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The password is.... CHEAP!

Mr Taster Mar 11, 2007 01:08 PM

I'll be in Japan for almost 2 months and am on an extreme budget....

Where can I find the greatest bangs for the yen in all of Japan? (we plan to see as much of the country as possible)

As long as it's CHEAP and SUPER DELICIOUS, we're there! Is this even possible?

Oh, I should also qualify this by saying we want to eat only Japanese food... :)

Thanks 'hounds!

Mr Taster
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  1. E Eto RE: Mr Taster Mar 11, 2007 05:54 PM

    It's very possible to find cheap and delicious, but it would help to know where you're going to be in Japan.

    1 Reply
    1. re: E Eto
      Mr Taster RE: E Eto Mar 11, 2007 06:50 PM

      We do not have an itinerary other than that we will be flying in to Tokyo at the end of April.

      In fact our itinerary may well be determined by your food recommendations, so please let us know!

      We try to plan as little as possible before we travel... it's more fun that way.

      Mr Taster
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    2. s
      Snahlami RE: Mr Taster Mar 11, 2007 06:23 PM

      I'm far from being a japanese food expert but I've visited the country recently and can share a few tips that may be useful.

      To me it seemed that the best deals were available at lunch time, even upper-end restaurants offer fixed-priced lunch menus that appeared a lot more affordable than their dinner menu.

      On my travels, I don't really fall back on department store restaurants but in Japan it's different. Many departement stores have three floors of restaurants which offer an incredibly diverse range of japanese food. By the lines of people waiting to be seated, it's pretty easy to see which of them are good. The food halls in these department stores are also a great place to browse, you'll find many amazing items but you won't know what most of them are.

      Hotel concierges in Japan are usually incredilbly helpful, in no other country have I used their services as much as there. Tell them what you're looking for, ask them about local food and recommendations where to get them, they'll be more than glad to help.

      1. Silverjay RE: Mr Taster Mar 11, 2007 06:57 PM

        If your password is cheap, you'll probably want to hit some chain places, which are cheap and pure Japanese and generally, better than quality in the U.S. Off the top of my head, I would recommend the following. Most places 500 YEN will get you full:

        Mos Burger- Japanese style fast food
        Tenya- for tempura
        Tenka-Ippin- for ramen
        Yoshinoya- for beef bowl
        Gusto- youshoku (Japanese western style)
        GinDako- for tako yaki
        Bikkuri Sushi- for sushi
        Tengu or Watami- izakaya

        27 Replies
        1. re: Silverjay
          Mr Taster RE: Silverjay Mar 12, 2007 02:01 AM

          I'm a bit worried by your Yoshinoya rec... we have them in LA all over the place and the food is terrible. Scant slivers of cheap, chewy, gristley meat over a mound of rice.

          We're really looking for the best quality you can get for lowest possible price... not necessarily cheap-at-all-costs.

          More than anything, we're hoping for as many cheap but **houndly** recommendations as possible.

          Thanks!

          Mr Taster
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          1. re: Mr Taster
            Silverjay RE: Mr Taster Mar 12, 2007 04:34 AM

            Realistically, even with a modest budget and narrowed to Tokyo only, these types of threads on this board tend to go nowhere. Asking for 2 months worth of cheap places, nationwide, is even more of a stretch. Chains, convenience stores, department store eateries, and train station stands fit your parameters. In Tokyo, you can also try the Ameyoko area near Ueno station, which is like a typical (atypical for Japan) Asian street market, Gyoza Stadium in Ikebukuro, restaurants around student areas like Shimokitazawa and Mita. Things will be cheaper outside of Tokyo and Kyoto. Check out the search function on this board for reviews of modestly-priced places with names and directions.......Yoshinoya is a Japaenese institution and is the first place that comes to mind when anyone in Japan talks about eating on an "extreme budget", "bang for yen", "cheap". You get what you ask for. It's probably different than LA versions.

            1. re: Silverjay
              Mr Taster RE: Silverjay Mar 12, 2007 11:34 AM

              All good advice.... really, I'm realizing that we need to develop a Japan eating strategy rather than perhaps a list of places to try.

              Last year we spent 6 months traveling through Southeast Asia, China and Taiwan and basically just ate where we saw crowds of local people and no foreigners, and we never had a bad meal.

              I take it this is probably a decent strategy for sussing out chow-worthy eats in Japan?

              Mr Taster
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              1. re: Mr Taster
                Professor Salt RE: Mr Taster Mar 12, 2007 12:33 PM

                The follow the crowd strategy isn't reliable anywhere, especially in Japan. I've waited in many a line for so-so ramen, for example. There's mediocre food everywhere, and just because they're locals doesn't mean they have a good palate, or they're there because food quality is the first priority. Crowds assemble for the same reasons they do anywhere else: price, convenience, "look how busy it is, it must be good." and especially, "boluum". That's the Japanglish for volume: lots of food for the price.

                Good restaurants and yatai street vendors tend to be specialists: I'd look for a place that has a tiny menu, and specializes in one thing, or variations on that one thing. It doesn't necessarily ensure quality, but it's a better strategy IMO than following the pack.

                Edited: Another strategy to consider. Every nook and cranny of the country has some local food specialty. Sometimes, they're major cuisines / dishes / techniques / ingredients that have taken root all over the country, other times they're unremarkable edible tchochkes sold to tourists to take back home. In a modernized age of crappy corporatized food, there's still alot of pride in traditional, local specialties, even if some of those things are historical throwbacks and growing culturally less relevant.

