The meal prices in Japan vary greatly depending on the type of restaurant, its location and what diners choose to order. Due to Japan having the ability of being an incredibly expensive place to visit, it is important that travellers take note of meal prices in order to keep a decent hold over the budget.
The most expensive meals will be provided at the Europeanised establishments including restaurants located in hotels or brand-name store malls. On the other hand restaurants that look extremely traditional, but in the upper class sense are often equally as expensive.
Those travelling on a budget or looking for more should visit the smaller, family owned eating locations which serve up extremely good food at only a fraction of the cost. These can be spotted easily as there are often plastic models of the meals displayed in front of the store, the hanging red lanterns and chalkboards with prices displayed are also good signs.
These smaller establishments will often specialise in one particular dish or ingredient cooked in a specific way, making them almost unbeatable in style and technique, therefore the state of the food is of little worry as it is unlikely visitors will be served meals of inferior quality in taste or portion size from the larger chain restaurants.
Another trick to remember when trying to avoid paying top Yen for meals is for travellers to try and have their main meal during lunch rather than dinner. Taking care to avoid the noon and one o’clock rush hour, diners can partake in tasty but much cheaper dishes at lunch than they would be able to at dinner.
Where to Find Restaurants in Japan
Restaurants can often be found on the top floors of department stores, malls or large office blocks. Train stations as well as other shopping locations are also well equipped with places to eat.
There are also many street vendors with tiny food stalls with only two or three seats available for people at one time. These are good places to visit for those who have had too much contact with popular Japanese alcoholic beverages.
Japanese Restaurant Etiquette
Upon entry to a restaurant, diners will be greeted immediately with a shout of “Irrashaimase” meaning welcome, a response is usually unnecessary with a polite nod or smile sufficing nicely. Those who wish to be adventurous can give a greeting in response such as “konnichiwa” meaning good afternoon or “konbanwa” meaning good evening.
Waitresses will usually be available on hand to handle seating arrangements, leading diners to their table almost immediately.
Most restaurants will have western style chairs and tables, though some will have lower tables and provide on which to sit on the floor. A few restaurants will have a mixed seating with a traditional side and western side.
How to Order in Japanese Restaurants
The available plastic models usually present at the front of the store usually provides the simplest way to order, tourists unfamiliar with the Japanese language may simply decide upon the look of a dish and can then easily point it out to the waitress. Another simple way is to order is to choose a set meal. These are called teishoku and are often of good value, containing rice, miso soup a main dish and tea.
The bill is brought to the table as the meal is received or after diners finish eating. Diners in Japan are never expected to leave a tip. Instead, diners can say “gouchisousama deshita” meaning thank you for the meal.
Shop, Dine, Drink in Tokyo
The central Tokyo district of Roppongi has an infamous reputation. Most people know it as the nightlife and ex-pat area, where you can rub elbows with American military guys, Russian exotic dancers and European tourists in a lurid netherworld of sleazy pick up joints, strip clubs, and the like. But tourists to Tokyo may be misled by their guidebooks and talk of Roppongi’s shady past.
Shop in Style
Lately Roppongi’s reputation has started to become rehabilitated. With the opening of Roppongi Hills (the ultra modern shopping complex complete with a multitude of shops, a cinema, art museum, restaurants, bars, and a hotel) and more recently Tokyo Midtown (another shopping complex that is the new ‘it’ spot with Tokyo’s in-crowd), Roppongi is emerging as a fashionable and dynamic place to be.
Nowadays Roppongi’s offerings are as diverse as its residents (it being one of the few vaguely multi-cultural areas of Japan). One can find designer shops to 100 yen (about .90 USD) stores. You can see world famous artwork or go to a strip club. There are traditional Japanese experiences like onsen (hot springs) and manju (Japanese pastries) shops to the ubiquitous drinking and karaoke joints catering to foreign clientele.
Dining for All Tastes
But where Roppongi really stands out is in terms of its dining options. Perhaps nowhere else in Japan can you find the range of cuisines available. It would be impossible to list them all. You can find traditional soba (buckwheat noodle) restaurants, izakaya (Japanese pubs), and fine Japanese cuisine for those with a big budget. You can also splurge on fine dining options ranging from French to Indian. In fact, just about any nationality is represented, from a cute Swedish bistro to Mexican, Thai, British pub food and a wide range of American chain restaurants (McDonalds, Subway, TGI Fridays, Wolfgang Puck and Outback) for those wanting a taste of comfort food.
So, visitors to Tokyo definitely should not overlook Roppongi. While the sleaze is still in your face and off-putting at times, it truly is something special. And in an increasingly globalizing world, it is perhaps the new face of Tokyo. So when tourists have finished seeing the temples, watching an hour of kabuki, going to museums, or strolling through a Japanese garden, it would be amiss not to at least get a taste for what may be the city’s future.
How to Find It
Take the Hibya or Oedo Tokyo Metro lines and get off at Roppongi station. Tokyo Midtown and Roppongi Hills both have their own exits (follow the yellow signs, the majority are in English). For the main drag, exit at Roppongi crossing. Then just start wandering toward the lights and people. You’re bound to stumble on something interesting.