Is Japan Really That Expensive? 8 Cheap Things in Japan that Will Probably Surprise You

Japan is commonly thought of as having a high cost of living. It's likely that more than a few people who come to Japan without a sense of the cost of living here may be perplexed by it. While it may be relatively high from an international perspective, that doesn't mean that everything here in Japan is expensive. Read on for eight things that are actually cheaper in Japan than in many other countries.

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1. Izakaya (Average Food Item: 300 Yen - 500 Yen, Average Drink: 100 Yen - 500 Yen)

An izakaya is a Japanese-style establishment that serves meals to accompany the alcoholic beverages they offer. It's similar to what you would call a bar or pub. In addition to beer of course, many establishments serve sake, and unique Japanese beverages called "chuhai" which consist of colorless, odorless liquor such as shochu (a Japanese spirit distilled from sweet potatoes or rice) or vodka with fruit juice and carbonated water; and highballs, a drink made with whisky and carbonated water. Just like bars, they mainly open at night, so they are usually frequented after work during the week or on days off. 

The prices vary from establishment to establishment, but there are izakaya chains that operate all over Japan where you can enjoy plenty of food and drink for a reasonable total of 2,000 to 3,000 yen. If it's a cheaper place you can even get a beer for just 100 yen or a glass of chuhai for 200 yen.

In terms of the food menu, in addition to the usual edamame, potato salad, hiyayakko (a chilled tofu dish), deep fried foods, and fries, you can try a wide variety of classic Japanese homestyle dishes such as pig tripe stew, beef tendon stew, sashimi, sushi, nigiri, chazuke (rice with tea or dashi and savory toppings), yakisoba, and even ramen for great prices that range between 100 to 500 yen. Because of this, some Japanese people go bar hopping to izakaya almost daily to enjoy a drink and meal. 

A few famous izakaya chains that operate across Japan are Shirokiya, Hananomai, and Torikizoku. Recently, touch panel-style ordering using tablets has become mainstream, and more and more establishments are catering to multiple languages other than Japanese for international visitors. In other words, even if you can't speak Japanese, going to one shouldn't be a problem.

2. All-You-Can-Drink Packages (Average: 1,500 to 3,000 Yen for 2 Hours)

"All-you-can-eat"-style dining such as buffet and smorgasbords have taken root in many countries, but did you know that Japan has its own unique "all-you-can-drink" culture?

As the name suggests, all-you-can-drink means that for a set price you can drink as many drinks as you like within a time limit. It's a system that really suits the budget-minded.

At Japanese izakaya, a beer usually costs around 300 to 400 yen, and you can get other drinks priced at around the 400 to 500 yen mark. Often izakaya they will have an all-you-can-drink package such as 2 hours for 1,500 yen (prices may vary from 2,000 to 2,500 depending on the establishment). In other words, you can get your money's worth if you choose the all-you-can-drink option, pay 1,500 yen and drink 3 to 5 drinks in the 2 hours. This is the perfect system for people who people who like a drink! 

All-you-can-drink packages are highly recommended for people who want to enjoy the variety of Japanese-style alcoholic beverages mentioned earlier, such as beer, sake, wine, shochu, chuhai and highballs. The drinks included with all-you-can-drink differ depending on the establishment, so make sure you check before selecting the all-you-can-drink option.

3. Alcohol (From 120 Yen per 350ml Can) | Cigarettes (From 500 Yen per 20 Pack)

As with the previously mentioned alcohol at izakaya and all-you-can-drink packages, alcohol is also sold cheaply at convenience stores and supermarkets. So you can say that alcohol is a characteristically cheap thing in Japan. The prices are extremely low, ranging from as low as 120 yen for a 350ml can and 150 yen for a 500ml can. You can purchase alcohol 24 hours a day, and even drink on the streets, so for some these fairly relaxed regulations on alcohol is an appealing part of drinking in Japan. 

Generally speaking, you can drink alcohol outside convenience stores and supermarkets, in the park, at stations, and while walking on the sidewalk. Drinking on trains and behaving rudely or disturbing others is a no-no, however.

