LocationEverywhere, usually not very far from a station.
America has hamburgers. Japan has gyudon (also known as gyumeshi), a bowl of hot rice topped with dashi-simmered beef and onions. Gyudon shops are everywhere. They are always open, and they are always cheap. Whether you are on a truncated lunch break or drunk out of your mind on the last train home, a gyudon shop will be there for you. There are three big chains: Yoshinoya, Sukiya, and Matsuya. Matsuya is the best, if only because all of its outposts are ticket-machine operated. If you don’t speak Japanese (or you just don’t want to talk to anyone), you only have to select your desired entree and hand it over to the server. Your meal is sitting in front of you just a few minutes later.
You can get standard gyudon at Matsuya and dress it up with beni shoga (red pickled ginger) from the condiment tray. Or you can order something more colorful: negi-tama gyudon or Matsuya’s somewhat humorous (if you are Korean at least, like this writer) riff on Korean bibimbap.
Negi-tama gyudon is the same aforementioned basic gyudon, but topped with a big fistful of chopped green onions and a quivering soft-cooked onsen tamago, a soft-cooked egg. Seeing your egg jiggle a bit when the tray is put down in front of you is one of life’s simple perverse pleasures. The bibimbap builds on this with the addition of chopped kimchi and a spoon, because Koreans believe in spoons. There are no iterations of the bibimbap anywhere on the peninsula that look quite like this, but over here in Japan, it makes sense. Does it miss the mark of tradition? Yes, by quite a bit. But is it a delicious permutation? Absolutely.
It’s best when to go when you’re either desperate, broke, or drunk. Or any combination of the three.