We left Tokyo over 2 weeks ago and since then we have worked as chicken farmers in the country and hostel workers near a monkey park. So looking back on our time in the capital, we think there are a few things any budget traveller needs to know when planning a trip to Tokyo.
We spent 3 weeks working in a hostel near Asakusa and although Japan has a reputation for being expensive, we found that it is possible to visit Tokyo on a budget.
Eating on a budget in Tokyo
Eat noodles, avoid sushi
If you’re only visiting Japan to eat sushi you might want to revise your budget. Contrary to popular belief, the Japanese do not only eat raw fish with rice. In fact, it is actually one of the most expensive meals you can buy.
Restaurants serving noodle and rice dishes like ramen, gyodon or Japanese curry are much cheaper and you can get meals for under 800 yen.
Look for restaurants with an ordering machine
We have found that restaurants with a vending machine (where you can order your meal) are cheap eats and good value for money. Use the pictures to choose your meal, insert your money into the machine and click on the corresponding meal number. A ticket will come out of the machine and you will need to give it to the chef or server. Expect to pay around 500 yen for a meal in these restaurants.
Check out Japanese chain restaurants
Far superior to the fast food joints we know of back home, Japanese chain restaurants are very popular with locals because they are cheap and good quality. They mainly serve rice bowls topped with meat, which you can then personalise with the spices and ginger provided on the tables. Our favourite so far is Yoshinoya, but Sukiya and Matsuya are also good. Meals can be as cheap as 350 yen for a regular size dish, or 500 yen for a large.
Shop like the locals in supermarkets
As in any country, shopping in supermarkets and cooking your own meals is the cheapest way to eat in Tokyo. Be wary of fruit and vegetables which are often priced individually rather than by the kilo. Also, stick to local vegetables such as radishes, bean sprouts, leafy greens, soy beans etc. Anything else, especially fruit, is very expensive.
We found that Don-Quijote was the cheapest supermarket in Tokyo, but choice is limited.
Search for cheap eats around train stations
We found that the cheapest restaurants are usually around train stations and catered for those who want a quick yet tasty meal. Of course, prices are higher in big tourist hotspots.
Be cautious of service charges
Although the Japanese will refuse tips, some restaurants do apply a service charge of approximately 300 yen per person. Big tourist hotspots like Shinjuku, Shibuya and Roppongi Hills are more likely to add the charge, so be sure to ask before you sit down.
Don’t be overly tempted by the street food
Not exactly easy in Japan where every street corner smells delicious! Street food is cheap (between 100 and 300 yen) but you don’t get much for your money. You will soon be hungry again after 1 chicken yakitori, so overall it works out expensive.
Decide if convenience stores are for you
Many blogs will tell you that convenience stores like 7/11 and FamilyMart are cheap eats, but we think that this only true if you don’t have a big appetite. Portions are quite small and you would need to buy a lot for it to be equivalent to an average sized meal. Overall we think you are better off in a chain restaurant.
Visiting Tokyo on a budget
Visit the city by area
The Tokyo metro is quite expensive and the further you travel, the more you pay. The average one-way ticket costs about 270 yen. Because of this, we have been splitting the city into areas and doing a lot of walking! For example, you can easily walk from Shibuya to Shinjuku or from Asakusa to Ueno. Just be wary of the times on Google Maps which are not always accurate in Tokyo!
Stick to one metro line
There are 2 different train lines in central Tokyo: Tokyo Metro and Toei line. Generally the former is cheaper than the latter and it gets even more expensive if you have to change from one line to another. We almost always used the Tokyo Metro line.
Research the temples you want to see
Unlike shrines, some temples charge you to enter and have a look around. Although it rarely costs more than 300 yen, this can quickly add up over the course of your trip. Doing a bit of research will help you to prioritise.
Get a great view of Tokyo for free
You can get a free view of Tokyo at both day and night in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building near Shinjuku. We went up twice and never had to queue!
Just like we always say, be wary of what people tell you. You don’t need to spend a fortune to visit Tokyo and it can be done on a tight budget!
Tell us about your time in Tokyo! Do you have any further tips for fellow readers?