                1. re: Professor Salt
                  Mr Taster RE: Professor Salt Mar 13, 2007 12:05 AM

                  Great reply, Professor Salt... I will add this to my Japan eating notes.

                  Mr Taster
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                  1. re: Professor Salt
                    eatfood RE: Professor Salt Mar 22, 2007 01:57 PM

                    Isn't the Krispy Kreme in Tokyo jammed packed with people? Another sign that follow the crowd isn't always a good strategy...

                    1. re: Professor Salt
                      k
                      kamaking RE: Professor Salt Apr 14, 2007 10:10 AM

                      Now that Salt mentions it, your strategy should be clear: in Tokyo ask people where the best Ramen is, random people. Once you hear something twice, or maybe three times, go there. Repeat for Okonomiyaki in Osaka, Soba or Okonomiyaki in Hiroshima, Udon and Unagi on Shikoku, Sushi in Kobe (since seafood is all imported on container ships in Japan), Sake in or around Niigata (its the water, unreal sake and rice up there. . .). Ramen also in Sapporo, Lamb in Sapporo. Certainly there are other regional specialties, but these are the ones that stand out. I can not stress Niigata, Sapporo and Shikoku enough. It is largely Japan untouched. . .the former because its on the other side of the mountains and the two latter because they are on seperate islands. . .

                      The one thing to keep in mind about Japan, is that the cuisine is largely a play on salt. If the salt is right, then the world is in harmony. If it aint, leave before you get ill.

                    2. re: Mr Taster
                      Silverjay RE: Mr Taster Mar 12, 2007 12:58 PM

                      I've been to all the countries/ regions you mentioned. As Prof. Salt alluded to, the problem, well not really problem,.. the thing with Japan is that there is less of the outside street stall/market thing and more of the retail, branded restaurant in a retail space. Also, population density in Japan is pretty intense, so most places, especially near train stations, are crowded. AND, the economy is only recently picking up, so cheap and crowded might be a matter of economics and not quality (usually the case). So I think you're right, a strategy rather than a list of places, is probably more realistic.

                      The depachika (department store food floors underground) should be on your radar big time if you're on a budget. Every major train station has one or two department stores attached. Basically, just head for the B1, underground level. Per Debbie's advice, the upper floors of the department stores are dedicated to restaurants- usually one of everything (i.e. a sushi place, a ramen place, a tonkatsu place, a soba place, etc.). They have good lunch specials and zero ambiance usually.

                      Japan has got convenience stores down to as perfect a science as you will find. They all have "fresh" prepared food sections, some of it pretty good. They will heat in a microwave for you too. The members of the same chain are all clones of each other too, so if you start to get into, say, the koshi-hikari toro salmon onigiri (salmon belly rice ball made from top class Niigata rice) from Lawson's, it will be available at all Lawsons.

                      It would be great to help direct you to specific places, rather than completely playing by ear. There is plenty of crappy food in Japan and the "follow the crowds" or "choose from plastic food" selections will leave you short on a good experience. Just a heads up, most of the single restaurant reviews on this board over the last year are for reasonable priced, genuine chowhound destinations. I always recommend the following: Best thing to do is research here and then come up with your rough itinerary of places you're interested in and post it here for us to analyze, amend, add on to, etc. The more information you provide on location too, the more likely you can get precise recs.

                      1. re: Silverjay
                        Mr Taster RE: Silverjay Mar 13, 2007 12:17 AM

                        Hi Silverjay

                        Well, as far as a set itinerary, as I said we're wide open and will be going whereever and whenever we want. However I can at least let you know that for 10 days we will be taking a road trip with a group of local friends who have graciously organized this itinerary for us:

                        4/28--- Welcome party in Tokyo
                        4/29---(Tokyo) sightseeing
                        4/30---(Hakone/Kamakura) sightseeing
                        5/01---(Shizuoka)Mt. Fuji & surrounding area
                        5/02---(Shizuoka)Tea ceremony & culture experience
                        5/03---(Kyoto) sightseeing
                        5/04---(Kobe) Danjiri festival
                        5/05--- Welcome party in Nara
                        5/06--- Leave for hometown

                        Does this help?

                        Mr Taster
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                        1. re: Mr Taster
                          OCAnn RE: Mr Taster Mar 13, 2007 08:40 AM

                          Wow. That is a wonderful itinerary; your friends are taking you on a whirlwind of must-sees of natural beauty that most tourists miss for commercial traps.

                          My only recommendations for Hakone & Shizuoka is to take in the natural wonder at the open-air rest/tea stops and enjoy some tea. During my eight years in Japan, I didn't do that enough.

                          1. re: Mr Taster
                            E Eto RE: Mr Taster Mar 13, 2007 08:54 AM

                            Is there any way you can politely decline some of these day's itineraries? You're going to be smack in the middle of all the rest of Japan's vacationers during Golden Week, which means all those places will be jam packed with tourists. I'm sure your hosts have that week off and are trying to offer you a capsule version of a "best of Japan" experience, but it hardly seems worth your time if you're going to be there for 2 months. One day touring Kyoto during one of the busiest holidays? One day in Hakone/Kamakura? Seems like you can do better on your own, especially if you consider the cost of transportation if you want to go back to these places to spend some more quality time.

                            I'm also curious how you're going to be traveling around, and how you plan to find lodging. That's going to drive your expenses upwards. You should be aware that in many cases, the prices quoted to you for lodging is not per room, but per person.

                            1. re: E Eto
                              Mr Taster RE: E Eto Mar 14, 2007 12:47 PM

                              We'll be there for 2 months so I'm not worried about spending 10 days of that time time going native and cramming in with thousands of Japanese people. Cultural experiences like this one are the whole reason for travel!