In addition to alcohol, cigarettes have gained a reputation internationally for being cheap in Japan. The market price for a pack of 20 is a mere 500 yen. As with alcohol, there are many brands you can only get in Japan, and they are available for purchase 24/7. However, you cannot smoke outside of designated smoking areas. There are strict penalties for smoking in the street, so be sure to be mindful of the rules.

4. Sushi (From 100 Yen per 2-Piece Dish)

Many people consider sushi to be the symbol of Japanese cuisine. Sushi is often sold at a high price as a traditional Japanese food, but you can also enjoy this expensive food for a low price at conveyor belt sushi restaurants.

A conveyor belt sushi restaurant is a restaurant where the sushi is brought slowly around the restaurant on a conveyor belt-like rail. Here you can enjoy very reasonably-priced sushi for around 100 yen per 2 pieces. Japan is known for things being easy and convenient and sushi, one of the foods that symbolizes Japan, is a demonstration of just that. This is especially so with the modern development of the conveyor belt. 

Today you can use a touch panel to order the items you want and then they will be delivered to your seat by a conveyor belt styled as a train, shinkansen, or sports car. There is even a ground-breaking service where you press a button and insert your empty plates into a designated spot to have them automatically taken away. The food is provided hygienically, precisely, and rapidly, without affecting the quality. The whole experience through to paying the bill is truly structured smoothly, and this genuinely entertaining way of eating has spread throughout Japan. 

The common thing to do at conveyor belt sushi is to pick the sushi you want from the random assortment going past on the conveyor belt, but you can also order what you want individually. If it's a traditional conveyor belt sushi restaurant, it's commonplace to order the nigiri toppings you want straight from the sushi chef, but at chain restaurants you mainly order using a touch screen.

Nowadays there are also many restaurants, such as Kura Sushi Sushiro, Kappa Sushi, Genki Sushi, and Uobei, that cater to international visitors who speak languages other than Japanese. So when you visit Japan, why not come and try a sushi dining experience that's comfortable, fun, tasty, and most importantly, reasonably priced? 

5.Manga (Around 100 - 500 Yen per Volume)

Japanese manga is a form of media that boasts immense popularity worldwide. There are probably a lot of people who know about Japanese culture through manga. In many countries, Japanese manga is published translated into the local language, so once the cost of translation etc. is added they are often sold at quite a high price. However, in their country of origin, you can purchase a new volume for less than 500 yen. There are also second hand bookshops like Book Off where you can buy used and like-new items for cheap prices between 100 to 400 yen. 

Naturally, manga sold in Japan is only written in Japanese, but a lot of people say it's worth stopping by if you want original Japanese versions. Another fun reason to buy Japanese manga is as a tool for learning Japanese. 

6.Japanese Fast Food and Family Restaurants (From 300 to 400 Yen)

In 2013, Japanese cuisine was registered on the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage and is held in extremely high regard internationally. You're likely thinking of trying it at least once when you come to Japan. But, when it comes to Japanese cuisine,  the quality brought out by the fastidiousness and the high level of formality often results in prices to match. There's also probably a lot of people with the mental image that "Japan = high cost of living", so they think Japanese food must also be expensive. 

Actually, there are many extremely casual, cheap fast food and family restaurants you can visit on a daily basis that fall under the category of Japanese cuisine. A cheap meal will set you back around 300 or 400 yen and the quality, value for money, and flavor has gained strong support from Japanese people of all ages. 

An iconic place to go for cheap Japanese cuisine is a gyudon-ya, which is a restaurant that specializes in a Japanese dish of beef served over a bowl of rice. From the classic gyudon, to gyudon topped with things like kimchi and cheese, right down to dishes such as butadon (pork rice bowl), eel, kaisendon (seafood rice bowl), udon noodles, soba noodles, curry, tonkatsu (deep fried pork cutlet), oyakodon (chicken and egg rice bowl) and sukiyaki, these restaurants have expansive menus that offer a truly diverse range of Japanese cuisine.

