A Guide to Cheap Eats in Tokyo and Kyoto Japan



While we were Japan for two weeks we saved money by eating cheaply everywhere we went. I can’t think of one meal I ate that was more than $15 dollars per person. Traveling to country that is quite expensive when it comes to transit and housing, we were surprised by how well we could eat without spending too much. The wonderful thing about Japanese food is that it is uniformly delicious in Japan, from 711 to the train station restaurants, everything I ate was fresh and prepared with care.

To be sure, there is a lot of wonderful food we didn’t eat. Perhaps next time (there has to be a next time!) we’ll dine with a famous sushi chef or have a traditional kaiseki style meal. But this time. we were both content to eat like cheap hungry locals looking for a deal.

My favorite cheap eats in Japan:


We bought onigiri from train stations, convenience stores, small mom and pop stands, and anywhere we saw their iconic rice and nori triangle shape calling to us. The Japanese don’t eat in public while on their spectacular transit system but it seemed like onigiri were an exception to this rule.

Each onigiri costs around a dollar and some change making it a fantastic deal. They were perfect to carry with you to a bench or a park, or to eat while on a train platform. We learned the character for salmon (鮭) to quickly be able to recognize the ones we liked the most. The best part was the genius packaging the nori came in so that you could unwrap it separately from the rice, meaning your little snack’s outer layer was neat and never soggy.

Conveyor Belt Sushi

It seems like a gimmick but it is the best gimmick because conveyor belt sushi is obviously cheap but very fresh. These places were pretty much a win-win for the adventurous tourist in Japan. Each piece was around a dollar and change. Add on a large Asahi beer and you’ve got yourself a filling meal.

We returned multiple times to Genki Sushi in Shibuya—though not exactly conveyor belt, it’s robotic meaning you order by the piece and it’s delivered to you like magic! We also ate a Musashi sushi in Kyoto multiple times too, they have several locations, which was a real conveyor belt sushi place. Everything was fresh and well prepared, better than fast sushi you’d get anywhere else in the United States.


Ramen is everywhere, just like I assumed. But ramen is too good to stop eating, even if you’re on you’re forth bowl during a trip to Japan. We stuck to the fast ramen places where you can quickly order by machine out front, just the kind in train stations meant for the business crowd having a meal before a long commute home.

The best ramen to me was found in the hard to locate but very popular strip of ramen restaurants called Tokyo Ramen Street in Tokyo Station. We returned twice to that hidden but popular strip of restaurants.

My favorite ramen at Tokyo Ramen Street was not traditional, though. It was full of vegetables, red pepper noodles, and a vegetarian broth. It was savory and interesting, topped with so many crispy garlic chips and a spicy tomato paste. Each bowl was around 9 dollars, enough to fill you up for lunch or dinner.


Grabbing a bento either at a restaurant during lunch time  or in the huge food mart depachikas in department stores, was a perfect way to try sushi, udon, tempura, or soba for less than dinner prices. Restaurants almost everywhere, especially in train stations, will have good deals for lunch bentos.

I was very impressed with the depechicka at Mitsukoshi in Ginza—-they even had a roof of lawn  you could lounge on with your food.

Just wandering a train station to find food turned out to be a culinary destination in itself, and almost every train station has something to eat in it.


A fun part of not speaking Japanese but still putting yourself out there was standing amongst the business men in Izakayas, informal pubs known for their red lanterns on the outside. Inside, you can get a mug of draft beer and lots of skewers of chicken, sauced or salted, for under 10 dollars.

Izakayas are also a nice way to experience night lifewithout having to commit to a bar or night club scene. We especially liked the well traveled Piss Alley in Shinjuku.

Street Vendors 

Whether you’re in Osaka or Tokyo’s Tsukiji market or Ueno park,  you can sample lots of Japanese fast cuisine by eating from street vendors. Look out for fresh green tea mochi with red bean paste inside (my favorite,) gyoza, yakitori, crab, okonomiyaki, takoyaki, tamago, grilled oysters, fresh sashimi, and different flavors of soft serve among much, much more.

We ate dishes from the street as often as we could. At the Tsukiji market in Tokyo we split sashimi eaten standing up with green tea to wash it down. It was devine, the best fish I’ve ever had so far for about 20 dollars.

Vending Machines

Every blog post, guidebook, and video I watched before traveling to Japan told me about Japanese vending machines existing everywhere. So despite being prepared I was still overwhelmed with adoration for their ubiquitous presence.

We made an effort to try them every day, multiple times a day. Besides wonderfully bizarre names (Calpis? hmmm) they featured great packaging and crazy selections to sample from every side street to train station to temple you’ve just walked a million steps up. All you need is a 100 or so yen most of the time. Salt and Fruit was my absolute favorite drink.

It was also convenient to have beer vending machines in both cities! We’d often save spending on alcohol at dinner and just grab an Asahi for our balcony at the Airbnbs we booked.

Honorable Mentions

711 and Family Mart convenience stores were my second homes. You can get cash out in their ATMs. They have coffee machines to supplement my exploration of vending machine can coffee. They’re also not like our American counterparts, meaning you can grab a fresh noodle bowl, onigiri, sushi, udon, or even a croissant instead of a bag of chips. Oh they also have pocky and Japanese candies!


