Finding Cheap Food in Tokyo isn’t simple

We woke this morning to a sunny sky and warm(ish) weather. Our room hadn’t gotten any larger overnight of course – but the bed was comfy, and the AC worked a treat. So all in all – a nice night.

Breakfast was included in the rate if you recall – and it was well worth it! I was quite impressed with both the quality and quantity of food on offer at the APA Narita.

We’d wondered if they were going to go Japanese on us – or offer a more European take on Breakfast, and the answer was that they did it all. There was a lovely coffee machine with two different types of coffee – robust and mild. And a multitude of ways to prepare the coffee – ranging from plain black to Cafe Vienna – an almost 80% milk version that was quite delicious. I tried several options, and decided the Cafe au Lait was my favorite.

Breakfast included a simple cereal bar and two huge rice pots – one with plain and one with Shrimp fried rice, There was a bowl of orange slices, a bowl of grapefruit slices, and several different kinds of yogurt. There was tofu prepared 3 ways, egg omelets that were delicious, and some fried croquettes of potato. There were slices of smoked mackerel, a selection of salads, and even a European collection of rolls and butter. Something for everyone I suppose – and a hit with all. We took our time over breakfast, and eventually got asked to leave as they were closing the dinning area to prepare for lunch.

We went back to our tiny room, packed our bags and headed out to make our way from Narita to our lodgings in Tokyo. The night before they’d explained that we needed to walk thru one train station to get to the JR line – and they were exactly right. We found an information booth and were able to buy our tickets from them. Signs in both English and Japanese were everywhere – so it was simply a matter of reading them all to decide where we should go to catch our train.

Strangely the streets and the train seemed empty – it was only in mid-afternoon that we realized today is an official bank holiday in Japan. But it is much easier to get around when most folks aren’t trying to get to and from work – so this makes traveling on a bank holiday a pleasure.

Our trip into Tokyo was uneventful – if a tad long. The train travels thru part of the ‘rice’ belt of Tokyo – and we passed rice field after field being planted. Soon enough we started to hit the city proper – it is simply amazing how crowded the area around Tokyo has become. The Intrepid Traveler’s son had told his mom that the population of Tokyo is the same as all of Canada! And I believe it.

Our goal was a stop called Shiinamachi. As is the norm in Japan – if you look lost for even a second, someone is highly likely to come and offer you some assistance! Three times on our trip into the city, a local person would decide we looked confused, and offer to help. Once the help consisted of calling a friend on her phone – and him trying to FaceTime to help us. Amazing the Japanese.

But we were armed with a set of photo directions to guide us to Yuuto Village – an Air BnB listing that is to be our base in Tokyo.

A traditional style home dating back to the 70’s – it was tucked behind other homes, barely rating an address. But our hostess had worked hard on her photo guide, and we found the house with little problem. I just wished she’d told us to walk past the children’s park – that tiny landmark would have made us a lot more comfortable. But I digress.

The home is a single house with 4 bedrooms – not quite built in a traditional style, but of wood. – with sliding glass shoji screens on the windows and a distinctly Japanese feel to the space. There are no ‘chairs’ in the western sense of the word, but there are lots of cushions – some of which pile up high enough so that Jill and I aren’t quite sitting on the floor – a position we would find difficult to get back up from.

The main floor consists of a lovely open living area on the first floor, with 3 bedrooms upstairs – accessed up a rickety and very steep iron staircase. Downstairs, along with the living room area, there’s a small kitchen, a single bedroom, a toilet, and a ‘bath’ room that contains only a bathtub and a shower. A separate sink provides for ample washing up options. Up stairs there’s a second smaller toilet – so at least we won’t have to navigate the iron staircase in the middle of the night.

The upstairs toilet is a design I’ve never seen before – there is no sink in the space – instead the water to fill the toilet when you flush it (up for light flush, down for serious flushing) comes from a spout about 8″ above the tank of the toilet. So it’s an all in one operation. Do your thing, flush, and then hold your hands under the spout to rinse. And don’t forget to bring your wash cloth – or you are wringing your hands to dry them!

I haven’t described our room. It’s fairly large, with 2 futons on the floor and 3 huge windows for plenty of light. There is no storage – none. There is a shelf which we’ve decided to use for our suitcases – although getting to it means stepping on Jill’s bed. I think two of those folding suitcase holding thingys would be greatly appreciated. But it’s large and airy and has AC. Not that we’ve needed it – but good to know I suppose.

We have arrived too early – and housekeeping is still working on our 2nd floor room. That means we must leave our suitcase in the living area – and check out the neighbourhood. I brought prunes with me from Canada – which I put in the fridge on the shelf with our unit number – and we head out.

The neighbourhood is decidedly residential – and as I’ve never seen a residential area in all my trips to Japan – quite a lovely surprise. The nearest roads – if you want to call them roads – are one and a third car widths wide, with ‘pedestrian’ sections – can’t call them sidewalks – on each side. It’s quite lovely strolling. There’s a fairly large children’s park nearby – and it is being well used.

