As you probably read in my last post, I am currently in Japan. If you’re planning on traveling on a budget in Tokyo, this blog post is for you!
So many people put off visiting Tokyo because they believe it’s an expensive city to visit. I was one of these people when I first traveled to Japan, but boy was I wrong!
This trip is my third time to Japan, and I’ve come to realize that while Tokyo can be expensive, it doesn’t need to be.
To help those of you planning a trip to Japan, I’ve put together a list 10 ways you can save money when traveling to Tokyo:
1. Fill up on lunch at the local convenience store
I don’t know about you, but when I first visited Japan, I was astounded at the number of convenience stores. It feels like there are convenience stores everywhere in Japan.
If you’re traveling on a budget in Tokyo, convenience stores are your go-to. Unlike convenience stores in other countries (like Australia) goods are not overpriced here – you won’t pay $3 for a bottle of water!
And another way you can save money?
When it comes to your lunch, stock up on meals! This is very common for local Japanese folk who haven’t brought their meals to work. A lunch box can cost you anywhere between 300 to 600 JPY (approximately $3 – 6 USD) depending on what you select.
Some of the convenience stores even have a little area where you can sit down and eat, and chopsticks and disposable cutlery are provided. If you’ve ordered a hot meal, you can also heat your food up – either the store clerk will ask you, or sometimes the microwave is available for you to use freely.
2. Eat at smaller eateries – usually the ones with vending machines are cheaper
If you’re sick of convenience store food, or you want a freshly cooked meal, there are budget options available. While they are slightly more expensive than convenience store meals, you can still get away with spending $10 USD or less per meal.
I’d recommend looking out for smaller restaurants that are run by 1-2 people and/or have a vending machine to order. These are usually the cheapest places to eat (and also the fastest!)
Put your money into the vending machine (they will usually accept both coins and cash) and select which option you wish to eat. The machine will spit out a ticket print out and your change. Hand your ticket to the waiter/waitress or the person behind the counter, and take a seat at one of the stools. If you’re facing the kitchen, you will even get to see the chef in action, cooking your meal!
NOTE: not all machines have English translations – some will have pictures, so if you have special dietary requirements or are vegetarian, this may not be a great option for you.
3. Pre-purchase entry tickets to tourist sites
When visiting tourist sites, make sure you research whether there is an option to pre-purchase your tickets. Not only will this save you time (yay, no lines!) this can also save you money.
Such tourist sites include:
- Tokyo Skytree
- The Snoopy Museum
- Various airport buses
While you’re freely able to purchase your tickets to the airport buses online, tickets to the Snoopy Museum require you to go to your closest convenience store and buy your tickets there. This may or may not be possible, depending on your Japanese language skills. However pre-purchasing tickets can save you some money… Which means more money for Ramen, my friends!!
4. Eat at Sushi trains
For all the Sushi lovers out there – your life will never be the same after visiting Japan. For the foodies out there, you’ll probably know that there are endless Michelin starred sushi restaurants out there to try – these can be super expensive (and by super expensive I mean like upwards of $500 USD for two people).
If you’re traveling on a budget in Tokyo, Sushi is just as good at local sushi train restaurants. For the everyday traveler, these are just as good, if not better. You can pay anywhere between 100 to 500 + JPY per plate of sushi, depending on the quality of sushi you select.
As someone who loves Sushi (but I don’t claim to be a sushi connoisseur), cheaper plates of sushi taste just as good. If you select medium priced sushi (~ 300 JPY per plate) you could probably spend approximately 2000 JPY (about $20 USD, including all you can drink tea) on a meal at a sushi train restaurant
5. Fill up on water from the tap – it’s clean!
It can be tempting to drink bottled water when in Japan – I mean, it’s more affordable compared to do so compared to other countries. A 2 L bottle of water can cost anywhere between 100 – 150 JPY (approx $1 – 1.50 USD).
But if you’re on a tight budget (or you want to reduce plastic drink bottle use!) tap water in Tokyo is perfectly safe and clean.
6. Visit temples and shrines in Japan – they make for interesting places to visit!
Unlike other countries, the majority of Tokyo’s tourist attractions are centered around free activities. If you’ve never been to Japan before, chances are you’ll be interested in visiting Shrines or Temples while you’re here.
The upside of this is that majority of Japan’s Shrines, and Temples are free to enter. These are places of worship for many, which is why they’re great places to visit if you’re interested in learning more about local culture and religion.
There are a couple of shrines or temples which do charge a small fee – these are usually the larger, more tourist-heavy locations which need to charge a fee for maintenance. Examples of this include Kotokuin Temple (the Great Buddha) and the Hasedera Temple in Kamakura. Usually, the entry fee is quite cheap – around 200 – 500 JPY ($2 – 5 USD).
If you’re interested in reading more about some of my experiences in Japan (culturally speaking) and thoughts on the stereotypes, make sure you read my blog post about my thoughts on the matter.
7. Save on your accommodation by staying in a capsule hotel or a guesthouse
Japan is the perfect country for solo travelers – there is a range of solo-friendly accommodations available, most of which are high in quality and cleanliness.
If you’re traveling on a budget in Tokyo, don’t only look out for hostels! Other budget friendly options for solo travelers include capsule hotels or guesthouses (there are often solo traveler room options). For example, when traveling to Takayama, I paid approximately $50 USD for my private room. Where else in the world can you get that??
8. Avoid getting meals included in your accommodation
You may notice when booking your accommodation online; you have the option to include meals with your booking. Unless you’re staying at a Ryokan, I would highly recommend that you skip this option (unless it’s super cheap or you don’t have time to go searching for food). Food in Japan can be really cheap, and chances are your accommodation isn’t offering the best rate.
9. Avoid shopping at the airport for souvenirs
I know, I know… This is a big no-no for budget travelers regardless of what country you’re visiting. Honestly? I made this mistake when leaving Japan to visit family in Malaysia. Part of me thought that Tokyo would be different – but alas, I was wrong!
If you’re traveling on a budget in Tokyo and are looking for cheap, affordable Japanese souvenirs, I’d highly suggest checking out Don Quijote (also known as “Donki”). This multi-level store is located all over Tokyo; it’s just a matter of finding your closest store!
They sell everything from food to alcohol to cosmetics – and is heaven if you’re after Japanese products to gift friends and family at home. You can also purchase your items duty-free, as long as you meet the spend and tax-free requirements. Each store has a duty free counter, so make sure you find out what spend is required and bring your passport with you!
10. Buy tax-free where available on items that you won’t be using/consuming in Japan
This goes without saying when you’re traveling, though I have noticed that when in Japan this is significantly easier compared with other countries. Many shops in Tokyo (including the much-loved Donki or Don Quijote) have a tax free counter. All you need is your passport, and the staff will do the rest for you – they will package your products and staple the appropriate paperwork to your passport. All you need to do is pack your goods (don’t open or use them before you leave Japan!) and you’re all set.
So there you have it – my suggestions of how to save money when traveling on a budget in Tokyo. Even though Japan has a reputation as an expensive city, it doesn’t need to be. While Japan will never be as cheap as some of nearby countries like Thailand or Vietnam, it can definitely be visited on a budget!
Are you visiting Japan?
Make sure you download our guide to the most useful Japanese phrases. I put this print-out together after seeing guides that were filled with phrases that I just couldn’t wrap my head around.
Click the link below to download: