Traveling is always fun and exciting, but amongst the days of planes, trains and automobiles, one of the hardest parts of travel can be the simple act of finding your next meal. Because you don’t always know when you can fit in that caloric intake, it can leave you more tired and stressed than you need to be while you get to your next destination. This is especially true in a country like Japan, where you are burning even more energy just trying to translate what is going on around you. In this article, we’re going to explore some fun and easy options to chow-down on the go in the land of the rising sun.
Firstly, and most importantly, if you take nothing else from this article I want you to remember this; the convenience store is your best friend! I come from Canada, where convenience stores are usually anything but. Prices are too high and the food is quite trashy, and likely leaves you feeling worse than when you walked in. In Japan, however, the convenience store is a haven of balance. You can find carb heavy foods, comfort foods and also relatively healthy meals and all for very reasonable prices. I challenge you to feed yourself in a Lawson or Family Mart for a mere 500 yen, and guarantee that it won’t be as difficult as you might think.
The number one Japanese food for the busy traveler is a classic for locals and visitors alike… the onigiri. These compact rice balls give you the calories you need and come in a variety of tasty flavors while allowing you to munch on something that is culturally unique. You can even play a game where you buy a new flavor every day and don’t read the English translations underneath the Japanese. Depending on how far across the country your journey takes you, you can even find delicious, region specific onigiri.
I travelled from Tokyo to Okinawa this past April, and when I landed in Naha, one of the first things in noticed in the airport Lawson was a pork and omelet onigiri featuring andasu. Andasu, as I learned, is slow roasted pork and miso. This is most certainly an Okinawa exclusive and not something I can find in the Kanto region!
One thing that is an absolute must try while you are in Japan is all the yummy green tea snacks that are available. This is especially true if your travels include Kyoto, where matcha green tea originated from. Of course, there are oodles of places you can buy these treats ranging from both the pricier, sit down establishments, all the way back to our favorite and most convenient of stores. If you find yourself in a Family Mart, their matcha cookies with white chocolate chips are always a delight.
Similarly, if you feel yourself wanting to remain in the realm of traditional Japanese sweets while on the go, you can pair your green snacks with dango, which are balls of mochi (sticky) rice on a stick. These two snacks go hand in hand like spring and cherry blossoms.
Speaking of foods on a stick, I don’t think there is a country that executes this concept better than Japan does. This country is a big advocate of meat on a stick. Although you can grab an America dog (also known as corndogs) or a karaage fried chicken from the store, the delicacies that are available on a stick at shrines, temples and festivals are plentiful. The lists go from decadent beef or pork belly on a stick, to squid, crab or corn.
This way of presenting food makes it ideal for taking in the sights of shrines and temples, consuming it quickly and having easy access to the coveted and hard to find garbage can. The food is grilled, sauced and salted to perfection and always calls to my mind the cultural attractions visited while sampling these goodies. That being said, please be aware that these foods should not be eaten close to the shrines and temples themselves, and usually have a separate area to enjoy them. This limits littering on the sacred grounds.
Something that I think many people overlook when they come to Japan is fast food chains that we have in North America and Europe as well. Though they are certainly not the healthiest of options, taking in some comfort food can power you through on the last legs of a long travel day. While I was on a road trip through Kansai during Golden Week of this year, I loved showing my friend from Canada all the different foods one could enjoy at a Japanese McDonald’s and Wendy’s (though especially McDonald’s!).
At the McDonald’s I had my personal favorite, the filet of shrimp (which is much more delicious than it sounds!) and he enjoyed the garlic burger. It’s a huge bonus if they are featuring one of their numerous limited edition options, which can be anything from chocolate covered fries or a tamari and egg burger specially made for cherry blossom season.At Wendy’s my friend decided to try a wild rock burger, which featured two burger patties as the buns. That one isn’t for me, but he truly enjoyed it. Because of all the different cultural choices at these restaurants that are not available where you come from, don’t discount them on your trips.
Japan is a cornucopia of wonderful snacks to try, and because of the culture’s love of convenience, many can be eaten easily on the go. Still, I recommend trying as many snacks and foods as possible while you are here. The foods and tastes available to you are half of the fun of being in a new place and are especially fun to post on Instagram!