Tokyo Budget Travel Guide: 9 Cheap Experiences You Shouldn’t Miss

Tokyo Budget Travel Guide: 9 Cheap Experiences You Shouldn’t Miss

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Oh, Tokyo, where do we begin? The energetic Japanese capital is where modernity blends with the past and shines as a beacon of the country’s post-war revival.

Tokyo often gets a bad rap for being expensive; sure, it’s not the cheapest place in the world, but it’s not so bad compared to other Western European capitals. This guide will show you how you can enjoy your time here without breaking the bank.

How to get from Tokyo’s Airports to the city center

From Tokyo Narita

Tokyo Narita is around 80 kilometers from the city center. When you land, you can either take a train or a bus to your accommodation. The fastest option is the Keisei Skyliner, which will take you to Nippori Station in around 36 minutes; the ticket costs JPY 2580 (€15.32). If you’re unsure of where to go, just follow the signs in the airport, as they’re all in English, or ask a member of staff who will be more than happy to assist you.

Alternatively, you can take the bus to the city center, which stops outside Terminals 1, 2, and 3. The Airport Limousine Buses run a couple of times every hour and stop in some of the main tourist districts, like Shinjuku and Shibuya. The tickets are priced at JPY 3600 (€21.38). While the journey time varies based on how bad the traffic is in the center, it normally takes between 90 and 120 minutes to reach the center.

From Tokyo Haneda

If you fly into Tokyo Haneda Airport, it’s only 14 kilometers from the city center, which is much closer than Narita Airport. As you touch down, you can take the train to your hostel or hotel. The Keikyu Airport Line stops at various stations in the center, including Shinagawa Station and Shimbashi Station. Ticket prices vary based on where you’re going, but for example, a single ticket to Shimbashi Station costs JPY 327 (€1.94).

Similar to Tokyo Narita, the Airport Limousine Bus also serves Tokyo Haneda Airport, with a few buses leaving every hour. The ride to Shinjuku Station takes roughly 45 minutes, and tickets cost JPY 1400 (€8.31).

How to Enjoy Tokyo on the Cheap

1. Experience Shibuya Crossing

Watching the scramble at Shibuya Crossing is something you need to see with your own eyes to believe. Known as the busiest road crossing on the planet, sometimes up to 2500 people walk over the white-painted lines at a time.

Tokyo Budget Travel Guide: 9 Cheap Experiences You Shouldn’t MissShibuya Crossing: One of the busiest pedestrian intersections in the world, known for its bustling crowds and vibrant cityscape © Getty Images

Once you walk outside Shibuya Station’s Hachiko exit, you’ll see the crossing directly in front of you. It’s actually best viewed up on the station’s second floor, where you can experience the chaos unfolding every two minutes from a wonderful vantage point. However, you’ll likely want to stroll across and try it out for yourself.

2. Sip Some Sake in the Golden Gai District

Tucked away a few streets back from the shady red light district, Kabukichō lies the edgy quarter of Golden Gai. This web of alleyways is lined with over 200 bars, each of which follows its own specific theme, from karaoke to 80s retro.

As darkness creeps in, what seems like a typical Tokyo neighborhood turns into a vibrant borough with flashing neon lights and not-so-sober businessmen unwinding after a hard day at the office. Sounds fun, right?

Most of the bars in Golden Gai are quite small, with most only able to seat a handful of people. Just beware that some establishments don’t allow foreigners, so check the signs outside beforehand. Also, keep an eye out for cover charges, which are usually between JPY 700 (€4.15) and JPY 1000 (€5.92). They’re a big phenomenon at the bars in this area that tourists fall victim to after one too many drinks.

Tokyo Budget Travel Guide: 9 Cheap Experiences You Shouldn’t MissThe Golden Gai District is renowned for its narrow alleyways, distinctive bars, and vibrant nightlife © Pexels

3. Get Your Photo Taken at the Tokyo Tower

The fabulous bright red Tokyo Tower, modeled after the famous Eiffel Tower, scrapes the skies of the central part of the city. It rises to an impressive height of 333 meters and has long been a symbol of prosperity for the country after its harrowing past.

