Stocking up on cheap vegan staple foods in Japan is the key to saving your wallet and maintaining a healthy diet. Eating out in Japan as a vegan can be a bit of a struggle if you’re not living in a bigger city with dedicated vegan restaurants and also can quickly add up to become quiet expensive as most vegan restaurant will charge anywhere from 1000 yen for a main dish.
Keep in mind that the word “cheap” is unfortunately a relative term here. Food will be more expensive than you’re used to but there are still many ways you can cut costs.
What is there to find in Japanese supermarkets? I’ll tell you!
Grains & Beans
Rice is not as cheap as you might think. The reason being is that Japan has very high import taxes and tries to protect its domestic rice market from foreign products. Nevertheless buying rice in bulk will make it way more affordable. You can get bigger bags anywhere from 2kg to 10kg.
The more the cheaper also goes for oats, one of my most essential breakfast ingredients. Skip the tiny and expensive bags in regular supermarkets and head straight to Costco or Gyomu to get a good deal on a bigger bag.
If you look good enough you can also find canned beans for under 100 yen each. This is basically what I live off and always stock up. Gyomu Super sells anything from chickpeas, kidney beans or white beans and is one of my favourite places to shop as written below.
Italian pasta varieties are often quite affordable and same goes for their Japanese relatives. The closest to Italian spaghetti might be Japanese soba which is which is a thin noodle and eaten al dente. It is made from wheat flour and buckwheat flour. Udon is another Japanese noodle that is thicker and what I can only describe as “slimier” than soba. It mainly consists of wheat flour so it might not be the most healthiest option but still worth mentioning here. All of these products can be bought in bulk. I recommend staying away from ramen as usually egg is a part of the dough.
Be prepared: Fruit and veggies are expensive but we still have to eat and get some vitamins, right? I find things like Japanese spinach (called 小松菜 komatsuna), sweet potato or eggplants reasonable. Other than that, cabbage or mushrooms are affordable and sticking to seasonal vegetables can also often be a good deal such as pumpkin in autumn.
I often go for frozen veggies from wholesale stores as you can buy in bulk and don’t have to worry about things going back. This is how I afford to cook with broccoli or bell pepper if I can’t find a good deal for fresh ones.
Unless it is bananas – which are still quite reasonable priced here – fruit can be very expensive. I try to stick to seasonal food like delicious persimmons or mandarines in winter or refreshing watermelon in the summer. Other than that, frozen fruit is key if you can purchase it in bigger batches from wholesale stores (that’s how I afford some blueberry on my pancakes every now and then).
Tofu is everywhere and it is super cheap. No need to say more.
Even though Japan is a country of rice there is no affordable domestic rice milk. Yet, soy milk in any flavour (not all are vegan though) is available everywhere. You can also often find almond milk but it is around 400 yen per liter.
Where to shop
Regular supermarkets can be hell of a lot expensive, so one of the key steps to finding cheap food though is to shop around and find the best deals in your area.
I highly recommend finding your nearest wholesale supermarket such as Gyomu Super (業務スーパー) or Niku no Hanamasa (肉のハナマサ). Beware that the latter sells a lot of fresh meat – hence the term “meat” (niku) in its name – but it is still a good place to buy cheap veggies, fruit or canned goods.
Don Quijote is also a good start for buying cheap groceries. They don’t sell as much fresh food as regular supermarkets but you will still be able to find a good bargain here.
Especially in urban areas Lawson Store 100 could also be worth a visit. It is a subsidiary of the regular convenience store chain Lawson but cheaper and also selling a selection of fruit, vegetables and other food items.
Not as widespread as the other options and often requires a car to visit is Costco, a membership-based wholesale warehouse. They have a multiple stores all around Japan most of which in the Kanto area. The membership ranges from 3,850 yen for businesses to 4,400 yen for individual members. This might seem like a lot but if you regularly shop at Costco you will soon get your money’s worth.