Most cities, if not all of them, are very possible to enjoy without breaking the bank. Because most of the things we want to see are the city in itself: the people, buildings, streets and monuments are there; unrestrained by a ticket counter. Sure, museums and entrances to exhibitions and so may be expensive but we’ll get on to that.
Tokyo is an expensive city and people are really scared they will run out of money on the first couple of days at the japanese capital. I assure you though, fear not. It is very, very possible to travel throughout Tokyo on a budget or even a shoestring as it may. Because the city has so many different and interesting areas to explore, just walking around them is the best way to get to know the city, and also … it’s completely free!
A good chunk of cash is going to transport, which is a bit expensive, though very good. But if you are not afraid of walking, some of the most interesting districts are fairly close to each other and thus accessible by foot.
1.- View the city from the top
I want to start with one of the best tips I was lucky to read on before my visit. Because this one is not actually cheap … it’s free!.
Side note: If you have more than a few additional yens there’s also the skytree and the observation deck of Roppongi Hills for an excellent view of Tokyo Tower. I couldn’t resist going up the last one :3
If you wanna save money for matcha ice cream later though, then head to the Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku. There’s a bunch of signs to get there from the station so you should be able to find your way. I really really regret not making time to go back at night, so if you can, I’d say check out both day and night views. It is free after all.
2.- Wander around Harajuku and Omotesando
Welcome to Crazy Kawaii World, were cuteness is an overflowing lifestyle. Fashion and Food are the main attractions here but there is also Yoyogi park and Meiji shrine.
First Harajuku– On the fashion side you can find anything from edgy studded black boots to frilly pink dresses to second-hand yukatas. I can assure you though- nothing will be basic. Some big brands like Gap, Forever 21 and H&M have found their way into this fashion district, but that is not why we go, right?
So my personal findings include a gold crane ring, takoyaki printed t-shirt, baby pink mini and a bunch of black knee-high “socks” that are actually full stockings with the upper part being transparent (much more comfortable than actual socks that keep slipping down). Yay ! (´・ω・`)
Regarding food… I would not recommend the super famous crepes, because they have 3 strawberries and the rest is whipped cream, which I hate, but it is your call in the end of course. If you have time to wait on the huge lines, and adore cute stuff there are a bunch of unique restaurants too (Owl Café, Rainbow Pancake, Pompompurin Café, Eggs N Things) but I do not think they’re worth it either. There are far less crowded, cheaper and equally tasty spots to go to, like an “American Food Buffet” right on Takeshita-dori which I found hilarious but farely priced enough to convince me, drip coffee spots with cute baristas, or conveyor belt sushi; which is always good.
Now, Omotesando; the district right next to Harajuku is where all the High Class brands are, and offers a much more relaxing ambiance, hella expensive, given… but great for window shopping, admiring the architecture and people watching. Japanese are so fashionable ❤
You can easily walk both districts so that saves you on transportation, and if you are feeling ready, walk your way into Shibuya too!
Yet another district for the animated world enthusiast because of its themed stores and restaurants and of course the huge Gundam statue outside Diver City Mall. Unlike Akihabara though, there is much more to see than anime and video games products. There is a ferris wheel, big shopping malls, Japan’s National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, Fuji Television, the Panasonic Centre showroom and the beach; were the yakatabune boats cast beautiful colorful lights on the water.
For this one I recommend you take the train, I walked from the main land and it was not one of my best ideas. You can leisurely walk around the waterfront, watch Fuji TV’s light and music show and take pictures of the Rainbow Bridge crossing Tokyo Bay without spending a single Yen. If you are hungry you can eat at the food court of one of the malls; there is always some good and affordable Champong or Ramen.
4.- Stroll around Asakusa.
Far away from the center enough to have a more “relaxed” atmosphere and cheaper prices but still a couple of minutes train ride away. Asakusa is one of the areas japanese tourists in particular like to experience and one of the most sought out spots for hanami because of the rows of sakura trees lining the Sumida river.
The most famous temple is Sensō-ji temple. There is also a very famous pathway that leads to/from the temple and into the main street and a bunch of stalls sell everything from key chains to fried octopus balls (takoyaki).
Asakusa is also a very lively spot with recurrent festivals taking place and as Tokyo’s oldest geisha district, offers a good supply of entertainment. Guys dressed in traditional clothes from Edo times take you around and share their wisdom and alluring little shops sell delicious soba noodles.
In recent years the skytree has substantially risen the amount of visitors to the area. Queues vary a lot depending on seasons. When I visited, waiting in line was too time consuming to even check out the prices, but the magic of the internet provides us these reference rates:
|18 and over|
|TOKYO SKYTREE TEMBO DECK 350m||Advance Purchase (day/time assigned) *2||¥2,570|
|TOKYO SKYTREE TEMBO GALLERIA 450m||Tickets purchased on the day only *3||¥1,030|
5.- Otaku your way into Akihabara
For many, the main reason to come to Japan. If you are a fan then you’ll know better than me the places worth visiting. But even if you are not a hardcore fan it is a very enjoyable experience to stroll around this area and check out its quirky spots. There is a ton of merchandise for every manga, anime, video game ever made, so everyone can find at least some stuff they recognize. Being the worldwide phenomenon that anime is, you are bound to have watched Pokémon or Dragon Ball at least.
My biggest disappointment here of course was that and I was not able to find (I do believe this is the right district) the internet famous used panties vending machine!! GROSS.
