I went to Tokyo last winter and this time around I was a lot smarter compared to my first trip that turned out to be nothing but a big sick joke of bad luck and money spending carnival. Hear out my tips because like this I could save hella lot money and time (compared to the first time when I did nothing but spend money and time, unwillingly at that). Dare to be a cheapscake!
Take all you can, for free.
I assume you arrive by plane to Narita. First thing go to a tourist information (I heard it closes at 6pm, which totally sucks). Okay now, don’t furrow your brows and think: “I’m not some stupid retarded tourist, I don’t need that shit, I have my guidebook, I am independent.” Shut up and go to tourist info, I command you. Let me explain why.
First of all they will give you all the maps you will ever need and they beat Lonely Planet crap maps any time. Second, they have a lot of useful information about the buzz in the city and will give you time tables for sumo, kabuki or circus, whatever you want. But the most important are walking tours. If you are keen on saving money ask them for a small booklet of walking tours with maps. As you know, Tokyo is just a cluster of small cities and they will have a map of each of the most famous, you will be able to save time and money buy walking trough the sights, temples and museums, each area will take you about half a day or if you like to take it easy one day. (Note: you will get only the map, no guide, so you can do everything by yourself!) They also have food and restaurant guides, info about tours, even other Japanese cities. Info about the fish market and tuna auction etc. Finally it’s all for free so why not? Huh? You won’t need your Lonely Planet after this.
If you haven’t already exchanged the currency at your home country, which is definitely the best opinion at all times, walk to any ATM and withdraw all the money you will ever need, ALL of it, at the airport. In Japan you will be able to withdraw money at 7elevene, Mini Stop and other 24/7 shops or then at post offices (if your cards works…). Forget about Japanese banks, maybe you will be lucky at City Bank but overall Japanese ATMs don’t usually cooperate with foreign cards. Anyway, if you ever run out of cash you might get into trouble because you can’t really pay with credit card everywhere (like for example in South Korea) and sometimes post offices are closed (ATMs are behind the locks). You can survive with Visa Electron but that might be hard because withdrawing money with it might be near to impossible, though situation gets better year by year. I suggest you get the cash out at the airport and keep the count, if it starts looking like you are running out of cash soon start looking for a way to get more, it’s like a battle of survival. But yeah, try the post offices and convenience stores, probably you will be okay.
- From Narita to City
You will have several possibilities to go to the city, which will take you about an hour by train, or more, depends on the train and your destination. I suggest you forget about the bus because they are the most expensive. If you favor N’EX (the fast train) The cheapest way is to buy Suica (local subway card) and a round trip to city and back, here is The Deal. But there was a time limit for the round trip, I stayed for three weeks and it was too long already. You can still buy Suica and one way ticket to the city which will be a lot cheaper than buying everything separately. You can buy this package downstairs at the train station and do not worry, there will be enough posters about this, you can ask at the tourist info too. If you can’t buy the round trip then when you go back to Narita take the cheapest train and remember to give your Suica back to get the deposit. So if you don’t want to travel with N’EX you can take the normal train (check out the time table, there are many trains) and it will cost you about 1000-1,500 one direction. For comfortable travel I suggest Suica + N’EX one way and normal train back.
- Accommodation and transport
You might think you don’t need a subway card but trust me, going around will be heaps easier and less frustrating with the damn card. You can load as little money on it as you want and you can even use it to pay in shops, some restaurants too. Besides you will get your left over money and deposit once you give the card back but I suggest you use up all the money just in case.
Okay, once in the city, before boarding the subway or train take a look at the prices of day tickets and calculate carefully before buying anything. Remember that subway tickets and train tickets are separate, you can buy combination ticket but it’s pretty expensive and you should calculate if it really is worth buying. Note that one day ticket in Japan is not 24 hours but is valid only on the day when you buy it so try to always leave early in the morning to get the most use of it. For me, I used subway every day but thanks to the maps with walking tours for me it was cheaper to just pay with Suica (there is no discount if you use Suica) instead of buying any discount tickets.
