Tokyo. Who wouldn’t want to get lost in the head-spinning maze of neon-drenched streets? One moment you’re dazzled by the ultra-modern skyscrapers and the next, sipping green tea at a centuries-old temple, disturbed only by the soft sound of sozu.
Tokyo is a global powerhouse with an old spirit, bustling with energy and the promise of adventure and excitement which it most certainly delivers. Just like a lot of great things in life, visiting Tokyo comes, quite literally, at a price – for many years now, the city’s been considered one of the world’s most expensive capitals, a major put-off for budget-conscious travellers. That being said, while the Japanese capital most certainly isn’t cheap, its costs are often exaggerated. In fact, I find them comparable to those of Paris or London and it is possible to travel Tokyo on a Budget.
How to Visit Tokyo on a Budget
If visiting Tokyo has been on your bucket list, but you’re worried about the impact on your wallet, fear not as I’m about to show you how to enjoy Tokyo on a tight budget! It’s perfectly doable and surprisingly easy. Let’s just jump straight into it!
FOOD Budget Tokyo
Tokyo is quite possibly the world’s most exciting dining destination – from the irresistibly cute, or kawaii, eats at Akihabara’s Maid Cafes and the mouth-watering street food to the top-notch fine dining, Tokyo is most certainly not short of options when it comes to food. The good news is, the choice extends to budget dining – you will be surprised how easy it is to eat in Tokyo on a budget!
You can’t go wrong with Japanese street food – it’s delicious, filling and cheap! Some of the most popular options such as yakitori (grilled chicken skewers), dungo (dumplings on a stick) and shioyaki (baked fish served on a stick) will cost you around ¥150-700 (€1.00-5) depending on the portion size.
If you love Tokyo, you are also going to enjoy Shanghai
Tokyo is filled with food chains, offering delicious and authentic, although not overly healthy, meals. Typical dishes include gyudon (shredden beef) or tempura (fried meat) served over a bowl of rice, often paired with a bowl of miso soup. Japanese-style chicken curry and, of course, noodle soup are also available in opulence! The dishes often come as a set which not only makes it easier to decide what to pick (the choice can be overwhelming!) but also offers a great value for money. A meal at a chain restaurant will cost you around ¥500-900, which works out as only €4-7.
Go where the locals go
Save your precious pennies and enjoy a truly authentic experience by visiting local spots. These usually small bars with unassuming , traditional decor serve some of the most delicious and very cheap meals (some cost as little as ¥350-400, an equivalent of around €3.00).
Shop at supermarkets
You can never go wrong with shopping at a supermarket when you’re on a budget, but Japan somehow managed to turn this mundane experience into something comparable to a walk at a theme park, where browsing through aisles packed with irresistible goodness makes you want to ditch restaurants altogether. Here’s a handy tip: all seafood/sushi meal sets (whose quality and presentation resembles an actual restaurant meal) are freshly made in the morning and get discounted up to 50% by the end of the day, simply because they are no longer considered fresh by the Japanese standards. This means that you can buy a perfectly delicious and filling meal for as little as little as ¥300-900 (€2-7), depending on the size.
Staying in Tokyo on a Budget
Tokyo has an exciting choice of ultra-cheap hotel alternatives – and it wouldn’t be Tokyo if they weren’t all slightly quirky and unusual, the two things you have to be ready to embrace during your stay in the Japan’s capital.
Let’s start off with my personal favourite – capsule hotels! As the name would suggest, capsule hotels offer tiny, capsule-like sized rooms, or sleeping pods to be precise, large enough to fit a bed, a small ceiling-mounted TV and a radio. Immaculately clean with an access to sauna facilities and sometimes even a room filled with comic books, a night at a capsule hotel will set you back a mere ¥2-4,000 (€15 -31). These type of hotels are extremely popular and are scattered all over Tokyo – a simple Google search is all you need to book a room, erm, pod!
Manga / Internet Cafes
If you happen to be a manga or comic enthusiast travelling to Japan on a budget, then you’re definitely in luck – manga cafes started off as a place where you could read the endless supply of manga and surf the internet, but they soon became a response to the expensive hotel and accommodation costs. Manga cafes have private cubicles equipped with a desk, a computer with unlimited internet access and a large chair (some manga cafes offer a sleeping matt). While crashing at a manga café is not exactly as comfortable as a night at a hotel and you’ll probably want to limit your stay to 1, max. 2 nights, it’s endlessly cheaper (¥1,500 – 2,500, so around €11-19). Staying at a manga cafe will also give you a fantastic sneak peek into the Japanese youth culture while being a place where you can meet other travellers. The two biggest manga cafe chains are Gera Gera and Manboo.
Airbnb and Hovelstay
If none of the above options sounded appealing, then there’s always the more conventional Airbnb and Hovelstay, were you can find rooms varying from €40 to €150/night.
SHOPPING on a Budget
It’s hard not to be tempted to shop when every perfectly packaged product, from skincare to chopsticks screams “buy me!”. Surprising enough, you can actually shop till you drop in Tokyo, without breaking the bank. If you want to stock up on souvenirs and accessories while brushing shoulders with the famous Harajuku girls, head to Daiso on Takeshita-dori, Harajuku’s main shopping street. Most things there cost only around ¥100 (€1) . There are many other 100 Yen stores all over Tokyo, stocking pretty much everything under the sun, from cosmetics and snacks to kitchenware. You don’t have to limit yourself just to the discount stores though – a lot of shops have sales on and stock budget-friendly products.
If you’re looking for a more traditional and a meaningful gift, most temples in Tokyo sell talismans – they can cost anything from ¥500 – 1,500, depending on the size, type and the temple you’re buying them from.
FREE TOKYO ATTRACTIONS
Tokyo offers endless opportunities for those who want to see it for free. A stroll down Takeshita-dori or the famous Shibuya crossing is a eclectic feast for the senses and an experience in its own right – you don’t actually have to buy anything to enjoy it! If you want to escape the chaos, visit one of the Tokyo’s many gardens and parks (I recommend Ueno) or do a bit of temple hopping – a lot of temples (such as the famous Senso-ji in Asakusa or Meiji Shrine) are free to visit!
And there you have it – who knew visiting Tokyo on a budget could be this easy! Do you have any budget tips of your own? Feel free to share in the comments.
Marta is a digital nomad and the creator of A Girl Who Travels, where she writes about budget, solo and female travel as well as location independence. You can also follow her adventures on Instagram and Twitter.