How To Travel Tokyo On A Shoestring Budget
During my one year stay in Japan, being the budget traveller and student that I am, I picked up some neat tips and tricks to be able to travel as affordably as possible.
Let’s start with:
Writing about food is becoming a running theme for me. Every article I write about Japan seems to have something to do with food. But then again, Japan isn’t considered a culinary country for nothing. And you might think that you have to pay a lot of money for quality food… but you thought wrong.
Despite being known for its traditional dishes, Japanese food (in Japan) is surprisingly cheap! Tokyo is full of 食堂 (shokudō, dining halls) that serve delicious meals for low prices. All you have to do is buy a ticket at a machine, usually situated at the entrance of the restaurant, and hand it to the staff. They’ll do the rest.
Well-known restaurants in this style are: 松屋 (Matsuya), すき家 (Sukiya) and Yoshinoya. They are usually specialised in 牛丼 (gyūdon, beef rice bowls) and are still considered to be healthier than fast-food chains such as McDonalds or Burger King (of which there is also an abundance of in Tokyo). The prices usually range from 400 to 700 JPY (US$3 to US$7). Matsuya is my favourite style of restaurant out of them all, probably because they was situated right outside my apartment.
And for all the sushi lovers out there, there are a ton of 回転寿司(kaitenzushi, conveyor belt sushi bars) where you only have to pay 100 JPY (US$0,91) for one plate of sushi! Now that’s a bargain. ENJOY!
But if I can give some unsolicited advice: please don’t be cheap when it comes to food in Japan. Usually the food in regular restaurants is cheap anyway! The price for a very high quality meal ranges from 600 to 1500 JPY (US$5 to $14). The food is so good that it would be a shame to miss out on that.
Of course, one cannot forget the combini (Japanese convenient stores). On every street, on every corner, in any station, you will see combini’s. These also sell set-meals at a very low price, and are also perfect to grab breakfast at and other foods to go.
Let’s face it, Tokyo is not cheap, especially when it comes to accommodation. The first thing I would like to point out is the possibility of staying at a friend’s house/apartment. For some reason, this is often an overlooked option. Of course, you don’t want to burden your friend, but you could offer your place in your country for them to stay at in return.
The second best option is for when you’re travelling in bigger groups, and that is renting an Airbnb. This might not be the best option for when you’re alone, but in a group, this could easily be very inexpensive. Not only that, but often you get to stay at a very fun and interesting place that could leave you with very fond memories shared with your friends.
Hostels are also wildly popular in Tokyo. Most hostels are situated around the Asakusa area. A lot of hostels can also be found via Airbnb, too, so be sure to keep an eye out for that.
The most expensive option, of course, is an actual hotel, but you might be surprised. A few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I wanted to find a cute Airbnb around Hakone (for all the couples out there, this is a very romantic spot near Tokyo, easily accessible via Shinjuku station).
As it turned out, though not surprising, our AirBnb ended up being super expensive for the area, so we resorted to using booking.com, which is usually just for hotels. We picked a cute capsule hotel. This ended up being the cheapest but also the best option there was. The hotel was super cute and the “capsules” were very spacey. They looked like little treehouses in the middle of a big room. Of course, not all capsule hotels are the same and may vary in size. But this might be an alternative if nothing else is working out.
A lot of you may have heard about the JR Japan Railpass. This tends to be the cheapest option if you are planning to travel all over Japan. For one price, 29 110 JPY (US$266.24) for one week or 46 390 JPY (US$424.28) for two weeks, you can take all the JR trains, which include the Shinkansen (Japan’s famous bullet train). With the Shinkansen, you can travel to all the big cities in Japan. If you want, you could even take that train ten times a day (which wouldn’t really be possible and a huge waste of time, but hey, you already payed for it).
Just to compare, because I lived in Japan, I couldn’t get the JR Japan Railpass and had to pay the full price of 14 140 JPY for the bullet train to Osaka (twice, because I also had to get back as well). If you’re only planning on staying in Tokyo, it’s not necessary to pay for the JR Pass. Even though you’ll be travelling a lot on the JR lines within Tokyo, the pass will cost you more in the end, so it’s best not to purchase it.
The ultimate cheap way of travelling through Japan is by night bus (yes, they do exist outside of the wizarding world of Harry Potter). This may be cheap, but your back will suffer during the whole trip, but if you’re willing to risk that, this is a good option for traveling around.
My favourite way of travelling through Japan, though, is by plane. Japan has few very good local airlines, like Peach Aviation. If you sign up for their newsletter, you’ll often get really good prices, that might even be cheaper than the night bus.
There you have it! My ultimate tips for travelling on a budget in Tokyo and the rest of Japan. If you have any more tips and tricks, feel free to leave them in the comments below!