At the onset of a vacation, it might be fun to indulge at fancy restaurants and on little shopping splurges. But after a few days, when the sparkle starts to wear off and you begin to feel it in your wallet, it’s nice to have some affordable options at the ready.
You don’t have to spend exorbitant amounts of money in order to enjoy travel in Japan, and there’s no better way to save than to look at how the locals are doing it! The skill of being thrifty, known as setsuyaku (節約) is an art here, especially in cities like Tokyo where the cost of living is high. So we’ve put together a list of money saving tips from locals so that you can borrow some ideas for your next stay in Japan!
1. Time Sales and Nightly Discounts at the Supermarket
Food can be one of the most expensive parts of traveling. When you’re on the go, in addition to the costs of meals, things like bottled drinks, and stopping for coffee when you need a place to rest, have a way of eating into your budget. You might notice if you step into the supermarket later in the night, that all the prepared foods have been peppered with little red stickers. In Japanese supermarkets, after the dinner time shopping rush, all the prepared foods and bakery items go on sale. This includes sushi and sashimi, stewed dishes, fried foods, bread, salads and steamed rice. Too good to be true right? A big part of this is that going to the supermarket almost every day to pick up fresh food is still something most people do, and most of the time, those sale prepared foods will be sold out by the end of the night. Especially good for those touring around until late, the discounts increase with every passing hour!
We monitored one of our local grocery stores, and found the following timeline for discounts (store close time 10:30pm).
For first time visitors, the labelling system might be sort of confusing. Most supermarkets will mark sale items using stickers with the character, 割 read as wari, which indicates a 10% discount. So if an item has a sticker that says 1割, this means 10% off, 2割, 20% off, etc.
There is also a special stickers to indicate half off, 半額 or hangaku.
Supermarkets will also run specials called timesales, where a specific item will be on sale for maybe an hour or so. Timesales are great for purchasing things like fruit which can be too expensive at full price.
If you’re staying in Japan for a couple weeks or more and want to find ways to reduce your food budget, this is our number 1 tip as the saving will truly add up!
2. One Coin Meals
Alright, so we’re on a roll here with food, but hey, everyone has to eat. After a few days of being out and about in Japan, you might notice that your pockets are FULL OF CHANGE. Don’t underestimate the value of those heavy pockets! The smallest Japanese bills you’ll find come in denominations of 1,000JPY, approximately 9 USD. This means that in that pocket you’ll probably have a good handful of 100JPY and 500JPY coins.
The One Coin Lunch (ワンコインランチ) helps you put that loose change to work. At 500円, the idea of the one coin lunch, as you can guess from the name, is that you can enjoy your meal for the cost of a single coin. One Coin Lunch can be found in places with high concentrations of students, such as the Waseda/Takadanobaba area, and in areas with lots of office complexes, like Marunouchi, and the other neighborhoods surrounding Tokyo Station. Just because the food is inexpensive, doesn’t mean it doesn’t taste good! As with all food in Tokyo, quality is important to locals. To find One Coin Lunch in your area, a simple Google search that includes the neighborhood you plan to be in should give you options.
Here’s an example of one of our favorites. Located in the Nihonbashi area is a unique eatery called Alohiddin. Alohiddin serves up a unique array of central asian fare, offering Uzbek, Turkish and Russian dishes. Alohiddin offers a range of lunch specials, but their daily curry dish comes in at the one coin price of 500 JPY. Take a look at the photo below, can you believe it only cost 500 yen?!
3. Movie Theatre Discount Days
Catching a flick on the big screen in Japan is notoriously expensive, with General Admission for adults costing on average 1800 JPY. This is why locals love the discount days, where seeing a movie can be as little as 1,000 JPY! Each movie theater chain/individual theater will have its own schedule for discounts.There are often ‘Ladies’ Days’ ‘Couple Days’ and general ‘Discount Days’ for everyone. Maybe seeing movies aren’t at the top of your list for when you’re travelling, but say you have an unexpected day or rain and your outdoor plans are cancelled, it’s a good back up to have (especially if you have kiddos). You can find plenty of English language films imported from abroad (they’ll most likely have Japanese subtitles). Toho Cinemas’ Roppongi Hills Branch has one of the widest selections of films in English. For a more comprehensive list, check out our article on discount days for theaters in the Shinjuku/Shibuya area for details!
4. Free Time at Karaoke
And who plans to come to Japan without going to karaoke at least once?
‘Free Time’ at Karaoke is a special package deal where customers prepay for a block of time for a discounted rate. Free time usually begins in the evening, allowing customers to sing into the wee hours of the early morning at a greatly discounted fee and includes full access to the soft drink bar so you can make sure to stay hydrated as you sing along. Loved by students and a popular activity for a lot of company get togethers, Free Time usually costs between 1,000 and 2,000 JPY We’ve assembled a grand list of the major karaoke chains in Tokyo and a sample of free time prices to get you started.
5. LINE Friends Discount
Messaging and Data phone apps are quickly replacing traditional messaging and telephone calls, and in Japan, by far, the most popular messaging App is LINE, known for its set of interesting characters made specifically for the App. The App has tons of interesting features, including moving stickers, photo editing, and the ability to send video and sound blips. But another reason people here love the LINE App, is for the discounts you can get by adding companies as your LINE friends. After you add corporate LINE friends, you’ll be able to receive messages from them (which can be bothersome for people who don’t want to be constantly checking). But often, those messages will include special limited time discounts! For example, by adding the popular drugstore brand Matsumoto Kiyoshi, you will regularly coupons for 10% off most store items (usually excluding food items or certain high end cosmetic brands).
This is a great way to save when picking up the health and beauty products that friends or family have requested! With 10% coupons, use this in combination with your tax free status to increase your discount! Simply bring your phone to the register, and your QR code will be scanned to apply the discount. The great thing about the Matsumoto Kiyoshi coupons, is that they are not one-time-use, rather they have valid periods of approximately 1 week. So say you need to double check about an item before buying it, or a few things are out of stock during your first trip, you still have a chance to make use of the discount!
So what do you think? For those who have visited or lived in Japan, how did you setsuyaku?