Everyone knows that traveling in Japan can be expensive but I am finding out that there are lots of deals to be had in Tokyo. While it’s not dirt cheap, you can find deals. There’s no need to deplete your banking account while visiting the Land of the Rising Sun.
Below are some tips on accomodations, transportation, and eating in Tokyo:
Hotels, self-service hotels, and ryokan inns
Japanican.com – A site run by Japan Travel Bureau, Japanican.com can and will help you book all kinds of accommodations. Some places are not listed elsewhere so it’s worth checking and then cross-referencing with Travelocity, Expedia, and Booking.com.
Booking.com – owned by Priceline.com, this is a great site with great prices. You have to fork over your credit card but you don’t have to pay up front. There are cancellation restrictions but you don’t have to commit right away. There’s flexibility and when I had a check-in issue right before my departure from the U.S., someone actually called me from Booking.com to help me out. How’s that for service?
Where did I stay? In Tokyo, I stayed at a self-service hotel called the Weekly Mansion Higashi Ueno. It’s in a working-class neighborhood and about 8 minutes from the Ueno subway system – a major hub. Yes, you’re not in the thick of the action but it’s not far away. Plus, I got 16 square meter (about 160 square feet) for $70 a night, tax included. The room came with a small fridge, electric burner and sink. Japanese hotels are exceptionally tidy so even at this low price point, you can’t lose! That was from Booking.com.
[Japanican.com led me to the Dormy Inn Premium in Kyoto. I needed an affordable (8,000 yen, less than $80 USD) place near Kyoto Station because I had to catch an early train back to Tokyo. The Dormy was spacious by Japanese standards. It’s a new, medium size hotel. I didn't have time nor budget for a full-fledged ryokan inn experience. However, I got free internet access and the Dormy had a self-service mineral hot bath and spa. After a long day of walking to temples, the warm soak remedied aches and pains, paving the way to a good night’s sleep.]
A few valuable lessons I learned on getting around in Tokyo…
If you plan on going to many places in Japan other than Tokyo, consider getting a Japan Rail (JR) Pass. Do it before leaving the U.S. However, know that there are shipping and handling charges of about $25 on top of the basic fee. I stayed in Tokyo and took a side trip to Kyoto so there was no need for a pass.
At the Narita airport, skip the counters that welcome you when you come out of baggage claim and take the escalators downstairs to the official counters for the trains into Tokyo. There’s the Narita Express (covered by a JR pass, a big savings!) or the Keisei Skyliner (not covered by the JR pass). They are helpful in English AND they take credit cards. The upstairs counter took only cash last Sunday when I arrived. (If you have a JR pass, count the number of days from the moment you arrive so that you max out the benefits.)
To travel the subway and rail lines around Tokyo, buy a SUICA card (it’s plastic like a credit card with a penguin logo) at the rail station. The cost is 2000 yen a pop. No need to figure out the fare for each ride. Just tap the card like everyone else does going through the station gates. When you’re out of money on the card, it won’t let you through. As a station person (right by the ticket gates) and they’ll tell you how much you owe. Pay up and keep on going. Recharge next time you take the subway.
Jorudan.com helps you navigate Tokyo’s maze of super efficient subways and rail system. Just input your departure and arrival stations and the time you’re planning on leaving of your desired arrival. The site spits out a suggested itinerary. If When you get lost (everyone does in Tokyo), ask for help from policemen and shopkeepers.
ATM machines that take cards from overseas can be hard to find. Near the escalators right before you descend to get tickets into town, there are a few ATM machines, including HSBC. Get some cash before heading into Tokyo. Then try out the various ATMs in the city.
Splurge on a few extravagant meals (there are so many options!) but save your yen by nibbling on little snacks. For example, at the Tsujiki market in the outer area, vendors hawking grilled fish and sushi allow you to sample different foods. The stand-up ramen counter at Tsujiki will set you back a mere 650 yen (about $7.25).
For tips on where and what to eat, use Yukari Sakamoto’s splendid Food Sake Tokyo. It’s been an invaluable guide for me.
Refresh with a piece of fruit. I had a wedge of watermelon for 100 yen (about $1.25). Just like the locals, I stood near the trash can in front of the vendor’s stall. When I was through, I dropped the rind into the trash. Remember this: trash cans can be hard to find in Japan, just like in Taipei.
Little cafes and diners are fun. Go in with cash. Put your money into the machine and press on the menu items you want. You’ll get a ticket and someone will take the ticket from you. Sit down and your food will be delivered shortly. It’s highly efficient.
Go to a supermarket and look for the packaged salads, sushi, and bentos. They will add up in cost but they are freshly made, excellent in quality, and more affordable than eating out. I’d skip the tempura as fried food that’s been sitting around does not appeal. Get some beer at the market to round out your meal. The Japanese excel at ready made food and many people dine that way.
Visit the basement food halls at department stores. Everything is displayed like you’re shopping at Tiffany’s. It’s not cheap but you can look and buy a good selection of prepared foods. There is sometimes a regular market area attached too.
Drinking tap water in Japan
Japan’s water is good enough to drink from the tap. It’s not super tasty but it won’t kill you. Fill up a plastic bottle to take with you. Otherwise, you’ll be paying 100-130 yen for a small bottle from a vending machine.
This is my first trip to Japan and I’m really enjoying it. I don’t speak a lick of Japanese but people here have anticipated many human needs. They make it relatively easy for you to visit.
If you have tips on affordable travel in Tokyo (or Japan), please share them!