How to Enjoy 9 Days in Tokyo on a Budget

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Autumn in Harajuku

UPDATED 10/15/2016 – Japan is one of the Filipino’s dream destinations in Asia, but planning a trip to the Land of Rising Sun can often be discouraging because of its reputation as expensive.

Yet this is one of the many myths about going to Japan. With proper planning and prioritization, you can enjoy a cheap Tokyo travel. In November 2015, autumn time, we flew to Tokyo and spent less than Php 16,000 for 9 days in basic expenses like food, transport, tours, and entrance fees (including DisneySea) but excluding accommodation, airfare, and shopping. (Php 26,944 if you include accommodation, airfare, Philippine travel tax, visa processing fee, and unexpected expenses.)

Here are some tips how you can get the most value out of each buck:

1. Bring your baon for breakfast

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Save your sushi fix for lunch or dinner

Food is not something you want to tighten your spending on when you’re in Tokyo, but breakfast is a different thing. Many restaurants in Japan don’t open until late in the morning. You can opt for convenience stores like 7-11, Family Mart, Mini-Stop, or Lawsons, where meals range from Y150 to Y550*

What we did: We stocked coffee and noodles from the Philippines and grocery items from local stores in Tokyo. Don’t bother bringing bread; Tokyo’s bakeries and pastry vendors in train stations have some of the best. Convenience stores in Japan have delicious pre-prepared meals, too.

2. Exchange local currency in the Philippines

If you have a big budget with you, you’d want to avoid a proportionally large financial cost that comes with buying local currency. It’s best if you buy yen in a bank or a NAIA terminal arrival area before going to Japan. They have some of the most competitive rates you can get in Manila.

What we did: We ordered yen in BDO a week in advance. We discovered that the arrival area of Terminal 3 offers a good rate as well.

3. Look for alternative accommodation

If you’re the kind of traveler who doesn’t mind giving up the familiar hotel environment and its amenities (set/buffet breakfast, 2 p.m. check-in time, bathroom amenities, etc.), it may be the time to try out Airbnb. Unlike Hong Kong or Singapore, Airbnb choices in Tokyo are as affordable as Taipei. Basic criteria in choosing a good Airbnb host should be proximity to a train station, good reviews, WiFi, and a kitchen.

What we did: We stayed in an Airbnb host that is 10 minutes away by foot from the JR Yamanote Line and Metro Line. Although there was a delay in our check-in time and the restroom was communal per floor, we appreciated that the host has a big dining area, kitchen, a living area with a TV, heater, CCTV cameras, and a washing machine. The house is also near vending machines, convenience stores, and several small and local restaurants. Plus, we interacted with the host on a daily basis such that he suggested we go to Mt. Fuji Fifth Station after our failed attempt of viewing the elusive mountain from Hakone.

4. Buy a day pass

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Waiting for the train back to Narita airport

Tokyo’s railway system is a complex web of overlapping routes operated by many companies. Try to study it beforehand, then draft your itinerary. It’s more practical to group the destinations you’ll visit by train line. This way, you can choose among the many day passes available, whichever is practical. There are at least 6 train passes you can choose from if traveling within Tokyo. (Daily passes within Tokyo expire when train operation ends.)

Take note: If you can find alternate routes, avoid switching between operators (e.g. switching from a JR-operated line to a Toie-operated subway line); it costs substantially more.

If the cost of a day pass exceeds the total cost of individual tickets you would have purchased for the day’s trip, then you may just want to buy and load a Suica or Pasmo card. Both cards are used to store value in the same manner as Manila’s Beep card or Hong Kong’s Octopus card. You can calculate your fares ahead here or on Google Map.

Meanwhile, there are also discounted tickets and train passes available if you’re traveling to destinations outside Tokyo like Hakone and Fuji Five Lakes. I suggest you spend at least a night in either Hakone or Fuji Five Lakes since you can use the pass for two days (travel there and return back the next day). Take note: Always bring your passport since many of the passes going outside Tokyo are for foreigners only.

What we did: We used a day pass in Tokyo once when we visited Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Harajuku. Since you’d be using the JR Yamanote Line to access the main destinations, the Tokunai pass (for JR trains only) seemed to be the most practical among the 6 day pass options in Tokyo. We used Suica throughout our stay, except when we traveled to Hakone, in which case we bought a Hakone Free Pass (Y5,140), and Mt. Fuji Fifth Station, when we availed the Mt. Fuji Round Trip Ticket (Y5,600).

