Splurge v. Save: Tokyo

Posted by Kelly Britton on September 13, 2012 at 12:03:24 PM EDT | Post a Comment

While there is truth in the notion that Tokyo is expensive—it's possible to blow your vacation budget in a single night—a trip to the Japanese metropolis doesn't have to break the bank.

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Where to Stay

Splurge on a chic boutique hotel or head to old Tokyo for a traditional stay.

Splurge: Tokyo is chock-full of five-star hotels, but for a truly special stay, reserve a room at Hotel Claska. Located in hip Nakameguro, Hotel Claska has 18 rooms, each uniquely conceived by Tokyo-area designers. Claska's beautiful modern furnishings, minimalist design and contemplative atmosphere offer a new take on luxury. So live the life of a well-heeled Tokyoite, if only for a weekend. Rates from 20,000¥ to 89,000¥ ($258-$1148)

Save: For a taste of old Japan, head to the historic neighborhood of Asakusa. Here, steps from some of the city's oldest temples, is Tokyo Ryokan. Traditional Japanese inns are rare in booming Tokyo, and this charming 3-room guesthouse is a great retreat from the bustle of the city. Tokyo Ryokan offers an authentic Japanese experience, with attentive service, woven tatami floors, and cozy futon for sleeping. Be sure to take in the view from Tokyo Skytree, the world's tallest tower, while you're in the neighborhood. Rates are fixed at 7,000¥ (single) and 10,500¥ (double) ($90-$135).

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Where to Eat

Sushi reigns king in Tokyo. Where to go for fresh fish is up to you.

Splurge: These days, everyone dreams of Sukiyabashi Jiro. But if the $500 price tag and corseted service aren't your thing, try Sushi Kyubey in Ginza. At one of Tokyo's most highly regarded restaurants, chef and owner Yosuke Imada serves only the best, local fish. In fact, he recently paid a record $116,000 for a single bluefin tuna. Equally important at Kyubey is the service. Unlike most top-end sushi shops, the chefs here can speak a little English, and are open to questions, photography, and, on occasion, even laughter. Perfect fish in a uniquely warm atmosphere—at Kyubey, both quality and experience are guaranteed. Chef's selection from 10,000¥ ($130).

Save: For fresh fish on a budget, head straight to the source. Locals and foreign foodies flock to the iconic Tsukiji market for its endless maze of seafood stalls. Beside the covered market are plenty of sushi bars offering the day's catch, but the favorite of the lot is Sushi Dai. People start lining up here as early as 5 am so plan for a queue. Once inside, it's best to order the omakase seto (2,400¥-3,500¥ or $30-$45), or chef's special set. The fish is almost as good as any you'll find in Tokyo, for a fraction of the price.

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Where to Drink

There's no shortage of watering holes in Tokyo so feel free to imbibe.

Splurge: If you've seen Lost in Translation, you'll no doubt remember the late night rendezvous of Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson in the bar of the Park Hyatt. On the 52nd floor of Tokyo's most luxurious hotel, New York Bar is the kind of place where magic happens. Slide into a rich leather booth and feast on one of the most spectacular views in the city. With its floor-to-ceiling windows, live jazz, and expert cocktails—try the French 75, with champagne and Tanqueray (1,800¥ or $23)—the high life doesn't get much higher than this. There is no cover charge between 5-7pm.

Save: Izakaya, or Japanese pubs, are one of the best places to stop in for a casual drink and snack. Seigetsu, a friendly izakaya near Waseda University welcomes both connoisseurs and first-time sake drinkers. Grab a seat at the counter and peruse the dozens of sakes and shochus from around Japan (300¥-1200¥ per glass; $4-$15). The staff will gladly guide you if you are a sake novice, and the grilled specialties come in bite-sized portions, perfect for pairing.

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Where to Shop

In fashion-centric Tokyo, there is always something to browse or buy.

Splurge: There are enough designer boutiques in Tokyo to fill a style Bible. But serious fashionistas know that the city's department stores offer one-stop shopping for all the best labels. Some go-to fashion hotspots include Wall (in the LaForet store), in trendy Harajuku, and Re-Style Plus in Shinjuku. From up-and-coming designers to runway icons like Vivienne Westwood and Comme des Garçons, they sell brands to suit every style.

Save: Vintage is a relatively new concept in Japan, where consumption is a virtue. Fortunately, Japanese shoppers are becoming hip to buying used. Pass the Baton, an expansive second hand shop in chic Omotesando, is a popular venue for re-sale goods. The store offers designer merchandise neatly arranged in a gallery-like setting.

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Getting Around

Though Tokyo seems to sprawl endlessly, its comprehensive subway system is a snap.

Splurge: Taxis are certainly the most relaxing way to explore Tokyo. White-gloved drivers and impeccable service ensure that you will be riding in comfort. Fares start at 660¥ ($8.50)

Save: Using Tokyo's massive network of subways and trains is a great way to get around: cheap, safe, and efficient, it will take you within a few minutes walk of almost anywhere you want to go. Free maps are available in every station and signage is usually in English. Take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the system, then buy a ticket and enjoy the ride. 1 ride 160¥ ($2); 1 day pass 1,000¥ ($13) (subway only) or 1,580¥ ($20) (subway and train).

Photo Credits: Where to Stay: Courtesy of Hotel Claska; Where to Eat: by kslee Attribution-NonCommercial License; Where to Drink: Courtesy of Hyatt; Where to Shop: Courtesy of Pass The Baton; Getting Around: Akita Shinkansen E3 Series Train "Komachi" in Tokyo Station by ykanazawa1999 Attribution License

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