                              Lodging will be arranged with friends and through hospitality club (google it). Food will continue to be arranged by my fellow Japanese-centric chowhounds.

                              How about this one... which regions of Japan offer culinary must-eats (within a budget)? Yes yes, I know that there are hundreds of individual culinary specialties in Japan but I'm not asking for a comprehensive list-- just a couple of your favorites.

                              Keep 'em coming, fellow hounds!

                              Mr Taster
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                              1. re: Mr Taster
                                MeAndroo RE: Mr Taster Mar 14, 2007 02:02 PM

                                Hiroshima or Kansai okonomiyaki, Kansai takoyaki, ramen in Kyushu or Hokkaido (I really enjoy Sapporo style), Okinawa champuru, goya or otherwise. Those were my favorites.

                                1. re: Mr Taster
                                  Professor Salt RE: Mr Taster Mar 14, 2007 02:42 PM

                                  Once you get outside the big cities, you'll find sake brewers dotting the countryside. The bigger commercial operations will be brewing during May, but traditional small scale sake brewing is a winter activity. All the same, it might be cool to work that into your tour of the country.

                                  I can't give you specific recommendations, but this might be a good time to start a fresh topic and ask the sake hounds. Ask about "jizake" (local sake).

                                  1. re: Mr Taster
                                    b
                                    bulavinaka RE: Mr Taster Mar 14, 2007 09:27 PM

                                    I second the okonomiyaki while in Hiroshima. Osaka is also known for okonomiyaki but If you ask which city has the favorite style, I would think most would agree it's Hiroshima.

                                    1. re: bulavinaka
                                      Mr Taster RE: bulavinaka Mar 14, 2007 10:25 PM

                                      Great suggestions.... we will add Hiroshima/okinomiyaki to our list.

                                      Any more cheap regional specialties?

                                      Mr Taster
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                                    2. re: Mr Taster
                                      E Eto RE: Mr Taster Mar 14, 2007 10:36 PM

                                      You know what, seriously, there are just too many specialties in every little nook and cranny of Japan, that it's not really worth trying to scope it out here. I would do some research and come back with more pointed questions. More specifically, not only are there regional specialties, many of these specialties vary by season as well. And often, if you're in the area of a specific specialty, it's going to be cheap(er), especially by city standards. I don't know what more to tell you. My best advice is when you meet your local hosts, go where they go. If they're into food or have any semblance of local pride, then they'll know what's good.

                                      1. re: E Eto
                                        Mr Taster RE: E Eto Mar 14, 2007 11:53 PM

                                        E Eto

                                        How about just giving me 5 of your personal cheap regional favorites. I never asked for an exhaustive list.

                                        We will definitely be taking our hosts' opinions into account, as well as the opinions of people we meet while traveling. That's a given. What isn't a given is whether these people are chowhounds, which is why I'm asking you!

                                        Mr Taster
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                                        1. re: Mr Taster
                                          Silverjay RE: Mr Taster Mar 15, 2007 04:28 AM

                                          There are some more specialties below, but he's right. This list could be a mile long. At some point, you would do well to use the search function on this board as some of these places have been reported on, including extensive coverage by Mr. Eto himself. In many cases, you can find information with specific restaurants so that you can probably plot out a direct course to a culinary destination in each place. This isn't a heavy traffic board like Los Angeles, with dozens or hundreds of contributors. So it becomes frustrating to tell someone for the umpteenth time that department store food floors are a must or Hiroshima is famous for okonomiyaki.

                                          Tokyo- dango, everything else
                                          Osaka- takoyaki, oshi-zushi
                                          Nagoya- chicken wings, miso
                                          Okinawa- goya champuru, soki soba, okinawa soba, awamori
                                          Fukuoka- tonkotsu ramen, motsu nabe, shochu
                                          Kagoshima Pref.- pork
                                          Sendai- beef tongue bowl, chilled Chinese style noodles
                                          Hiroshima- okonomiyaki
                                          Kitakata- ramen
                                          Nigata- koshi hikari rice, nihon-shu
                                          Sapporo- seafood, nabe, cheese, miso ramen

                                          1. re: Silverjay
                                            Mr Taster RE: Silverjay Mar 15, 2007 05:03 PM

                                            This is an excellent short list of exactly the type I was looking for.

                                            Thank you

                                            Mr Taster
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                                            1. re: Silverjay
                                              b
                                              bulavinaka RE: Silverjay Mar 15, 2007 09:03 PM

                                              The seafood in Japan is pretty amazing in general, but where do most Japanese go to get their seafood fix? Sapporo. I don't know what's running while you'll be there, but I can guarantee that whatever is being served will amaze you.

                                              Also, there are tons of fishing villages all along the coastline of Japan. I remember going fishing with my uncle and his business partner from a fishing village about 1 1/2 hours outside of Hiroshima. The owner of the boat caught an octopus - probably about 5-10 pounds - and stuck it in a sack then put it in the tank. We docked, cleaned up, and his wife started cooking up some of the fish that we caught. The owner came in about 10 minutes later wrestling with the octopus, heading straight for the kitchen. A few minutes later, his wife brought out the freshly boiled octopus, sliced, with fresh ponzu, wasabi, and shiso. The octopus was so tender and sweet, it almost made me cry. It's probably no big deal to a fisherman, but this was a memory that I still can smell and taste in my mind as if it was yesterday. I have no clue as to how many of these fishing villages have restaurants, as I would think that best of the catches would go wholesale, but if you have an opportunity to do something like this, or hear of great seafood restaurants in these villages, I would think that it would be a memorable experience for you.

