Five ways you can save money on your next Tokyo trip – on meals, drinks, attractions, a place to stay and getting about
With a bit of forward planning and insider tips, Tokyo can be almost a budget destination if you dine at chain restaurants, take the lunch set at pricier places, and stay in an Airbnb let or a guest house
Tokyo is often considered an expensive city to visit, but these days that reputation is rather unjustified.
Of course if you want to spend the money there are plenty of places to do it, but with a little planning and a few insider’s tips, holidaying on a tight budget in Tokyo is possible. Here’s how.
Where to eat
Tokyo is home to some of the best food in the world, but did you know it’s also home to some of the cheapest? Whether it costs 500 yen (US$4.40) or 5,000, you will be sure to find a delicious meal in Japan, given the nation’s high level of professionalism and culinary pride.
If you want to save money while eating like a local, a visit to one of the city’s many chain fast food outlets is a must. Unlike in many other countries, the term fast food in Japan isn’t synonymous with poor quality. Sukiya is one name you’ll see often, with the restaurant chain serving classic Japanese dishes like gyudon, a 500-yen “beef bowl” which is simply shredded beef on rice with various toppings.
If you’re craving sushi, Uobei Genki Sushi’s futuristic sushi train restaurants deliver dishes costing around 100 yen direct to your table at the touch of a button.
For something different, visit street-food-style outdoor restaurant Commune 246 (3 Chome-13 Minamiaoyama, Minato) in Aoyama. It’s host to a rotating collection of vendors, so you can choose from a variety of dishes, including vegan-friendly fare. A meal for two will cost around 1,800 yen.
If you want to try a Michelin-starred restaurant, check whether they’re open for lunch, because this is often when meals are significantly cheaper. In Shinjuku, for example, lunch sets at one-star restaurant Nakajima (3 Chrome-32-5, Shinjuku) are just 800 yen.
Where to drink
Tokyo loves to drink. Many izakayas (Japanese style bars) offer nomihodai, an all-you-can-drink special, which is a great way to get your money’s worth. Pricing of nomihodai offers vary between 1,000 and 3,000 yen, and generally require the ordering of a dish (which can cost as little as 300 yen).
Many of these cheap drinking bars can be found in Shibuya and Shinjuku. If you’re in Shinjuku, visit Izakaya Medaka (1 Chome-3-6 Kabukicho, Shinjuku), where beers go for as little as 110 yen. In Shibuya, check out the ubiquitous Kinno-Kura(3 Chome-28-7 Shibuya), which is popular with locals and tourists alike; their offers are clearly advertised within the restaurants.
Where to sleep
After a few uncertain years, Airbnb received approval to do business in Japan in March this year, allowing hosts to rent out their places for up to 180 days per year. In early November, the average rate on Airnb was 7,600 yen per night. For affordable spots close to the heart of the city, check out residential areas like Nakano, which is less than five minutes from Shinjuku. In Nakano you can get entire flats for as little as 3,800 yen per night.
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If you want to meet new people it’s worth considering a guest house. With a few locations across the country, guest house chain K’s House offers various types of traditional accommodation at hostel prices.
While travelling in Japan, transport is going to be one of your biggest costs. Public transport is incredibly efficient, clean, easy to navigate, and accessible, so it’s better than taking taxis or Uber, which are expensive and not as common.
If you’re planning on staying in the capital, get a Suica or Pasmo transport card, available from the ticket machines at all major Tokyo train stations. This reusable card will prevent you wasting money by charging you the exact amount for the trip. You will have to pay a 500-yen deposit for the card, which you are refunded when you return the card.
One of the best things about sightseeing in Tokyo is that entry to many of the city’s major attractions is free of charge or cheap. If you’re spending the day in the heart of the city, Harajuku’s Yoyogi Park and the neighbouring Meiji Shrine are within walking distance of one another. If you’re in Tokyo during the cherry blossom season from late March until late April, this corner of the city fills with locals setting up camp under the pale pink blossoms and unpacking extravagant picnics.
To explore the city’s museums it’s worth investing in a Grutt Pass. For only 2,000 yen, this pass will give you free or heavily discounted entry to the city’s 49 best museums and exhibits, including the Ueno Zoo. You can grab a pass at Lawson convenience stores, JTB travel agencies, Kinki Japan Tourist, and Ticket Pia.
If Disneyland is on the agenda, entry to the park usually costs 7,400 yen for adults and 6,400 yen for children, but if you get a Starlight Passport (entry after 3pm) you can save 2,000 yen per ticket.