Tokyo has a reputation for being one of the most expensive cities in the world. While that reputation is somewhat justified, if you're planning your next trip to Japan, it doesn't have to be that way. You just need to get creative with your itinerary. With a little planning and insider knowledge, you can experience Tokyo like the locals do and enjoy your vacation while sticking to a budget. Here are five ideas to get you started.
1. Yoyogi Park:
This massive green space originated as a residential zone for United States military personnel after the war. But in the last 70 years, it has blossomed into what is now one of the most popular parks in Tokyo and has become a regular weekend spot amongst local residents.
Your experience at Yoyogi will depend not only on the time of year, but on the day of the week as well. On Sundays, the park comes to life and becomes a gathering place for Japanese musicians and other artists to practice and hold impromptu performances. During the spring, hordes of people come to enjoy the cherry blossoms, and in autumn you can see the spectacular golden ginko tree forest.
If you're just looking to relax and chill out, Yoyogi has you covered. From ponds and gardens to bike paths and basketball courts, you can easily spend an entire day at the park.
To get to Yoyogi, take the JR Yamanote Line, get off at Harajuku Station and walk out Exit 1. The park is roughly 200 meters away, and admission is free.
2. People Watching:
Famous for its alluring arts and culture, Tokyo in particular is known for subculture street fashions, many of them unparalleled in major Western cities. When people talk about crazy Japanese fashion, this is what they're referring to. A few examples include "Gyaru", young Japanese women who embrace beach culture and Western trends, and "Lolita", a subculture whose style harkens back to the Victorian period. And of course, there's the infamous "Cosplay", which involves dressing up as characters from popular manga.
What sets all these fashion subcultures apart from the West is the extent that young Japanese are willing to take their unique looks, often stratling the line between fashion and performance art. If you're in Tokyo for a few days, and especially if you want to capture some unique photography, you can have a lot of fun just grabbing a coffee, kicking back and taking it all in.
While many of these groups have their own distinct neighbourhoods they frequent, the most popular include Harajuku, Shibuya, Omotesando, and Shinjuku. Most of the action takes place around the main train stations
Long before Tokyo, Kamakura was the political capital of Japan, and the seat of the Minamoto shogunate in 1192. Thanks to its long history, the town has preserved many of the temples, shrines and statues of the old era.
Kamakura itself is about 50 kilometers south of Tokyo, and is easy enough to get to for a day trip. The Yokosuka Line connects Tokyo Station to Kamakura Station in about one hour, and the JR Shonan Shinjuku Line also connects Shinjuku Station to Kamakura Station.
The town features a number of attractions at minimal prices, the most famous being the massive Great Buddha of Kamakura statue. Other famous attractions include Hasedera Temple and Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine. The city itself has an efficient system of buses, so getting around to see the various attractions won't be an issue.
4. Tsukiji Fish Market:
One of the largest fish markets in the world, Tsukiji is located in central Tokyo on the Hibiya Subway Line. As an active wholesale market that opened in 1935, Tsukiji is enormous at over 56 acres and handles five million pounds of seafood every year.
While these stats are impressive, Tsukiji is famous amongst Japanese tourists for its abundance of delicious, fresh sushi restaurants. It's also known for its daily tuna auction, a must see for those visiting for the first time. Admission to the auction is limited to 120 visitors per day and starts at 3:30 a.m., so make sure you get there early.
To get to Tsukiji, take the Hibiya Subway Line and get off at Tsukiji Station. If you're coming from Shinjuku Station, take the Oedo Subway Line and get off at Tsukiji Shijo Station.
It's also worth mentioning that the city is currently planning on moving the market to a new location for the 2020 Olympics, but as of 2016 the plan is on hold. If you're in Tokyo in the future and want to check it out, make sure you plan ahead and double check the location.
5. Eat On A Budget:
For many first time travellers, Japan's culinary scene conjures up images of 100 dollar plates of sushi and premium Kobe beef. But for the vast majority of local Japanese, dining out is a cheaper, less lavish affair. This is true even in a cosmopolitan city like Tokyo, which boasts an enormous range of dining options.
These options include a number of major restaurant chains that, while cheap, pack a lot of quality for their price. It's at these establishments that most of the locals choose to eat on a daily basis. And if you're visiting on a budget and want to experience authentic Japanese food without breaking the bank, you should definitely consider doing the same.
Some of the most popular options include Hanamaru Udon, Mawashi-zushi Katsu, and Ippudo Ramen. Many of these restaurants have meals for under 1,000 yen, with some as little 500 yen, while still delivering quality you'd never find for the same price back home.
Make no mistake, travelling in Tokyo can be expensive. But with a little knowledge and flexibility, you can easily plan a budget trip while still taking in everything the city has to offer.