Tokyo without a trust fund

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The most expensive city in the world is cheaper than you think.

“I’d love to go to Tokyo, but it’s so expensive“, people always tell me. You know what? The most expensive city in the world is cheaper than you think. If you can afford Europe, you can afford Tokyo. Here’s how:

my room at the ryokan

Where to stay: Go Lost-in-Translation if you can afford it, but forget mid-range business hotels: they’re expensive and boring and the same everywhere. Staying in a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn, is cheaper and cooler. You can sleep on a futon on the floor, bathe in a steaming communal tub and stroll by the coi pond at night in your bathrobe. Ryokan start at 40$/night and climb into the hundreds.

You can also get a dorm bed in a hostel for about 30$/night, but dorms are full of loud people and hippies and I hate them.

lunch!

What to eat: The Japanese are picky workaholics, so cheap take-away food is of great quality.

Ramen: Slurp some ramen alongside salarymen for 5$. Ramen noodle chains are everywhere in Tokyo. There’s usually a ticket machine by the door. Press the picture of what you want, put in your money, and hand in the ticket at the counter. Usually delicious and comes with free tea.

7-11: Unlike 7-11 at home which has prehistoric hot-dogs and disgusting burritos, 7-11 in Japan sells take-away sushi, Japanese pickles, sake, ice coffee and creme caramel, for under 5$. You can also buy individually packaged boiled eggs in cute little containers.

Department stores: Tokyo is full of luxury department stores, all of which have food sections. For 10$ you can buy a huge tray of nigiri sushi so fresh it makes San Francisco want to cry.

Western food in Tokyo is expensive, crappy, or both. Don’t bother.

What to do:

If you stay in a ryokan like I told you, you can do tons of Japanese things FOR FREE (as part of your “rent”): bathing in communal baths, wandering around Japanese gardens, making green tea in your room, watching weird Japanese TV shows.

two girls in shinbuya

Tokyo is a giant freak show so just walking around and looking at things is interesting. For the full effect, check out temples and parks in the day, and save the electric neighborhoods (Shibuya, Akihabara, Shinjuku) for nighttime.

Try out all the food samples in a big department store. Gawk at 80$ melons.

Try out all the massage chairs in an Akihabara electronic department store. Japanese people are on to this idea, as you’ll see by the number of old Japanese guys snoring in massage chairs beside you. The clerks don’t speak English and they’re too shy to talk to a foreigner, so you can “try” the chairs FOREVER before they’ll kick you out.

The same stores have ROBOT RODEO HORSES which you can ride. They nominally exist for exercise purposes, but if you’re a cute white girl, you’re introducing entire new fetishes into the Japanese psyche by riding those things — a lot of Japanese guys were staring while I was bouncing around.

The University of Tokyo gardens are stunning, an oasis away from the insanity of Tokyo.

(In Part 2: how to get around and what to buy)

2 Responses to “Tokyo without a trust fund”


  1. 1 taiko January 8, 2008 at 6:36 pm

    what’s a good timing,
    i’m going to japan on the coming march,
    thank for the tips!!
    I also think that tokyo is VERY EXPENSIVE,
    by the way this trip will cost me
    less money cuz i can stay at my girlfriend
    house, if i could not, your recommended will
    be my first choice !( and I want a real
    japanese scent!!)

    my friend ( thai girl) who went to tokyo
    last year, while she was walking, the
    man came in and ask her if she was interested
    to be AV star or not ( she is cute).

    I think, more than the living cost,
    tokyo is scary for me in the girl-life
    perspective.

  2. 2 julielavoie January 11, 2008 at 4:40 pm

    hey Taiko,

    thanks! hope you have a grea time in Japan!

    i didn’t have too many problems with japanese guys in tokyo, i think they are too shy to talk to me! 😛


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A blog about culture and technology in South-East Asia.

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