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Tokyo can be painfully expensive, but here are some tips that can help ease the strain on the travel budget.
Big Western or Japanese hotel chains can be expensive, but Japan also has "business hotels" that provide small basic rooms at very reasonable prices. Look out for chains like Toyoko Inn, Dormy Inn, and Comfort Inn. With some business hotel chains, you can get discounted rates by signing up for free membership cards. Toyoko Inn’s membership card offers 30% off on Sunday, for example.
Another saving option, if you or someone you know can read Japanese, is to book via a hotel's own Japanese website, which usually gives the best rates and choices.
If there are four of you traveling together, youth hostels can be an attractive budget option—rooms are often set up for four people, so there will be no sharing with strangers. Hostels also tend to be very clean, usually offer meals at a good price, and can oftentimes be well located.
If you are traveling around Japan, the JR Pass will save you a fortune in fares and allow you to use Shinkansen. It will also get you on JR sleeper trains, which can save some on accommodation costs. If you are just planning a weekend out of Tokyo, stop by a major train station and ask about passes for the area. The Hakone Free Pass, which can be bought at Shinjuku Station, covers the train fare to and from Hakone on the Odakyu Line as well as unlimited use of buses, sightseeing boats, cable cars, and local trains for two or three days in Hakone.
Eating takeout from department store basement food halls is an excellent way to save money. You will save even more if you wait until an hour before closing when many prepared foods are marked down 25–50%. Even better deals on ready-made lunches and dinners can be found at supermarkets like Aeon and Ito Yokado (and many smaller local ones) and convenience stores like Lawson and 7-Eleven. They all sell bento and pasta dishes for under ¥500, as well as onigiri (rice balls) and sandwiches.
To save on higher-end dining, eat at lunch. Many expensive restaurants do smaller, but still extremely good, lunch sets at a fraction of the price of their evening courses.
For deals on the (almost) latest Japanese cameras and accessories, try somewhere like Map Camera in Shinjuku. Many Japanese amateur photographers frequently upgrade to the newest models, so you will find plenty of very modern but well-priced used gear in great condition.
For more bargain-hunting, head to the Ameyoko Street Market by JR Ueno Station. You can find everything from the freshest seafood to a can of Spam, real Rolex watches to fake Gucci bags, and everything else in between, lots of it at fairly decent prices.
Flea markets can also be a good place to find great souvenirs at budget-friendly prices. There’s a major antiques market held the first and third Sunday of the month at Tokyo International Forum in Yurakucho, as well as many other flea markets set up at shrines, such the Sunday market at Hanazono Jinja in Shinjuku.