How to Save Money in Tokyo (Personal Experience)

Updated on April 2, 2018
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This Japanophile visited Tokyo on a budget and wants to share how she did it with her readers.

I visited Tokyo in July 2017 and stayed there for one month. My budget for the entire trip (excluding the plane ticket) was 1,300 euros, and I am happy to say it was a realistic budget that was more than suitable for my needs and purposes. Having brought home an entire suitcase of Japanese merchandise, I would say I did not have to sacrifice much—at least from my perspective.

This is by no means an ideal budget suggestion; it only serves to show that Tokyo, while expensive, can cost you less than some would make you believe. You can save a vast amount of money by doing an extensive prior research on budgeting in Japan. In my case, multiple conversations with friends who visited there before me also helped. I would definitely suggest researching outside this article for more tips, but first, let me share with you a few things that helped me, personally, save a noticeable amount of money in Tokyo.

Our share house room
Our share house room

Accommodation

Opt for share houses.

Typically, they will offer you more comfort than hostels, and much more reasonable prices than hotels. I'd particularly recommend them to those who are traveling in tandem and willing to share the room/apartment (and expenses) with their traveling partner. Personally, we stayed at Sakura House, but we heard many good things about Oak House as well. My partner and I stayed in a 10 square meter room, and our rent was 600 euros for the entire month (all costs included). This is insanely cheap for two people staying in the center of Tokyo. There are a lot of share house/apartment companies out there, which rent out to foreigners, so do consult your browser a bit. For starters, here are the two that I have mentioned.

The Sumikko Gurashi Yamanote Line train
The Sumikko Gurashi Yamanote Line train

Transportation

Find accommodation within a walking distance to JR Yamanote Line.

This one is probably most important. If you are visiting Tokyo as a tourist who wants to go to all of the major places such as Akihabara, Harajuku, Shinjuku, Ueno, etc., you will save a great deal of money by making sure that your accommodation is within a walking distance to Yamanote Line.

Why? Because Yamanote is a line that circularly connects all of the major places in Tokyo and most of the time you do not need to worry about transferring trains. This is not only time-efficient but saves up so much yen (and avoids potential getting lost issues). It was, without a doubt, one of the biggest money savers for us, and one that many people are not aware of. If you still need convincing, numbers speak louder than I do. You might want to visit this website. Try calculating the fees a bit and you will soon discover that using Yamanote line only will cost you around 200-350 yen in one direction, while transferring multiple lines, etc., will easily amount to 600+ yen in one direction. Now, if you plan on leaving your apartment every day, this can save you some insane amounts of money.

Avoid shinkansen (bullet trains) at all cost (no pun intended). Use highway buses instead.

While riding in a shinkansen may be a dream of many, it is definitely something that travelers on a budget should avoid. Usually, bullet trains connect various cities (and not places within the city itself) so if you are planning to take a trip out of Tokyo (we went to see, say, Mt. Fuji), try highway buses instead. Willer Express is an example of such highway bus/night bus company, but there are many others that will also offer fair prices. To give an example... a shinkansen ride from Tokyo to Osaka will easily cost you a 120+ euros for a one-way ticket, while a bus ride (which does, admittedly, take a whole night) might cost as low as 30-40 euros for a two-way ticket.

Dining out at Ikebukuro's yakiniku restaurant
Dining out at Ikebukuro's yakiniku restaurant
Omuraisu bought in a local supermarket
Omuraisu bought in a local supermarket

Food

Don't eat out three times a day. Buy some food at the local supermarkets instead.

This worked really well for us, but if you are in Japan primarily for the gourmet experience, you might disagree with this approach. We would usually eat out once a day, and got to try out a variety of delicious foods and interesting local restaurants this way. However, eating every meal in a restaurant can be quite expensive. My suggestion is to visit local supermarkets or convenience stores instead, and buy prepared meals (or huge noodle cups, as you wish) for your breakfast/dinner there. Japanese supermarkets tend to have a delicious selection of pastry (which is sometimes unique to Japan), and prepared meals. By this, I do not mean chunks of roasted meat and potatoes, but rather bento boxes full of local, simple Japanese food, like omuraisu, sushi, korokke, gyoza, etc. While the prices for these are very reasonable, you may want to cut down on fruits and veggies while there, because those are astronomically expensive. Also, do give Japanese bakeries a try...you just might get addicted.

To Sum up

To sum up, these are just highlights that helped us the most when it came to saving money in Tokyo. Whether or not they are of any use to you depends on your plans and expectations, but if I was able to be of any help, I am glad.

If you intend on visiting Japan, however, I recommend doing a thorough prior research and you will surely come across many great tips. Consider this just a diving board. I wish you a pleasant journey.

© 2018 Doris Sorgar

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