Tokyo on the cheap

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Sounds oxymoronic, doesn’t it? Tokyo and budgets seemingly don’t mix. Rest assured, you don’t have to live on rice to experience the grandeur and excess of Japan’s singular capital. Here’s how to do Tokyo on the cheap.

Sleeping

  • Shop around online months ahead, as rates can fluctuate dramatically depending on demand, day of the week or season.
  • Budget sleeps tend to be noisier, smaller and further from train stations.
  • Check out Sanya, an old ‘hood north of Asakusa filled with tiny but cheap rooms. Good bets: Juyoh Hotel, Hotel New Azuma and Hotel Accela.
  • Another great cheap sleep in Chiyoda is the Sakura Hotel.
  • For other great budget options check out the Tokyo section of Lonely Planet's Hotels & Hostels.

Eating

  • Kaiten-zushi (conveyer-belt sushi) restaurants serve pre-made sushi at reasonable prices.
  • Fill your belly with noodles at simple tachigui (stand-up) shops. Sakata is one of Tokyo’s most classic noodle spots, and the sanuki udon here is divine.
  • Fortify yourself with a drink and some small bites like yakitori (grilled chicken skewers) at street stalls and izakaya, the Japanese equivalent of a pub.
  • It’s all about bargain lunches! Devour sashimi at noon in places that might be beyond your budget come nightfall.
  • Rule of thumb: the longer the line out front, the better the food and lower the prices.
  • Kirin beer from a vending machine costs half as much as at a bar.

Image by MShades

Sights, Shopping & Entertainment

  • Cinemas and bowling alleys can be expensive. Instead play the free console games at the Sony Building.
  • Seek out museums and cinemas that offer discounts for students, children and seniors.
  • The Imperial Palace East Garden (Higashi-Gyōen) is a great spot to escape the dazzle of Tokyo and it's free.
  • For toiletries, snacks and knick-knacks, supermarkets and 100-yen shops trump inconveniently priced convenience stores.
  • Cruise the antique fairs and flea markets, often held on temple grounds. Some of the better ones: Azabu-jūban Antique Market, Nogi-jinja Flea Market and Roppongi Antique Fair.
  • While a full kabuki show can run you about US$150, you can catch a single-show matinee for less than US$20.

Image by john weiss

Transport

  • Walk or bike as much as you can.
  • Remember: the subway stops running between midnight and 1am. Don’t blow your hard-saved yen on a taxi fare, head home early (or stay out!).
  • City-hopping from Tokyo? Buy a Japan Railways (JR) Rail Pass before you leave home.

Image by mrhayata

Other tips

  • Avoid peak or otherwise expensive travel times, like Dec-Jan (New Year), late Apr-early May (Golden Week) and mid-Aug.
  • Plan ahead.
  • Great sources for deals and bargains are locals rags like Tokyo Journal and Metropolis.