Tokyo Cheapo 101: Beginner’s Guide to Tokyo

Carey Finn

Tokyo for beginners - tokyo-landscapeNew to Tokyo Cheapo? Read this. We’ve put together a Tokyo for Beginners introductory guide that will help you use our (invaluable) resources to get the most out of Tokyo on a budget. From reasonable ramen to inexpensive ways of getting from the airport into town and more, don’t set out till you’ve had a look at our money-saving tips (and random cute and laser-eyed animals). And if you’re still hungry for more after ploughing through this article, sign up for our free “Cheapo Hacks” newsletter at the end of this post.

Yokoso!

Welcome to Tokyo – one of the most expensive cities on the planet! This is a place where it’s easy to spend upwards of 3,000 yen (30 US dollars) per person on a simple meal if you don’t know where to look. That’s where we come in. We’ll guide you to good deals so you can save some yen without scrimping on your experience of this crazy capital.

Tokyo trains.
Tokyo trains. | Photo by Antonio Tajuelo used under CC

Getting around

Our guide to transport is a good starting point. Whether you’re just landing or jetting off somewhere (cheap flights guide here, yo), check out our popular posts on the Cheapest Ways of Getting To and From Narita Airport and Haneda Airport. We’ve even included a handy step-by-step photo guide to the Narita trains, so you’ll be able to breeze through the ticket barriers in no time. We’ve also got language guides with survival Japanese for things like using the subway. Want to be ultra cheap and hang onto those yens? We’ve done a version of the Tokyo Subway map by walking times.

Save that expensive JR Rail Pass for your actual sightseeing—we have info on other rail passes that may prove more useful. Keen on a budget break from the metropolis? These short trips using the seasonal seishun 18 ticket make for easy travel, and these government-subsidized country lodges are worth looking into.


New Video: Tokyo City Flea Market

Tokyo flea markets are a great for bargain-hunting, pick up a new kimono or snag a new book on a shoestring!


Tokyo for beginners - Capsule hotel pic by Fougerouse Arnaud, used under a Creative Commons licence.
Capsule hotel pic by Fougerouse Arnaud, used under a Creative Commons licence.

Sleeping

Looking for a wallet-friendly hotel, or perhaps a capsule to crash in? Our Accommodation Listings cover everything from internet cafes to those popular coffin-like compartments, hostels and high(er)-end places. We update the pages weekly with special deals. Interested in a “rest” at one of the city’s many love hotels? We even show you how to save some coin on that.

Tokyo for beginners - Pic by Jeff Laitila, used under a Creative Commons licence.
Ramen stand. Pic by Jeff Laitila, used under a Creative Commons licence.

Eating and drinking

Hungry? Whether you’re after conveyor belt sushi, 500-yen pizza, soba noodles, tempura, curry or the aforementioned reasonable ramen, you’ll find something affordable (and mapped) on our Eating and Drinking pages. You can brush up on your restaurant Japanese before heading out.

One of the coolest things to do in Tokyo! Dress up as a samurai, learn how to use a katana, and photograph the whole experience. click here for details
 Suggested Activity 

On the list you’ll also find our Ebenezer-esque pick of craft beers, happy hours and chilled, cheap watering holes where you can unwind after a long day at work or touring Tokyo.

If you feel like eating like the wealthy do, without paying all those monies, find out how to hack a Michelin-star restaurant here.

Tokyo for beginners - Pic by inefekt69, used under a Creative Commons licence.
Shibuya Crossing. Pic by inefekt69, used under a Creative Commons licence.

Not sure what the difference or distance between Shinjuku and Shibuya is? Our area guides can point you in the right direction.

Tokyo for beginners - Pic by tokyofoodcast, used under a Creative Commons licence.
Tsujiki Fish Market. Pic by tokyofoodcast, used under a Creative Commons licence.

Things to do

Tokyo is a city that never sleeps—or even rests, for that matter. There is always something to do. We suggest our mega list of 101 Cheap and Free Things to Do in Tokyo as a starting point. You can also scope out our articles on museums, sumo, and architecture. Our dedicated listicles of free things to do in Shinjuku, Akihabara, Asakusa, Shibuya and Harajuku are worth a read or two, too.



