Obento-ya-san: Eating in Tokyo on the Cheap

Obento-ya-san: Eating in Tokyo on the Cheap

One of the questions I always get asked is “How can you afford all these trips to Japan?”. Uh — for starters, I save up for the trip beforehand, sometimes for an entire year.

Another thing I do is to take a leaf out of my old book of cost-cutting tricks, gleaned from years of studying in Tokyo on a measly students’ allowance.

The first thing you will find out on your trip to Japan is while food is delicious and plentiful, it’s not exactly cheap. You can spend about JPY 600 on a McDonalds meal, or roughly PhP 300 for something that would cost half that in Manila.

How do you stretch your spending money? Easy — walk past those fast food joints, and follow the stream of Japanese day labourers and office workers headed for the neighborhood obento-ya-san.

An obento-ya-san, literally a boxed lunch shop, offers set meals in pre-packed containers for as low as JPY 300 all the way up to JPY 1000. They offer a variety of meals — some change everyday (higawari bento) while others are staples such as katsu bento or curry bento.

During normal business hours the food is already cheap, but it gets even better near closing time — that’s when the obento-ya-san slash prices up 50% for all food items. They operate on a strict schedule, and anything that has been unsold for the past three to five hours plus items unsold near closing time, are all automatically given a discount to move them off the shelves.

This is a very good thing, especially for backpackers and budget travelers looking to shave a couple of yen off their expenses. A meal that would cost — say JPY 700 for a curry set, a potato salad, and an extra onigiri, would cost just a little over JPY 300 five minutes before closing time. The best part is they are still fresh and delicious — not restaurant quality food, but still good!

I hate to say this but even cold, out on the shelf for three hours, and so deeply discounted they were practically giving it away, the food from the bento shop near our hotel in Tokyo was waaaaaaaaaay better than uh that local joint whose name you say twice, and that other local joint whose name came from an 80s movie 😐

2 Comments Add yours

  1. minamic says:

    sento’s suggestion when we went there was to buy meals at convenience stores. 🙂 paul likes the chicken at family mart. i usually buy cup noodles (the big nissin one) for breakfast though, and we share it.


    1. Combini food is pricier compared to obento-ya food 🙂


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