It is common knowledge that Japan is expensive. It is an expensive place to live, and an expensive place to travel to. When we first visited Japan in 2009, we were on a tight budget and stressed about every Yen spent. Luckily, during this trip, we did not worry so much about the cost of each meal, but at one point I wondered how much it costs to eat in Japan?
How Much It Costs to Eat in Japan
During this trip, we only visited Osaka, but we spent ten days in Japan’s second city. We were inspired by several articles saying that Osaka was a foodie destination for 2015. We enjoyed our brief time here in 2009, and wanted to explore more. Well, eat more.
I felt like we were spending a lot, but that was mostly because we were eating on average 5-6 times a day. We were successful in eating a ton of food in ten days.
My list of how much it costs to eat in Japan (well, Osaka):
Snacks and Lunch
Lunch is the time to save a few yen, or to find really good value lunches. Our first meal in Osaka was a bowl of fresh Udon noodles, for Y300. It’s possible to add on one or two pieces of tempura for Y160, making an amazing lunch for less than $5 USD.
One of the specialities in Osaka is Kushiage or Kushikatsu, which is essentially fried stuff on a stick. A good snack might include 4-5 sticks of food, perhaps while standing at a counter in a train station, where we found some amazing fried stuff on a stick. Generally, a stick of Kushiage can cost between Y100-300 depending on what is included on the stick, i.e. seafood is more expensive.
Edamame seems to always be Y380, at least that was the going price at every place we ordered it! A full plate of Japanese curry, which is generally a huge portion, runs about Y800, and makes a quick snack or lunch. At most bars, it is almost expected that you would order a little bar snack, which often runs around Y300 for a small plate.
We ate several lunches or dinners at nicer establishments, where it is more common to sit down and take your time eating. This is in direct opposite to the speedy lunches that occur at many ramen shops, where Japanese workers come in, slurp down some soup quietly, and then return to the office.
At nicer restaurants, like a higher end soba noodle shop, a complete meal will run about Y1200-1500 per set. We found the average for a mid-priced restaurant to be around $15USD for two people for lunch, and increasing to about $35 USD for dinner.
Sushi is the lifeblood of Japan and can be very cheap, or very pricey. At many of the conveyor belt sushi restaurants near Dotonburi and Namba, the main touristy area of Osaka, prices range from Y129-300 per plate, which generally includes 2 pieces of decent sushi. It’s possible to end up with a stack of empty sushi plates, and walk away full, for less than Y1,300, or about $10USD.
At better quality, but not top notch sushi restaurants, it’s possible to have a full sushi dinner for 2, including 4 drinks for about Y7,000, or less than $60. For the quality of the sushi, that is an amazing price.
Many of the higher end sushi restaurants will also offer lunch specials, where an assortment of 8 or 10 pieces of sushi, along with a miso soup, can be found for about Y1,200, which is $10 for a lunch of amazingly fresh sushi!
The cost of drinks can vary depending on the type of establishment. Some bars will offer sake, the Japanese rice wine, for less than Y300. On average, 180ml in a carafe would cost about Y400, and a 360ml carafe would cost about Y700. Of course, the skies the limit on the price of sake and large bottles can get expensive, but if you don’t know much about sake in the first place, the only choice you need to make is hot or cold.
Sochu, which is a Korean version of sake, and can be made with yam, wheat, or barely, is generally served over ice, and is often cheaper than sake. A glass of sochu can cost between Y300-400.
Draft beer – Y450-700 depending on size
Glass of Japanese whisky – Y600-700
Hot coffee or latte – Y400-500
2L bottle of water at convenience store – Y100
So, there you have it. Yes, it is possible to break the bank on a meal in Japan, but it is not necessary by any stretch. Once you understand how much it costs to eat in Japan, it is possible to stay on a budget. Plus, most restaurants offer picture menus with prices to help in ordering, even when there is not an English language menu. More important, all of the staff we met in Osaka were pleasant, friendly, and super patient as we tried to figure out what to order.
When this post was written Y100 = $.80 USD.