There are three main ways to see Tokyo on a budget:
- Find affordable accommodation that’s close to the action
- Use Tokyo’s excellent subway networks or explore the city on foot
- Discover the thousands of cheap eateries and restaurants from convenience store ready-meals, conveyor belt sushi trains, to izakayas (Japanese pubs)
Tokyo is a massive city.
With over 22 million residents, a visit to Tokyo is sure to make even the most seasoned traveler’s eyes boggle. There is literally so much to see and explore that a week really isn’t enough.
And Tokyo is an expensive city to visit (the average daily cost for a visitor is ¥19,392 or US$169). But fortunately, there are a few tips and tricks to visit the Japanese capital on a budget.
What to Look for in Budget Accommodation
Finding somewhere to stay in Tokyo on a budget can be challenging, but there are a few options for the thrifty traveler looking to bed down in Tokyo.
Super Budget Accommodation
When you’re looking for the cheapest prices for accommodation in Tokyo, you should know there are a few no-frills super-budget options available.
Costing as little as ¥2,000 (US$17.00) per night, hostels allow you to nab a bunk bed in a dorm room. While you may have to share the space, most hostels are near the main sights and attractions, so you can easily save on transportation costs too.
You can even choose to work a few hours a day to cover your room costs.
Budget Room Rental in Tokyo
Websites such as Airbnb are super popular for travelers looking for budget accommodation options without having to stay in crowded hostel dorm rooms. Renting a room from a local also comes with some perks too, as many can offer excellent trip advice.
The rooms can be cozy compared to western standards, but you can view rooms and book them conveniently online. Overall, you can expect to pay between ¥2,500-¥4,000 (US$22-34) per night for a room with a double bed.
Also, you should note that some of these places want you to have a valid driver’s license or ID to check-in.
Budget Hotels in Tokyo
If you are traveling alone and can stretch the budget to around ¥2,500 (US$22) per night, you can find a private room with a double bed in a budget 1-star hotel or hostel in the center of Tokyo.
If you’re looking for an authentic Japanese experience, you can get a bed in one of Tokyo’s many capsule hotels for around ¥2,000-¥4,000 (US$17-34). Just be aware that when you stay in a capsule hotel, you usually have to check out each morning.
Additionally, many capsule hotels are same-sex occupations only, so they’re also not ideal for traveling couples. But, if you’re a couple looking for a bit of comfort at an affordable price, hotel websites such as Booking.com offer some excellent deals.
Plus, many hotels offer free breakfast, which can help you save money.
Getting Around on a Budget
Tokyo is a vast sprawling city, and you’ll need at least a few days to scratch the surface of sights and things to do. Ideally, you’ll need at least a week in Tokyo alone, and be prepared to hit the footpaths and use public transport to get around if you’re on a budget.
Explore Tokyo on Foot
Tokyo is huge, but it’s also pedestrian-friendly, easy to navigate (the street signs are in Japanese and English), and a pretty safe city. Exploring Tokyo on foot takes a little longer, but it’s well worth it as there’s so much to see.
You can start by exploring the famous Shinjuku and Shibuya areas. There’s an excellent walking route connecting these two parts of Tokyo that takes you through some stunning urban areas, including two huge parks: Yoyogi Park and the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden.
The Tokyo Metro System
When you’ve worn the heels off your shoes and need a break from walking, Tokyo has one of the most affordable, safe, and clean local transportation systems in the world.
The Tokyo subway map can look a little daunting at first (it’s huge with over 280 stations), but it’s pretty easy to work out as long as you follow each train line correctly. Plus, the interactive multi-language ticketing machines are simple to use.
There’s also a great route planner and fare calculator available online.
Overall, it’s better to make trips under a mile on foot, but if you’re looking for a cheap and quick way to explore central Tokyo, then one of the train system tickets below is an affordable and convenient solution. You can buy these at Narita Airport.
- Tokyo Subway 24-hour Ticket – Adult: ¥800 (US$7.00)
- Tokyo Subway 48-hour Ticket – Adult: ¥1,200 (US$10.50)
- Tokyo Subway 72-hour Ticket – Adult: ¥1,500 (US$13.00)
You should also know that many of the stations with the most tourist attractions include:
- Shibuya Station
- Tokyo Station
- Harajuku Station
- Shinjuku Station
- Ueno Station
- Oshiage Station
Furthermore, you can try out transportation like the Tokyo Sakura Tram or the JR lines (JR Yamanote and JR Chuo line), which can take you between multiple locations.
Finally, you may have heard that sexual assault is an issue on train cars in Japan. So, if you are a woman traveling alone, it may be better to take one of the women-only cars that travel during rush hour.
