Tokyo has long been considered one of the world’s most expensive capitals, but it is possible to visit this mammoth metropolis and have fun on a budget. Here’s how…
It’s true: Tokyo has more Michelin stars than any other city on the planet but you can enjoy Japanese cuisine – which has been added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list – without splashing out a small fortune.
Shokudo (inexpensive eateries) abound all over Tokyo serving up teishoku (set-course meals) for peanuts. Alternatively head to a tachigui (stand and eat) noodle bar to slurp some sensational soba (buckwheat) or udon (thick white) noodles for less than 800 yen (£5).
One must is to make for the Tsukiki Market where you can sample freshly shucked oysters and other things in shells, for a snip. This year could be the last chance to see the world’s largest seafood market in its original site – it’s due to move ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and, after several delays, it finally could do so this winter.
Meanwhile convenience stores – here’s looking at Lawson, 7-Eleven, Family Mart et al – are ubiquitous in Tokyo and are great places to pick up reasonably-priced bento boxes and steamed buns. But it’s the below the ground floors of Tokyo’s department stores, where the best food bargains are to be found. These fantastic food halls sell a staggering array of mouth watering wares. To get the best bang for your buck, visit in the evening when the depachika tend to slap a yellow sticker on items that are about to go out of date.
In need of a respite from the city bustle? Save your cash by exploring the verdant grounds of the Imperial Palace – home of Japan’s emperor and some of the im-perial family – with its many moats. Free, guided tours run twice daily at 10.30am and 1.30pm and last approximately one hour and 15 minutes, but must be booked in advance. Don’t forget to bring your passport and turn up at least 10 minutes before the start of your tour.
Alternatively take a solo stroll around the Imperial Palace’s East Garden where you can get close up views of the stones used to build the castle walls. (http://sankan.kunaicho.go.jp/index.html)
Yoyogikoen (www.tokyo-park.or.jp/park/format/index039.html) and Inokashira-koen are two other parks that reward a visit.
Let the train take the strain
Tokyo has a metro system (www.tokyometro.jp/en/) that Londoners would KILL for. It’s clean, runs like clockwork and is surprisingly affordable to boot. Case in point? A one day pass will take you all over town for a reasonable 600 yen (ap-proximately £4). Transport For London: please take note.
Planning on taking a couple of day trips to seaside Kamakura – an ancient feudal capital – Mt Fiji or Hakone? Purchase a reasonably priced Japan Rail Pass which allows you to hop on JR trains in Tokyo and beyond as many times as you like. Result! (www.japanrailpass.net)
Shop till you drop
Shopaholics start celebrating: an ever increasing number of Tokyo shops have signed up to offer duty free shopping to foreign travellers. Simply look for the tax free logo in windows.
Tokyo also has plenty of 100 yen stores which sell everything under the sun for, as the name suggests, only 100 yen (roughly 70p).
For excellent people watching and window shopping, head to Harajuku – Tokyo’s famous teen bazaar. Here you’ll find the city’s young trendsetters in kooky, colourful outfits.
And you could easily spend an afternoon wandering the lanes of Ameya Yokocho (www.ameyoko.net/), an old fashioned open air market filled with vendors selling everything from spices to sneakers, without splashing too much cash.
Tokyo is home to a plethora of quirky museums – say hello to the Meguro Para-sitological Museum (www.kiseichu.org/e-top), Beer Museum Yebisu (www.sapporoholdings.jp/english/guide/yebisu/) and the Traditional Crafts Mu-seum – all of which are free to enter. Meanwhile many of the main museums such as Tokyo National Museum – one of the oldest and largest of Japan’s top level museums – waive their entrance fees on International Museum Day (18 May). Elsewhere galleries – the lion’s share of which are in Ginza – are free to enter too.
Had your fill of museums? Visiting Shibuya Crossing – a photogenic neon-lit scene that has become synonymous with Tokyo – won’t cost a penny.
Jaw dropping views
Nothing beats gazing out over the Tokyo cityscape from on high. The rocket-like Tokyo Skytree (tokyoskytree.jp) – the world’s second tallest structure with ob-servation decks at 350m and 450m – is the newest spot in town for thrilling city views, but they will hurt your wallet. TNT’s tip? For a bargain alternative visit The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (www.metro.tokyo.jp/) whose 45th floor observation decks stay open until 10pm and serve up free views of the Tokyo skyline.
Founded more than 1,300 years ago, Senso-ji (www.senso-ji.jp/) is Tokyo’s oldest temple, and its most magical. Standouts include the five storey pagoda (Japan’s second tallest) and the Main Hall, home to an impressive altar. The icing on the cake? Seeing Senso-ji is absolutely free – as is Meiji-jingu, Tokyo’s signature Shinto shrine. Dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, Meiji Shrine (www.meijijingu.or.jp/) is reached via a long, rambling forest path marked by towering torii (gates).
Most first time visitors to Toyko, want to make like Bill Murray and sink a drink in New York Bar – of Lost in Translation fame – up on the 52nd floor of the Park Hyatt Tokyo, in Shinjuku. (https://tokyo.park.hyatt.com/en/hotel/dining/NewYorkBar.html) There’s just one problem. See how high that ceiling is? Expect drink prices to match. Instead, once you’ve got the obligatory Instagram snap, make for Shinjuku’s Golden Gai – a warren of atmospheric streets packed with drinking dens ranging from Japanese style pubs to jazz parlours and lively backpacker bars. Half the fun lies in taking a chance on anywhere you like the look of.
Words: Kaye Holland