                                              1. re: Silverjay
                                                g
                                                graceface RE: Silverjay Sep 14, 2010 01:20 PM

                                                Come to think of it, although we don't want stickies for particular restaurants (forever fixing them in an immutable canon of chow regardless of future performance), I think that a post with info like this -- a list of regional specialties across Japan -- would make for a good sticky.

                                        2. re: E Eto
                                          b
                                          bulavinaka RE: E Eto Mar 17, 2007 10:18 AM

                                          Your points are well taken. I was thinking the same about Kyoto - you need one week - which will make you want to never leave - to get the feel of Kyoto. However, I think it may be a good way for Mr Taster to get a snapshot of some great places he may want to visit on his own once things settle down after Golden Week. My mom stays away from Japan during this period for the same reasons, and it's probably the one of the prettiest times to visit, as well as the weather being nice. Also, because Japan has such good rapid transit, he can hit so many places in a reasonable amount of time with relative ease...

                                      2. re: Silverjay
                                        pinstripeprincess RE: Silverjay Mar 18, 2008 04:32 PM

                                        without any japanese language knowledge, how can i tell the koshi-hikari onigiri from the others? we dropped into one yesterday and picked up an ikura one just because it had an image i recognized, but it was in a "baggy" style packaging rather than the pulling triangle which made the nori quite sogging and not as appealing.

                                    3. re: Silverjay
                                      Professor Salt RE: Silverjay Mar 12, 2007 12:36 PM

                                      Silverjay's right. The US Yoshinoyas are different from the ones in Japan. The US ones don't serve raw egg on the beef bowl, for instance.

                                      Personally, I'm not a fan of gyudon in general, and especially from Yoshinoya. But I'd definitely recommend a Spicy Mosburger. I miss those!

                                      1. re: Professor Salt
                                        Silverjay RE: Professor Salt Mar 12, 2007 01:06 PM

                                        In Japan, they also serve pork curry since the BSE scare. Again, it's all getting what you pay for. Personally, I never eat at Yoshinoya or Mosburger... Love Tenya though.

                                        1. re: Professor Salt
                                          w
                                          WBGuy RE: Professor Salt Mar 13, 2007 10:18 AM

                                          If you're stuck with fast food now and again, it's not the end of the world. Fast food in Japan (actually in much of Asia) I find to be generally of much better quality than their US counterparts. Not sure why, but I imagine in Japan they benefit from how the Japanese apply their perfectionist streak to just about everything they do.

                                          I miss Mosburger's Rice Burger. It's a beef burger with shaped rice patties in place of the normal bread bun. Ya gotta try it.

                                          I've had friends from Japan complain about Yoshinoya in the US too. The beef slices there are paper-thin, with an almost diaphanous quality to them. But I think what makes the beef bowls in Japan work, from Yoshinoya to Matsuya (my favorite), is the rice. Somehow the rice in Japan is just better, more chewy and less chalky than here in the US. That's what I remember from my last trip 2 years ago.

                                  2. Debbie M RE: Mr Taster Mar 11, 2007 07:52 PM

                                    I'd agree with the chain recommendation. Most have a "set" meal that's cheaper than buying the component parts separately.

                                    Train stations are usually awash with good, cheap eats (although you may have to eat your meal standing up!).

                                    Convenience stores (7-11, Lawson, Family Mart, AM/PM) and chain coffee shops (Dutour, Pronto).

                                    Aside from the food floors in department stores, many also have event floors where they often have promotions tied into regional areas in Japan (like "Hokkaido Fair," or "Kagoshima Fair") where they'll be serving food from that region

                                    If there's a festival anywhere in the vicinity (like at a park or shrine -- some also have food booths on any weekend) there will be many booths set up serving typical cheap festival food: okonomiyaki, takoyaki, yakisoba, grilled fish on a stick, grilled corn on a stick, etc., as well as a tent with picnic tables where you can get a soft drink, sake or beer to wash down your meal.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Debbie M
                                      OCAnn RE: Debbie M Mar 12, 2007 11:55 AM

                                      I'd second the recommendations to eat at train stations, department stores and convenience stores.

                                      Surprisingly, 7-11 carries *good* cheap food. Their onigiris (rice balls) make a good snack and during the winter, many 7-11s have oden (vegetables in broth).

                                      The train stations have all sorts of food. My favourite pedestrian food is soba; however, when it's consumed standing, it's called "tachiguisoba" (soba eaten standing). I love the (hot) soba with tempura beads.

                                      At many department stores, like in Europe, the grocery store is on the basement level and the restaurants/cafes are on the top. The grocery stores might offer food to-go or eat on-the-spot. But whether you're at the bottom or top of the building, the food is generally good and tastier than standard US mall food.

                                      There are also bakeries that are like European bakeries. You can order a coffee, juice and croissant/sandwich inexpensively.

                                      Super delicious food is easy to find, and with the current exchange rate, it'll be more affordable than in recent years. Good luck & have a fun, safe trip!

                                    2. OCAnn RE: Mr Taster Mar 12, 2007 12:42 PM

                                      Here's a thought: Yokohama is a port city with a Chinatown with a good dozen restaurants. (I found the Chinese food here to use more salt, but less dark sauces than the Chinese food here in the US.) Would be worth a stop to try dim sum there.