We find a Yakiton – a very small, very local restaurant that serves grilled Pork meat on skewers. Options include heart, tongue, colon, meatballs, and kidney). We try 2 of the offerings, but our favorite is the egg roll. Not a Chinesse egg roll – this is an omelet – and it is delicious. But despite the casual look and feel – this super light repast costs us 840 Yen. That’s a lot on a budget trip – we are going to have to be super careful. The problem was the tea – 2 glasses cost us 400 Yen. That’s pricy for hot water…

After that refreshment, we decide to head back to the train station. While the local station is just that – a train station, we’d gone thru a huge station called Ikebukuro just one stop away. There we’d spotted a department store and a lovely noodle restaurant. It costs 150 Yen one way per person to go just one stop – but we figure it will be worth it. We know that this station is open, and around our Air BnB – lots of things seemed closed for the bank holiday.

Ikebukuro doesn’t disappoint us. It’s bustling and lively – and while not packed – thank goodness – it’s fun to wander. There is a huge double supermarket on the first basement level – actually 3 huge supermarkets joined by a serious of corridors. We wander the one called ‘The Gardens’ – it is a very upscale shop, with lots of free tastes. I love the sautés meat that one gal is handing out – and there is another gal with two different kinds of cakes. You’d think that we’d be easily identifiable – we’re almost the only Westerners in sight – but at least the cake gal is willing to hand out tastes every time we walk by.

We select about 1300 Yen worth of food for dinner – a pre-cooked chicken cutlet, two different kinds of breads (one turns out to be gently stuffed with ham and cheese, the other is sweet. (Oops)). Plus I spot a lovely looking sponge cake loaf. We search the veggie section for something reasonable – but 3 Asparagus are almost 400 Yen, and a single ear of corn on the cob (which admittedly looks perfect) was another 300 Yen. I’m worried about my normally veggie oriented diet. I think that lettuce might be the only veggie we can afford.

We leave ‘The Gardens’ and realize that there are actually 2 more supermarkets attached. One is a ‘premium’ 7-11 – and the only thing 7-11 about it is the name. It’s huge. There are a line of people waiting for something, but with all the signs in Japanese, we can’t figure it out. We wander all the isles of this store, then head into the third supermarket. This is a ‘fish’ store – selling all kinds of fish and seafood – and seaweed. Piles and piles of seaweed. I think they might have been offering tastes – but I’m not that interested… Silly me really.

We finally decide it’s time to head home – but I can’t resist asking what the line-up is for. Turns out that at 5:00 PM every day they sell sliced Roast Beef at half price. You get a ‘card’ from the guy holding the ‘this is the end of the line’ sign, and tell him how much you will be buying. He deducts this from the total available, and lets you join the line if there will be any left. No – I didn’t learn how to speak Japanese overnight – a kind lady in line explained all this to me – along with a mention that the Roast Beef is delicious. Not ones to miss a bargain – the Intrepid Traveler and I join in. Eventually it’s our turn to order our mini portion – we are now down another 460 Yen – and it is definitely time to head home.

Back at Yuuto Village – our fellow guests finally appear. There are two guys from Germany who speak quite excellent English, 2 younger ladies from Australia (a mother and a daughter) – plus a couple of Asians who speak no English at all.

We spend a bit of time discussing who has done what that day – and then eat our independent dinners. The Intrepid Traveler and I decide on our plan for the next day – we’re going to hit the Showa Memorial Museum – a history museum focused on the effects of post WWII, and a neighbouring garden – assuming weather permits. It is at this point that I discover that the Prunes I carefully put in the refrigerator have disappeared. I’m shocked. Who would steal Prunes.

Turns out that the cleaning lady, as part of her duties, cleans the kitchen. And since the guest in 201 had checked out that morning, and despite her knowing that we’d already arrived – she assumed that my prunes were left overs and removed them. I’m disappointed of course – but what can I do. They are well and truly gone.

I’m definitely going to have to buy more veggies.

Our cash expenses for day, mostly for food – and a bit for travel are almost 40,000 Yen – that’s $40 Canadian – and right at the tippy top of our budget. There’s enough food left for maybe one meal – but we are going to have to find a way to get food for less. But that is a struggle for another day.

Tonight we climb the steep staircase to our traditional room – 2 futons with comforters and not much else. One of the German gentlemen carries both of our bags up the stairs in one go.. (sigh – to be young and strong) – so at least we are saved that challenge.

Tomorrow is another day.

Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler

6 thoughts on “Finding Cheap Food in Tokyo isn’t simple

  1. If you find that 840 yen is expensive maybe you haven’t researched the cost of living in Japan before going 🤣. Yakitori is not the cheapest option there you could try ramen or gyudon ( beef over rice) at Yoshinoya that’s around 300/400 yen. All the veggies are going to be more expensive. Supermarkets have reduced price in the evening on a lot of food even sushi.

    • We shall definitely check out the grocery stores in the evenings – it makes sense that prices would go down. Last night we cooked fresh Udon Noodles – yummy, filling, and much less expensive. And best of all – the tea was free! And today – May 1 – many of the museums are free in honour of the new Emperor’s Ascension to the Throne. We are checking out the MMAT Craft Gallery for sure.

  2. You can probably find prunes in one of those big supermarkets Les. This was a GREAT read. Your home away from home sounds lovely. I read your museum blog first by mistake. Fascinating.

    • We actually locate prunes – The Intrepid Traveler spotted them in a tiny 24 hour shop – so that problem is at least addressed if not yet solved.

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