It is also famous for maid cafés, where you need to talk like a cat to the waitresses… and the theme is cute, the idea is cute, the girls are cute even though they look like little kids, but the overall feeling of the place is too cute – to the point of kitch- and the affluence of old business men sipping pink bunny smoothies and singing bubblegum jpop is, to say the least, disturbing.
Sex shops are also abundant in the area and very fun to visit. I am still offended by the fact that I was not allowed to the second floor of one of them because it was the guy’s floor and my pure, innocent, girl soul shouldn’t see what was for sale there. On the other hand, all guys were allowed in the girl’s floor. Double standards.
6.- Enjoy all the lights and stores at Shibuya!
Entertainment world and a though one to visit and not spend I guess. Maybe you’ll be so overwhelmed by the amount of food, drinks and cool stores that you won’t buy a thing…?
Shibuya is connected to Harajuku and Omotesando by Yoyogi Park, takes about 20 min walking and you just have to follow the park so it’s also very unlikely that you’ll get lost.
Overwhelming neon signs at their best await you, filling the narrow streets. It is pretty much the bright, busy, buoyant Tokyo we all expect. Shibuya crossing is the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world too; right outside Shibuya station were you can also find the famous Hachiko statue.
There’s quite a good nightlife as it is in essence a young people district and many middle-aged to old japanese actively avoid it.
Wanting to have no short of experiences in Japan, I actually slept at a manga café in Shibuya and it proved to be quite comfortable and convenient. You have probably heard this as an option for alternative sleeping quarters along with capsule hotels which I also highly recommend for a night or 2. Capsule hotels offer all the regular amenities a hostel offers.
Of the 2, I found the idea of Manga cafés a bit sketchy but they even have packages for the one night traveller who essentially needs to crash somewhere and take a shower (yeah you can do that too and they provide a towel and even tooth-brush :3 ). There is the leather chair and the japanese matt, I chose the last one because you can easily lay down. Also the booths are locked which means you can sleep safely away from perverts in case you had that concern lol. Aaaaand just like at karaoke, the price includes unlimited soft drinks. At the Manga Café I stayed at there was also onion and tomato soup which I took as a morning fix, and ice cream 😀 !
7.-Oh delicious Budget Food
With all that walking, you’re gonna need stamina, and you’re gonna need to eat. You’re also gonna really want to eat, because there are sooo many delicious things to try in Japan. Popular opinion tells us that since Japan has the most Michelin starts in the world it must be impossibly expensive, but because Tokyo is precisely a megacity and a culinary paradise, you can find good food at a huge range of prices. Also, restaurants pretty much always have pictures of the food so you won’t be in the dark as to what you are ordering even if you don’t speak japanese.
An easy save money alternative is to head to fast food restaurants. If you are thinking McDonald’s and KFC -NO. I mean, Japanese fast food chains; which are better in every way: food is fresh, there’s a bunch of specialities and there are plenty healthy options. Look for Sukiya, Matsuya, Yoshinoya, CoCo Ichiban and Tenya. Meals can be as cheap as 500 Yen and you will get a rice bowl topped with meat, egg, kimchi or curry depending on what you like, miso soup and unlimited tea.
There is also the option for kaiten sushi or conveyor belt sushi. A cheap option to look for is UOBEI in the picture below, or GENKI sushi. They are both right in the heart of Shibuya and you have awesome fish choices.
Last but not least you can also raid the supermarkets after 7 p.m. when the obentos (prepared lunches) are cheaper or eat at the convenience store. Combinis (japanese short word for convenience stores) like 7eleven and Family Mart can be found everywhere. They offer free hot water, internet and a clean toilet so they are basically backpacking heaven. There is also a convenience store called Lawson which has a a blue logo and a cheaper version with a green logo that’s called Lawson 100 which is the budget version with prices close to a 100 yen.
So there you go! I miss eating in Japan 😦
8.- Enjoy seasonal beauty
A true 4 season country at its finest; admiring the plum trees, cherry blossoms, momiji (fall colored leaves) or snow sprinkled streets is a great way to enjoy the city. I loved walking around Tokyo because it is refreshingly green for one of the most populated cities in the world.
Ueno Park, Yoyogi , the banks of the Sumida River and the Imperial Palace gardens are all great spots to enjoy nature and maybe have a picnic while you’re on it. If you happen to be travelling with friends you can grab some food and sake and join the Hanami (cherry blossom viewing picnics) or if you’re travelling solo and fancy some company you can always join a group of people planning Hanami on platforms like meetup or couchsurfing.
9.-Stroll the fish market
Also one of the famous musts in Tokyo. This one is great for saving because you can almost have breakfast just by walking around trying stuff. I didn’t get the tuna auction experience, so I can’t really say if it is worth it but even later in the day there is a huge line to go in. Honestly though, I thought I was already in when walking down the outer stalls.
This is definitely the best place in Tokyo to try a fresh seafood bowl, and you’ll want to check around for good prices but the not so fancy, tiny stalls on the outside are usually the best choice and the food is just exquisite; salmon, tuna, white fish, Uni, ikura topped with ginger and wasabi and you’re all set.
We’ve come to the end of this post. I apologize if you found it too long and also I apologize for including biking in so many of my posts but I really think it is the ultimate travel method. This works for every city in Japan of course; even better in small towns. You can save tons and Japan is so bike friendly that even in Tokyo it is fairly comfortable to travel by bike.
Some hostels can rent you a bike for the day and it can be a fun way to take a city tour rather than on a tourist bus.
So now you have an idea of how to enjoy some pretty cool places in Tokyo on the cheapo way. I just accounted some of the most popular districts but most importantly, get lost exploring, there are very nice hidden gems everywhere!
楽しんできてね！ Have fun!