                                      BTW, the Japanese tend not to eat/drink while walking. Though they have street food, it's expected that the food be consumed while you're not moving.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: OCAnn
                                        w
                                        WBGuy RE: OCAnn Mar 13, 2007 10:30 AM

                                        I would pass on the dim sum in Yokohama, personally. It's no match for any of the places we have in Monterey Park. You need someplace rowdy, raucous and slightly gritty for dim sum, and Yokohama's too polite for that. :)

                                      2. s
                                        silverlakebodhisattva RE: Mr Taster Mar 12, 2007 03:51 PM

                                        If you haven't gotten ol' Alpha Dog Jim's chow-guide to Tokyo ( was available for a nominal payment on the old Chowhound) it's worth tracking down.

                                        BTW, don't completely dismiss "non-Japanese" food; the Japanese take on other cuisines is interesting. The Chow-Pup swears that some of the best Italian food he's had (and he's been to Italy) was in Japan.

                                        Breakfast is also an interesting question, particularly given the number of urban Japanese who, if/when they eat breakfast out, eat "eggu settu" or "toastu settu", which is the Japanese take on western breakfast.

                                        1. c
                                          choo RE: Mr Taster Mar 12, 2007 08:25 PM

                                          You may want to try a "Tabehodai" restaurant
                                          Essentially this is an all you can eat restaurant but unlike the western version, here in Japan they have a korean style bbq grill at your table which you cook whatever you have chosen from the "buffet". You pay around 1300 yen (US 12 ish) and you have an hour to eat as much as you can. The variety is fabulous, all the fixin's for ramen noodles (you drop them in the boiling water and add your desired miso or different base soups and add spices etc.) There's sliced beef and pork and chicken yakatori that you cook yourself along with veges aplenty!! Obviously rice and salads and desserts, even crumbed fish and chips. Plus you can have hot drinks and fizzy. I am not a fan of buffet dining but this is altogether a different thing. The dinner version of this is more like 2000 yen but still at that price it's a bargain. These places you'll find all over the country, not so much within the yamanote line of Tokyo but on the fringes. They also have a Nomihodai which is all you can drink for a set price... slightly more risky..

                                          4 Replies
                                          1. re: choo
                                            Mr Taster RE: choo Mar 13, 2007 12:13 AM

                                            Sounds great... we will keep tabehodai in mind.

                                            We do have Japanese table barbecue here in LA (chains like Gyu-Kaku http://www.gyu-kaku.com/ which tend to be the Japanese take on Korean bbq) but to my knowledge nothing quite like what you describe.

                                            Thanks for the rec!

                                            Mr Taster
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                                            1. re: Mr Taster
                                              MeAndroo RE: Mr Taster Mar 13, 2007 08:23 AM

                                              Choo is referring to a series of different styles of eating. The Korean bbq is known as yakiniku, and there are those that are run like Gyu-kaku (pay per dish) and those that do the tabehoudai. I'm not sure if you'll have Japanese language support, but there are books of coupons that make these places a better value. Does anyone know if Hot Pepper is still around?

                                              If you're looking for other Japanese all you can eat places, also try sukiyaki or shabu shabu. There are small differences between the two, but both are basically hot pot (nabe) style eating where you boil your own food, much like what Choo said. I also recommend a nomihoudai for 2 hours, but that depends on what you plan on doing the next day.

                                              My personal recommendation is Coco's curry house. I haven't been in a while, but when I was last there, they still had katsu curry with melted cheese. Tasty, filling, and under $10 US I believe. Have fun!

                                              1. re: MeAndroo
                                                Silverjay RE: MeAndroo Mar 15, 2007 06:19 AM

                                                Just to repeat and add additional information, "tabehoudai" means all-u-can-eat and "nomihoudai" is all-you-can-drink. Buffet style in Japan is called "Viking style". For the all-u-can... style, there is usually a 90-minute limit and all members of the party must order the same course/s. Here are a few:

                                                MoMo Paradise- chain of shabu-shabu/ sukiyaki/ kimchee nabe places. Tabehoudai price is 1680円 per person, probably another 1000円 for the AYCD. If you pay more, you can get better quality meat. Locations are here- http://www.wondertable.com/app/tenpo/... .

                                                For a "Viking" style experience, similar to what was suggested above, you can try "Carne Station", which is a huge, meat-centric, buffet with all sorts of things. This is run by meat wholesaler Hanamasa. The location is Ginza. It's 1000円 for lunch, 3000 for dinner. Drinks may be included, but I can't recall. They had a crab special when I went a couple of years ago. http://www.hanamasa.co.jp/company/res...

                                                Kushiya Monogatari - a fried skewers thing. They've got a shop in Shibuya...

                                                And many many more....Many years ago, I used to go to an all-you-can-drink izakaya that was 800円 per person. And all food dishes were less than 400円. Those were the days...

                                                1. re: Silverjay
                                                  MeAndroo RE: Silverjay Mar 15, 2007 08:20 AM

                                                  With a coupon and going out during the week, you can still get 2 hour nomihoudai for 1000 yen in Shibuya. At least we did in late 05. Plates were about 400 starting, but that was just for fried cheese and "potato fries."

                                          2. b
                                            bulavinaka RE: Mr Taster Mar 13, 2007 12:10 AM

                                            I don't know if these are available on DVD, but there's a show on UHF channel 18 called, "Doch(i) Cooking," where the two dishes of food compete for votes as to which is preferred by the contestants. As part of the show, they take you to what they consider to be about six places that well represent the dishes that are featured on the show. I am often amazed at how relatively inexpensive the prices are, and how good the food looks... and most are usually located within a few minutes walk from subway stations... UHF channel 18 on Saturdays at 8PM. Minimum, you'll be entertained with some great food porn and some good Japanese humor as well... Also as mentioned above, concierges and dept stores are awesome resources... I still can't get over seeing whale meat on the shelves in the refrigerated section... Don't have any particular recs for ocha izakaya in Kyoto, but you should really do this if you get a chance... no matter what the price is...

