Bargain Breakfasts: Morning Sets to Make Your Day

Carey Finn

There are many reasons to get up early in Tokyo. For a start, it takes time to see and do all the things. It also opens up the wonderful world of “morning sets”—budget-friendly meals that fill up the tank for the day’s exploration. For under ¥500, you can score a decent cup of joe and plate of food to boot. Here’s what you need to know about this hack for breakfast in Tokyo.

breakfast in tokyo
Photo by Graham Stanley used under CC

What’s a morning set?

This Japanese staple is a thing of beauty. A morning set or morning service—known as モーニングセット or モーニングサービス in the vernac—is a simple breakfast menu of coffee (often with the option of substituting in another drink) and a light meal. This is usually a Western-style arrangement of eggs, bacon/ham, salad (always included, when in Rome…) and a slab of toast with butter and jam. Sometimes you get hot dogs. You can also find Japanese-style sets of grilled fish, rice and pickles, though these aren’t common at coffee shops.

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breakfast in tokyo
Photo by Carey Finn

The idea behind morning sets is that you can start the next 24-hour cycle of your life with a substantial but economical meal. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and in Japan it happens to be the cheapest. Morning sets cost in the region of ¥280¥700, with the average around the “one-coin” figure of ¥500. Considering that a single cup of coffee costs the same, this is incredible value for money, and a handy workaround when your accommodation comes without breakfast included.

Morning sets are available for only a short window each day; this is typically between 7 or 8am and 10 or 11am. At 24-hour restaurants like Matsuya, though, the magic can begin as early as 5am.

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tokyo breakfast
Photo by Carey Finn

Breakfast in Tokyo: Where can I find a morning set?

While we can only hope this changes someday, the humble morning set cannot be found at all eateries in Japan. Giant coffee chains like Starbucks generally don’t offer it, nor do fancy restaurants and hotels. Sometimes places will advertise a morning set, but it’s really a budget-blowing buffet—that is not what we’re talking about here.

Cheapo places for breakfast in Tokyo are plentiful enough, though, and a stroll around any medium-sized station should reward you with at least one morning set option. My strategy is to tack along the back streets until I stumble across a dimly-lit Showa-style coffee shop; these, in my opinion, do the best morning sets.

tokyo breakfast
Photo by hiro used under CC

Other options are to scout out the nearest Cafe Renoir, Doutor, Pronto, Matsuya, or Denny’s or another type of family restaurant. You can also always head to Shibuya and feast at World Breakfast Allday (a little pricier than average, but big portions and exciting menus) or one of the numerous other breakfast spots there.

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Words of wisdom: When it comes to the midday meal and other chow in Tokyo, it’s best to follow the cheapo golden rule to save those yens.

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