5. Take the bus

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A sea of clouds from the Mt. Fuji 5th Station, serviced by buses from Lake Kawaguchi

Want to climb Mt. Fuji? While the Mt. Fuji Round Trip Ticket itself is discounted, you can save Y200 and 15 minutes by taking the bus all the way to Mt. Fuji Fifth Station via Highway Buses from its terminal near Shinjuku Station. This bus line can also take you to other countryside destinations like Nagano, Matsumoto, Hakuba, and Takayama. You can reserve your bus seats 7 days prior to the trip.

What we did: As the Tokyo(Shinjuku)-Mt. Fuji buses were already fully booked, we took the round trip ticket instead.

6. Take advantage of free attractions

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Meiji Shrine

Museums and a number of attractions require entrance fees, but several others like parks, temples, public art, famous streets, and government buildings can be accessed without shelling out cash. Want a free tour of Tokyo? You can book your free guide here.

If you prefer your a DIY tour, you can select from any of our 6 proposed day itineraries when in Tokyo.

What we did: The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building skyscraper is your best choice to see the entire metropolis without costing you a single yen. It’s just a 10-minute walk from Shinjuku Station. We tried other free attractions like the Gundam statue in DiverCity Tokyo Plaza, Odaiba, Meiji Shrine in Harajuku, Imperial Gardens (periphery), Shibuya, Akihabara, Diet, and a number of temples.

7. Duty-free stores

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Try fruit-shopping in Tokyo!

When shopping, always ask beforehand whether the retail price includes the 8% consumption tax. Some stores exempt foreign tourists from paying this tax (Take note: Bring your passport to be exempted), while several who don’t simply advertise a pre-tax price to lure you into purchasing.

What we did: For very affordable shopping, try Daiso stores. Drop by in Okachimachi along the JR Yamanote Line for bargain shopping. Duty-free stores abound in districts like Shibuya, Akihabara, and Odaiba. Duty-free stores at Narita International Airport also provide affordable pasalubong options.

The secret to a cheap Tokyo travel is to plan ahead while allotting some space and a contingency plan in case things don’t work out as hoped. This website lists down interesting itineraries for budget travelers like us who want to save not only money but time.

See the breakdown of our expenses here.

READ NEXT: Travel by Sea from Fukuoka to Busan, andΒ Visit These 6 South Korean Destinations in 8 Days

Happy traveling!

*Exchange rate was Y 1.00 = Php 0.38 in November 2015

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68 thoughts on “How to Enjoy 9 Days in Tokyo on a Budget

  1. Pingback: Pigment: A painter’s haven in Tokyo | Work-a-Life

  2. Allan S

    This is a good information. Your tips are right to the point. These tips are what we mostly do every time we visit Japan. We go to Lawson, 7/11, and Family Mart to buy food for breakfast including the big bottle of water. We actually buy them the night before so when we wake up in the morning, we can just eat them. We also use Airbnb for our accommodation. Most of our budget really go to the food. They can be quite pricey but only because they really focus on quality. Czarina also offer good currency exchange rates, but you need to call their main office first to reserve. I also recommend Don Quijote when buying pasalubong and Bic Camera or Yodobashi for electronics and toys. If you have a Visa credit card, you can get additional 5% discount when buying stuff at Bic Camera and Yodobashi. So you get the 8% tax free discount and 5% Visa discount for a total of 13%.. Not bad eh? Since my credit card is a Mastercard, I applied for a new visa card before going to Japan.

    My sources of information when going to Japan are Japan-Guide, PinoyExchange, and TripAdvisor.

    Like

    1. Oh my, I didn’t know about discounts for visa credit card in bic… used it for shoes good thing it’s tax free but no further discount. 😦 Glad you told me and thanks for the additional information.. Will definitely add this to my list and for future reference.

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    2. Bernardino Jesus

      Yes they do offer 5% discount for using Visa card in addition to the 5% tax free discount. But I wonder how much the conversion rate (to PHP) will be when it’s time to pay the credit card.

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      1. I just checked my Citibank statement for December 2015. 5,324 Yen = P2,120.75. So the exchange rate was just 0.398 only. At the time, Czarina sells them at 0.38 while Sanrys and other banks sells them at 0.39+.

        Like

    3. Regarding Yodobashi and Bic, Don’t buy your cameras there. The prices are almost the same locally (even with 8% tax free) minus the extended warranty. Personally, I buy my cameras & lenses cheaper from SG or HK.

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      1. Allan S

        About a year ago, I bought my Oly OMD M10 at Yodobashi for just around 28k. it’s the dual kit lens. Local distributor at that time sells them at around 32k, single kit lens only.

        Before that, I was able to acquire a 12-40mm Oly lens there at around 33k. Local distributor sells than at 40k while online importer at 37k.

