Posts Tagged ‘networking’

Visiting Tokyo on a budget

Posted on: June 25th, 2010 by Fransgaard 5 Comments

This article was co-created with my late wife in 2010

Last year we decided to go to Tokyo for a week for the very first time. Granted we didn’t book a package holiday, but we did do the tourist stuff such as staying as high up as possible in a posh hotel, eating at fancy restaurants and visiting the tourist sights.

However, we also went off the beaten track and explored other areas of Tokyo and we realised that actually Tokyo can be visited relatively cheap.

So this year we decided a go again but do it cheaper and here are some tips on how we did it.

Travelling Uncle Matt

Warning:

While this guide doesn’t require you to a be a seasoned traveller, it does require a certain adventurous can-do attitude as Tokyo isn’t the most tourist friendly city and English isn’t widely spoken, a fact that is even more true for the more local places we will cover in this article.

In this article:


Pre-visit

Fish banners

Research

Japan is a wonderful place to visit, but it is on the other side of the planet and as such a very different place. So with that in mind researching what you want to do before you go is a really good idea.

Tokyo isn’t tailored to tourists so some of the really good stuff (and much of the really cheap stuff) need local knowledge and input as they are not advertised… yes, the best bars and clubs do not have signs to show they are there!

Fortunately there are loads of good Tokyo articles, blogs and tweets out there. Be aware that in our experience some of the things we found during research were already closed by the time we arrived so make sure you have back-up plans in place.

Feeling artsy? There are lots of galleries in Tokyo, but many of them have random opening hours and many exhibition are only on for shorter period of time. Look to Tokyo Art Beat for the latest buzz, they also have a really handy iPhone app

Articles:

Blogs:

Twitter:

Books:
We bought a bunch of tourist books, but the ones we found vital were:

Tip for Final Fantasy fans If you are a fan of Square Enix games, visiting their flagship store is a must. However,  their prices are often higher than other toy/hobby shops in Tokyo. For example the Shiva Sisters bike from Final Fanatasy 13 costs a whooping 19.800 Yen in the Square Enix store and we found the extact same figurine in Nakano Broadway and in Shinjuku for just over 16.000 Yen.

Plan ahead

We wrote out own itinerary of what we wanted to do on which days. This is a really good way of fitting in events that may only be open certain days such as plays, shows, concerts, sport events etc.

We also listed a range of fall-back options in case the planned event for the day for some reason turned out to be unavailable.

Learn Japanese

A little Japanese can go a really REALLY long way in Tokyo. Not only do Japanese people appreciate you taking the effort to try, they are themselves also more open to respond in English and often their English is better than they themselves think.

We used two very good and very different sources of learning Japanese:

Networking

If you know any Japanese people in real life ask them about Tokyo. They will be able to give you some local insight. For example an old colleague of mine pointed us to Ebisu Garden Place which is an office area with loads of good and cheap restaurants.

However, if you don’t know any Japanese people try to hook up with Japanese residents on the many forums on the Internet. Try to find forums revolving around your hobby, interest or profession (for me Linkedin.com worked really well from a professional point of view).

You may even get a chance to meet them in real life when you arrive and trust me; They can show you Tokyo in a way no tourist guide or blog article can.


Getting there

Cross Atlantic flight

Make the most of your jetlag - If you wake up stupidly early the day after you arrive go visit the Tsukiji fish market. Make sure to try the lovely sushi in one of the associated restaurants.

There are ofcourse different prices for different flights depending on time of the year, airline and stop-overs you are willing to accept, but fundamentally the plane ticket is the most expensive part of going to Tokyo, there’s no way around that and we can’t really help you with this one… but if you have a tip for us please let us know :-)

Overweight

One thing to be aware of is that The Japanese are into their details, that goes for weighing your hand luggage as well! And they will charge your for overweight if it is ever so slightly over the allowance and that is expensive so make sure you weigh your luggage before you head of and if you have any over weight it is cheaper to send the extra kilos home using the post office.


Where to stay?

Ryokan

The first time we went to Tokyo the big skyscraper hotels was a big attraction, but it is important to say that you can get at the top of the world much cheaper and even for free. Some of the places to get high in Tokyo are:

Hotels

As expected hotels are the most expensive accommodation, but Tokyo hotel service is truly top-class. So even if you go on the cheap it is worth considering staying in a hotel one or two nights.

Ryokans

Ryokans are traditional Japanese guest houses. Make no mistake! These are for luxury stays often with meals included and they are as expensive if not more expensive than hotels.

