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Tokyo Is Expensive! So, Here Are 10 Ways to Save Money When You Visit

Tokyo can be an expensive destination. Here are tips for saving money without sacrificing your travel experience.

Many people mistakenly assume that a trip to Tokyo will break the bank. Perhaps they recall Japan’s bubble era, or the 1980s and 1990s boom during which the exchange rate was high and products sold at premium prices. However, these days, the Japanese yen is at a historic low. With a bit of research and travel savvy, it’s possible to enjoy art museums, sky views, sushi, and other wonderful experiences in Tokyo without spending much.   

When budgeting for a trip to Tokyo, flights will generally be the most expensive item. Once you’re in the city, there are many ways to save on hotel, transportation, and food costs without cutting into your enjoyment. In fact, these hacks can add to the travel experience: Tokyo is known for its 100 yen “dollar stores” and world-class subway system, after all.

Here are tried-and-true tips for making the most of your Japanese journey on a low budget.  

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Book a Basic Business Hotel

Rather than booking a shared hostel, I like to save money by staying in a no-frills business hotel for around $65-90 US a night. There’s nothing “Instagrammable” about these budget accommodations: the rooms are tiny and sparse and have simple bath products. However, they’re spotlessly clean, come with a private bathroom, and are located in major districts like Shinjuku and Shibuya. Some also offer free breakfast or have membership plans for further discounts. Toyoko Inn and APA are some of the most popular budget/business chains, with locations all over the capital as well as other cities.

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For Longer Stays, Use a Japanese Apartment Rental Agency

If you’re spending extended time in Tokyo, consider a short-term apartment rental through a Japanese agency. While you can find similar furnished flats on Airbnb and other Western booking sites, these listings are almost always more expensive. Instead, browse Kaguaruoo (known as Japan’s Airbnb) or book a rental directly through World Potential. I spent a month in their modern Takadanobaba studio, which is two stations north of Shinjuku. Most residences come with a kitchen and washing machine, which help save on dining and laundry costs as well.

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Skip the Convenience Stores for the Supermarkets at Night

While Japanese convenience stores live up to their name for being convenient (you can find them on nearly every major street corner), the cost of these bottled drinks and packaged foods adds up. Instead of shopping at the “conbini,” go to the local supermarket for the exact same items at lower prices. For example, my favorite canned coffee and spicy cod roe onigiri cost about 25% less at the grocery store. For an added discount, head to the prepared foods aisle around 6-8 pm for reduced prices on daily bento boxes and other meals.  

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Eat at Excellent Japanese Chain Restaurants

Tokyo’s fast food restaurants are nothing like their Western equivalents. Popular chains offer a variety of tasty, balanced Japanese dishes for $6-10 US. For example, at Ootoya, I like to eat a healthy teishoku (set meal) of grilled fish, miso soup, vegetables, and a side of tofu salad or hijiki seaweed. I’m also a superfan of Coco Ichibanya, the Japanese curry chain that pairs rice and toppings like omelets with a thick and slightly sweet brown sauce.   

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Shop at 100 Yen Stores

Japan’s 100-yen shops have well-designed and durable products at very low prices. If you’re running low on toiletries or simply want to pick up some cute and useful items, head to one of Tokyo’s many 100-yen stores like Daiso, Can*Do, Seria, or Watts. Many products have “kawaii” character designs, such as Miffy lunchboxes and Totoro socks. I love to stock up on homewares and accessories at Japanese 100-yen stores, as well as find souvenirs for friends.

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Connect With an E-Sim or Pocket Wi-Fi

Some travelers make the mistake of racking up roaming costs while in Japan, or purchase expensive tourist-oriented SIM cards at the airport. Instead, book an e-SIM or pocket Wi-Fi in advance in order to have Internet on your smartphone for around $2 US a day. An e-SIM is convenient because it lets you digitally activate a data plan on your phone (no need to insert a physical SIM into the slot). Pocket Wi-Fis are portable routers that work as mobile hotspots and let multiple devices connect to high-speed Internet (you can get them delivered by mail to your hotel, with a prepaid envelope for easy returns).

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Choose Sushi Places Wisely

I’m a sushi aficionado, and I eat it at least several times a week whenever I’m in Tokyo. If you’re watching your wallet, then I recommend finding the “sweet spot” between cost and quality. The low-end conveyor belt chains tend to have disappointing raw cuts, while the top-rated restaurants are pricey at $60 US or more per meal. I look for high-quality “kaiten” or conveyor belt restaurants like Katsu Midori, which delivers fresh fish for a few hundred yen per plate. You can also get affordable breakfast sets made from the catch of the day at Toyosu Market. If you’re keen on omakase, Manten Sushi and Sushi Tokyo Ten offer a chef’s selection lunch for under $40 US (but it’s only available for the first 20 or so diners, so line up well before they open).    

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Plan On Taking Trains and Walking

The best and most cost-effective way to get around Tokyo is by subway. The city’s metro system is wide-reaching and efficient, and rides rarely cost over a few dollars. Tokyo is also highly walkable, so I recommend planning your day around several nearby neighborhoods to minimize transit prices. For example, if you begin at Akihabara Station, you can play arcade games and then walk south to shop in Ginza, get food in Shimbashi, and wind up at Tokyo Tower. If Shinjuku is your starting point, you can stroll down to Yoyogi Park, Harajuku, and Shibuya. When planning an itinerary, keep in mind that the trains stop running around midnight to dawn, and that taxi fares are expensive.

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Enjoy Tax-Free Shopping at Affordable and Second-hand Stores

If you pop into Tokyo’s most famous boutiques, you might get sticker shock from the prices. Vintage stores can also be on the steep side. However, if you know where to shop, you can wind up with fetching Japanese fashion for a steal. My favorite Tokyo finds include the 300-yen t-shirts at Thank You Mart, and second-hand Goth alternative styles at Closet Child. Don’t forget your passport, as many places will take off the tax if you have a tourist visa and spend over 5000 yen.

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Visit Terrific Free, Niche Attractions

Tokyo has many excellent parks, museums, and temples that do not have entry fees. Tourists tend to flock to the best-known ones, such as Ueno Park, Senso-ji Temple, the Imperial Palace Gardens, and Meiji Shrine. I recommend doing a bit of research and finding lesser-known spots that appeal to your particular passions. For example, if you like taking city view photos from up high, take the elevator up to the free observatory in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. If you’re into J-pop and anime/manga, go to the Nintendo, Pokemon, and Shonen Jump stores at Shibuya Parco. Art fans can see free avant-garde installations at the National Gallery in Roppongi, nature lovers can picnic in Yoyogi Park, and cat fanatics can visit the lucky cat temple Gotokuji