ben-to] are not only being sold in konbini. You can also buy them in department stores in a more wider varieties. Konbini also offers discount.

First, you can recognize if a kiosk is selling with discount if there are many people gathering around them. Second, you would see orange or red or yellow sticker with an amount or percent on the products.

割引 [ wa-ri-bi-ki; discount]

100 割引 means that you get 100 yen discount from the original price. (look at the photo above)

50% 割引 means 50% off

It is not only in Department Stores or Konbini where you can avail discounts. Go around the different food stores in subway stations. Always remember: Where there are many people , there is a Big Discount.

Cheesecake

So there.

My budget for Food also depends on other things like I always eat ice cream whenever it is breezing cold or what the city is known for. You probably have your own preferences when it comes to eating new cuisine.

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I tend to only eat one full lunch (without sharing) and then I share the dinner with my friend. This will already keep me full and energized whole day. But sometimes, I only eat one full meal even if my breakfast is just an onigiri.  This does not mean I eat light in Philippines. I actually am a heavy eater especially when it comes to carbohydrates such as rice and bread. Japanese meal is just a lot heavier and bigger than Pinoy meal.

Whatever your personal preferences on food, it is always a matter of balancing what you need to try and what you just merely want at the moment. Japanese cuisine is very delicious and expensive but you can do something about it.

3 thoughts on “Food Survival in Japan

  1. Pingback: My 6 Food Travel Principles | POSTCARDS FROM HEAVEN

  2. Pingback: Oops..saw some things in Japan! | POSTCARDS OF HEAVEN

  3. Pingback: How Much I Shed in Japan | POSTCARDS OF HEAVEN

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