No, you don’t have to blow all your savings on your Tokyo trip.
- 1. Travel during the low season
- 2. Look for cheap Tokyo accommodations
- Vacation rentals
- Capsule hotels
- Alternative accommodations
- 3. Make the most of transit passes
- 4. Explore affordable food
- 5. Discover the gems of Japanese supermarkets
- 6. Go shopping, but buy second-hand
- 7. Skip the posh Tokyo nightlife
- 8. Take the bus to Mount Fuji
- 9. Seek out free Tokyo attractions
- 10. Museum hop using the Grutto Pass
Dreaming of a Tokyo adventure but lacking the cash to make it happen? It’s true: Japan isn’t a cheap country to visit. But it may not be as out of reach as you think! If you’re smart about it and plan ahead, Tokyo on a budget is definitely doable. Spare your bank account the pain and check out our Tokyo travel tips for thrifty travellers who want to visit one of the world’s most expensive cities. We promise you’ll get the full experience without emptying your wallet!
1. Travel during the low season
Image credit: Janko Ferlic
This is one of the ultimate hacks in travelling. And while this goes for any country, it may make even more of a difference in Japan. Travellers flock to the country during the holidays, cherry blossom season, and autumn foliage season. It may be the best time to visit Tokyo, but flights and hotels skyrocket during peak season.
When planning your trip, check out travel dates during winter (January to March) and the rainy season (June). Fewer tourists travel during these months, so cheap Tokyo flights may be available. Keep an eye out for discounted hotel and hostel rates, too!
2. Look for cheap Tokyo accommodations
A huge chunk of your Tokyo budget goes to accommodations, so it’s important to be smart about picking a place to stay in the city. Hotels can be shockingly pricey! Your best bet? Find an alternative that won’t be such a drain on your wallet. Luckily, you’ll have your pick of cheap accommodations in Tokyo.
Image credit: Book and Bed Tokyo Official Website
Like in many other countries, budget backpackers gravitate to hostels in Tokyo. It’s a great way to save some bucks, especially if you’ll be out exploring the city for most of the day.
Some hostels are trendier and more expensive than others, while there are ultra-cheap hostels that are more spartan. Several accommodations feature in-house bars or cafes. Others are themed, such as the Book and Bed Tokyo designed for bookworms! The right hostel depends on your preferences, but you can find beds for as low as ¥3,000. Start planning well ahead of your trip so that you have the time to consider different options.
Vacation rentals are another excellent lodging option for travellers visiting Tokyo on a budget. It’s especially suitable if you’re travelling with other people. Renting an entire apartment or house may be cheaper than everyone in the group each booking a hostel bed. Plus, you’ll get to cook your own meals, saving even more money in the long run.
Image credit: Nine Hours Suidobashi | Booking.com
Capsule hotels are low-budget lodging where travellers sleep in an enclosed capsule or pod. Each one is typically air-conditioned, with nightlights and power outlets for charging your gadgets. Most even offer free WiFi. Don’t expect a lot of space, but it’s cheap at only ¥3,000–¥5,000 per night. (Newer, themed capsule hotels tend to charge more, though.) It’s ideal for solo travellers who want more privacy at a reasonable price.
Keep in mind that men are the typical patrons of capsule hotels, and some are male-only. However, as they become more popular among international tourists, many are becoming more accessible to all travellers. Nine Hours, one of Tokyo’s most popular capsule hotel chains, is open to all genders.
When we say alternative, we mean just a tiny bit crazy. Have you ever considered catching up on sleep in a manga cafe? Well, you can in Tokyo! Some manga and internet cafes provide sleeping quarters for backpackers looking for Tokyo budget stays. Couchsurfing is also an option for unfussy travellers who don’t want to shell out anything for a bed (or couch).
3. Make the most of transit passes
Image credit: Fikri Rasyid
Public transportation won’t drain your wallet in one go, but costs can easily add up throughout your vacation. Transit passes are convenient for moving through Tokyo and the rest of Japan, although choosing which pass to get can be quite confusing.
The all-you-can-ride Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) is great for travellers planning multiple trips from Tokyo to popular destinations outside the city, like Nikko, Fuji Five Lakes, and the Izu Peninsula. It’s also perfect for shorter trips where you want to cover as much of Japan as possible. Note that the JR Pass is limited to JR trains. Furthermore, this type of rail pass is only valid for consecutive days, which isn’t ideal for slow travellers planning to explore just one neighbourhood per day.
Another good option is finding multi-day regional passes that are more flexible. For instance, the Kansai Thru Pass may be used on two or three days within a certain period, not necessarily on consecutive days. This particular pass can be used on trains and buses in the Kansai Region, including Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto. It can’t be used on JR trains, though.
Within Tokyo, we recommend getting prepaid IC cards like Suica or Pasmo. While it’s not necessarily cheaper, they make travelling a lot more convenient.
We’re warning you: Taxi fares are expensive in Japan! If you’re in Tokyo on a budget, avoid putting yourself in a situation where you have to take a cab. That means keeping track of train schedules in your area so that you don’t accidentally miss your ride.
Additionally, go on foot when you can! Think of it as sightseeing; Tokyo is a beautiful city, and there are sights you might miss when you’re speeding past everything on a cab or train.
4. Explore affordable food
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Japanese cuisine is one of the main draws of visiting the country. But that doesn’t mean hopping from one Michelin-star restaurant to another! Eating in Tokyo on a budget may require a little more creativity, but we guarantee that you won’t go hungry. And you won’t have to sacrifice quality either.
