Tokyo on a Budget
Although Tokyo is always somewhere on the list of the most expensive cities in the world, don’t despair budget travelers! Much of the city is actually quite affordable. Here are some of our top tips to help you enjoy Tokyo on the cheap.
Despite your jet-lag upon arrival at Narita International Airport, don't be tempted to take a taxi to your accommodation. Narita is about 60 km outside of central Tokyo and a taxi ride will easily cost you over $200! The cheapest way to get into Tokyo is the Keisei Limited Express train to Nippori Station (about 75 minutes, 1000 yen) and transfer to the JR Yamanote Line (starting from 150 yen). If you have a Japan Rail Pass, you can ride the JR Narita Express for free.
There are several HI (YHA) hostels in Tokyo and numerous other independent hostels. Most HI hostels in Japan are priced from 3360 yen ($40 CDN) for a dorm bed (member rate).
If you don't have a problem with coffin-sized confined spaces, you can also try spending the night in a capsule hotel. Intended for businessmen requiring cheap and basic overnight accommodation, each capsule provides little more than room to sleep for about $30 a night. Like hostels, you store your luggage in a locker and share washroom facilities.
Tokyo has one of the best train systems in the world but for first-time visitors, the tangled web of train lines can be incredibly confusing. Thankfully, stations have signs in both English and Japanese. Pick up a free map from any station upon your arrival and study it as best you can.
In Tokyo, JR fares start at 130 yen and subway fares at 160 yen for Tokyo Metro and Toei lines. Both increase with the distance traveled. The easiest way to pay for your trips is to use a rechargeable Suica or PASMO card. Both cards can be used for virtually all trains in the Greater Tokyo region, including JR trains, subways and monorails, but excluding the shinkansen bullet train.
To cut down on transportation expenses, organize your sightseeing and shopping to visit places in the same area in a single day, so you don’t need to repeat the same trip again. Another thing to remember: the subway stops running between midnight and 1 am. Don’t blow your hard-earned yen on a taxi fare; either head home early or party til the first train in the morning!
Many must-see places in Tokyo are free or the admission is minimal. Most shrines and temples in Tokyo are free, including the famous Yasukuni Shrine and the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa. The Imperial Palace (also free) is a truly stunning site. The East Gardens are particularly beautiful and house a small museum showcasing Emperor Showa's art collection.
Fans of sumo wrestling will enjoy the free Sumo Museum, next to the Kokugikan sumo stadium (JR Ryogoku Station on the JR Sobu Line). The exhibits include pictures of the all-time greats and various bits of memorabilia.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building might not be an obvious tourist attraction, but if you take the elevator to the 45th floor, you will not be disappointed. There are two observation galleries with views of Mount Fuji, Yokohama and of course, the sprawling metropolis of Tokyo.
If you're looking for a tour guide, take advantage of a service called Tokyo Free Guide (the name says it all). The guides are English-speaking locals who want to show foreigners around their hometown and brush up on their language skills. All you have to pay for is the volunteer's subway fares and any admission fees.
To see more people than you've ever seen before, try walking through Shinjuku Station at rush hour or crossing the road next to the Hachiko Exit of Shibuya Station. For a taste of the bizarre, go to Harajuku on a Sunday afternoon and check out the wild fashions worn by local youth. And for all the latest electronic gadgets, head to Akihabara.
There are free samples galore in the basement food halls of many department stores dotted around the city. The Tokyu department store located directly on top of Shibuya Station is one of my favourites. These food halls also offer a good variety of bento boxes, sushi, and salads.
For your basic beef on rice, my favorite place is Yoshinoya. They sell “gyuudon” (‘gyuu’ means ‘cow/beef’ and ‘don’ means ‘on rice’) for about $5 per big bowl and they are open 24 hours. There is nearly one on every corner. Kaiten (revolving) sushi restaurants are usually about $1.50-2 a plate, and each plate has two pieces. You grab what you want from a conveyor belt and pay per plate at the end. The plates are colored and each color is a different price. You can also fill your belly at a simple stand-up noodle shops for $7 or less. Once you've made your choice from a vending machine near the entrance, the machine will spit out a ticket, which you then hand to the staff.
And don’t forget, there is more to Japan than just Tokyo! Be sure to travel to other parts of the country to get a taste of Japan outside of the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. I recommend visiting Kyoto, Osaka and Hiroshima.
Do you have any other suggestions on how to save money in Tokyo and Japan? If so, please add a comment below.
Image: Flickr user albertocarrasco