A couple of weeks ago, I got messages from friends who are planning to go to Japan to catch the cherry blossoms in bloom next year. One of their concerns (as it was mine) was keeping the expenses down. I wrote about seeing Kyoto on a budget for in-flight magazine, Smile, last July, and I thought it would be good idea to list down some ideas to keep costs down in Tokyo while still seeing a lot of what that huge metropolitan city has to offer. So here’s another entry, my gift to my Japan-bound friends–minus my long Japan travel tales of Days 1 to 10. 🙂
Explore the streets. No better way to witness the pulse of the Japanese capital than walk its busy (as well as its quiet) streets where you can be among the ultra-fashionable, the throngs of salarymen, or fellow tourists in awe of Tokyo. To minimize transportation costs, it’s best to explore the city per area. The extensive metro rail of the city has stops for most of the popular spots in Tokyo, anyway. And bring your most comfortable shoes! (There were days though when I did succumb to “vanity over comfort” mentality with a pair of boots that just looked nicer. Tsk, tsk.)
1. Harajuku. Head down Takeshita Dori, which is just across the JR Yamanote line exit of Harajuku Station. Walk down this narrow street lined with trendy boutiques, shops where cosplayers likely shop, a 100 yen store, some restaurants and a lot of crepe stalls. Check it our during a Sunday to see Japanese teens get all dressed up. Walk further south and you’ll end up in Omotesando, where the crowd is past their adolescence and has a different kind of style–less costumey, more chic.
2. Akihabara. Tokyo’s Electric Town and ground zero for geekery with all the manga and toy stores, gadgets galore, and maid cafes to gawk at. You can get out of the JR Akihabara exit and start checking out the stores from there. (Here is the very detailed Akihabara map we were given on our walking tour. Here is another one from Tokyo Tourism that might be helpful. They have 53 Ways to Explore Tokyo on Foot; most tourist spots are in areas A, B, C, and D.)
3. Shibuya. Where you can find the tourist-draw of a crossing, that little Hachiko statue, sharply dressed young Japanese women (makes you feel you want to go back to your inn and put on something nicer) and so many department stores for a consumerist high.
4. Shinjuku. Where skyscrapers, more department stores, and night spots, including a red-light district, abound. Must check out the alleys and pubs of the Golden Gai, though a visit in one of the bars will set you back a cover charge or admission fee between Y700 to Y2000. (FYI: To fellow Pinoys, there is a bar nearby called Champion Bar and it is co-owned by a Filipino and frequented by Pinoys working in Tokyo. Our friend pointed it out to us, but we didn’t get a chance to go inside.) You can also just head to one of the big chain stores, like Takashimaya (with a large Tokyu Hands branch inside), Isetan (must stop for the basement food hall), or Yodobashi to drool over electronics.
Other areas worth a walking tour: Ginza and Roppongi Hills for sleek version of Tokyo, Asakusa for the ‘old’ Tokyo, and Odaiba for theme-park Tokyo. Ryogoku is supposedly an interesting place to check out during sumo season.
Shrines and temples to see. For all of Tokyo’s big-city appeal, I love that it also has many areas of greenery and silence (when not overrun by tourists like me). Admission in Tokyo’s most popular shrine and temple is free.
5. Meiji Shrine. As I previously mentioned in Day 9 entry, I love the fact that the vast, quiet grounds of this shrine is just right next to the crowded streets of Harajuku. According to fellow WordPress blogger, Tokyobling, who resides in Tokyo, Meiji Shrine is also a great spot to take colorful photos as many weddings are held there during the weekend. (Update: The shrine also gets really crowded during New Year’s Eve for the Hatsumode event.) You can walk the shrine from the JR Harajuku exit, right beside Yoyogi Park.
6. Senso-ji. While the walk to the Meiji Shrine was all about peace and quiet, the walk towards the Hozomon gate to the temple’s main building was as crazy as a marketplace. Mainly because there is a market (Nakamise) in between the two gates where you can buy Japanese souvenirs and local snacks.
To the public parks! If it’s cherry blossom season, a visit to one of Tokyo’s many parks is a must. While a friend, who used to live in Tokyo, recommended having hanami (cherry blossom viewing) at Shinjuku-gyoen (admission Y200), there are other parks where you can go in for free.
7. Yoyogi Park. The park with the least number of locals getting ready for hanami and hardly any other tourists when we went there early April. It looked a bit run down and there were some trash that littered the pathway (one of the few, if not only instance when I saw garbage littered on a street in Japan), but cherry blossoms were just lovely.
8. Ueno Koen. Another public park. This one gets really crowded and it might take you an entire afternoon to explore. Aside from the path above lined with cherry blossom trees, there are several museums, a zoo and a shrine (all with varied admission fees). We were more than happy just looking at the blossoms though.
9. Sumida Park. Located on both sides of the Sumida River and another popular hanami spot. You can take a river cruise, but if you prefer not to spend, just walk the stretch of the park where the trees get lit up in the evening. We loved the food sold in the stalls here.
Konbini is your friend. Not counting how much we spent for transportation, I think we spent most of our budget for food. A bowl of ramen in neighborhood restaurant is around Y700, which is cheap if you’re in Japan. In the Philippines, that’s around PHP350, something we don’t normally spend on a regular day for a typical meal. And don’t even get me started on dinners or drinks at a bar where your bill can amount to Y15,000 (PHP7,500) or more. (Thank God for our friend C who treated us most of the time!)
10. Lawson’s, Family Mart, Ministop, 7-Eleven. The cheapest food you can get is probably in the convenience store or konbini. You can have onigiri for around Y120 (PHP60), a tray of sushi for Y300 (PHP150), a tray of microwaveable meal starting at Y320 (PHP160), a sandwich for less than Y200 (PHP100) and other pretty decent, often times delicious Japanese ready-to-eat.
To my friends heading to Japan next year, this list is for you. I’ll see if I can think of anymore budget-friendly tips before your trips. In the meantime, Happy New Year, you lucky bastards! 🙂