Hunt down mouthwatering street food in Asakusa and Tsukiji, where you can sample sushi, yakitori, dungo, and other delectable local treats for as low as ¥150. Or if you’re going for ultimate convenience, hit up any 7-Eleven (or other convenience stores)! There’s one on nearly every street corner and they’re open 24/7. Unlike convenience stores or konbini in most other countries, Japanese 7-Elevens have pretty tasty set meals that are delicious and filling enough for lunch on the go.
Craving for sushi? A kaitenzushi or a conveyor belt sushi restaurant is an affordable way to savour plates of sushi without shelling out a fortune at a pricey sushi bar.
5. Discover the gems of Japanese supermarkets
Image credit: Markus Winkler
For travellers navigating Tokyo on a budget, supermarket shopping is a must-try. It’s a little more challenging to navigate — after all, most customers are locals — but trust us when we say it’s worth the effort.
There’s usually a good selection of set meals in supermarkets, most of them at reasonable prices. Better yet, make your supermarket run in the evening when the seafood and sushi set meals are no longer considered “fresh” and sold at ultra-discounted prices.
Supermarkets are also a great place to hunt down souvenir snacks to take back home! The Japanese are masters of creating tasty and exotic snacks, so try a couple and come back to buy more of your favourites.
6. Go shopping, but buy second-hand
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It’s easy to think of Tokyo as the city of all things new, shiny, and futuristic. But it has more than its fair share of vintage (and ancient) charm, too. Frugal shopaholics are in luck in Tokyo, as the city’s thrift shop scene is thriving and vibrant.
The bohemian neighbourhood of Shimokitazawa is one of the best places in Tokyo to shop for vintage clothing. It’s home to a dazzling array of famous thrift stores like Flamingo, New York Joe Exchange, Haight & Ashbury, and more. Plus, you’ll find more than just clothes in Shimokitazawa! This artsy area also features a multitude of charming shops selling vinyl records, funky accessories, old books, and local handicrafts.
Another district that thrifty shoppers will love is Koenji. Shops like Furugisho Otora and Sokkyou are two of the popular Koenji vintage clothing stores for fashionistas shopping in Tokyo on a budget.
7. Skip the posh Tokyo nightlife
Image credit: ayumi kubo
Do you want to burn through your wallet for a single night of partying? If not, skip the glitzy nightclubs in Roppongi and Shibuya.
Instead, get your booze with the locals: under the train tracks. Yup, a lively nighttime scene thrives under Tokyo’s elevated railway tracks. Some of these so-called kokashitas have transformed into trendier spots that are pricier than we like, but a couple remain affordable. Head under the railway in Yurakucho for an after-hours experience that’s easy on the wallet. Cheap beer, simple yet tasty yakitori, and authentic izakaya joints — what else do you really need for a nightcap?
The famous Golden Gai, a narrow alleyway of cosy bars, is another great hangout spot for inexpensive drinks after dark. It’s not as refined as other nightlife spots in Tokyo. But if you want to booze down with locals and fellow backpackers, then you won’t want to miss this area.
8. Take the bus to Mount Fuji
Image credit: aditya anjagi
One of the most popular things to do in Tokyo is taking the Shinkansen bullet train to the iconic Mount Fuji. The journey is part of the attraction here; the train ride will take you past stunning views of the sacred mountain. But if we’re honest, the scenic Mount Fuji is beautiful no matter how you see it. Splurge on the pricier railway trip if you want! But if you’d rather spend your money elsewhere, taking the bus is a less expensive alternative.
To get from Tokyo to the Fuji area, travel around two hours on a highway bus to Kawaguchiko Station. Here, you’ll find yourself at one of the famous Fuji Five Lakes. The lookout point and the Mt. Fuji Basecamp are another hour-long bus ride away.
9. Seek out free Tokyo attractions
Image credit: Pierre Blaché
Despite the city’s reputation as one of the most expensive destinations in the world, there are a lot of free things to do in Tokyo. Some of the city’s most iconic attractions don’t charge an admission fee, such as the Imperial Palace, Sensoji Temple, and Meiji Shrine.
Wander through beautiful gardens and lush parks for free, like the Ueno Park, Higo Hosokawa Garden, and the 400-year-old Japanese Garden in Hotel New Otani Tokyo. There are also unique Tokyo experiences that don’t cost a single yen, such as seeing the tuna auction at the Toyosu Fish Market or snapping photos at the Shibuya Crossing.
10. Museum hop using the Grutto Pass
Image credit: john Applese
Feed your appetite for art by roaming the city’s best museums. There are a lot, from avant-garde modern art to digital exhibitions. Explore the artsy side of Tokyo on a budget with the Grutto Pass.
The Tokyo Museum Grutto Pass is a QR code ticket that gives travellers free admission and discount coupons to 101 museums and other Tokyo attractions. It’s your ticket to hotspots like the Tokyo National Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art, and Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum — and you don’t have to break the bank to see them all.
The museum pass costs ¥2,500 and is valid for two months from the first day of use. Is it worth it? For travellers in Tokyo for a week or two (or more) and planning to visit loads of museums, we’ll say the Grutto Pass is absolutely a worthwhile investment.
Ready to tick this Japan city off your bucket list? This short guide helps you envision (and plan) your much-deserved trip to Tokyo on a budget. Let us know how it goes on our Facebook page, or share your travel stories on TripZilla. We’d love to hear about it!
Featured image credit: Jezael Melgoza | Unsplash