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5 things to do in Tokyo on a budget

5 things to do in Tokyo on a budget

Embarking on a budget-friendly adventure in Tokyo doesn't mean you need to miss out. Whether you're just visiting or studying abroad in Tokyo, there are a range of affordable delights that allow you to explore the hidden gems, cuisine, and nature of Japan’s iconic capital. 

For anyone looking to save some money while traveling, the most important thing is planning ahead and knowing where to go. Discover the bustling heart of Japanese culture with these five tips for savvy travelers and thrifty explorers. 

1. Eat fresh seafood at the fish market

Tokyo's famous fish market moved locations in 2018. The old site at Tsukiji is still home to the Tsukiji Outer Market, a jumble of seafood stalls selling the freshest sushi and sashimi. Here you’ll also find plenty of street food stalls at budget-friendly prices. 

The main seafood market is now at Toyosu Market, a man-made island in the Bay of Tokyo. This is where the famous tuna auctions take place between 5:30 and 6:30 am. You can watch the action for free through the Tuna Auction observation windows above the market hall, or apply for a spot at the lower level, where you’re exposed to the sights and sounds of the auction. An advance reservation is required to access this deck during the tuna auctions, and places are assigned by a monthly lottery system.

2. Go thrift shopping

Tokyo is a melting pot for fashion, where people express their individuality through clothing.  Fashion choices include avante-garde, cosplay, streetwear, Harajuku, punk, and gothic, making it an incredible shopping city. But, you don’t need a huge budget to hit the shops, as the city is also littered with amazing thrift shops. Many of them are tucked in hidden alleys, so start by looking at Mode Off and Hard Off stores, 2nd street stores, Treasure Factory in the Koenji neighborhood, and Boro-Ichi flea markets.

3. Visit Ueno Park on discount days

Ueno is known as a ‘people’s park’, thanks to its mix of traditional design and fun attractions, right in the heart of downtown Tokyo. The park itself is free to enter, and it’s renowned for spectacular hanami, cherry blossom viewing from late March to early April. The various attractions within the parklands do have small admissions fees, normally around 600 yen (US$4). They include Ueno Zoo, Tokyo National Museum, Shitamachi Museum, and the Ueno Toshogu Shrine. However, there are various discount days throughout the year where you can get free or cheap entry:

  • 20th March, 4th May, and 1st October all attractions within the park are free.

  • On May 18, get free entry to museums at Ueno and around Tokyo for International Museum Day.

  • For a few weeks in May, Ueno Museum Weeks offer discounts and coupons for food and drink outlets nearby.

4. Cruise the river

In southeast Tokyo, the Sumida River opens up to Tokyo Bay, the city’s gateway to the sea. Board a suijo bus water bus to navigate the city waterway while enjoying amazing views along the way. The boats are not strictly tourist cruises, and they’re also used by local commuters, so they’re surprisingly cheap. 

Trips with Tokyo Cruise start from 860 yen (US$5.80) with three different lines connecting various parts of the city. Entrance to the peaceful landscaped gardens of Hama Rikyu on the Asakusa - Hamarikyu line is included in the fare.

5. Grab lunch on the go

While Tokyo isn’t known as a cheap city, there is no shortage of cheap eats. From convenience stores to vending machines selling everything from soups to burgers, eating out on a student budget is absolutely doable.

The most common types of vending machines are those selling soft drink cans for 100 to 170 yen (around US$1). Hot noodle or rice dishes can cost between 300 yen (US$2) and 1000 yen ($US6.75), and a cup of ice cream might set you back 100 yen (US$0.60). 

Most convenience stores offer grab-and-go lunches such as bentō and onigiri. You can also pick a bowl of instant ramen from the shelf, which you can cook and eat in-store. Famous restaurants are even collaborating with stores such as 7-11 to offer instant versions of their best-selling noodles, such as Nakiryu — one of the best ramen joints in Tokyo. They’re almost like the real thing and will only set you back 278 yen (US$1.80). In-store microwaves, kettles, chopsticks, and seating make it easy to enjoy a quick and cheap lunch on the go.

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