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: bulavinaka
                                              MeAndroo RE: bulavinaka Mar 13, 2007 08:16 AM

                                              Cheers to my favorite food-related show! Ahh, the days when I used to sit down with my host family after dinner and watch Dotchi no Ryouri. Makes me hungry just thinking about it. :)

                                              1. re: MeAndroo
                                                b
                                                bulavinaka RE: MeAndroo Mar 13, 2007 09:28 PM

                                                After watching one episode, everything else that is edible pales in comparison... and the kidding around is pretty funny too!

                                            2. a
                                              alexfood RE: Mr Taster Mar 13, 2007 12:34 AM

                                              So far you've gotten a lot of general responses, all of them interesting; I especially love the depa-chika (basement floors of the department stores) because you can eat lots of samples (they love giving to gaijin/foreigners). Here are a couple of specifics:
                                              - Osaka: Kin-Ryu Ramen. This is a local mini-chain, but go to the original one, just near the center of the city near the famous giant crab (you'll definitely see it). Best ramen I've had in Japan. You can also find great tako-yaki (octopus balls) on the street.
                                              - Tokyo: Be sure to go to Tsukiji Market one early morning and eat the freshest sushi you'll ever eat without being on a boat. Out of this world omakase for about $30 per person. It'll almost ruin you for L.A. sushi.
                                              - Shikoku: If you get down to this island, be sure to get sanuki udon. This is a great noodle you can buy elsewhere in Japan, but there you can eat it at small restaurants where the noodles are cut right there. (I've gotten it elsewhere, never at the source.)
                                              - Hiroshima: Go to the okonomiyaki building. Oko is basically an elaborate pancake with pork, cabbage, and a bunch of other good stuff piled high. This was the most common food to get from street carts in the center of the city, but then the local government moved them all into one building, so now you have 4 floors of nothing but okonomiyaki restaurants. Got to the first one of the left on the second floor. You can eat with a spatula directly off the teppan grill. Unbelievable. Also near Hiroshima, try to eat oysters, maybe on a daytrip to Miyajima (a national heritage site; it's an island with a huge tori gate rising up out of the water).

                                              6 Replies
                                              1. re: alexfood
                                                Mr Taster RE: alexfood Mar 13, 2007 03:22 AM

                                                Excellent specific suggestions.... many thanks

                                                Mr Taster
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                                                1. re: alexfood
                                                  OCAnn RE: alexfood Mar 13, 2007 08:29 AM

                                                  If Hiroshima is a stop, I'd second the okonomiyaki bldg, but another out of the way restaurant that is frequented by both the Japanese & US expats is Sanzoku ("Chicken Shack"). The surroundings are beautiful (waterfalls, bamboo trees) and the food bbq-esque. They've got chicken thighs bbq'd on skewers and huge rice balls and it's all actually good.

                                                  However, I think I'd skip Miyajima. It's serene, but if I went back, I'd rather spend my day elsewhere.

                                                  But if you make it to Japan's southern portion of Kyushu, their specialty is horse sashimi.

                                                  There's kaitensushi (sushi on conveyer belts) and similarly, noodles that run down table top streams. With each, you take as much as you like as they pass by you.

                                                  1. re: alexfood
                                                    s
                                                    slew RE: alexfood Mar 22, 2007 07:13 PM

                                                    Okonomiyaki building... Sounds intriguing... :)

                                                    Does anyone have an address?

                                                    Can point to a web site(s)?

                                                    1. re: slew
                                                      OCAnn RE: slew Mar 23, 2007 08:20 AM

                                                      Okonomiyaki mura (okonomiyaki village) is behind the Parco department store.

                                                      Address is 13 Shintenchi in the Hatcho-bori area. But note that addresses are virtually *USELESS* in Japan; oftentimes, you have to give the name of the neighbourhood and then go by landmarks (both major and minor).

                                                      1. re: OCAnn
                                                        s
                                                        slew RE: OCAnn Mar 25, 2007 04:29 PM

                                                        Addresses aren't useless if you plug it into Google maps...

                                                        Thanks for the address... Found the *EXACT* location... :)

                                                        1. re: slew
                                                          s
                                                          slew RE: slew Mar 25, 2007 04:39 PM

                                                          OOPS.

                                                          And it's 5-13 Shintenchi...

                                                  2. f
                                                    Fat Billie RE: Mr Taster Mar 13, 2007 01:34 AM

                                                    It is possible to have cheap good, quality food in Japan.

                                                    You just may have to eating it standing up though.

                                                    Much luck

                                                    1. r
                                                      rameniac RE: Mr Taster Mar 13, 2007 01:52 AM

                                                      within tokyo:

                                                      for traditional, extra-huge portions of tokyo wafu shoyu ramen: http://www.rameniac.com/resource/comm...

                                                      for a superior shoyu ramen with fried onions and chinese leanings:
                                                      http://www.rameniac.com/resource/comm...

                                                      for original morisoba, or ramen as dipping noodles (although the place might have closed down already):
                                                      http://www.rameniac.com/resource/comm...

                                                      for northern kyushu style tonkotsu ramen (orer the zenbuiri):
                                                      http://www.rameniac.com/index/comment...

                                                      if you're going to osaka, here's kinryu ramen (which alexfood mentioned):
                                                      http://www.rameniac.com/resource/comm...

