How to Eat on the Cheap[MAMA AMIA! Surviving Japan]

ママ・アミアSurvivingJapan LIFESTYLE

A message of all foreigners living in Japan: From Mama Amia
A survival column to you in Japan–those working so hard, trying, sometimes succeeding and other times not–words of encouragement along with a strict “buck up” from your home-away-from-home mother-figure. Mama Amia shares everything from mental health survival tips to how to take out the trash. Come back to this column regularly for your virtual check-up. (Japanese readers welcome as well!) Today She is talking about “How to Eat on the Cheap.”

How to Eat on the Cheap

Life in Tokyo is like life everywhere. You will have good days and bad. The older you become, the more normal this becomes. That’s just how it goes. The problem with this fact is that bad days in Tokyo–bad days as in I’m-running-out-of-money days–for a city this expensive is a bigger problem.

Fear not. There are ways to get through this.

Whether you cook or not, whether you have a kitchen or not, there are plenty of places to shop where you can get food for a 300yen (plus) meal. The answer is Lawson 100.

Lawson 100 is a 100-yen shop that sells food. It has everything from carrots and potatoes (in bags) to bananas, milk, tofu, and bread. It has mustard, nori, and stationery (don’t eat that), and for those who want it, a selection of alcohol. I should point out here not all alcoholic drinks are 100 yen. Fair warning.

If you cook, a bag of carrots, an apple, a bag of salad greens, packets of pre-cooked rice, and a liter of tea will run you 500 yen (plus tax) and should be a decent meal. The carrots, unless you eat all of them at once, can be left over for a snack or part of your lunch. Same for the tea. And rice. If you don’t cook, onigiri, bananas, yogurt, tomatoes, and spinach should make for a healthy (don’t roll your eyes at this) and again, cheap meal.

I realize 500 yen per meal three times a day still adds up. My point is, whether you want to prepare your own food or whether you need/want pre-cooked food, it’s out there. Do a quick Google search and plenty of these Lawson 100 stores pop up.

I know of these stores because they saved me for about nine months. There was a time when I was focused on volunteer work and had blown through my savings, living off the goodwill of others who would feed me. There came a point where it became too much even for me to continue asking to be taken out. I was embarrassed, and I wanted breakfast. (It’s hard to wake people up at 8am to say, “Can we go out for food?”) These stores, I’ll admit now, I found them by accident. Once I did though, this is where I stocked up, and this is how I ate, alternating between salads, fruit, bacon, and breakfast that consisted of milk and cheese. In hindsight, it’s not embarrassing. Life in Tokyo is expensive. Food is expensive. This is the land of mangoes that sell for 300,000 yen afterall.

Eating healthily is a thing you’ll regret not doing later if you are sloppy about it now. Your body needs nourishment. It needs sustenance. Good food is key for sharpness. You’re young now, I know. You think 50 is ancient. (It’s not.) Eating well now will mean you’re that much happier later as well as now.

Be smart. Be creative. Eat well. It matters.

ママ・アミア(MAMA AMIA)

別名「Pie Queen」。ハードなボランティア活動で心が疲弊していたある日、故郷の食べ物——バターと砂糖が焼けるパイの香りに癒やされることに気づき、パイの販売を始める。2019年より「ママ・アミア」の名で活動開始。日本在住外国人のママとして元気を発信中。相撲が大好き。

Food consultant/Talent. American born and raised in Japan. Returned to the US at age 18 for university, and continued on as an interpreter and US-Japan consultant. Came back to Japan in 2011 to volunteer in the aftermath of the Tohoku disaster and stayed on in Rikuzentakata (Iwate Prefecture) for seven years. Raised funds, liaised with major international media outlets for coverage of the city and region. One of the primary sources of information on the disaster region for foreigners. Recognized and awared by the Governor of Iwate in 2014 and the Consul General of the Japanese Consulate of San Francisco in 2018 for the work and dedication to promoting awareness. Also known as the PieQueen. Found the scent of baked goods was both food for the soul as well as emotionally therapeutic, she began a business selling American-style pies. Working as Mama Amia as of 2019 promoting cooking and baking using traditional Japanese ingredients and offering advice to foreigners in Japan as "your mother in Tokyo". Big fan of sumo.