I’ve been traveling my way around the world for more than a decade. As a digital nomad, I’ve dispatched articles from Portugal to Bangladesh to Indonesia and numerous places in between. Normally traveling on a tight budget, I’ve been determined to prove that traveling isn’t as expensive as many people think. Case in point: a recent few trips to Japan enjoying the cuisine, historic sights, and bullet trains without breaking the bank. Read on to find out more.
TRAVEL COSTS IN TOKYO
Let’s get one important item out of the way first: Tokyo is not as expensive as you think. Don’t get me wrong, the upper limits of spending are nearly limitless, but for those on a tighter budget, you may be surprised how inexpensive the Japanese metropolis can be if you know the right way to travel. This article will help you plan travel costs in Tokyo.
As a general rule, the largest city in a country is also the most expensive. Just look at London, New York, or Paris. Tokyo is the same for the high-end spender, but may be unique in the fact that it offers the budget traveler some cheap eats and transport along with reasonably-priced accommodation.
A mid-range traveler here could get away with spending about USD $100 per day. This would get a simple, but clean and comfortable private room (based on double occupancy), three square meals, a rewarding day of sightseeing, and a couple beers in the evening. A budget traveler being mindful of his or her spending could see Tokyo on about $50-60. This type of traveling would include a dorm bed in a hostel (or capsule bed), at least two meals out, and mostly free sightseeing, of which there is plenty in Tokyo.
TOKYO SIGHTSEEING EXPENSES
There are a few big ticket tourist items in Tokyo. Disneyland at 7,400 JPY (Japanese yen) (USD $70) ) or Skytree at 4,000 JPY ($38) are two of the most expensive. If you avoid these, you can see Tokyo on less. But you’ve got to know where to look. There are several top sights which cost nothing. This will help you save money to put toward more important things like raw fish and sake. To get an excellent free view over the city and out to Mt. Fuji on a clear day, go to the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. To get a good dose of culture and fresh air, take a stroll to the free Meiji Jingu Shrine in beautiful Yoyogi Park. Other Tokyo phenomenon are always free: Harajuku, Shibuya
TRANSPORT AROUND TOKYO
One of the most expensive items for a traveler in Japan is inter-city transportation. Buses are expensive and trains are even more costly. As this guide is only dealing with Tokyo, you’ll be primarily utilizing the comprehensive and inexpensive city public transit, which is a great value. Tokyo has one of the most extensive mass transit systems in the world, showcasing clean, safe, and efficient rides. One subway trip, depending on the distance covered, ranges from 110 – 310 JPY ($1-3). If you opt to buy a day subway pass, consider the 24-hrs pass will cost 800 JPY ($7.60), while a 48-hour pass will run 1200 JPY ($11.40), and a 72-hour pass 1,500 JPY ($14.25) To get into the city from Narita airport, budget at least 1,200 yen ($11.40) for the slowest of several train ride options. The Narita Express will get you into central Tokyo in about 55 minutes for 3,190 JPY ($30). If you opt for using taxis around the city, you’ll pay more. Fares generally start at 710 JPY ($6.75) and you can figure at least 3,000 JPY ($28.60) for a cross-city ride.
EATING IN TOKYO
Eating represents a very good value in Tokyo. You can often find set lunches between 800-1,200 JPY ($7.60-11.40). A seafood donburi bowl or sushi set will only set you back about 1,200 JPY ($11.40), or double that at a higher quality restaurant. A bowl of ramen is typically 800 JPY ($7.60) and udon noodles are even cheaper. Those on a tight budget will want to look out for several fast food chains serving up the ubiquitous gyudon, or beef bowls (on rice). Yoshinoya, Matsuya, and Sukiya are three of the most popular chains serving up gyudon with a side of miso soup for under 400 JPY ($3.80). Chicken, fish, curry, and more is on the menu, so count on at least one cheap meal per day
Bargain hunters will also want to look out for supermarkets, especially late in the evening when sushi packs and bento boxes, katsu, and tempura go on sale. In addition to this, convenience stores like 7-11 and Lawson Station can be found on practically every corner. Here you can get onigiri (rice balls) wrapped with seaweed and topped with your choice of pork, beef, fish, or even salmon roe if you want to get fancy. Most of these are priced at around 110 JPY ($1.05) and you’ll need at least two for a filling breakfast.
For high-end eating, Tokyo has the most Michelin-starred restaurants
STAYING IN TOKYO
There is accommodation in Tokyo for every budget. Luxury travelers will be spoiled for choice; from high-rise hotels like the Shangri-la to luxury ryokans (traditional Japanese inns). These will set you back somewhere in the neighborhood of $300 on up. Mid-range travelers can get away with nice doubles for $100-$150 per night. One thing you’ve got to understand about Tokyo hotels is that space here is at a premium, so hotel rooms are small. Budget travelers will mostly be looking at hostel dorm beds or doubles in budget hotels. I scored a fantastic double room with shared bath in a family-run ryokan near Ueno Park for about $75 per night. For solo travelers and backpackers, a dorm bed will cost about $20-25.
Tokyo accommodation gets even more interesting than this. Enter the capsule hotel. For about $30, a solo traveler can explore the world of Japanese capsule hotels. These were designed for business men or party goers who have missed the last train and need a place to crash until the morning trains begin again. For this price, you get a literal sleeping capsule with shared bathroom and bathing facilities. Occasionally, capsule hotels will have hot tubs, saunas, and steam rooms.
Sample Daily Travel Expenses for the budget to mid-range independent traveler: