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Affordable Japan

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Various Menus at Reasonable Prices

A young American writer, Robert Bailey, who has lived in Japan for two years says, "The easiest to understand is those shops displaying the menu with photos in their shop window. Since they often show the prices together with the photos, one can have a good guess on what they offer. Not only in Tokyo and Osaka, but also in other cities, people will not fail to find world-famous fast food shops to have hamburgers and coffee, or self-service cafes. So, it has become my custom to take a rest at those cafes in cities during my first visit."

In Japanese cities, there are many types of shops to meet the various needs of travelers. Besides Japanese dishes, visitors can enjoy international cuisine at reasonable prices without worrying about language barriers, as many shops have menus with photos.

Japanese Fast Food

Fast food unique to Japan is represented by tachigui-soba ("standing-up-eating" soba noodles), gyu-don (beef bowls), and kaitenzushi ("sushi-go-round"). You can find many tachigui-soba shops around railway stations or in terminals, and soba chain stores in towns. Their main menus are soba and udon noodles, and those with no special toppings are called 'kake'(Boiled soba noodles in a bowl of hot broth) or 'mori'(Chilled soba noodles served with a dipping sauce). The cost is only around 260 yen, which is much cheaper than the usual price of about 500 yen at the ordinary noodle shops. The tachigui-soba shops also offer tanuki noodles that come with deep-fried batter balls, kitsune with a sweet, fried bean curd, tsukimi with an egg, and kakiage with fried vegetables or other ingredients. Again, the prices are reasonable, about 350 yen, while they normally cost between 700 and 1,000 yen at other noodle shops. These shops offer both time and cost savings.

At gyu-don chain stores, visitors can also enjoy other dishes, including a single-serving sukiyaki pot and set menus of yakiniku (beef broil) or of other main dishes, served with rice and miso soup. A bowl of gyu-don costs around 300 yen and the set menus about 500 yen. At both tachigui-soba and gyu-don shops, dishes are usually ready within 3 minutes of ordering. There are also curry stands/shops, which usually cost about 300 to 500 yen per serving.

Ordering sushi is sometimes challenging to visitors at regular shops, and prices can vary widely. However, at kaitenzushi shops, it is easy to pick what you want, as dishes are served from a chain conveyor that goes round, hence the name"sushi-go-round". Prices are apparent from the colors of the plates; different colors represent different prices, normally starting at 108 yen for 2 pieces of sushi to around 500 yen for more expensive plates. 10 plates, that cost around 1,500 yen, will be enough to fill anyone's stomach, and the number of "100-yen sushi" shops offering only 100-yen sushi menus, including tuna and salmon, is also increasing.

Photo Menus Provide Easy Ordering

To enjoy various menus at reasonable prices, visitors can dine at family restaurants, or "Famiresu." These restaurants serve both Western and Japanese cuisine, as well as desserts, and many of them offer free refills of non-alcoholic beverages with the price of initial drink (160-200 yen). These restaurants typically feature photo menus for ease of selection. Dinners are also reasonably priced at about 1,000 to 1,500 yen.

To enjoy both dinner and drinking, a visit to an izakaya (Japanese-style pub) is in order. These pubs are particularly popular among younger people. Various dishes and alcohol are served, with prices of less than 500 yen for most dishes, and around 500 yen for a cup of Japanese sake. A large bottle of beer (633 ml) is also around 500 yen, so eating in a group and sharing dishes will cost less than 3,000 yen per person. Many dishes to enjoy with drinks are offered, as well as onigiri (rice balls) and ochazuke (rice in tea) to fill one's stomach at the end of dining. Foreign visitors may be surprised to be served an appetizer in a small bowl called o-toushi or tsukidashi as soon as they are seated. This is a Japanese tradition, and an extra cover charge of 500 yen or less may be added to the bill.

Teishoku-set menus

Typical teishoku or set menus have a main dish of meat or fish served with a side dish, rice, miso soup and pickles. The main dishes are often either sashimi, grilled fish, pork cutlets, or fried meat. Prices can vary from around 600 yen, at more reasonable cafeterias or those in student towns, to around 1,000 yen during lunchtime at restaurants in business districts.
Curry, Ramen Noodles, Donburi (Rice Bowl)

There are some foreign menus that have been arranged in a Japanese manner until they finally became "Japanese" cuisine that now differs in both taste and style from the originals. Curry rice is typical of this. Many standing-style curry chain shops offer easy dining. Pasta, hamburgers, and pork cutlets are other popular "Western" menu items in Japan, and cost less than 1,000 yen at ordinary restaurants that do not require reservations.

Ramen noodles, originally a Chinese dish, are one of the most popular foods in Japan today. Boiled noodles are placed and topped with ingredients such as vegetables (sprouts, onions, etc.) and barbecued pork called "char siu" in a seasoned soup of salt, soy sauce or miso. There are many popular ramen shops where people stand in line for entry during lunchtime. At these shops, one bowl of ramen may cost around 800 yen, while other shops will charge around 500 yen.

Donburi is a rice bowl topped with various ingredients and sauce. Popular donburi dishes include gyu-don, a bowl of beef and onions cooked with a salty-sweet taste, ten-don with tempura, and katsu-don with pork cutlet bound together with egg. These can also be ordered at soba and teishoku shops. However, one bowl will cost around 1,000 yen at these shops, compared with donburi chain stores where a bowl will cost around 500 yen.
Last Minute Food Shopping in Department Stores' Basements

In Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Kyoto, and other big cities, there are department stores whose basements are always crowded with shoppers purchasing various groceries and prepared foods. Around 30 minutes before the close of daily business, many shops start discount food sales. If possible, visitors should check closing times of shops, which is often between 19:00 and 20:00, to enjoy food shopping for last minute bargain prices.

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