Beautiful Tokyo, with its population of over 37 million humans and its cars, houses and everything in between parcelled neatly into an astonishing urban flatpack. It was a country I’d longed to visit for many years and last month I finally sat my derriere on a plane and approximately 10 hours later arrived in the remarkable country of Japan.
Now, you’d be forgiven for thinking the trendy, high-tech city of Tokyo, home to the most acclaimed hotels and restaurants in the world, to be extortionately priced. I too had this belief, but I’m here to tell you that travelling to Tokyo and exploring most of the city’s must-dos for 10 days enlightened me with a cost no more than $2,000. So I had to share some undeniable tips that kept the prices low and the good times a flow.
- Be a detective: INVESTIGATE, ENQUIRE AND PREPARE!
From the minor to the all-important, preparation is tip number one for having the best kind of economical travel experience. Look out for cheap flights, accommodation and research things to do. To be honest, I can’t take the glory for the phenomenal organisation that went into this trip. That award is dedicated to my dear friend Jasmine Yin who’s systematic and efficient qualities came in very handy in an Asian country we’d never visited before. Her logical and adamant bargain searching proved to be one of the biggest factors to having a painless, cheap holiday. What I have learned from her is that by having a list (whether it be written old-school style on paper) or her way kept neatly in her iPhone notes and shared with me under location headings of the places, food and activities means you’ll be ticking it all off in no time. This also works in your favour when you get home and can’t quite remember the names of places you visited or delectable cuisines you ate.
- Hostels are the new five star hotels
Following on from tip number one, keeping an eye out for valuable accommodation deals is a cost-saving no-brainer. If you’re willing to stay a bit out of the hustle and bustle of the city there are countless cosy, family-run lodges available. We stayed at Hostal Reposo Hikifune Lodge, which is just 1.2 km from Tokyo Sky Tree Tower and 2 km from Sensoji Temple. At only 3350 YEN ($40AUD) per night, every part of the experience was lovely. From the minor details of welcome matcha tea upon arrival to the floral toilet seat covers and breakfast cooked each morning by our delightful Japanese host who gave all the welcoming, hospitable vibes that would (almost) give your own grandma (sorry Gma) a run for her money. Not to mention, staying in a hostel is a fun way to immerse yourself not only in traditional Japanese culture but you also get to meet culturally diverse guests!
- Public transport is phenomenal
It goes without saying, Japan’s metro system is without a doubt one of the finest in the world. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t call it idiot-proof until you get the hang of it. Successfully navigating Tokyo by train and alone was one of my most triumphant moments of the trip. My tip is to get your paws on a PASMO card and varying on travel distance, top it up each day or so. We topped ours up with 1000 YEN (12AUD) every second day and we essentially lived on the subway. PASMO cards are your go-to guy for everything, they can even be used in vending machines and overnight buses. However, there is just one vital point I’d like to make about the metro system, it all stops around 12am and if you don’t survive the ‘last train’, you’re waiting until 5am the next day. Trust me, I did it and having said that I enjoyed bar hopping for all hours of the night, but as for doing that every night… Don’t tell me I didn’t warn you.
- The divine taste of 7-Eleven
I know what you’re thinking, you’ve gone across seas to eat out of all places…7-Eleven? But let me tell you, ye-olde 7-Eleven in Japan is not even close to the one you know now. Not only will it aid you for all hours of the day, with a selection of fresh sushi, fruit and meals, hot food and fresh-ground coffee, it has the most reliable free wifi in Japan. Our wifi holy grail, go-to for 24 hour snacking and the safest bet for me (the vegetarian) on a budget. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you the number of times I ducked into 7- Eleven for an energy replenishment. Usually (okay always) an Inari Okami roll, a succulent vegan option of sushi rice packed in a pouch of flavoured, fried tofu. Pair it with a packet of edamame beans and you’ve got yourself a cheap, healthy, divine snack!
Being vegetarian in Japan isn’t simple, I can’t stress enough the importance of research and preparation. It’s often difficult to find ANY kind of Japanese food that isn’t made in some sort of meat broth, my tip with this is to always ask and noodles and veggies are your friends. I must make an honourable mention to Afuri for satisfying meat eating Jasmine and polar opposite me, with their as the name suggests ‘fine’ meat version and vegan version of ramen, my mouth’s watering just thinking about it.
- Pick and Prioritise Priced Pursuits
Here’s the part where travelling in a duo can get a bit debatable, picking and choosing which activities are suited to you both. In our case, we were both pretty happy to accept one another’s suggestions and most of the time I had complete trust in Jasmine’s planning. However, there was one measure that I resented wholeheartedly. This being the ever insane, not so thoughtfully curated, but kind of cute, and absolutely adrenaline-filled Mario Karting through the streets of Tokyo. Now, here’s the thing about me, I will be extremely apprehensive about these life moments, but I’ll never back out of them, I figure if the opportunity arises I must take it. And consequently, I had the best time… upon reflection… off the kart and safe. But don’t let me scare you out of it, I think I’m the only person on the planet who thought the Mario Kart tours were slightly chaotic. Something a little less havoc-wreaking, costume dressing and a lot more suited to me was our experience in an Onsen (Japanese public baths with water sourced from hot springs). Referring yet again to tip 1, research was important and learning about tradition and etiquette before entering was key. As both Jasmine and I had tattoos they are uncommon in Japan and often indicate yakusa or gangster ties. Regardless, research paid off and we found a sweet, local and cheap (around 460 YEN ($5.50 AUD) Onsen that accepted tattoos. It was one of the nicest experiences I’ve had to date, all women’s body shapes, sizes and ages in the one public area. The energy is liberating and if there’s one thing I can take from the experience it’s that nudity is completely freeing and nobody cares what you look like. A must try!
- Look, don’t touch
My final tip is simply to soak up all the beauty, whacky and delightfulness of Japan in all its glory. A friend once told me that all the main attractions are free and how true he was. If you’re willing just to look and respect Tokyo then you’re still going to have the time of your life. In fact, you wouldn’t need to pay for any extra activities if you were being extremely tight with spending. Why not try speaking Japanese, our host grandma was a wonderful teacher in this department or you could appreciate the striking Harajuku fashion that will absolutely blow your mind, go check out Sky Tree Tour and the beautiful view or simply and perhaps one of my most favourite things to do, sit in a national park and just be. The most beautiful park was Shinjuku Gyoen National Park and with a small fee of 200 YEN ($2.40AUD), try it, you will have your breath taken away. Lastly, don’t do a me and spill your filled to the top coffee on a local’s open laptop, that will cost, but that’s a story for another time.
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