Welcome back, friends!
In part 1 of my ‘Things you need to know about Japan’ series, I talked about the Japan Train system. I listed and explained everything I know about the easiest and least stressful ways to navigate your way around the country.
If you missed my Japan Train System post, you can check it out out here.
From that post, we learnt that your best friend will be the Japan Rail Pass (only available for non-Japanese tourists/travellers visiting for less than 90 days). The JR Pass lets you travel using the Shinkansen Bullet Train, between almost every city in Japan. This option is a LOT cheaper than it would be if you were to purchase those tickets separately.
But we’re getting off track. This isn’t a post about the Train system. It’s about the food in Japan and where to find shopping bargains!
So here is everything I think you should know about food in Japan and were you should head if you’re a bargain shopper and want to find some cool and unique clothes and souvenirs!
The Japanese convenience stores are just that – super, super convenient.
You can literally find them on almost every corner. Plus, most (if not all) of them, are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week!
There are a few different chains of convenient stores around Japan: Family Mart, 7/11, Lawson, Circle K Sunkus and Ministop. The most popular and commonly found, however, are Family Mart, 7/11 and Lawson.
You can find almost anything in Japanese convenience stores. Russell and I were shocked to see how much of a variety they had!
Here is a short list of some of the things you can find in any convenience store around Japan:
- Alcohol – Dedicated wine drinker? You can grab a bottle of white or red for under 500 yen (around $5). Love your Whisky? One of Japan’s most popular Whiskys – Suntory – goes for 1,350 yen (roughly $15) for a 700ml bottle.
I’m sure in countries like the US, these prices aren’t anything special. But for Australians like Russell and I, it’s a bargain! Considering a 700ml bottle of Whisky anywhere in Australia starts at $30, it’s definitely a lot cheaper to get drunk in Japan!
- Snacks – Chips, chocolates, ice creams, donuts, sandwiches, popcorn, cup of noodles, soup. Almost anything you’re craving, you can buy from a convenience store for a couple dollars or less.
- 2L Bottles of Water – You can buy a 2L bottle of water for under $1. I’m not even kidding. These large bottles are super convenient to keep in your hotel room, as you won’t need to save all of your smaller bottles from throughout the day!
- Necessities, Beauty/Hygiene Products – The convenience store chains sell a wide range of beauty and hygiene products. The selection may vary depending on the one you visit, but generally they stock the following: bandaids, tissues, cosmetics, sanitary products, lip balm, surgical masks (a lot of Japanese people who are sick or do not want to get sick to wear them in public), and much more!
- Umbrellas and Cold Weather Necessities – We got stuck with rainy days a few times during our stay in Japan. It didn’t just pour for an hour or two then stop. When it rained, it did so for 12 hours straight! Most of the hotels around Japan have umbrellas available to use for the day, and some even sell them. However, if you’re out and about and it starts raining, hit up your closest convenience store! They sell everything you’ll need to stay warm and dry during the cold weather: gloves, scarves, beanies, ponchos and of course, umbrellas! On average, you can pick one up for around 600 yen.
100 Yen Stores – Daiso
Literally the greatest chain store in Japan. The Daiso chain is Japan’s version of a dollar store. Everything is 108 yen (tax included), and they sell almost anything you can think of. In the larger stores, you can spend hours browsing and filling your basket with all sorts of super cheap but super awesome things.
Souvenirs, food, chopsticks, decorative household items, cooking utensils, cookware, toys, stationary, photo frames and albums, tote bags, backpacks, toiletry bags, travel products, pet food, pet toys, gardening supplies – I could go on. If it’s near the end of your trip and you’re almost broke, but want to grab some last minute souvenirs for yourself or family and friends, find your closest Daiso. I guarantee you’ll spend a ton of time walking up and down the aisles, trying to stop yourself from buying one of everything!
Top Tip: If you don’t want to spend 600 yen at a convenience store to buy an umbrella, find a Daiso! You can pick up a transparent umbrella for a dollar! Bargain.
Japanese vending machines are the bees knees. They’re literally everywhere. You won’t turn down a street corner without seeing at least one. The most common vending machines that you’ll find scattered around the country are the hot and cold beverage type. These generally have water, Coke, Coke Zero, cold coffee, hot coffee, Fanta of some sort, plus other random Japanese drinks that you’ll have absolutely no idea what they are. Which just makes life more interesting, right?!
Food In Japan: Western Food Options
If, like me, you aren’t an experimental eater and tend to stick to what you know, don’t worry. I was a bit anxious as to whether I would find much food in Japan that I’d enjoy. However, I was surprised to find that there is actually quite a large selection of Western food choices available. Throughout the main cities in Japan, there are McDonalds (Maccas, to us Aussies) restaurants absolutely everywhere. You’ll also find plenty of Subway, KFC, Italian Restaurants and even the occasional American chain restaurant!
