Known for its world famous seafood, fluorescent lights, bustling streets, and its full-blown anime culture, Tokyo should be on everyone’s bucket list. With an open weekend to travel I started to brainstorm possible places to go for just 48 hours. Hmm…I contemplated, “Maybe Shanghai, or maybe Amsterdam?” I mentioned Tokyo to my mom but immediately her reaction discouraged me. “Tokyo? Do you know how expensive Tokyo is?!?” I had been to Singapore and Zurich and those were outrageously expensive, but I had never heard of Tokyo being pricey. So I did what I usually do when I get an idea of a place I want to go to, I spent all night researching. I researched prices of hotels, restaurants, trains, and pretty much anything else I could think of that would cost money and be a travel expense. I had to figure out, how much was a weekend in Tokyo actually going to cost me?
My mom was right. Everyone had this idea that Tokyo was SO expensive. At least that’s what I gathered at first from reading various things online. But then I started to read more blogs and do random Google searches like “Prices of ramen in Tokyo” and what I found was shocking. I could stay in what looked like a fabulous, modern hostel for around $25/night and eat meals for anywhere from $3-$10. I was a little weary about this newly found information as people in my life and all over the Internet said it was costly but I really didn’t think it was going to be, so I went anyway.
A WEEKEND IN TOKYO WITH $100
When I arrived I was stunned at the lush greenery engulfing the road from the Narita airport to the city of Tokyo. It was gorgeous. We took an hour-long $8 shuttle bus (Tokyo Shuttle) to the center of Tokyo and before we knew it we were a half-mile from our hostel. Let me be the first to tell you that Tokyo is fantastic in every way. The Japanese people could not have been friendlier, the public transportation is rapid as well as very economical, and it really appears as though everything has a purpose in this fluid and functioning society. I was beyond excited to get my weekend in Tokyo underway!
As I walked from the bus to the hostel I noticed the streets shimmered and glistened in the sunshine. There wasn’t a piece of trash on the ground. I wandered through the city with my suitcase in tow as the towering buildings and strikingly symmetrical skyscrapers were soaring high above me in the sky. I guess I was naive, but I didn’t know Tokyo was going to be this nice. It was a beautiful city.
Ok now let’s get down to the money. In 48 hours I spent $100 total (minus airfare.) $100 total on accommodation, meals, transportation and sightseeing. For being SO expensive I think this price defends quite the contrary. Below is a list of where I stayed, what I ate, and what I saw that equaled around $100.
- From Narita airport the cheapest option was the Tokyo Shuttle. It brings you right into the heart of the city. From there you have to figure out the best means of getting to your accommodation. For us, walking the mile was the best option. $6 from Haneda and $8 from Narita. The bus was comfortable and affordable. Most hotels and hostels suggest the “Airport Limousine” but it’s almost triple the price and exactly the same vehicle, just with a few more stops.
Total: $14 round-trip. (Flew into Narita, out of Haneda $8 + $6 = $14)
- Take the subway: The subway can be confusing don’t let me fool you. However, it’s the most convenient and cost efficient way of getting around the city. The people at the information booth can usually get you where you want to go if you let them know you need some help. Locals are also very helpful! On the train the Japanese people even came up to us and asked if we needed help. It took one or two times of riding the subway to get a good feel for it and it never cost more than $2 per ride.
Total: $8 ($2 x 4 rides)
- Walk: In any city walking is going to be the most affordable way of getting around. From our hostel we saw the fish market was 2 miles away so instead of spending a couple of dollars on the subway ticket, we walked. Every dollar counts!
- Oak Hostel Cabin: I can’t recommend this hostel more. It was immaculate! There wasn’t one thing out of place in this hostel. From the moment you walk in, this place screams tidiness and organization. Everyone who enters has to take their shoes off and then you take your own pair of slippers to wear throughout. You can’t even bring your shoes inside, love this idea especially when dealing with dirty backpackers 😉 !
One thing to note is that you sleep in pods. Don’t be scared, these pods are great. They’re private, comfortable and large enough that even the most claustrophobic will feel at ease. The bathrooms are equipped with heated toilet seats and the showers are in their own room, so it’s completely private and you have your own space. The best thing about this hostel is that they offer free shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and hair dryers! It was almost like a spa. Far from any other hostel I’ve personally ever stayed in. The Oak Cabin Hostel sits on a river and every bed and room faces the large windows looking out onto the beautiful water and city of Tokyo. The perfect place to spend a nice weekend in Tokyo!
Total: $50. ($25/night x 2 nights)
3: INEXPENSIVE FOOD & DINING
- Ramen: I can’t tell you how much ramen and sushi I ate that weekend…I literally stuffed my face. I never had to worry about overspending because it was dirt-cheap. The ramen bowls were usually around $4-6 and the sushi was never more than $3 a roll. I ate, and ate, and then ate more. Ramen off the street is less expensive than in the restaurants and ramen in the less touristy areas is obviously priced less than in the busy touristy spots like Shinjuku. Shop around for the best price. We went around looking at several different restaurants before deciding on one
- Sushi: Sushi was a great deal too. We ate at Genki Sushi in Shibuya one day. You order off a screen and your sushi zooms to your seat from the kitchen quite rapidly. I ate as much as I could and the total bill was equivalent to $7.
- I also loved eating at the world famous Tsukiji Fish Market, one of the largest wholesale fish market in the world. They have several sushi restaurants, ramen stalls, and food stands. It was reasonably priced, fresh, and fast. I ate there for breakfast before touring the fish market and then again for lunch the first day of my trip. For more on the Tsukiji Fish Market and restaurants/food stalls surrounding it check out this post I recently wrote: A Day at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo
4: FREE SIGHT SEEING & ACTIVITIES
Free Sites: Everything I decided to do in Tokyo was free! Doesn’t get much cheaper than that.
- Tsukiji Fish Market: Largest fish market in Japan
- Akihabara: Anime Neighborhood
- Shibuya Crossing: Busiest intersection in Tokyo
- Shibuya Area: Great shopping and lots of neon lights
- Yoyogi Park: Beautiful park in the middle of the city
- Meiji Shrine: Shrine within Yoyogi Park
- Roppongi: Upscale neighborhood that’s very fun to explore at night, many of the bars have karaoke.
When you add everything up, that equals around $100 for two days in Tokyo. Now as you can see from this list I didn’t spend any money on souvenirs or really any alcohol. If I wanted a drink I grabbed a beer from the market and walked around with it. As long as you are smart and spend your money wisely Tokyo is definitely doable on a budget!