Hostels

We haven’t had any experience with hostels so cannot comment on their prices.

Feeling snotty? Don't bother buying tissues. There are people everywhere handing out tissues to promote all sorts of products.

Love Hotels

Neither have we tried staying in one of Tokyo’s Love Hotels but we have seen them being recommended as a cheaper option for shorter stays for backpackers… not sure how sound proof they though ;-)

Flats
But what we can recommend is renting a flat in Tokyo!

Compared to hotels they are surprisingly cheap and with the kitchens they help lower food costs as well. We’ve used Live in Asia which was very good with constant communication before we arrived and a person on the spot to receive us when we stepped out of the train station. Read our full review of this particular flat here.

But a quick Google gave us Tokyo Apartments and Hikari which both also looks promising. In fact there seems to be loads of companies renting out flats in Tokyo so do Google around.


Food

Tokyo meal

Tokyo has the largest collection of michelin star restaurants in the world… but that doesn’t mean the rest of the food is bad, far from it.

Most Japanese restaurant food easily compare to better restaurants in London but the price starts as low as 300 Yen for a full meal and many places have plastic models of their food or picture menus making it easy to order even though you don’t speak Japanese.

Kenbaiki-driven restaurants

There are lots of cheap eating places scattered around Tokyo that can be easily recognised by kenbaiki (vending machines) where you purchase a ticket for your chosen meal. The vending machines are almost always in Japanese and many have no pictures of the food, but if you ask the staff they are almost always ready to help and as all Japanese staff they tend to be very friendly.

Local restaurants

Hanging out in the most prominent areas of Tokyo means the prices are more expensive, but going to places not featured in the tourists guides is often worth it both for the food and the experience.

We like the food streets running parallel (on the right side) to Nakano Broadway. Don’t just take the first and the best you find but do go further in and explore there are lots!

The business towers in Ebisu Garden Place also offers great cuisine. In fact it seems lots of office buildings have publicly available restaurants at the top where to office workers eat their lunch.

We Flook’ed some of the restaurants we really enjoyed. Check them out at flook.it

Fast food chains

Don’t bother. You can get both better and cheaper food at the above mentioned places.

Supermarkets

Don’t be afraid to get Sushi from supermarkets. It is very good and cheap.

Many supermarkets have late opening hours and they tend to put prices down on their bakery in the evenings so a good way to get some cheap morning bread for the day after.


Other tips

Pachinko

For the net-nutters - If you (like us) need to be online 24/7 you can go for the more expensive option of renting your own portable 3G dongle. Expensive, but still cheaper than roaming charges and you can link up several devices via wifi.

Internet

Avoid using roaming on your phone. Either find wifi spots in Tokyo. Starbucks and MacDonalds are possible spots but also look at www.travel-island.com/ travel.wireless/ japan.html. If you have an iPhone, the app Free Wifi in Tokyo is a good help as well.

Exchange rate

At the time writing this we recommend you get a Post Office credit card or similar credit which offers you 0% commission on overseas transfers.

For best exchange rates we found that it is better to find out which post office in Tokyo as foreign withdrawal ATMs amd withdraw Yen there than exchanging here in the UK.

A word on Shinkansen, the bullet train
If you plan on going out of Tokyo, for example to Kyoto, make sure to buy a Japanese Tourist Railpass before you go. It cannot be bought once you are in Japan and the tickets are more expensive to buy there. You can get them here in London from My Bus where we also bought our tickects for the Studio Ghibli Museum.

Trains

As mentioned above only get JR rail pass if you go out of Tokyo and back, but make sure you make most of it if you buy one as it covers all JR lines within Tokyo including the main JR line.

If in doubt, always buy the minimum ticket fare. All Tokyo stations have ticket top up machines to take your ticket up to the correct cost.

Buses

Tourist guides warn you against buses. yes, they are not as easy as trains and take a bit of courage to use, but we did successfully use them a couple of times for example to get to Studio Ghibli Museum and Anime Museum.

Taxis

Expensive and taxi drivers do not read or speak any English so make sure to have your destination printed in Japanese.


At the end of the day…

Tired toy

We hope you’ve enjoyed this article and perhaps shown you that Tokyo actually is viable destination for your next holiday.

This article is based on the two very different holidays we have had to Tokyo so we do not consider ourselves experts by any means.

So if you have some tips to how to visit Tokyo on a budget then please do share them with all of us in the comments below or send us a mail.