While exploring Akihabara in Tokyo, we came across a Carl’s Jr! We also ate at TGI Friday’s a few times (I became quite addicted to mozzarella sticks).
Surprisingly, McDonalds and Subway were absolutely delicious! Fast food in Australia is, most of the time, pretty average. You’ll get a great experience every once in a while, but generally it’s disappointing. So Russell and I were happy to quickly learn just how delicious Japanese fast food is! We had perfect fries every time and a different and more exciting variety of Subway sandwiches. Not to mention, the price was definitely right.
So if you’re not keen on indulging in raw fish and ramen, you’ll be relieved to know there are plenty of other options!
Food In Japan: Japanese Foods
I can’t really comment on this, as I didn’t eat much Japanese food besides one bowl of Ramen and TONS of Cup of Noodles. However, there are countless places to eat if one of the main reasons you’re visiting Japan, is to experience the food.
Russell is the food experimenter in our relationship, so he sampled a few Japanese foods that I’m sure you would have seen in YouTube videos or on TV – especially if you’re already planning a trip to Japan! Foods like Takoyaki (fried batter balls with octopus inside!) and Yakitori (meats on a stick) were some of his favourites. There was also a curry restaurant down the road from our hotel in Tokyo, where he became quite a frequent customer!
If you are planning on indulging in a wide range of Japanese foods during your visit, I’d do a quick Google search for places to eat in the area you’re staying in. There are an endless amount of Japanese restaurants around, so it won’t be difficult to find something to suit your taste!
Book Off Stores
If you’re someone who loves a bit of thrift shopping, you’ll absolutely love Japan’s “Off” brand chains.
In every city we visited (Yokohama, Osaka, Hiroshima, Nagoya, Nagano and Tokyo), there was at least one Book Off store. If you’re not sure what Book Off is, essentially it’s a huge second hand chain store. It’s just a hundred times better than your average thrift store. We had researched Japan before our trip and made lists with the things we wanted to see and do, and Book Off was on that list. But we weren’t expecting it to be as amazing as it was.
The “Off” brand also have a few different stores selling more specific products. If you explore Japan’s cities for long enough, you’ll come across: Mode Off (clothes), Hard Off (electronics), Hobby Off (collectibles, figurines etc), Garage Off (large appliances etc for your garage) and Off House (home appliances).
The Hiroshima Book Off in particular, was especially large and was filled with amazing bargains. I bought a ukelele in perfect condition, for 500 Yen. That’s roughly $6 Australian. I also scored a secondhand Nintendo DS Lite console, in perfect working condition, for under $20.
If you’re a gamer you’ll find a ton of games for almost any console, old and new. There’s PS3, PS4, Gamecube, Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS, Gameboy, Gameboy Advance, PS Vita and more. If you browse for long enough, you’ll even stumble upon some classic consoles – Playstation 1, Gamecube, XBOX. You name it, they’ve probably got it somewhere.
If you’re not into games, they also have a huge range of Japanese books as well as books in English. I found a Japanese version of Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone for 200 yen! Some
Book Off stores also sell second hand clothes. Most of which are in great condition, and under $20. Russell and I both bought an official Hiroshima Carps baseball jersey for under $30 Australian.
Some other products that Book Off generally stock, include: guitars (starting at 1,000 yen), other musical instruments and accessories, old VHS tapes and players, cameras, DVD’s, CD’s, current smartphones and electronic devices. You can literally spend hours walking up and down the aisles, justifying your purchase of an old Nintendo console because you “just HAVE to have it!”.
Some Other Helpful Tips
I’m sure I’ve given you plenty of helpful information to assist in planning your trip to Japan. Even if you’re not currently planning a trip, after reading this I can almost guarantee you’ll want to.
But I’ve still got a few more tips that don’t fit into any of the above categories. So here they are!
- Most stores open between 10 and 11am – We didn’t know this, and decided to head to Dotonbori in Osaka around 9am on our first full day. Everything was closed! So if you’re planning a shopping day, keep in mind that stores tend to open a little later in the day. Gives you a good excuse to have a sleep in, though!
Note: The above tip is based on the fact that stores in Australia open between 8-9am during the week!
- Make the most of Tax Free Stores – There are quite a few tax free stores scattered around most of the bigger cities in Japan. If you head to any of the shopping malls, you’ll come across a dozen or so of them. This just means you’ll save that extra bit of money, and won’t have to worry about calculating the tax in your head before approaching the counter! There will be no surprises when it comes time to pay for your awesome finds!
- Tipping isn’t a thing in Japan – This was something Russell and I were happy to learn before we arrived! Amazing service is the norm everywhere you go in Japan, so it isn’t expected for people to tip. It’s more likely to be seen as rude if you tip your waitress or waiter in a restaurant. So instead, just your appreciation by saying thank you (Arigatou gozaimasu)!
So there you have it, the things I would have liked to have known before arriving in Japan!