If you’re keen on a visit to Tsukiji (before it moves for the 2020 Olympics), there are 10 Things You’ll Want to Know first. And if you’re planning a trip to Tokyo Disney World or Sea, you might be interested in ways to save money while you’re there.

And should you be looking to…connect with locals or fellow travelers while you’re here, you might find this dating guide and our list of Date Spots for your Tinder Darling useful.

Shopping

Shopping at Japan’s legendary 100-yen shops? Read all about the classiest ones here. Frugal fashion? You can find trendy bargains at treasure troves like Mode Off and Shimamura. Or how about a Vintage Kimono at a Discount Price? Looking for a bicycle? Here’s how to hook one up for next to nothing.

And of course—you’ll want to check out Tokyo’s flea markets.



Tokyo for beginners - traditional kimono girl in Tokyo
Pic by Annie Guilloret used under a Creative Commons licence.

Relaxation and sport

If lugging all those good deals home has you worn out, you might be in the mood for a soak in one of Tokyo’s hot springs and baths. Or how about a cheap massage? Want to get some fresh air and exercise other than walking the streets? We’ve got your back for hiking, camping, swimming, indoor climbing, parks, and more.

Tokyo for beginners - Pic by Hector Garcia, used under a Creative Commons licence.
Relaxing hot spring. Pic by Hector Garcia, used under a Creative Commons licence.

Internet

Shocked by the lack of free wifi in Tokyo? So are we. But until the city sorts itself out in that respect, here’s a nifty list of cafes that offer free wifi, so you can sip coffee and work (or pore over our Twitter feed) to your heart’s content.

If you mean business in Tokyo, our tips on drop-in coworking spacescheap printing and virtual offices might be useful too.

Tokyo for beginners - Pic by Dan, used under a Creative Commons licence.
Local festival. Pic by Dan, used under a Creative Commons licence.

Events

We have a bunch of cheap and free events listed for beginners in Tokyo. We also do this rather convenient wrap called the Cheapo Weekend, which makes planning your Saturdays and Sundays super easy and economical—click here to have it delivered to your inbox each week. Take a look at our Top 5 Events posts too, then give your eyes a break and tune in to our monthly podcasts.

Like our page on Facebook to find out about our regular Downtown Drinks cheapo meet-ups and come connect with the cheapo community.

Tokyo for beginners - vegetarian eats in Meguro
Healthy brown rice plate at Alaska.

We’re always adding heaps of other awesome stuff to the site, like 1-day Itineraries, 5 Places to Meet a Robot and Healthy Eating Guides (we might be cheap, but we don’t live on instant ramen), so tell us what you’d like to see, and we might just feature it. Leave us a comment or hit us up in the social media sphere. And if you’re interested in writing for us yourself,  you can read more about how to do that, here.

Not satisfied with just our Tokyo for beginners guide? Learn all our secrets to Cheap Tokyo—sign up to our weekly “Cheapo Hacks” email below and think about downloading our comprehensive eBook. For a quick history lesson, check out our guide to how the capital city came to be.

This post was first published in May 2014 and is updated regularly. Last updated in August 2016.


Watch this next

New Video: Shinjuku Travel Guide For Beginners

Never been to Shinjuku before? Watch this essential guide to getting around Tokyo's busiest district.




Latest Japan Jobs



Get our Tokyo Cheapo Hacks direct to your inbox




One Response to “Tokyo Cheapo 101: Beginner’s Guide to Tokyo”

  1. Jennifer H

    Hi! I have a question for you. My boyfriend and I will be visiting Japan towards the end of November this year. We’re having a really hard time picking a place to stay that’s affordable. The only things on our agenda so far are going to Tokyo Disneyland, Odaiba, trying to find Shirokuma Cafe (if it does exist, Pinterest could lie to me), and everything else we see or do is kind of like an added bonus.

    Where do you think we should stay? We’re 27 and 28. Thank you!


Questions or comments about this article? Start a thread on our community forum