Japan is one of the most dominant players in the world of food. From convenience stores to 3 Michelin Star restaurants, this country has it all. For this list, we're just focusing on the lower end—junk food. Make no mistake, nearly everything on this list, despite humble origins, low prices, and wide availability are delicious (except natto. Natto is not good).
Most of the items on this list should be easy to find in Japan in convenience stores or as street food but most of them are going to be fairly difficult to get outside of Japan itself. The list is largely divided between the convenience store food and the street food, but many items can be found in either setting. There are also higher-brow versions of many of these dishes, so if you're looking for something a little classier, then these food options would still be worth keeping in mind.
The last section of this list will focus on the Promised Land—Asian 7/11. Don't let any preconceptions you may have about the popular convenience store deter you from going into its counterpart from Japan. 7/11's are popular across nearly all Asian cities and can be found on nearly every block in Tokyo. Besides cheap prices and ease of access, the food is generally delicious.
It will definitely be worth keeping your mind open with some of these items. While chicken liver and tea flavored candy bars might not be instantly appealing, many of these items will take you by surprise with how great they actually are.
20 Melon Bread
Melon Bread, or Melon Pan, is a very common snack food available in most convenience stores in the country. The bread isn't actually melon-flavored, rather it just looks like a melon (the kind from Japan). It's really just a sweet, sugary, little bread loaf which is as delicious as it sounds. It tastes like a fluffy, chewy sugar cookie that's vaguely reminiscent of some French pastries but is unique to snack food. While the circular bread loaf shape is the most popular and recognizable, many other shapes and flavors have developed over the years. The plain sugared melon bread is easily the best though. Crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, Melon Bread is a classic snack food in Japan.
19 Those Awesome Crepes
There is a deep love connection between food found in Japan and French food, perhaps best exemplified by these Crepes. There are many French classics that have received a variation from Japan and the crepe is likely the most popular option. I have found these snacks everywhere from a food truck under Tokyo Tower to a small stand in Takayama. There are generally a wide variety of sweet and savory flavors, some including cheesecake slices or ice cream scoops inside of them. These crepes can essentially be filled with anything you can imagine, but my personal favorite is the simple strawberry and cream cheese—good for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
18 Sakura Mochi
Mochi has gained quite a bit of popularity in the U.S. in recent years (and for good reason), but Sakura season is something that can only be experienced in Japan. For a very brief period of a few weeks every spring, cherry blossoms bloom all over the country. During this time, you can find sakura flavored everything. There's even a sakura-flavored dipping sauce at McDonald's. Anyways, sakura mochi is made from sweet rice and generally filled with red bean paste, which is a sweet filling used in many desserts in Japan. The fancier, non-junk food version is usually prepared with a pickled cherry leaf as a garnish.
Almost a mix between melon bread and mochi, Taiyaki is a fish-shaped snack generally filled with red bean paste. This sweet pastry is a very popular food at festivals and can commonly be found as street food. The waffle-like batter used for the pastry makes it a very sweet snack that has become available throughout supermarkets and convenience stores across Japan. While red bean paste is the standard filling for this snack, there are a wide variety of fillings that can be found in Teriyaki. I'm not really sure why they are made in the shape of a fish, but that makes them one of the most easily recognizable snacks to come from Japan.
Yakitori are a common street food in Japan as well and, while it's not easy to find this specific dish outside of Japan, it wouldn't be particularly difficult to make. Essentially, it's just chicken bits skewered on a stick and thrown on a grill until a delicious golden brown. The catch with this dish is that it utilizes all parts of the chicken. There are the standard bits that you're likely familiar with, but you're also going to get some organs like the liver and heart.
Yakiton is the same in concept as Yakitori, but utilizing pork instead of chicken. I will stand firmly behind grilled chicken liver and heart, but the pork equivalents aren't quite my taste. The dish is very popular though and the grilled pork belly on a stick would give any other item on this list a run for its money as the tastiest junk food out of Japan. Oftentimes, these snacks will be glazed in a sweet sauce or served with miso paste on the side. This snack is definitely worth trying even if you don't love every bit of it.
14 Bento Boxes
One of the more popular snacks people from Japan have given to the world, the Bento Box is a practical and cute way to eat. These snack boxes are sold in convenience stores, in restaurants, and on trains. This way, you can have a full meal in one package. These usually consist of several compartments where you can put in different items, oftentimes sushi, salad, or tempura. Outside of some convenience store variations, bento boxes tend to be one of the healthier options on this list and probably wouldn't fit into the 'junk food' category as well as anything else on this list.
They can't all be winners. Natto is fermented soy beans, left in their goo, often served with breakfast on their own or over rice. The sticky, rotten snack also happens to be my least favorite snack option out of Japan. The flavor is awful and the texture is... definitely interesting. The soy beans are so soft that they'll quickly disintegrate in your mouth and leave you with the taste of their sticky goo for several minutes afterwards. Some people swear by them. Some people absolutely love them and eat them every single day. I am not one of those people.
Ramune is a soda brand from Japan with a variety of fruity flavors. This one isn't that particularly difficult to find in the United States. Many restaurants and most Asia-marts across the country are likely to carry this extremely popular soft drink. The iconic shape of the bottle actually has a very practical purpose. The bottleneck (I think that's the first time I've used that term literally) in the top holds up a little glass ball that you need to push through with a little plastic wedge that's in the top of the bottle. It's a little confusing at first but you'll have more fun opening this soda than you will drinking most of its counterparts.