Cheap and Free Things to Do in Tokyo
Some of the cheapest things to do in Tokyo when traveling on a budget include:
- Visiting the Tokyo National Museum
- Seeing the Tokyo Imperial Palace and the Imperial Palace east gardens
- Viewing the skyline at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (Better option than the Tokyo Skytree and Tokyo Tower, also called the Tokyo Eiffel Tower)
- Seeing the blooms during cherry blossom season
- Walking around Tokyo Bay
- Visiting old-fashioned arcades where you can play games like Mario Kart
- Exploring the Tsukiji Fish Market (only the outer market is open now). Also, markets are much cheaper than shopping malls overall, but you should show up early for the best deals.
- Walking Yebisu Museum of Beer (although guided tours may be a little expensive)
- Eating at cafes where you can interact with cute animals
- Walking around Ueno Park
- Taking a day trip to Mount Fuji
- Seeing Kyu Furukawa Teien, just a short walk from Kami-Nakazato Metro Station.
Plus, you can access most of these places from many of the same train lines.
Read Also >> Guide to the Cherry Blossom Festival
Eating Out on a Budget
Tokyo is, without a doubt, one of the world’s most exciting places to eat out. And, just like any major city, there are literally thousands of eateries, bars, and restaurants to explore.
Tokyo also has hundreds of Michelin-star restaurants (212 in 2021) scattered throughout the city. But, you don’t need to spend big bucks on fine dining or at places like the Robot Restaurant or a Maid Cafe to experience good Japanese food.
Super Budget Eating Out – Convenience Stores
There are over 2,800 Seven-Eleven stores dotted all over Tokyo, and food-thrifty travelers looking to eat on a shoestring budget will become acquainted with this humble grocery store. There are also other convenience stores such as Family Mart and Lawson, which are at pretty much every train station in Tokyo.
In Japan, Seven-Eleven stores are not just convenience stores, but they’re also snack bars serving a great range of hot and cold ready meals and other exciting food options. Many even have comfortable eating counters in-store.
Convenience stores are open all hours and sell everything from US-style hamburgers and hotdogs, pizza slices, and even cheese dogs that you can heat up in-store. There are also hot and cold pastries, salads, cold pasta dishes, and sushi and sashimi mixed plates.
And these stores have great prices:
- A New York-style slice of pizza is around ¥100-150 (US$0.90-$1.30).
- A sushi box meal is about ¥500 (US$4.50).
- Mitarashi Dango (dumplings with a sweet soy glaze) goes for around ¥135 (US$1.10).
Also, make sure you keep some room for desserts, as many of the ready-made desserts in the local convenience store have garnered cult status over the years with tourists and locals. Plus, you can get these cheap eats for under US$1.00.
Similarly, sometimes you can find cheap street food while exploring the city. Furthermore, fast food is always an inexpensive option, but you may not get to experience as much of the local culture at a place like McDonald’s.
Or, you can visit ramen shops, where you can grab some cheap meals after purchasing a ticket from a vending machine.
Budget Sushi Bars in Tokyo
You can’t go to Tokyo without sampling some sushi, and you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to this Japanese classic. You can find budget sushi restaurants everywhere, and they are an excellent opportunity to try some of the best sushi you’ll ever have.
Head to a ‘kaitenzushi’ or conveyor-belt sushi restaurant where you can get a sushi plate for as little as ¥77 (US$0.67). Another bonus for those on a budget is matcha green tea served free of charge at virtually every ‘kaitenzushi’.
One super high-tech and affordable kaitenzushi is Uobei, where you order from a touchscreen (in any language), and a conveyor belt brings your meal to you. There’s virtually no human contact, which can make for a fun new experience.
Affordable Izakayas in Tokyo
Izakayas are like the equivalent of a bar or pub.
They’re fun, rowdy, and serve incredible Japanese food and drinks. And, best of all, they’re affordable, and you can easily get to them off the JR line.
Most izakaya’s offer an extensive menu of sushi, sashimi, seafood and fish dishes, noodle dishes, fried food, and plenty of meat to choose from too. A meal for two, including a few sushi dishes, a noodle dish, a meat dish, and some drinks, will set you back around ¥4000 (US$35.00).
From hunting for the cheapest digs in town to saving money on transport and dining out for dimes, there are plenty of opportunities to visit one of the world’s most expensive cities without blowing even the most meager of travel budgets. So, if you follow the budget tips above, you will definitely love Tokyo, even if you’re on a tight budget.
However, just remember that it’s a good idea to splurge on travel insurance, so you don’t have to spend more on emergencies.
Table of Contents
- What to Look for in Budget Accommodation
- Getting Around on a Budget
- Eating Out on a Budget