        What I find expensive are the lens filters.

        Suggest to check local and online pricing before buying electronics there.

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  3. Pingback: First time in Tokyo? 6 day trip itineraries you should try | WorkaLife

  4. Pingback: Tokyo budget trip: How low can you go? | WorkaLife

  5. OMG These are great budget ideeeas~
    Especially the one you noted on: Free Attractions.
    I think we spent more on those but felt a bit dissatisfaction due to short visit and time allowance (aka tours). If ever me and my family would really want to immerse ourselves to temples and scenery without the extra price.

    Next time, next time~ > v<)/

    Great post, Aien-san!

    Like

  6. miya

    Are most airfare promos round trips? I was thinking a one-way ticket would be convenient if we’re planning Osaka-Kyoto-Tokyo so we can arrive in Kansai and depart from Narita? Thank you so much for this!

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    1. Paolo Abellanosa

      Hi Miya! I’m Paolo, one of the blog’s authors. You can get airfare promos for a one-way trip; in fact, this is usually the case. I think your Osaka-Kyoto-Tokyo itinerary is a great idea! Your issue here is the transport cost between Kyoto/Osaka and Tokyo, since tourists usually take the Shinkansen, which can be as pricey as taking a domestic flight between. One friend of mine, though, took an overnight bus between Osaka and Tokyo — and you can even save hotel cost because you’d be sleeping in the entire trip!

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      1. Allan S

        if you are going there via CebuPacific, better to fly in via Narita since their flight is in the morning and leave via Osaka since the flight back to Manila is in the evening. That’s what we did last month. We used the 7-day JR Pass for unlimited Shinkansen (Bullet Train) and local JR train.

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  7. Kaye

    Ahhh I would like to go to Japan but never had the time to prepare for the trip. Another problem is I’m alone and not keen on going to places alone for the first time. Does anyone know a site or a group online who adresses this kind of problem? Thank you.

    Like

    1. Hi Kaye, I haven’t done backpacking alone as well. It is still on my bucketlist, but I’ve met people who use couchsurfing.com. There you can chat and arrange to meet with locals during your stay. They also offer accomodation for free.

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    2. Paolo Abellanosa

      Hi Kaye! I was with Aien during the trip. I don’t see any problem with your traveling alone. Over the 9 days in Tokyo and nearby towns, we found Japan very safe. All points are accessible. A concern, perhaps, is accommodation cost since you have to bear it in full. Hope that helps!

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  8. tintin

    tip: if you’re buying the large water bottle, if possible, buy the pink Aeon one, it’s cheaper πŸ™‚ (yun yata yung parang SM Bonus nila dun)

    I brought instant noodles and even bought eggs when I went in March kaso fail, nawalan ako ng time mag-init ng tubig sa breakfast(dahil excited na gumala) so I ditched the noodles and eggs and just bought onigiris from the kombinis. πŸ˜‚

    Also, wow your airfare was a great great great bargain!

    Like

  9. glsntlln

    HI Aien. I am really really interested in going in Japan, but at first hand, I am just wondrin if you can give me some tips on how to apply for a visitor visa in Japan kahit walang sponsorship. Kasi I dont know anyone in Japan, gusto ko lang talaga magbakasyon. Any tips will be much appreciated. Thanks!

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  10. Aristotle Olip

    Hi.. Do you also have tips for Nagoya and how much it will cost. Plan to visit this December 2016. Thanks. I’m a first time traveller.

    Like

  11. marak

    Great article. Appreciate this. We are going to Nagoya next month, my wife and i and are planning to visiti Tokyo for 2 days via Shinkansen. Your tips are duly noted. We cant wait..

    Did you avail of the JR Pass? Is it necessary for an 8 day trip or can we make do with a 1 day pass?

    Like

    1. Paolo Abellanosa

      Hi, Marak! It’s difficult to make the most out of the value of your train day pass (whether this be a Toie, Metro, JR, or combination) in Tokyo unless you’re a fast walker and want to visit as many you can in a day. We didn’t use a JR day pass throughout the trip in Tokyo, except when we bought a day pass to use JR rail routes in visiting Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Harajuku. Most attractions in central Tokyo are accessible along the JR Yamanote Line, so I guess buying a JR day pass (which is around Y700-800) is the most value-for-money. Hope I this helps!

      Like

    2. Allan S

      The 7-day JR Pass is around P11,000. We availed this because our itinerary requires us to use Shinkansen a number of times. From Tokyo, to Yokohama, to Nagoya, and then Kyoto, Hiroshima, and then our exit point Osaka. So it depends. Use HyperDia to compute the approximate cost of your transportation and then you can compare if it’s worth availing the JR pass or not.

