Tokyo is NOT an expensive city to visit. Despite Tokyo always appearing in the top 10 as the one of the most expensive cities to live and to visit, this is a fallacy. We have been there five times in the last 5 years and are already booked to go again in 2014. The fact is that Tokyo is affordable without having to go down the budget, 2 minute noodle route, not that there is anything wrong with that.
I am too old to bother with going without. Why should I? I have worked hard as my husband has and we deserve to do as we wish. However in saying that, we are not wanting to 5 star stay (though we have and will) and Michelin eat (though we have and will), all of the time.
We want comfort, we want good food and wine, we want to experience the country pretty much as is closely as possible to how the Japanese do, because that is what it is all about, isn’t it?
Eating in Tokyo
The best way to achieve these goals wherever you are is called stalking. Like seriously, do you go to a café or restaurant that is full of tourists? No, and nor do you ever ever go where you see buses or coaches parked. What you do is stalk the local people and see where they go to eat. Then you follow your prey and do as they do. If they order a beer you point and nod and indicate that that is what you also want. Same with the food. Smile a lot.
Use some sense and don’t follow people into walk into what looks like the most expensive place in Tokyo. Target someone else, unless that is what you choose to do. This works in any place in the world. When in China Town, and I am pretty sure every capital city has one, you only select one which is full of Chinese people, similarly Vietnamese, Greek etc – you get the point.
Did you know that the Japanese only keep any food in a convenience shop for 2 hours, and then it is thrown out. So all of the bento boxes etc etc are fresh. No lone hot dog going around Apu’s Kwik-e-Mart for years on end. So this is a great place for snacks and quick fixes.
The good old food courts
Tokyo and Japan in general love their food and they do eat a lot. Food courts are a veritable source of nutrition as there are so many freebies that you seriously could live on the offerings.
Train stations in Tokyo
The food outlets in train stations are frequented by the Japanese A LOT. Why? Because the food is fresh and the food is good and the food is extremely reasonably priced.
Much like the rest of Tokyo the supplies are changed regularly. And I don’t think that there is anything that you cannot get form the vending machine. There are even vending machines for your pets needs.
We like to stay where locals stay but I can’t get my head around or possibly in a capsule hotel, but as these are mainly for businessmen who have imbibed a bit too much at the business dinners then ryokans or Japanese inns or definitely viable. There are also hotels, that do not look like the ubiquitous hotel rooms that you could find anywhere else in the world.
Shop around and you will get a reasonable price comparable to anywhere else in the world, and I don’t do backpacker anymore, I think.
The seriously best advice in Tokyo is to get something very close to a train station, because of the convenience of getting around this huge city. There are some districts that excellent and highly accessible to everywhere; like Ueno. Ueno is vey convenient t everywhere and there is also the Ueno Zoo, Ueno Park and lots of museums. Ueno also has some of the best day and night markets ever.
At the end of the day the rooms in Japan are not huge but the toilets no matter where you stay have all of the bells and whistles, literally. Feel like birds singing when you are ‘busy’, or waterfalls, or a warm seat, you’ve got it.
And really, how long do you stay in your room?
Transport in Tokyo
The train system is totally awesome. We are from a country where the train system is a train wreck! Apparently a few years ago in Tokyo the trains ran 6 seconds late and there was an enquiry into it, and this massive problem was fixed. They are now NEVER late. Ever.
Get a Suica pass. This will get you from the airport to wherever you are going in Tokyo. It will give you access to all JR lines as well as buses and is able to be used at convenience stores. Just load your card and off you go. Swipe and your good.
Yes, there are some entry charges for some things but there is much of Tokyo that is totally free, like the free Tokyo Volunteer Tour Guide service, where a Japanese person is assigned to show you what you want to see in Japan and to assist you get a better understanding of Japanese culture and to enhance cross cultural understanding, and you can read about how to do this here. We also wrote a guest post for theplanetd called Discovering Tokyo with a Volunteer Tour Guide , which outlines more about our guide Ichiro. It is such a great service.
Really, just walk around and soak in the atmosphere, culture and history of this fascinating city.
So, Tokyo is not expensive, in fact it is cheaper than a lot of other places that I have been to.
I don’t know… to me it was VERY expensive. Of course, that was more than a decade ago…
Everything everywhere I went was expensive. I am sure there are lots of things I don’t know… But the vending machines had high prices… to my pockets at least.
What I found particularly expensive was: cheese, european/western food especially, mineral water, transportation (JR lines and Shinkansen)…
Akihabara’s electronics were surprisingly cheap.
This blog has been a great read into making Japan cheap 🙂
Thanks to you it’s gone back on our bucket list!
Thanks, we are ably to do it at such a reasonable price organising it ourselves.
What would you say is a daily average cost at the budget and mid-range levels?
and the long answer is
Not knowing exactly what you are after I chose a hotel that is mid range and close to Tokyo station. For 2 people it was $88 (AUD) per night all together with breakfast included.
First up organize a volunteer tour guide who will show you how to eat and what to see and to do as the locals do. See my post on theplanetd. This is seriously an invaluable service.
Food is up to you. Breakfast is sorted. Lunch I would allocate about $25 for the 2 of you (absolutely max.) and this incudes a beer and a wine. There are many places where you walk in hit some buttons on a juke box looking machine and something comes to you with the drinks (and this is cheaper) because we figured those out from the guide and from watching others.
Alternatively wander the street markets and food halls. You will be amazed at how many samples are given out.
Don’t forget that the convenience stores have super fresh food which is refreshed every 2 hours (if you buy in the last half hour or so they are 50% off). Bento boxes range from $5 up.
Also the railway stations are the place to eat as well.
For dinner, I think about the same as lunch plus say a few more drinks, is about $3.25 for a beer and wine just slightly more. Coffee is about the same.
Buy a Suica card – this is invaluable and will get you around Tokyo on JR lines and buses and can be used at convenience stores, vending machines and some restaurants.
Cost is 2000 yen (21 Aud) and 500 (5.39 AUD) is a deposit so it is preloaded with 1500 yen that is returned minus 210 charge at end plus what you didn’t spend. Anything you haven’t spent is returned. It is a swipe and go. Can’t be used on Shinkansens.
Of course you can just buy passes as you need but the Suica in my opinion is so well worth it.
It will cost about $30 to get from airport to Tokyo but this is a long trip. The others, between say Tokyo and Ueno or Akihibara are a lot less.
Don’t touch a taxi with a barge pole.
So I reckon that
Accommodation $88 for 2
Food max $60 for 2
Transport max $40 for 2
So that makes a middle of the road cost per day of $188 for 2 people.