While you can go up to the top of the tower, which costs JPY 1200 (€7.11), seeing it from afar is more impressive and cost-effective. There is a set of steps that lead down into the neighboring Momiji Valley Park, which offers an unbelievable view of the tower itself and provides an unbeatable photo opportunity.

Tokyo Budget Travel Guide: 9 Cheap Experiences You Shouldn’t MissThis 333-meter tall landmark in Japan’s capital not only offers panoramic city views but also once doubled as a giant Christmas tree! © Getty Images

4. Check out Meiji Jingū Shrine

Whenever you go to Tokyo, you’ll come across shrines; they’re everywhere, but nothing close to being as impressive as the Meiji Jingū Shrine.

Meiji Jingū Shrine was built in honor of Emperor Meiji’s spirits beside the busy Harajuku Station. The walk to get there is charming in itself; you’ll be surrounded by lush greenery and expansive forests, a world away from the bustle of Shinjuku. Out of nowhere, the jaw-dropping structures of Meiji Jingū will appear, with hoards of locals and tourists surrounding them, making Shinto offerings.

Access to the Meiji Jingū Shrine is free for everyone, but there will be times when you may want to make a small donation of a few coins; Japanese people usually donate around JPY 100 (€0.59) at one of the monuments. This will be at your own discretion, of course.

5. Visit a Ramen Bar

You’d be forgiven for thinking that every second building in Tokyo is a ramen bar. No matter where you look, there’s another restaurant serving their traditional Japanese noodle dish, whether it’s a bowl of Shoyu with extra soy sauce or a salty serving of Miso.

It can be quite overwhelming as a tourist, especially if you want to try the Japanese specialty for the first time. The thoughts will start racing through your head: “How do I know which place is the best?” and “What if I don’t like it?” Well, rest assured, it’s very hard to get a bad bowl of ramen, not just in Tokyo but in most of Japan.

Tokyo Budget Travel Guide: 9 Cheap Experiences You Shouldn’t MissA taste of Japanese soul in every savory slurp© Getty Images

If you’re looking to cut back on costs but still want to sample some ramen, check out Yaro Ramen (a bowl starts at JPY 960 (€5.69) and Kugatsudo Ramen (A bowl starts at JPY 850 €5.04). Both are renowned for their affordability and generous serving sizes.

6. See Tokyo’s Bohemian Side at Shimokitazawa

Shimokitazawa may only be a short train ride from Shibuya, but it’s worlds apart.

Often labeled as the city’s bohemian quarter, Shimokitazawa is like stepping into a time machine with adorable bookstores, ancient antique shops, and second-hand clothing corners with goods starting at as low as JPY 500 (€2.96). It’s a pocket of Tokyo with strong farming roots and still has held on to its authentic charm, unlike other parts of the city where the march of advancement is evident.

Shimokitazawa tends to lie below the radar on most visitors’ itineraries, with Ginza and Harajuku getting their attention first. But this is good news for you, as the crowds are nowhere near as bad, so you can roam at your own pace without feeling overwhelmed.

7. Go and See a Sumo Training Session

Attending a sumo match in Tokyo isn’t that cheap, with tickets costing JPY 3982.11 (€23.59). Matches are only held during January, May, and September, but that doesn’t mean your chances of seeing the traditional wrestling style in action are completely ruined if you come at a different time of year.

Beside Hamachō Park in the eastern part of the city is Arashio-beya Sumo Stable, a training center open for visitors to watch the wrestlers prepare for their upcoming tournaments. Sessions are held in the mornings between 7:30 am and 10:00 am. You’re not allowed to go inside, but you can watch the action take place from the windows free of charge.

Tokyo Budget Travel Guide: 9 Cheap Experiences You Shouldn’t MissThese athletes embody Japan’s ancient sport with a mix of power, discipline, and a touch of humor © Pexels

Bear in mind that Arashio-beya Sumo Stable is by no means a hidden gem; it’s well-known. Unfortunately, crowds are common, and the building isn’t that big, so you may have to line up to get some photos. Try to get there around 30 minutes before the session kicks off to get a good spot.

