Japan is unfairly known as an expensive country to travel in, as in reality, it is quite easy to stick to your budget while there. From fish to souvenirs to cosmetics, here are five things that are surprisingly cheap in Japan.
Fish is a food staple in Japan, with one in ten fish caught worldwide eaten in this country. As a result, the Japanese have become masters in concocting tasty fish dishes, many of which you can find at inexpensive prices.
For instance, head to a Japanese supermarket for sashimi that can easily rival those found in restaurants elsewhere in the world. For those who want to save even further, wait until 1-2 hours before the supermarket closes, when the fresh food is marked down—you’ll often be able to grab a nice assortment for around around ¥300-700.
While better known for their gyudon (beef bowls), chain restaurants like Sukiya and Yoshinoya also offer several fish options, such as seared mackerel and sliced tuna, for around ¥400-800. The teishokus (set meals) are an especially good deals, adding rice and a variety of side dishes for ¥100-200 more.
Fresh fish markets are also great places to find fish at cheap prices, with many stores offering to slice your fish into sashimi on the spot (recommended spots include Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo and Omicho Market in Kanazawa). If you’re lucky enough to be in Japan during a festival season, you can also pick up freshly grilled fish for a few hundred yen while exploring the food stall section of the fair.
2. Used Manga and Game Consoles
As they say, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” and many used manga and game console finds can be found at stores like Book Off and Super Potato. With anime/manga and Nintendo deeply ingrained into Japanese popular culture, there is a natural overturn as people clear space in their homes for the latest products, so you can easily find things that are mere weeks—or even days—old.
Super Potato stores specialize in retrogames, while Book Off stores focus on media products ranging from manga/anime discs to CDs to books and magazines. If looking for game consoles, Hard Off stores are the best place to look. While Super Potato stores are only found in Tokyo and Osaka, Book Offs and Hard Offs can be found in almost every major city in Japan. With products ranging from 20-95% off retail price, these are worthwhile stops during your next visit to Japan, whether you’re looking for a specific product, or just want to browse.
An ever-present item on any traveler’s shopping list is souvenirs, and luckily, in Japan, you can find a wide variety at cheap prices.
100-yen stores are your best friend for souvenir shopping, as the majority of them — especially the ones located in big cities like Tokyo and Kyoto — include Japan specific sections with items like folding fans, Japan-themed ceramics (think teapots, as well as pieces decorated with Mt. Fuji or cherry-blossoms), and small bags made out of kimono cloth. Cute stationary, such as letter sets and page markers, from these stores also make for great gifts.
For those looking for food-based gifts, omiyage (souvenir) shops found in train stations, as well as Don Quijote superstores, are great bets. You can find gift boxes of sweets and crackers ranging from ¥500-1000, and their beautiful packaging make them look much more expensive. IF you’re traveling to multiple cities in Japan, note that food omiyages are often specific to each city/prefecture, so don’t put off such shopping if you spot a gift box you especially like.
If looking for antiques, flea markets are excellent places to find them. They occur several times a month in the big cities, and though a bit of sorting through the bric-a-brac may be necessary, you can find items ranging from traditional vases/pottery to swords. While bargaining is often frowned upon in many other scenarios in Japan, at flea markets it is often acceptable.
If space is limited, consider getting souvenirs from gacha (capsule toy) machines. These machines are ubiquitous, found everywhere from gaming arcades to in front of convenience stores. Capsules usually cost between ¥100-300 and often contain figurines and keychains themed around Japanese mascots (Pokemon, Rilakumma, Hello Kitty) and popular anime/manga/video games.
4. Theme Park Food
While elsewhere in the world theme park food is often severely overpriced, this practice doesn’t happen in Japan (so no need to hide extra food through security when you go!). Additionally, there’s several food-themed theme parks where you can try several styles of the same food at once. Popular ones include the Ikebukuro Gyoza Station, the Ice Cream City and Tokyo Dessert Republic in Tokyo, and the Shin-Yokohoma Ramen Museum in Yokohama.
Japanese cosmetic products are renowned for their high quality and effectiveness, and found for substantially cheaper prices in Japan. The best place to get them are pharmacies (avoid convenience stores and supermarkets as they tend to have higher prices), which stock a range of products at all price levels (you can easily find creams ranging from ¥300 to ¥30000 ). Great products to get are ones from the same parent company of the more expensive brands. They are often of great quality, at much lower prices, and hard to find outside of Japan. Kose products, for instance, are fabricated under the same parent company of Shiseido.
Note though that prices also vary wildly across stores, even among those part of the same chain. If you don’t have the time to shop around for the best prices, note that pharmacies close to the main tourist areas, but not directly on the main streets, are often cheaper.
If in Japan for several days, consider carefully timing your pharmacy trip to save some more money; many of the larger chain stores have “special” days where you can enjoy a further 5-10% discount on all products. For instance, Daikoku Drug stores offer an additional 5% discount on the 10th and 25th of the month. Many drugstores also offer painless and fast tax-free services that can save you time at the airport.
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