The average price for these dishes is around 500 yen but can get up to around 700 yen, so they're extremely reasonable cost-wise. You can eat these at most chain restaurants throughout the country. Well-known chains include Yoshinoya, Sukiya, Matsuya and Nakau. Many of the restaurants have touch panel ordering and cater to non-Japanese speakers, so no need to worry about your Japanese proficiency to enjoy these places. 

Aside from gydon-ya, there are also iconic udon restaurants like Hanamaru Udon and Marugame Seimen, tendon (tempura rice bowl) restaurants such as Tendon Tenya, and ramen joints like Hidakaya, Korakuen, Ippudo and Ichiran. Furthermore, there are places like Otoya and Yayoiken where you can enjoy Japanese set meals with a complete array of side dishes such as rice, miso, fish, meat, vegetable stir fry, and so on. There are so many different Japanese fast food chains to choose from where most dishes will cost you between 500 to 1,000 yen.

7.Japanese Clothing Brands

Japanese brands' clothing have been making their way into international markets, so it's not that hard to get your hands on them outside of Japan. However, they are sold elsewhere at relatively high prices compared to in Japan. It's cheaper to get them at the Japanese store run by the clothing company. There are also a lot of great cheap branded products that are unknown outside of Japan that combine quality and design, achieving good value for money while being both cute and functional.

Speaking of well-known Japanese brands making their way to markets outside of Japan, you've probably heard of Uniqlo's reasonably priced, functional items and Muji's simply designed, practical goods. These brands have earned so much support in Japan and operate stores all throughout the country. It's best to go to one of their large-scale stores if you want to enjoy shopping from the widest range of items. 

In addition, high-end brands like Comme des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto are comparatively affordable in Japan, so be sure to check these out when you're visiting Japan.

8.100 Yen Stores (High Quality x 100 Yen = Outstanding Value for Money)

100 yen stores are shops where you can purchase basically anything for 100 yen (plus tax). The concept is not exactly unique to Japan - America, for example, has 99 cent stores and dollar stores - but Japanese 100 yen shops such as Daiso have been expanding internationally, particularly in Asia. These stores continue to draw people worldwide with their high quality and value for money.

Aside from convenient everyday items such as snacks, candy, drinks, kitchenware, stationary, cleaning products, and storage goods, they also sell trendy homewares, cosmetics, and more. What makes them appealing is the functionality, user-friendliness, and long-lasting nature of the products, despite how cheap they are. Priced mostly at just 100 yen (there are also some items which are 200 yen, 300 yen, etc.), it's no secret why these stores have become so beloved by Japanese people.

Even Daiso, which is now in international markets, has plenty of products you can only buy in Japan, such as traditional Japanese patterned towels and folding fans, drawstring pouches, and lacquered chopsticks, all of which make great souvenirs. Thanks to an increasing demand from international visitors, they boast such a high degree of recognition and positive support that if you say you want to buy souvenirs of your Japan trip, some people will tell you to go to a 100 yen shop.

Bonus: Pocket Tissues (Free)

You might be thinking, "I didn't come all the way to Japan for something like pocket tissues...", but if you walk by the front of a train station or around the downtown area you'll probably encounter people handing these out.

These pocket tissues come with an insert advertising all kinds of businesses such as contact lens stores, sports clubs, beauty salons, massage parlors, and taxi services, and are given out for free to large numbers of people.

It's not like you would pay to come all the way to Japan to get pocket tissues, but you probably want them if you can get them for free. Normally these packs are sold for around 100 yen in convenience stores and supermarkets, but they are no different from the ones you can get for free. There are even people who take the pocket tissues home as souvenirs for the ads, the Japanese writing, or the funny illustrations on the pack.

Summary

As you can see, it's not the case that everything in Japan is expensive. If you know how to shop and where to go to get a bargain, you can actually have fun going out and shopping, and you will almost certainly have an all the more meaningful trip to Japan. 


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Title Image: sergio capuzzimati / Shutterstock.com

The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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