Many people dream of traveling to Tokyo. A city of contrasts, where you will find something unique at every turn. From peaceful cherry blossom lined streets to noisy markets and flashy neon signs, Tokyo is the city where every step means a new experience. But being one of the most expensive cities to live in, there is also a common misconception that the same applies to traveling. This is not true. With some careful planning, it is possible to minimize costs but still be able to fully enjoy your trip.
As the bulk of your money will go on accommodation, it is very important to know a few things before making a reservation.
First of all, it is crucial to find a cheap area which is also close to the places you want to visit. The top choices are Taito ward, Arakawa ward and Sumida ward. These districts are packed with budget hotels and also very close to many popular attractions, like Asakusa, Tokyo Sky Tree, Sensō-ji Temple, Ueno Park and Akihabara.
Second, you should take into consideration the various types of lodging. The cheapest option is a bed in a shared dormitory (~2000 yen/ night), followed by capsule hotels (~2500 yen/night). A bit more expensive are hostels (2500~3500 yen/ night), but some of them have notable advantages like shared kitchens where you can cook your own food and therefore save up.
Lastly, you should also carefully think about the season you plan your trip in. The most pleasant are relatively cheap options are spring and autumn. The weather is warm and the foliage is astonishing. If you’re looking for the lowest possible prices, choose the coldest winter months (mid January to February). Hotels often offer discounts during these unpopular months so they can encourage tourism.
Food and Drink
After accommodation, comes the next big issue: what to eat. You will be happy to hear that there are quite a few cheap options. Besides self cooking that was mentioned earlier, you have the possibility to buy low price food from 100 yen shops. There are 100 yen shops like Lawson 100 that specialize in food where you can find items like fruits, Japanese rice balls, sandwiches, pastries, etc.
A bit more expensive than 100 yen shops, but still cheaper than other alternatives, are convenience stores (=konbini), which sell a lot of items for 200-300 yen: sushi, lunchboxes, salads, deep fried foods, etc.
Supermarkets are a good choice in the evenings when discounts are applied. You can find delicious food cheaper with 50% a few hours before the stores close. Just be careful not to go too late. When people come out from work, most discounted foods disappear quickly.
There is also the option to eat out cheaply. There is no need to go to a fancy restaurant to experience Japanese food. Many restaurants also have cheap food under 500 yen. All of them have menus at the entrance where you can check out affordable options. The top recommendations are: Matsuya, Yoshinoya and Sukiya – major restaurant chains specialized in gyudon (beef rice), but also serve other types of rice dishes.
Of course, even if your budget is low, you just cannot go to another country without doing a bit of shopping. Whether you want to buy some daily necessities or just need some souvenirs, there are a lot inexpensive stores to choose from. The before mentioned 100 yen shops are not just food centered. They are made to fulfill every need, with products ranging from beauty items to stationery and small electronics.
Other options worth mentioning are recycle shops (=second hand shops), where you can find many good quality items for extremely low prices: clothes, home goods, books, electronics, etc.
Sightseeing and entertainment
There are a lot of enjoyable things you can do in Tokyo for free or for very few money. Want to see the city from above? There are free entrance observatories like Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building and Bunkyo Civic Center. Sky Tree, Tokyo Tower and even Mount Fuji can be seen from them. Not to mention that the night views are astonishing.
Another entertainment opportunity is attending a festival. Festivals are the perfect way to enjoy the Japanese experience: dances, fireworks, cheap food stalls and fun games. And the good part is that there always seems to be a festival somewhere in the city! You will run into one whenever you less expect it.
Additionally, there are several free guided tours that will take you to beautiful less known places. These tours are conducted by volunteers that will also tell you fascinating stories about the places you see. What can be more interesting than hearing Tokyo’s story from the locals themselves?
Traveling Tokyo on a budget is not impossible. Even this huge metropolis can be affordable if you know how to plan your trip: where to stay, what to eat and how to shop and entertain yourself.