                                                      and some other foods i like in the doutombori eating area:
                                                      http://www.rameniac.com/index/comment...

                                                      4 Replies
                                                      1. re: rameniac
                                                        MeAndroo RE: rameniac Mar 13, 2007 10:17 AM

                                                        I also liked Ippudo for ramen. I believe it started in Kyushu and expanded eastward, but the shop I used to frequent was near Waseda on Meiji-dori by the Takadanobaba station. The afore-mentioned Tenka-ippin is a good, safe chain spot with delicious broth.

                                                        1. re: MeAndroo
                                                          Silverjay RE: MeAndroo Mar 13, 2007 11:15 AM

                                                          Actually, the hottest (and tastiest?) ramen chain these days is Koumen, but Tenka-ippin is more ubiquitous.

                                                          1. re: Silverjay
                                                            MeAndroo RE: Silverjay Mar 13, 2007 11:56 AM

                                                            Hrmm, I'll definitely be trying that the next time I'm in Japan. I absolutely love the thick broth of Tenka-ippin and the fact that it's everywhere makes a ramen fix convenient. The pictures I've seen of Koumen definitely look good, though.

                                                          2. re: MeAndroo
                                                            r
                                                            rameniac RE: MeAndroo Mar 15, 2007 04:20 PM

                                                            ippudo is great, but i think the quality of branches outside of kyushu are hit or miss. tenka-ippin is good in its own right, but it's a very different style - chicken bone broth! i like it though.

                                                        2. modernist RE: Mr Taster Mar 13, 2007 09:45 AM

                                                          one thing you should make note of is this, many "proper restaurants" will have lunch specials in the 800-1500 yen range. from what i understand, back in the day, there werent really "lunch specials." so i recommend eating meals in the daytime, then maybe eating snack stuff like ramen and okonomiyaki and takoyaki and mos-u baah gaah for dinner.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: modernist
                                                            MeAndroo RE: modernist Mar 13, 2007 10:13 AM

                                                            Ramen is snack stuff now? Bring on kaedama!

                                                          2. a
                                                            alielle RE: Mr Taster Mar 14, 2007 11:32 PM

                                                            There was a little ramen place outside of the JR Iidabashi station west exit that was really good a few years back. I'd been going to that place since 2000, but I'm not sure if it's still there. There is a hostel right by the iidabashi station that serves a pretty good Japanese breakfast for 450 yen. Good gems I remember included delicious fish and tasty side dishes.

                                                            http://www.tokyo-ih.jp/en/index.html

                                                            If you are going to Hakone, make the short, cheap trip (by light rail) to Owakudani (sp?) They are known for their hard-boiled eggs cooked in the hot springs (black-colored) and Wasabi ice cream. Wasabi ice cream was really good there. So was the egg and cheese.

                                                            1. steamer RE: Mr Taster Mar 15, 2007 05:50 AM

                                                              You haven't really said what you consider to be cheap. If it's 1,000 to 1,500 yen you are in luck for lunch. Tokyo offers some of the best value for money in the civilized world for lunch.
                                                              If you are thinking of less than that you are SOL. Tabehodai is something to avoid in my opinion, all you can eat whatever, but why would you want to? Nomihodai however is a different story. I can't believe someone thought the conbini oden was something to put in their mouth.

                                                              Good luck anyway because cheap and super tasty is not something you will find outside of the lunch special at a good restaurant 99.999% of the time.

                                                              1. l
                                                                Lori D RE: Mr Taster Mar 15, 2007 06:33 AM

                                                                One suggestion I have never seen on Chowhound for cheap/good eats in Japan is the type of restaurant that serves teishoku - small serving of fish, a few servings of pickles/vegetables, rice, and miso soup - and only teishoku. There is one in the Yotsuya area of Tokyo that, seven or eight years ago, served the above for lunch for, I believe, 500 yen. I can't remember the name of this type of restaurant; Eric probably knows.

                                                                There's something about this food that is incredibly satisfying.

                                                                6 Replies
                                                                1. re: Lori D
                                                                  Silverjay RE: Lori D Mar 15, 2007 07:08 AM

                                                                  "Teishoku" is really just a generic term for a small set meal. Some shops are often called "teishoku-ya". These are literally everywhere, from chains to local mom and pop. More like places you come across and not destination dining.

                                                                  1. re: Silverjay
                                                                    l
                                                                    Lori D RE: Silverjay Mar 15, 2007 08:39 AM

                                                                    Are you sure that there isn't another categorization? I think I would have remembered "teishokuya," and the (Japanese) person who described this type of place to me said that it referred to mom and pop places only.

                                                                    1. re: Lori D
                                                                      Silverjay RE: Lori D Mar 15, 2007 01:11 PM

                                                                      I'm sure. A "teishoku" could just as well have ginger pork or fried fish instead of grilled fish and potato salad instead of tsuke-mono. The meal you described happens to be one type of generic set you can get at places besides "teishoku-ya", for example "bento-ya" or maybe at a "koryouri-ya" (小料理屋 ) or family restaurants.

                                                                      1. re: Lori D
                                                                        steamer RE: Lori D Mar 16, 2007 05:56 AM

                                                                        Sounds like a shokudo.

                                                                        1. re: steamer
                                                                          Silverjay RE: steamer Mar 16, 2007 06:22 AM

                                                                          "Shokudo" is an even broader term than "teishoku-ya" and encompasses Chinese and Western dishes.

                                                                          1. re: Silverjay
                                                                            Professor Salt RE: Silverjay Mar 16, 2007 05:15 PM

                                                                            "Sozai-ya?"

