As food prices continue to increase, Japanese office workers are choosing inexpensive lunch options.

Estimated read time 3 min read

Is it feasible to spend only ¥500 (£2.60) per day on lunch in Tokyo, even with a vast selection of restaurants, including many with Michelin stars? Or will it result in eating the same simple meal every day?

According to office workers in Tokyo who are struggling with finances, the answer is a definite yes.

For the past 20 years, Japan has been stuck in a cycle of decreasing prices. However, due to the conflict in Ukraine, supply chain problems, and the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 crisis, Japan is now facing increasing prices. Although it has not experienced the extreme inflation seen in other major economies, households have still had to adjust their spending habits.

This results in tighter financial situations for countless sarariman – men who work in offices and often have lunch near their workplace, possibly reserving a large portion of their monthly budget for mandatory post-work drinks with coworkers.

In 2021, there was a noticeable gasp as the cost of imported beef rose, causing the popular gyudon beef bowl chain Yoshinoya to increase the price of their regular-sized dish. This was the first time in seven years that the price had been raised, and it is a common meal for salarymen.

However, even with the current increase in prices, the dish is still available for a low cost of ¥468.

Due to the ongoing cost of living crisis in the world’s third largest economy, where over 30,000 food products have experienced price increases in the past year, it comes as no surprise that budgeting is a top priority for many salaried employees during lunchtime.

According to a study conducted by Lendex, a social lending company in Tokyo, almost 50% of working men between the ages of 20 and 50 reported spending less than ¥500 per day on lunch. This included individuals who brought their own bento box from home, as well as a significant portion (22.6%) who opted for a “one-coin lunch” as a budget-friendly option for the afternoon.

Salarymen in Japan eating a bowl of noodles.

A recent study conducted by Edenred’s Japan division, a payment services company, revealed that approximately 40% of both male and female employees have reduced their lunch spending, with nearly 70% admitting to giving up their preferred meals in order to cut costs.

To display unity, the Guardian explored the roads in a specific area of the city for one week, with the goal of dining at a new restaurant each day. They purposely avoided grocery store delis and convenience stores, which are often frequented by those looking for a quick lunch option.

The dishes did not include much fruit and vegetables, but they were still satisfying and had good value for money. They consisted of gyudon, a gyoza set lunch, ramen, soba noodles, and a Japanese curry.

Everyone met the requirement of being under ¥500, even when accounting for the 10% consumption tax. They were kind enough to satisfy even the most enthusiastic eaters, myself included, until dinner.


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