Accommodation might be super expensive, depends on your standards. I can tell that the cheapest hostels are not that inviting… A good opinion is to do couch surfing, I did it in Kyoto and it was just fine. Saved heaps of money. If you stay in Tokyo for weeks you could look for two or more hosts, this way it’s possible to make local friends who might take you around. But don’t depend on them too much and NEVER believe Japanese when they say “I will have time later, just wait for a little bit” You will end up waiting whole day. Hostels and hotels are not always on good places when you think about transportation, especially cheapest hostels but people’s homes could be on perfect locations regarding the subway. If you already know where you want to hang out the most be it Yokohama or Shibya choose accordingly. I can’t stress enough on the cost of public transport, you will lose all your money before you even notice.
If your accommodation is too far away from everywhere your money will go to the train and subway tickets, occasionally buses. I have found out that almost the best location in whole Tokyo would be somewhere on odakyuu (dark green) line. This time I stayed at a friend’s place at Yoyogi-koen and I must say that I could go from there to all the most famous places by subway, very easily with only few transfers. Even going to the airport was simple and easy. Odakyuu line! I used mostly metro so if you prefer trains naturally, get a place at any station as close to the center as possible. I found subway a lot better, faster, there were less people and more lines. Transferring between trains and subways was tricky and if you are not good at orientation I don’t suggest, moreover you have to buy separate tickets.
- FOOD and DRINKS
When it comes to food try to eat during lunch hours when they have discounts. When you go drinking favor Izakayas where you can buy cheaper alcohol and many different dishes in small size (but the taste is excellent!). Of course, if you want to eat better food you will have to spend more money. If you want ramen you better look for a good restaurant because ramen is either good or bad and you don’t want to pay a lot for crap, for a carp maybe… If you want sushi go to the fish market and try the restaurants around there. (What I am trying to say is that when you want good try the best) If you are couch surfing suggest to your host to cook Japanese home made food together, split the cost. You can try barbecue in a park (save on alcohol by buying it from a supermarket). And do not forget to visit supermarkets in the evenings when they sell sushi and other meals with BIG DISCOUNTS! Do not miss this. You deserve to go to a sushi restaurant at least once but then switch to supermarket sushi it’s really good too. You could try obentou places too, where they will pack you a lunch of your choice to go, that’s a bit cheaper than eating in.
Whenever you go to a restaurant, bar or a coffee shop, especially if you are alone, check if you have to pay for the table or not. At many places they will ask you to pay extra table fee and it’s always as high no matter if you are one or five.
If you drink a lot of alcohol, a heavy drinker bum who ended up in Tokyo somehow, try out karaoke bars. They usually have a package for one hour of singing and unlimited alcohol. This might be cheaper than getting drunk at a bar (especially if you are not alone) but I somehow suspect it’s still more expensive than buying your drinks from a shop. Though, at karaoke bar they have all kind of fancy drinks.
My suggestion: don’t buy anything. If you insists check out discounts and go to the streets where young people usually hang out like Harajuku, it might be cheaper there than in shopping malls. There are certain shopping streets where you can buy souvenirs a bit cheaper compared to tourist traps but overall they are expensive everywhere. Try out “Korea towns” or areas a bit further away from popular subway stations.
There is also Daiso and other hyaku-en shoppu (100 yen shop) where you can buy almost everything for just 100 yen, they are worth checking out if you are running low on cash but still need to buy souvenirs and such. The products are pretty good quality and they have variety of interesting cookies, sweets and drinks.
Second hand shops in Japan are good but maybe a bit expensive? The quality of available products is actually pretty good and you might be able to find some special stuffs you might never find anywhere else. They are also good sightseeing spots because then you can take a look at Japanese everyday life. What kind of clothes do they wear, what kind of toys do their kids play with, what kind of dishes can you find in their kitchens?
Finally if you want to travel somewhere from Tokyo like Kyoto or Osaka then there are cheap night buses. (If you didn’t buy a rail pass outside Japan then unfortunately, you can’t by it in Japan.)Train might cost you 100 bucks one direction, a vip bus 50 bucks (if not more) but the cheap buses are from 15 to 30 bucks. The problem is that you need to know Japanese in order to book a ticket online and the offices from where the buses leave can be located in tricky places. If you can’t speak Japanese ask a friend, use google translator or just google, do your everything! Learn Japanese! Remember that tickets are sold out pretty fast so start booking early. Japanese have also their own sites for super cheap airplane tickets.
Don’t miss your flight back home!