                                                                  2. E Eto RE: Mr Taster Mar 15, 2007 09:05 AM

                                                                    Here's a webpage with all of Japan's prefectures: http://www.japan-guide.com/list/e1002...
                                                                    If you google each of them, you'll find the web page published by each prefecture, which should lead you to their tourism page with information on food and local specialties.

                                                                    I did come across this site put out by the Osaka tourism bureau. It's a very cleverly designed site, but very graphics-heavy and can be slow to load, so not meant for slow connections.
                                                                    http://www.tourism.city.osaka.jp/tast...

                                                                    1. m
                                                                      monkfanatic RE: Mr Taster Mar 15, 2007 05:07 PM

                                                                      there are vending machine everywher, and they sell everything you can imagine, rice ,noodle and more

                                                                      1. y
                                                                        yoyomama RE: Mr Taster Mar 16, 2007 03:26 PM

                                                                        I'm in tokyo right now, day 2, and i'm completely envious of the time you'll be spending in Japan - i'm only here for 5 days and 2 are spent in hakone - hopefully, mostly sitting in a hot spring bath. you're pretty much covered with the suggestions - ramen, gyoza, bento, and the food courts. i would mention that ifyou're lucky enough to be there during a festival, most festivals are celebrated with food stalls galore which offer a really unique japanese food experience. you can experience unique foods that are only available during festivals - streets are lined with food stalls selling freshly grilled seafood (food on sticks!) to tasty sweet festival concoctions. try imagawayaki, a sweet disc of pancakey batter grilled in a cast iron mold and filled with sweet red beans (my fave), chocolate or even cheese. browse and graze, and please report back! (there are usually tables set out so people don't have to walk and eat.) also, there's the ramen museum in yokohama, and gyoza stadium for a decent (and cheap) intro to both ramen & gyoza. jangara ramen, right off the harajuku train station is pretty damn good. do not miss sushi in tsukiji - if you're going to splurge ($30-40 for omakase) on sushi, do it there. oh, and for the best tonkatsu, find maisen in harajuku near omotesando - they have set meals, it's the best tonkatsu i have ever had, but it wasn't that cheap, though. $30 for the black pork set, but they do have cheaper regular pork meals too. and tonkatsu sandwiches to go. oh, so tasty. also, do some research on www.bento.com - i've found this site pretty handy to figure out where to go and for what. they're especially good to track down the regional Japanese specialties served Tokyo. Eat well, eat everything, especially the weird stuff.

                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                        1. re: yoyomama
                                                                          Mr Taster RE: yoyomama Mar 16, 2007 05:54 PM

                                                                          Thanks for this great post-- this is exactly what I'm looking for.

                                                                          By the way, I thrive on the weird stuff (and since my wife is Taiwanese, I can always test it out on her as she has no problems enjoying foods of the cooked-blood-and-innard variety.)

                                                                          Sadly we'll be missing the cherry blossom festival but we will be there during Japan's golden week so amid the throngs of japanese tourists there must be a street festival or two that will find its way in. We'll take lots of pics and report back on our food findings, I promise

                                                                          Mr Taster
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                                                                          alexfood RE: Mr Taster Mar 20, 2007 12:29 PM

                                                                          One additional cheap-n-tasty food not really covered in this thread: kushiage a.k.a. kushi-katsu. This is an Osaka specialty, and it's basically fried stuff on skewers. The best places are in the old Shinsekai neighborhood that's a real trip to explore. Basically you order a bunch of stuff -- pork, hard-boiled eggs, veggies, etc. -- and they put it on a skewere, dip it in batter, and deep fried it. There's dipping sauce at the table (don't double dip!), along with fresh crunchy cabbage leaves. Usually around 100 yen per skewer.

                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                          1. re: alexfood
                                                                            eatfood RE: alexfood Mar 22, 2007 02:10 PM

                                                                            Is there a particular place you recommend for kushiage in Osaka?

                                                                            1. re: eatfood
                                                                              a
                                                                              alexfood RE: eatfood Mar 24, 2007 12:06 AM

                                                                              We went to a random place in the Shinsekai neighborhood; I'm sorry I don't remember the name. There were a lot of places, so we picked one that looked old, not too touristy but still crowded. We avoided the places with lines and big signs with promises of deals, and just went for a place that looked down & dirty. It was a great meal.

                                                                          2. Mr Taster RE: Mr Taster Mar 25, 2007 05:01 PM

                                                                            MANY THANKS TO EVERYONE!

                                                                            Really, at 72 replies (so far), your answers have gone far beyond my expectations.

                                                                            This post is, in my opinion, the de facto "Japan cheap eats" starting point.

                                                                            We will report back our best findings... stay tuned!

                                                                            Mr Taster
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                                                                            2 Replies
                                                                            1. re: Mr Taster
                                                                              k
                                                                              kamaking RE: Mr Taster Apr 14, 2007 10:18 AM

                                                                              Taster, see my post above about regions and their cuisines. I lived all over the country selling high-end seafood and got a pretty good experience of things. granted, it helps to speak japanese and have industry hosts, but i am certain that by talking to people your mutual excitement for food will overcome the language barrier. also, it is fairly certain that once you ask some people what their favorite is, you will be at fault for their newfound hunger and probably become their dining companion, which is always fun!

                                                                              1. re: kamaking
                                                                                Mr Taster RE: kamaking Apr 14, 2007 06:51 PM

                                                                                Great suggestion-- and thanks very much for the tips. I'm not shy about speaking with local people in their own language (with the help of my trusty phrasebook and much pantomime) so we will definitely take you up on your advice

                                                                                Mr Taster

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