As a backpacker, you get used to living off unhealthy food because it’s usually the cheapest thing you can find. A packet of pasta and a jar of pomodoro sauce become staple items in your diet. But in Japan, you cannot help but eat well. Even the cheapest things at the corner store are delicious.
I realize that Japan is not set up to cater to backpackers and isn’t found on the typical backpacker trail due to the high cost of living when compared to southeast Asian countries. Most of the Japanese hostels I’ve stayed in (called guesthouses here) do not have a proper kitchen, which makes cooking for yourself difficult. Another difficulty is not knowing what you’re buying at the grocery store. All of this makes eating out the most logical way to fill your tummy.
Luckily, there’s no shortage to good food in Japan. Grocery and convenience stores all sell bentō, boxed lunches that usually contain rice, fish or meat and pickled vegetables. You can also pick up an onigiri, or rice ball filled with different things like salmon, plum, fish flakes and seaweed.
Even when you’re on the move, good food can easily be found. Great food booths are found in all train stations and offer you an extensive selection. You can grab a quick choice of sushi or sit down and enjoy hot ramen soup. You can treat yourself to Japanese-style Italian dishes or hunker down with a thick slab of steak.
Restaurants also have special set meals, usually during lunch and dinner, called teishoku. The sets are often reasonably priced and include miso soup, hot tea, a main dish with rice and pickled vegetables. This is a great way to eat your way through Japan without breaking your budget. My favorite items to try are tonkatsu (pork cutlet) and ebi tenpura/tempura (battered and fried shrimp).
No matter where you are in Japan, good food is waiting for you. Most places have visual menus – menus with pictures of each dish. Even if you can’t understand the language, you can still order yourself up a feast!