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  12. lisawestbrook17

    why go to Japan to eat at 7-11? are you a call center worker? leave those tipid unhealthy habits in Manila when you travel abroad.

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    1. Paolo Abellanosa

      Hi, lisawestbrook17! I do agree, but you can’t help it especially in the morning when many restaurants are still closed. It’s unhealthier to not eat at all! But ultimately I think it’s largely a function of what’s important for you provided you have a certain budget: would you rather spend it everyday on good Japanese products, sights and experience, or eat it all up on “healthy” food? Besides, several items food in the convenience stores are quite delicious! You should try it! Cheers

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      1. marak

        Plus 1 on Paolo- in my experience Lawson and or 7/11 or any convenience stores in Japan for that matter offers really good, cheap and delicious choices for breakfast if you opt for it. Their fried chicken legs are to die for. They also have fresh pastries to boot. πŸ™‚

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  13. Kat

    Hi! I booked a Narita trip by March for a conference at Chiba then we plan to go to Kyoto thru a Willer overnight bus. Do you have tips in going around kyoto for 4 days? We’ve found an accomodation in Kyoto but not sure how will visit the area.

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    1. Allan S

      By bus or train. The bus day pass is just 500 Yen and it gives you unlimited rides to citybuses. You can buy this pass at your hotel or outside the JR Kyoto station via vending machine. You will need to divide Kyoto by area to save time. Check this out http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3950.html. Day trip to Osaka would also be good. Be sure to visit Dontonbori for shopping and food adventure.

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  14. marak

    Thank you Paolo. Really helpful.

    Change of plans- my wife and i are now staying for 3 days in Tokyo. Was hoping you can give us suggestions to the ff:

    * Can you suggest an itinerary for a 3 day trip to Tokyo? My wife badly wants to see Snow..LOL ,I am planning for us to go to Ueno/Akihabara. Shinjuku- is on the plate as well but i have not been there so i a not familiar with travel time expectations etc. Ueno and Akihabara i am familiar with
    * Any cheap hotels you can recommend in Tokyo? We paid Php 1400/night for our Hotel in Japan (Eco Hotel)
    * Any restos to recommend? Ramen place etc..

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    1. Paolo Abellanosa

      Hi, Marak! Great to hear you’re spending more time in Tokyo. We’ve listed down 6 day trip itineraries you can do in Tokyo here. But may I suggest Nos. 1-3 in the list. You’d find most attractions very accessible via the JR Yamanote Line. We don’t have any specific cheap hotel in mind or restaurants, although you’d find good restaurants around Tsukiji market, inside the train stations (eat where the Japanese eats), and the popular Memory Lane (near Shinjuku Station) for some grilled Japanese food. Cheers

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      1. Marak

        Thanks again Paolo.will checkout your itinerary suggestions.
        I wanted to ask about Shinjuku i particular as i have been wanting to go there for a while now.
        Is it in close proximity to places like Akihabara or Ueno, or Shibuya?
        Any impressions about the place?

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      2. Paolo Abellanosa

        Hello, Marak! If you’re talking about proximity, Shinjuku is definitely far from Akihabara and Ueno, but they are very accessible through JR trains: Shinjuku to Akihabara is only 18 minutes via the JR Chuo line, while Shinjuku to Ueno is 26 minutes via the JR Yamanote Line. Meanwhile, Shinjuku to Shibuya is very close — just a few stations in between via the JR Yamanote Line.

        As for my impression about Shinjuku, it’s a relatively expensive place because of its popularity, I guess. If you’re dining in any restaurant in Japan, be sure to clarify whether there is “table charge”. We ate once in Shinjuku and was surprised they charged us Y1,000+ as “table charge” on top of our order! I guess it was our fault since didn’t clarify. Restaurants where Japanese would spend drinking at night are those with table charge.

        We visited Shinjuku to get a free panoramic view of Tokyo at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. We also tried the historic Piss Alley (which they now call Memory Lane). Despite the cost, I highly recommend you dine in one of the restaurants along Memory Lane. The restaurant we ate here didn’t ask for a table charge.

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  15. jgamboa

    Can you buy day pass on Narita Airport? Or we can buy it here?
    Would like to go around JR Yamanote Line because our hotel will probably be near Ikebukuro station.
    We’re planning for a 12-day honeymoon vacation at Tokyo :p
    Thanks in advance!

    Like

  16. Pingback: Filipino tourists in Japan rose by 46% in 2015 | WorkaLife

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