Experience Tokyo on a Budget

Experience Tokyo on a Budget
Experience Tokyo on a Budget

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.

Alternative accommodations

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

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 $6 full meal in Shibuya Tokyo
My $6 full meal in Shibuya Tokyo

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.

Coffee and deseto for breakfast in Tokyo
Coffee and dezato for breakfast in Tokyo

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.

Related post: Smart Ways to Eat Cheap While Travelling

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.

Keeping connected

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!

Japan Nano SIM Card
Japan Nano SIM Card

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.

Currency exchange

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.


To sum up the total cost for my stay in Tokyo city center, I spent the following

  • $150 for the shared room in suburbs via AirBnb for 5N6D
  • $48 PASMO card I used for city train and buses
  • $24 airport transfer to city via Keisei Line and
  • Another $24 going back to the airport from Nippori Line
  • $2 for a local SIM card which good for 7 days
  • $12 coffee and cute Japanese dezato here and there

I hope this article clears the long time hanging question of how much do you really need to cross off Tokyo from your bucket list. Not really much, you just need to be resourceful and keep an open mind about alternative options. If you have other budget tips that you practice when you travel, share it the comment section below!



Related post: 10 Free Activities You Can Enjoy in Tokyo, Japan

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  1. Reply

    These are great tips for experiencing Tokyo on a budget. Will definitely be searching for cheap flights on Wednesdays or Thursday afternoons.

  2. Okay Manga Kissa sounds cool, but I want to try a capsule hotel! How very Asian to squeeze as many people as possible!

  3. Great tips! We actually had a cheap trip to Tokyo – Jetstar has regular sales from Australia and our Airbnb gave us a free mobile wifi thingy so we were always online. Can’t wait to go back one day!

  4. Reply

    This is a great guide for anyone traveling to Tokyo on a budget (which is me always!). You definitely did a good job of saving money while having a good time. I don’t think I could stay in a capsule hotel ha ha. I am not good with small spaces but I use Airbnb and CS all the time.

  5. Reply

    Great budgeting! I see so many nice, cheap Airbnbs around the globe that looks so much comfier than a hotel. We also found one of those vending machine ramen places when we were in Japan. It was right off of some big shopping plaza. It was goooood!

  6. Reply

    These are great tips. I really want to go to Japan one day, especially to see the cherry blossoms and eat Kit Kats. I’ve never used AirBNB while traveling, only as a host, but I definitely need to consider this to keep on budget.

    • Hung Thai
    • May 20, 2016

    Great suggestions. When we visited a few months ago, we got a wifi egg instead of the sim car. The wifi egg allows you to connect to high speed wi-fi wherever you go – it was the single item that saved us soooooo much time! And I think it’s even cheaper than the sim card.

  7. Reply

    So true, Tokyo is definitely a costly city which can hinder many from visiting. Your budget will definitely inspire others that they too can experience the rich culture of Tokyo!

  8. This post is seriously AMAZING. I’ve been a bit scared off from Tokyo after tons of people have told me that it’s really expensive, so I really like how you break it down with different options and costs. The more I read about capsule hotels, the more I think I want to try them out (it helps that they’re budget friendly too). Super useful and I’m definitely bookmarking this for whenever I do visit!

  9. Reply

    Thanks for this! I’ve never been to Tokyo but I’ve always wanted to go. It’s very smart to group up the places you want to visit based on location so you can save money AND time. I try to do this as best as possible when I travel, and it sounds like it would be very worth it to do in Tokyo.

  10. Reply

    Fantastic tips and very useful as i will be in Tokyo in just a few weeks! Thanks so much for sharing!

  11. Reply

    I love travelling in Japan so much. You are so right that eating cheaply in Japan is super easy, in fact we found that the most surprising cost element of our first trip back in 2012. We tended to go mid-range for most of our accommodation, but splurged to stay in a few traditional ryokan and other special places, so that and the travel around Japan were the expensive aspects for us. Love that photo of your residential area in Tokyo, looks like a gorgeous neighbourhood.

    • Tami
    • October 29, 2016

    You got some great rates for lodging…and how fun to be able to practice your French as well. I haven’t been to Tokyo, but I’m sure it is rather expensive. Sounds like you found a way to make it both affordable and fun!

      • carlaabanes@justtravellingsolo.com
      • October 31, 2016

      I did! Tokyo is not that expensive after all! You just need to know where to look!

  12. Reply

    Those were some phenomenal deals for staying in Tokyo! $17 – $33 a night gives you a lot more cash to have fun. You have some great information that anyone can use when traveling to Tokyo.

  13. Reply

    These are some lovely tips. Tokyo is quite expensive. When we visited, my husband was there on business so his plane tickets and the hotel was covered. I found that you could find a lot of cheap options for food.

  14. Reply

    These are some great tips. Would love to go to Tokyo one day. Good to know that there are so many money saving options available when visiting.

  15. Reply

    Great suggestions! It’s always nice to hear ways to save a little cash. I was surprised how affordable food actually can be in Tokyo–ramen was one of our favorites and now I’m craving some again! It would be fun to stay in a capsule hotel sometime, but probably only for a night since they do seem tiny!

  16. Reply

    Really great tips for travelling to Tokyo on a budget. I was in Tokyo for 10 days and was on a really strict budget but managed to have to best time. There is actually so much to see and do that is absolutely free as well!

  17. Reply

    Aahhh! Thanks for the great tips! I’ve been wanting to go to Japan for a long time now and heard that Tokyo is the most expensive. Thanks for showing that it can still be done in a budget!

  18. Reply

    We wanted to check out the capsule hotels when we were in Tokyo, mostly because they’re quite unique, but we didn’t. I think it’s a great idea for if you’re staying a very short time and need a place to sleep.

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