Saturday, January 20, 2018

3 Days (or More) in Tokyo for Frugal First Timers

I used to daydream about Tokyo, especially during my teenage years. I even went as far as announcing to all my classmates that I was going to Japan after graduation. I am true to my word, I made this happen… 10 years after. Back then, my interests were mainly focused on anime shows and gadgets. I enjoyed watching travel shows about Japan, but didn’t really appreciate the deeper roots of its culture. Years have passed and I can say I have matured (a little, yes) especially with my attitude towards traveling. Despite that, the need to see Tokyo didn’t fade one bit, so I finally got myself flight tickets to Japan! I based myself in the capital of the country for six more days, three of those spent seeing the highlights of the big metropolis that is Tokyo.

tokyo budget

Getting to Tokyo from Narita Airport
There are several options but ultimately you decide whether you want to save time, effort or money. In my case, I chose the latter as I wasn’t in a hurry anyway. I took the bus that took me directly to Tokyo Station, but you can get by with a rental car/driver, taxi, or train. Another good tip is to check how many transfers is necessary for you to get to your hotel.

I bought the combo ticket bus + 72-hour Tokyo Subway Ticket sold at the airport for 2,400 JPY and travel time was only around an hour, it was the perfect deal for me. For more suggestions, you may visit the Narita Airport website.


Getting around Tokyo
At first glance, Tokyo’s transportation system may look daunting especially to newbie travelers. But it’s not that complex, really. There are many subway and rail lines around the city but the most useful and cost-efficient for me was the Tokyo Metro. It has stops at the important districts in the city such ah Shinjuku, Shibuya and Tokyo Station. The metro fare ranges around 200-300 yen.

Unlike Taipei, I was surprised to see very few buses and locals recommend going by subway as it has more trips and takes less time. I didn’t see it as a suggested option by Google Maps as well. If you still insist, the bus fare is 210 JPY and operated by Toei.

tokyo subway map
credit: http://www.gotokyo.org/en/tourists/info/access/index.html

One look at Japan-Guide Tokyo’s section and you would notice a number of “discount” passes aimed for tourists. I saved myself the trouble and just got the 72-hour Tokyo Subway Ticket for 1500 JPY since I will be staying in the city for six days. It was surely bang for the buck as I was riding the subway about 5-8 times a day. By the way, not only is this pass valid for Tokyo Metro but also for Toei subway lines. This can be bought at Narita and Haneda airports, Bic Camera stores and at Metro station information centers (just be careful to distinguish it from the Toei and Tokyo Metro One-Day Economy Pass and Tokyo Metro 24-Hour Ticket).

Alternatively, you can buy Suica or PASMO cards that serve as re-loadable cards that you can use to tap in and out when taking subways, trains and even buses. I did not buy these though as I only had few instances where I had to shell out cash for fares (if it’s not covered by my pass or discount ticket).

Tip: If you want to save money and make optimal use of the metro pass, pick a hostel/hotel that is nearby any metro station.

Also, If you have a JR Pass, I suggest that you do not activate it as you explore Tokyo as you might not use it that often anyway.

tokyo metro

My preferred website for hostel reservation is Booking.com as I usually reserve on the spot or the day before and cancellations are free of charge if done a couple of days ahead, but this time, I opted to try AirBnB. I got a coupon from a friend and would like to share this to you if you are not yet a member, sign up through this link and save up to some moolah on your first booking.

I think if I reserved earlier I might have gotten a cheaper deal at a better location, but I was quite satisfied with GoGo House Hostel situated at Itabashi ward. It is quite far-off from central Tokyo, with travel time ranging from 20 to 40 minutes to get to places like Shinjuku and Asakusa and the sleeping facilities are pretty basic (I think this is the simplest hostel I have stayed in the country), but for the price, I am not complaining. I was also surprised at how friendly locals are here, as I arrived, I was approached by an elder asking if I needed help. The area also has tons of affordable dining selections, I wasn’t able to try everything in my list though. I had the best tonkatsu here, it sucks that I forgot to take note of the name of the diner. If you are looking to save money and do not mind taking the longer route, then I recommend this hostel for sure.

