EATING OUT IN JAPAN

Everything in Japan is more expensive than it is almost anywhere else, especially food. Don't waste your time figuring out how much the food you're buying costs in your native land; think of how much it costs compared to other food in Japan, instead. Thinking "This burger cost me $3" or "This entree is $15 and it doesn't even come with a salad" will only frustrate you and make you more inclined to eat cheaper, unhealthy food. Traveling is the last time you should ignore your health needs. How many people have spoiled their vacations by getting sick while traveling? There's plenty of good food in Japan for every budget; there's no excuse for not eating well while you're traveling there. Hopefully this information will give you a few pointers before you go.

Quick Links

Where to look for food Cheap eats Chains Fast food Pizza

If you have any questions, comments, corrections or additions, please email me. Thanks. ^_^


Where
How to find food

Besides looking in and around almost any station, department store basements usually have a few fast food and / or bakery type places. The top floor(s) of most higher quality department stores will usually have a variety (both in type and price) of restaurants.
Convenience stores in Japan are very different from those in the US. The quality of the food they offer can be quite high. Also, the prices are usually cheap and the variety is often remarkable. Ah, how I miss my beloved 7/11 ebi-salada-maki and oden! ^_^
I also recommend finding food at bakeries. Most bakeries carry a few sandwiches or cheese breads or any number of other meal type bread products which can make a fair meal when you're on the run.

Cheap-eats

Other than convenience stores and fast food, there are plenty of cheap places to eat in Japan. Curry shops, ramen and soba shops, cafes and sushi places all offer a more healthy and enjoyable eating experience. You're in Japan, for goodness sake, why would you want to eat at McDonalds!? ^_^

Chains
National chains of restaurants, bakeries, cafes, etc.

Volks are moderately priced steak houses.
Denny's
are good and fairly priced with a variety of foods.
Both of these have nonsmoking sections.
Tengu
vary in quality and mainly sell fried Japanese foods, but their sukiyaki is pretty cheap and kinda' fun. (look for the sign with the big nosed, red mask on it)
**These three (above) generally accept credit cards.**
Cozy Corner restaurants are affordably priced and have decent pasta and doria type dishes, though I find their bakery goodies mediocre.
Vie de France
bakeries have some good sandwiches and tasty goodies; and sometimes, they have places to eat in the shop, unlike most bakeries. They're usually located near stations and in department stores. (look for the red, white and blue signs.)
Shakey's
Pizzas, though generally poor in quality, have all you can eat 600Y lunch specials from 11-2, everyday, I believe. Don't be surprised by some of the things you may find on the pizzas, though! ^_- Most Shakey's have nonsmoking sections.
Aunt Stella's bakeries may not carry real food, but the cookies are as good as they smell. If you end up in Ueno station, just follow your nose to the shop there. I *highly* recommend the 'velvet cake' (pronounced 'berubetto keki'); it's *amazing*. They're usually found in stations and department stores.
If you ever come across a Mrs. Elizabeth Muffin; their muffins are really good. (only in the Tokyo area)
Dotour coffee shops have a limited selection of fairly tasty deli sandwiches. Since deli foods were something I missed a lot in Japan, I thought I'd mention Dotour. I don't drink coffee, so I can't say of their coffee is any good. If someone would tell me, I'd be glad to know. ^^
UCC coffee shops vary in the kinds of products they sell, but all the UCC shops I ever had a meal in were clean, quick, tasty and affordable. They're also the only place I ever found, besides Denny's, that serves a real breakfast.
Chagetsu (written with the kanji 'tea' and 'moon') is a chain of take-home sushi shops. My first time in Japan, my local Chagetsu was my favorite 'fast food'. Besides making sushi in bulk for catering parties and such, they have counters with individual sushi sets for regular customers. They make many tasty, inovative kinds of 'maki', or sushi rolls, and are resonably priced. They tend to run out of stuff towards the middle of the afternoon, so if you ever spot one, hopefully it will be earlier in the day.