8. Enjoy a Free Viewpoint at the Metropolitan Government Building

In a city where most viewpoints require a paid ticket, the Metropolitan Government Building stands out, offering visitors free access to its observation decks.

The Metropolitan Government Building is made up of two buildings overlooking the concrete jungle, with Mount Fuji sometimes visible when the weather is good. Each building has its own observation deck, reaching a whopping 202 meters in height, so there’s no real difference in choice. Both also have a cafe, so you can grab a coffee and soak up Tokyo from a whole new perspective.

9. Take a Day Trip to See Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji, Japan’s highest mountain (and technically still active volcano), lies 100 kilometers southwest of Tokyo.

Tokyo Budget Travel Guide: 9 Cheap Experiences You Shouldn’t MissJapan’s iconic peak at 3,776 meters, known for its beauty and occasional game of hide-and-seek with clouds © Getty Images

Taking a day trip from Tokyo to Mount Fuji is really easy. Just hop on the bus from Shinjuku Station to Fujiyoshida. The journey only takes between 1 hour and 45 minutes and 2 hours, and the tickets cost anywhere between 2215 JPY (€13.13) and JPY 2385.51 (14.14) one way. Prices can change based on the exchange rate.

When you arrive at Fujiyoshida, there are many viewpoints you can check out to get a nice glimpse of Mount Fuji in all her glory. One of the most revered is the one at Chureito Pagoda at Arakura Sengen Shrine, which sits atop a hill looking directly at the mountain. You just have to walk a couple of hundred steps to get there from the bottom, and it’s completely free to enter.

If you’re interested in climbing Mount Fuji during the hiking season between July and September, a new fee has been announced for 2024. Hikers will now be charged JPY 2000 (€11.85), so take note. The hike itself takes around 5-10 hours, depending on the hikers’ level of fitness.

Best Time to Visit Tokyo

There’s no ‘wrong’ time of year to visit Tokyo. However, some parts of the year are more favorable than others.

Spring (March, April, and May) marks the beginning of the famous Cherry Blossom Season, with the outdoor parks around Tokyo’s center coming to life with vibrant colors. Temperatures around these months range between 5°C and 23°C, but they get higher the closer it gets to summer, so don’t forget to pack your shorts.

Tokyo Budget Travel Guide: 9 Cheap Experiences You Shouldn’t MissWhen Japan transforms into a pink paradise, inspiring festive picnics and endless selfies © Getty Images

Another favorable time to travel to Tokyo is autumn (September, October and November). The summer crowds are slowly disappearing, making accommodation prices low, and temperatures are dropping to lows of 9°C once it gets to November; what’s not to love?

How Expensive Is Tokyo?

When you compare Tokyo to some of the other major capitals in East Asia, such as Bangkok and Hanoi, it’s definitely on the pricier side. Having said that, your money will go a little further than it would in somewhere like Paris or London.

ATMs and currency exchange offices throughout Tokyo charge a fee to withdraw money, at least a couple hundred Japanese Yen per withdrawal. So, it’s best to change money in your home country before coming for a lower fee.

Local currency – Japanese Yen (JPY); €1 = 168.42

Dinner/lunch – Small street food snacks JPY 200 (€1.19) or a meal at a local restaurant JPY 1000 (€5.94)

Coffee –  Between JPY 300 (€1.78) and JPY 500 (€2.97)

Beer – JPY 500 (€2.97) to JPY 700 (€4.16)

Wine – Around JPY 700 (€4.15)

Hostel dorm (10 bed) – JPY 2189.45 (€13) a night

Cheap hotel/apartment – JPY 5893.12 (€35)

Now, You Can Visit Tokyo on the Cheap!

There you have it, that’s how you visit Tokyo on the cheap! It can be easy to get excited and overdo it when you arrive, but if you stick to public transport, cheap hostels or hotels, and eat where the locals do, you’ll be perfectly fine.

Setting yourself a realistic budget beforehand is a good idea so you can keep on top of your spending, which is especially important when dealing with a currency as complicated as the Japanese Yen.

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Adam Ryan

Adam is a travel writer, coffee enthusiast, hiker and adventurer fascinated by less-visited destinations. Currently, he's attempting to visit every country in the world at his own pace. @asadamgoes