Emily Pizza in Brooklyn



I could eat pizza everyday in New York City though I try not to for the sake of variety. In my quest pizza, I keep coming back to Emily in Clinton Hill though. They’ve got those artisan styled pizzas with great toppings, a kind of new-Brooklyn-style-pie. The Colony has honey on it which is fast becoming my favorite pizza addition.


919 Fulton St.
Brooklyn NY 11238


Hello from Japan



I’m in Kyoto right now with just a few more days left before we fly back. I’ve seen and eaten so many great things while in Japan, I can’t wait to write it all down in a trip guide blog post and to start sketching things I’ve been keeping visual notes on. I think a series of my sketchbook will be called What I Ate at Japanese 711. Surprise, everything is red bean flavored!

Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul at The New York Botanical Garden

A few weekends back to celebrate we made the trip from Brooklyn to the Bronx for the Frida Kahlo Casa Azul exhibit at The New York Botanical Gardens, a replica of the artist’s home in Mexico City.  I’ve always loved Frida Kahlo, a bad ass feminist artist, so it was a perfect time to travel to a part of New York City I’ve never explored. The exhibit was colorful and spirited, cementing my desire to make a trip to the real thing in Mexico City someday.

It was the first time I had even been to botanical gardens, too. I didn’t get to see enough of the grounds because of the August heat but I did get lost in the wooded area a bit, finding the Bronx River. I’ll definitely be back for the fall colors.

Afterwards, in that combination of summer humidity meets late afternoon hunger, we ate thin pizza and calamari on Arthur Ave at delicious classic Neopolitan  Zero Otto Nove. I need to venture back up to the Italian enclave of the Belmont section of the Bronx because many stores (naturally) were closed on Sunday when we made the adventure. Next time: Addeo and Sons!



New York City Neighborhoods Pattern

This week I finished a Skillshare class by my favorite New York City Illustrator Julia Rothman. I geeked out when I saw she was teaching a class almost immediately.

The project was to learn how to create a repeat hand drawn pattern, just by using paper, pen, and a copy machine. It was a utterly helpful look at how any repeat pattern works visually. I have a lot to learn but I’m glad I finished this class for the foundational principles it taught.

Now I want to print this out and color it in with crayons, like the good old days.




Exploring and Sketching Dead Horse Bay Brooklyn


A few weekends ago now I biked out to Dead Horse Bay for the first time. The delightfully gruesomely titled bay at the edge of Brooklyn and Queens gets its name from the former animal rendering plants that made up the area. Later, parts of the bay were used for landfill. When a cap of the landfill burst, the beach became littered with mid-century bottles, leather soles, horse bones, and pieces of ceramic tiles among remnants of industry.



It’s a sort of living testament to the detritus of late capitalism. That’s what makes it so interesting too, a gross at times interactive historical look at things sold and bought in the past century.

It’s also fascinating to observe how items were made before and how that tells a story about their survival. Plastic is almost altogether missing from the beach but glass is plentiful. The prescene of leather soles must be because rubber soles weren’t yet the standard, but I’m not positive why they survive.


I collected an assortment of small glass bottles, many medicinal looking, that I learned how to date based on markings on the bottom. If you’re looking for a bizarrely engrossing activity, look no further than dating vintage bottles. My special favorite is a small bottle that turns out is a glass baby doll bottle. Others come from as far as Illinois glass factories.


Another favorite find are cold cream jars that are milk glass white, many featuring interesting architectural details. Cold cream boomed in the later half of the 20th century as a must have cosmetic. The Ponds and Avon brands jar I collected are perfect for bathroom organizing and even making candles (like my very wonderfully industrious friend Katie taught me.)



Next time I’m going to bring a bigger bag to pack up even more of those 1940’s cold cream jars.


Go to Dead Horse Bay!
Hours: all year long.
Directions: take the 2 train and switch to the Q35, getting off before the Gil Hodges bridge.
Or ride your bike! The entrance is right before the bridge. 

Drawing Things Found in the Woods

Since spending the weekend in Honeoye New York in the Finger Lakes, I’ve been doodling and sketching the woods whenever I get a chance. Everything from my work notebook to my watercolor pads are covered in fern abstractions.

Living in Brooklyn, it’s easy to forgot how much I used to love just exploring the woods when I was a kid. Where we visit in the Finger Lakes there are thirty two acres of land up a hill, with walks over streams, stretches of bright florescent ferns, and tiny frogs waiting for you on the path. Just the past weekend there was a bear that wandered into the property.

Sketching the woods has also turned out to be a perfect time to start teaching myself pattern making based on my sketchbook. I found a glorious tutorial on Oh My! about pattern making in photoshop that I adopted to my hand drawings.

These above are my first tries—I’m sure I have so much more to go to improve this design process–but I’m in love with the idea of making fabric and paper prints based on a pattern I’ve drawn.

I’m going to start cataloging my designs on Spoonflower too, if you’re interested. Not sure I’m ready to sell fabric, but still interested in arranging everything as I get better.