October 19, 2012

"Tokyo Cheapo" and Japan on the Cheap

It's getting closer to graduation, and everyone I know seems to be planning elaborate travel adventures to celebrate their post-university lives. The details are all over Facebook like a rash. Music festivals in Europe. Road trips across America. Backpacking around Asia. As I will most likely be spending the majority of my summer in pyjamas watching my box set of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, I hate you all. What I don't understand is, how are you meant to afford all of this jet setting? It took me a whole year of working as a minimum wage slave to save up enough for 5 months studying in Japan, combined with scholarships and student living costs. How are you supposed to fund travel that is purely self-indulgent?

As a result of my travel-envy, I recently came across an excellent website, Tokyo Cheapo, which claims to be 'dedicated to giving the best advice for making your yen go further when visiting or living in Tokyo.' The guides cover an almost endless range of topics for enjoying Japan's notoriously expensive capital on the cheap, from where to eat the best ramen to where to have the cheapest sex, if that's what you're, uh, into.

One article that blew my mind was How to Spend 3 Nights in Tokyo All Included on 10,000 yen, or just over 150 NZ dollars. The author gives a complete itinerary of where to stay, eat, go and even what souvenirs you can buy on a budget of just 3000 yen per day. Obviously, a traveler following this itinerary needs to be prepared to 'rough it' a bit for 3 nights - the author's accommodation of choice is a 24 hour manga cafe - but what a cool experience, right?! And sometimes you can pick up grabaseat flights from Auckland to Tokyo for around $800... so following the Tokyo Cheapo guide would mean experiencing a few nights in Japan for LESS than $1000. This is now on my travel must-do list.

Thinking back to my time in Osaka, almost everything we did was with a budget in mind. To save money on food, we spent a lot of time at the Lawson 100 yen store, buying things like onigiri (rice balls), cup noodles, and breads for lunches. When we ate out for dinner, we often went to meal-ticket restaurants like Matsuya and Sukiya, where you can get a decent-sized bowl of gyudon or curry rice for under 500 yen. Instead of going to bars, a lot of the time we'd all go to convenience stores to buy alcohol and drink it on campus, with someone's iPod standing in for karaoke (naughty, but undeniably cheap). As for activities, sometimes the most interesting days were spent just walking around random neighborhoods, for a grand total of the 300 yen it cost for the train trip. Also, window shopping in crazy shops and fancy department stores (recommended for those with a certain degree of self control).
Trying on lobster hats will cost you nothing but your dignity!
I think it's great how Tokyo Cheapo are showing that it's possible to fully experience Japan no matter what your budget is. And, as the saying goes, travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.


  1. Thanks so much for the write up and we're glad you like the site! If you want to do the 10,000yen for 3 nights tour, let us know - we'd like to follow you around. Apparently the manga cafe that we featured now has stricter requirements on foreigners - like needing to have a residence card. Not sure if it was just due to us but there are plenty of other options in Shibuya.
    Do you think a similar kind of site would work for Osaka/Kansai? By the way, I'm from NZ as well.

    1. Hi Greg! Thanks for your comment! It's a small world - I actually found out about your site from my Japanese lecturer, Haruko Stuart, who knows you from Waseda Uuniversity (I assume it's you she was referring to)?

      I would love to do the 3 nights tour, unfortunately it might have to wait until later next year/if and when grabaseat have good fights. I am determined to do it though, so I'll definitely let you know in the future. =) Would also love to contribute to your site if I find myself back in Tokyo in the next couple of years.

      I think a similar site would be awesome for Kansai - tourists to Japan always seem to skip Osaka on their itineraries, which is a damn shame! But there's heaps of 'cheapo' places - one district in Osaka that used to be almost exclusively a slum for day labourers is increasingly turning into a budget accommodation area for tourists, which is pretty interesting.

      Good luck with the site, I'll be reading it regularly! =)

    2. Yeah, I know Haruko from Waseda. She must be one of the most energetic, upbeat people I've ever met!
      We're currently thinking about something similar for Kansai but we want to get Tokyo Cheapo running like a well oiled machine before we replicate the concept. I might hit you up for an article on that district of Osaka sometime!

  2. I happened upon this blog completely by accident tonight. I've just spent the last half hour going through a good chunk of your posts.
    In March 2012, I went to Japan for the first time. In fact, it was my first time ever leaving the U.S. What a culture shock! I only stayed for about 10 days though. I was just there to visit a friend (and visit Japan, of course).
    Anyway, I never comment on things like this, but so much of what you wrote reminds me of my short trip. I wish there were more to read! It was nice to hear about someone else's experience as an alien in Japan.
    P.S.- I actually brought home a green tea Kit Kat bar for one of my friends. (Not sure if he ever ate it.)

    1. Hi Deanna, thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog and for leaving such a kind comment! I'm glad it reminded you of your trip, and hope you enjoyed Japan as much as I did. It's an amazing place, but I definitely experienced some culture shock during my time there too. I hope you get another opportunity to go back soon! =) Thanks again!

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  4. When I was looking for an apartment, I first went to a small local real estate agent in the area I wanted to live. I was told flat out that they had no apartments for foreigners, even though I went there with my soon-to-be Japanese husband and we were going to be living together. My wish is that people like this experience discrimination themselves to see how it feels.

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