Fast-food

Fast food in Japan can be an interesting experience. You go in expecting something familiar, but the experience ends up somewhat surreal, twisted from what you're used to. Though I discourage people from eating at fast food places while traveling in the culinary mecca that is Japan, there is one marked advantage most fast food places have: nonsmoking sections!

Foreign fast food places in Japan:
McDonalds, Wendy's, Kentucky Fried Chicken, White Castle, Whimpie Burger
The first ones are fairly common, the last two not.
Mr. Donuts, though not what you might consider a fast food place, sells a variety of tasty yamucha, or Chinese tea snacks, including shumai and various buns and rolls. The yamucha are good and quick and fun to try and share. If you buy enough, they can easily pass for a meal.
Dunkin' Donuts also exist in Japan, though they don't sell much other than donuts and coffee.

Japanese fast food shops:
MOS Burger
In case you haven't guessed, I'm not a big fast food fan, but I have always loved MOS Burgers. They have made the tastiest, most innovative fast food I have ever eaten in Japan. Their yaki-onigiri burger is a messy delight, their yaki-niku burger is always good and their teriyaki burger is delicious. They also sell a bizarre but tasty selection of hotdogs, including curry and pizza dogs; and they have good fried chicken, soups and sides. Though on the expensive side for fast food, this place is not likely to disappoint.
First Kitchen
A decent burger joint.
Lotteria
I never liked Lotteria; their food quality was always rather poor. However, one friend recommends their fries and shakes.
Morinaga
Marginally better than Lotteria, but nothing to write home about. ^^

Pizza

Unless your Japanese is really good or you are willing to stomach the mediocre pizza of Shakey's, you're not likely to get pizza in Japan. Why? Because, other than Shakey's, virtually every other pizzeria in Japan is a Pizza *delivery* place. There are some places you might stay where they will allow or even help you order a pizza, but you won't know that ahead of time unless you have stayed before and asked. And as for picking up a pizza, for all the times I have stumbled across pizza delivery shops, only once have I convinced them to let me order a pizza on the spot. People can be funny about rules, and the Japanese are no exception. Since pizza delivery is supposed to -deliver- pizza, it is hard to convince the people at a shop that over the counter counts as delivery, too. This is a real shame, because (other than Shakey's) Japanese pizza tends to be really good.

Having just written this, I must point out that there are, supposedly, a few eat-in Pizza Huts in Japan. However, the one across the street from the NHK building in Shibuya closed down years ago, so I don't know if the rest are still around or not.

Besides many local pizza places, there are a few national chains. The idea behind chains is that the food is supposed to taste the same wherever you go, but I have found that, occasionally, this is not the case with pizza delivery. My local Pizza-la was better than any other chain pizzeria I ever tried, even other Pizza-las.

Domino's in Japan is pretty much like Domino's everywhere. The pizza is reilable, if not spectacular. However, like all pizza in Japan, some of the toppings may surprise you. ^_^

Pizza-la is Japan's answer to Domino's. I'm biased towards them because of the one I always used to order from, and because I feel they have a better selection of toppings.

So what are these surprise toppings she keeps hinting at?
I *LOVE* Japanese pizza. They tend to have higher quality toppings and a better variety of them than virtually anyplace in the US where I've had pizza. Toppings include: shrimp, cuttlefish, eggplant, asparagus, bar-b-que chicken, yaki-niku (grilled beef), broccoli, corn, tuna, scallops, nori (dried seaweed), tomatoes, mayonnaise... this is all I can remember. If anyone knows of any unusual toppings I haven't listed here, please tell me. ^_^


*Disclaimer*

All of the evaluations on this page are my opinions. Though I have traveled all over Japan, I make no claim to have tried every branch of every chain. The quality of food and service may vary in extremes. Please, don't be mad at me if you get a bad yaki-onigiri burger or your 'velvet cake' is stale.
Also, much as I would like this to be an exhaustive list of national chains, I know there are any number of them that I have forgotten or have never been aware of. If you know of any more, please tell me. Thanks. ^_^


BACK - HOME