Yes, travelling to Tokyo on a budget is possible. Tokyo maybe known for being an expensive city to travel to but it need not cost you an arm and a leg.
How to score cheap flights
Let’s rewind to 3 months before my Japan travel dates. That’s how far back in time I started my research on airfares from Singapore to Tokyo. Since my origin and destination cities both ranks as one of the world’s most expensive city to live in or travel to, I expected the airfares to be expensive and shooting up the roof.
Well, not if you know when and where to look. I compared several airline search engines, I had my internet browsers open with several results from Skyscanner, Cheapflightsfinder.com, Expedia and Kayak. After hours of comparing airfares with flexible travel dates, I was able to nail the cheapest one. A $500 roundtrip ticket from Changi International Airport to Tokyo’s Narita International Airport via Delta Airlines. I chose my flying date to fall on a weekday, and my return flight on a Sunday night.
Apparently, even the day when you do your flight search matters in scoring that cheap airfare. You should do your airfare search on a Wednesday or Thursday afternoon. These are the usual dates when airline companies are putting up their sale tickets and preparing for their new ticket prices for the coming weekend.
Not only in Tokyo, but in the whole of Japan, there are a lot of alternative accommodations that you can choose from.
- Airbnb offers shared or common rooms for as low as $30 a night in the nearby locations outside of Tokyo city center.
- Manga kissa for around $17 a night, a comic book internet cafe that also rents out bunk beds to backpackers.
- Capsule hotels for as low as $33 a night, right in the city and a very claustrophobic interesting experience, I might say!
- Couchsurfing which usually offers free use of the kitchen
Another thing to keep in mind is that the farther your location is from the city center, the cheaper the rate is. I chose a location outside of Tokyo city center, but easy enough to travel to and from Tokyo via the Nippori Line. I booked a shared room via AirBnb with a nice expat family from France. I even had a chance to practice my rusty french with their little darling daughter. Their house was located in Adachi-ku, a quiet, serene place and my refuge from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo.
Eating out depends on how cheap or expensive you want it to be. But there are a lot of options. There are noodle stand joints, beer drinking standing up joints (you get the beer from a vending machine), both located under the Yurakucho Station. You can really feel the road that serves as the roof shaking while you eat!
While walking around Shibuya, I chanced upon a nice ramen place that had a vending machine by the entrance. I ordered my Tonkatsu for around $6 via the vending machine and gave my ticket to a nice chinese waiter, in just a few minutes, I got a hot steaming japanese rice with fried breaded pork and egg.
My breakfast, lunch and dinner usually costs around $20 and that includes coffee and japanese crepes on some days! There are days that I would try coffee and cute dezato (japanese for dessert) for breakfast for around $4.
There are a lot of options for cheap eats around Tokyo, but if you have the free use of kitchen in your accommodation, why not whip up a one-pot meal which is way cheaper than dining out.
Getting around Tokyo
Truth to be told. Getting around Tokyo is not cheap. Train transport from Narita Airport via the Keisei Line to the city center is 2490.00 Japanese yen around $25. Wow!
For my 5-day stay in Tokyo, I spent around $48 for topping up my PASMO card that I use for trains and buses to get around. To save up on transportation expenses, I grouped the places I wanted to visit on a per day itinerary. I visited Akihabara and Ueno districts in one day so I only travelled one direction thus avoiding un-necessary train or bus rides. Group your itinerary into districts, use the JR metropolitan map to help you on planning your activities.
I avoided the deadly high cost of roaming charges by buying a local SIM card from a vending machine at the train station. 2000.00 Japanese yen or about $24 good for 7 days and with data plan too!
I mostly used it for browsing, google maps, uploading to social media and sometimes sharing a hotspot on my laptop so I can reply to emails and blog comments. Never bogged down and fairly easy to setup.
I actually stayed in Japan for 8 days, the 8th day being the day I fly out of Narita and back to Singapore, but it never get cancelled and still was working during my waiting time at the boarding gate.
Being a popular tourist destination, locating a money changer in Tokyo is not problem. You will almost always find it everywhere, even on train platforms. To guide you for the current exchange rate, JPY to USD is here and JPY to SGD is here.