11 Futatsu No Shokkan Soda
This one might be a bit of a tough sell. I get that. But, before I tell you what it is, I can guarantee that it is delicious. If you've ever dreamed of having soda with Jell-O inside, then I'm here to tell you that your dreams have come true. You shake the can before you open it, but just make sure you do the lid-tap trick before popping it open. Inside is a delicious soda—one of about half a dozen flavors—and a variety of different types of jelly. Some are carbonated, some are thicker, and some are just little slivers of jolly jelliness. The mix of textures is a unique experience and one that, despite how it might sound, is definitely worth trying if you ever get your hands on it.
10 Green Tea KitKat
If you're allergic to chocolate like me, then Green Tea KitKats are a blessing in a little green package. There are many variants of popular global snack brands that are only available in Japan, but this might be the best one. The green tea flavor is fairly sweet but has the signature floral qualities of good matcha tea that somehow pairs perfectly with the crunchy center of the KitKat. For a 'chocolate' bar, these KitKat bars are oddly light and refreshing. I have found them in the U.S. before but, other than Asia-marts, this might be a tough snack to find outside of Japan.
Okonomiyaki is my favorite food in the world. It's also extremely difficult to find outside of Japan. Okonomiyaki is, essentially, a cabbage pancake. The cabbage is chopped thinly—almost into strings—and mixed into a fresh batter topped with some sort of meat (generally pork or seafood), thrown on a grill and topped with okonomiyaki sauce, mayo, shredded daikon, and some parsley. The dish is from Hiroshima and this one pictured here is from a restaurant called Ekimae Hiroba in the city. While there isn't really a convenience store version of this dish, it's definitely not the healthiest of options and something that is nearly impossible to find in the U.S. If you know a place, please comment and let me know. Please.
8 Conveyor Belt Sushi
The most fun and communal junk food on this list is the world-famous conveyor belt sushi. This is exactly what it sounds like—colorful plates of sushi are placed on a conveyor belt that curves across the entire restaurant. While not of the same quality as traditional sushi in Japan, the quality of the fish and rice is still as good if not better than the best available in the United States. You take a seat at the bar where you can either place an order with the sushi chef or a server or you can just take plates off the conveyor belt that look good. You collect all of the plates and, when you're done with your meal, bring the plates which are color-coordinated to your server. It's a unique dining experience and a cheaper alternative to the often-times pricey sit-down sushi restaurants in the country.
7 Crab Legs
Crab legs are a common festival food in Japan and far cheaper than what you might be used to for a similar meal outside of Japan. These legs are huge and placed on a grill with some butter for a hot minute before you get to eat them off of a stick like a corn dog. A single leg cost me about $4 and was a great sweet and savory snack. I don't know what state fairs are like on the coasts, but in Indiana, we definitely don't have these with our deep-fried butter and jumbo corn on the cob.
Takoyaki is another popular festival food in Japan that will be extremely difficult to find outside of the country. These pastry balls are filled with octopus pieces, deep fried and covered in their kind of mayo (generally sweeter than standard mayo), Aomori (dried green seaweed), takoyaki sauce (a sweet, salty, and rich sauce), and katsuobushi. Katsuobushi is dried tuna flakes and are used on takoyaki because the heat waves from the food cause the super thin flakes to make wave-like motions. It's super cool to see. This dish can be found at any street fair but can often be found in convenience stores as well.
5 Instant Ramen
Kicking off what I'll call the '7/11' section of this list is instant ramen. Most people know what ramen is and are probably most familiar with the instant variety. Of course, there are far more brands and flavors in Japan as well as nicer, actual ramen dishes, but we'll stick with the microwavable kind for now. The best part about 7/11 is that the shopkeeper will offer to microwave any food that you get in the shop so you can walk out with a nice, hot cup of ramen. This is a very cheap, delicious, and likely familiar junk food for you to try.
I get it. Fried chicken is sacred in large swaths of the United States—especially in the South. But as far as cheap, junky fried chicken goes, Japan has the rest of the world beat by a long shot. Katsu is best served as cutlets, which are thinly sliced slices and served with some sort of sauce (I prefer mayo or a sweeter sauce). The 7/11 variants are pre-cooked and sit under a heat lamp generally on the front counter. For your money, this junk food provides the most flavorful bang for your buck. This is one of the best examples of the excellence that is the Asian 7/11.
Katsu is also frequently served with curry. This variation is significantly different than its Thai or Indian counterparts more closely resembling a gravy than what you might associate with curry. This dish can be found in most convenience stores in a plastic-wrapped package and are generally one of the least healthy options you can find. The rich sauce pairs ridiculously well with just about anything though, allowing for several variations on it. It can come with cats as well as rice, eggs, or tempura. This popular dish hasn't really made it out of Asia, but can easily be found in most East Asian countries.
The undisputed champ of junk food is 7/11 Onigiri (or if you're Brock from Pokémon, you can call them donuts). These triangular rice snacks are generally filled with something that I can guarantee is delicious, even if it doesn't sound like it (salmon and mayo is my personal favorite) and wrapped in nori (dried seaweed). Pulling out the plastic wrapper from underneath the nori is deeply satisfying and a sure sign that you're about to have one of the best snacks in the world. 7/11's in Japan are some of the most glorious restaurants in the world and this is the primary reason why.
1 7/11 Sandwiches
Delicious and Fresh is right. While they might not look like much, these sandwiches are packed full of flavor. The white bread is prepared without crust and generally made with a type of meat or egg and some sauce or vegetable. The egg salad sandwich is great (even though I don't normally like egg salad) as well as the chicken katsu. These snacks are also a very cheap option at around $2 or $3—100 yen is about a dollar. If you need a cheap, delicious, and filling option while in Japan, then this sandwich is probably your best bet.