Keepin' it Kechi

The zokugo dictionary defines kechi as:

1. Avoiding the use of money and goods 
2. Being poor, trifling, and foolish
3. Fussy, plebeian, narrow-minded
4. A bad omen; unlucky

I've been called a lot of things in my life, but one that I never considered a putdown in Japan is kechi, or "cheapskate." People tend to use the word with vitriol but I look at it like this: hunting for bargains is all about finding value. If you're not a doctor, lawyer, SAP consultant or some other douchebag richer than me and you have a lot of interests (beer, etc.), you have to make the most with a small purse. It takes skill and imagination to make the most of your time in a place like Tokyo. Truth is, I've been consistently bordering on broke all my adult life. Can you be a cheapskate and broke at the same time?

I work in Ginza and live in Asakusa and consider myself the east-side Tokyo connoisseur, so I'll be reporting mostly on this side of town. My philosophy has always been the cheaper the better, so let me kick things off by introducing some of the rare wan-coin (500 yen or less) lunch options in one of the most expensive areas in the most expensive city in the world.

Chuo Ward City Hall (中央区役所) 11th floor employee cafeteria

Although it's an employee cafeteria, anyone can get into this one. Menu varies but regulars include ramen (400-500 yen), curry rice (350 yen), tonkatsu (600 yen) and some other teishoku sets (550-650 yen). Enjoy a panoramic view of Tokyo bay and Odaiba and a huge selection of vending machine drinks in this oasis of fashion (be prepared to be surrounded by oyaji bureaucrats). Whatever you do, avoid the fried rice. Unless you like the taste of cat food.

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  1. How did you find that place?! Awesome idea though, I must say.

  2. I think in general most public edifices like city halls and bigger libraries have 食堂 (shokudo or cafeteria/canteen type joints) in them.

  3. I work right nearby. There's also a basement tax office cafeteria around the corner with a cheap menu and a tv for a chill lunch atmosphere surrounded by bureaucrats.