Tip: Tokyo is the best place to stay at if you only plan on doing day trips around other interesting places in the Kanto Region such as Kamakura, Nikko, Mt Fuji, or Hakone.

not sure if I was just famished or this was indeed a yummy tonkatsu

This breakdown should give you an idea how much to set aside if you are traveling independently. Kindly note that these are only the bare necessities and I did not include miscellaneous expense such as souvenir costs. Accommodation cost is also about 6,000 JPY for six days so the amount in this table accounts for three days only.

So yes, for 5,000 pesos or 11,000 JPY it is possible to travel around the city, it's not that expensive tbh.

tokyo budget

Day 1 – Odaiba
My flight arrived by noon at Narita Airport and it wasn’t only until five that I was finally able to start exploring Tokyo. It was already dark by the time I reached Odaiba, a man-made island built to serve as a military fort, and has now evolved to be one of the city’s well-known shopping districts. For people like me though, we know it for the larger-than-life Gundam statue.

But don’t be fooled, this place has more to offer. Aside from the variety of restaurants, I suggest walking around the Seaside Park for a lovely view of Rainbow Bridge that connects Odaiba to the rest of Tokyo.

tokyo gundam

READ MORE - Odaiba, Shibuya and Central Tokyo

Day 2 – Tokyo Character Street, Asakusa, Shibuya
I decided to return to Tokyo Station to see something that caught my interest, the Tokyo Character Street located at an underground mall within the station’s vicinity. Even though I had no intention of buying anything, it was still enjoyable to browse through hundreds of various anime-themed items. Interested in cute characters like Hello Kitty, Rirakkuma or Gudetama? How about the action-packed One Piece and Naruto? A huge fan of the Pok√©mon series? They have it all for you!~

Tokyo Character Street
Tokyo Character Street

Asakusa is undoubtedly one of the city’s attractions drawing in hundreds (even thousands) of foreign and local visitors everyday to see the Sensoji Temple, said to be Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple. If you feel like joining the packed crowd, walk along the stores of Nakamise Street, you could try out snacks and buy souvenirs, they sell almost everything here. I prefer this area by night when the crowd has thinned out and the buildings are illuminated.

As I distanced away from the huge pack of tourists, I find myself in a quiet Dempoin Street leading to Rokku Entertainment District. There are lots of unique finds here such as cheap kimonos and a Don Quixote branch, I swear, you’d see lots of quirky items here that you might end up spending hours and hours browsing and going through each section.


Joining in as hundred or so commuters cross the Shibuya Crossing is surely one for the books. Granted you might see lots tourists doing the same thing, it’s a fun activity to try not bump into anyone and make it across before the light turns to red. Even though you don’t have any plans to meet up with someone, look for the statue of dear Hachiko located nearby the station, because I don’t think there’s someone out there who is not yet familiar with her story.Wander off to the colorful streets of Golden Gai, Spain Slope for the hippest fashion outlets and restaurants.


Day 3 – Harajuku, Shinjuku
It was probably not the best idea to go see Tokyo on a weekend, but if you can’t help it, might as well join in on the fun right. Expect Harajuku to be packed with people looking for high-end clothes especially along Omotesando Hills. If looking for the hippest trends is what you’re after, Takeshita Street is your best bet.


An interesting contrast from all the happenings in this modern district is Meiji Shrine. Here, locals pay their respects to ancestors and offer prayers. I was also lucky to be in Japan during the 7-5-3 or Shichi-go-san Festival so the area was filled with children dressed in the prettiest kimonos. If you have read my 30 before 30, I wanted to witness a marriage ceremony from a different religion or culture, and even though I was not invited to be as a guest, I’m happy I got to see several wedding processions during the entire trip, and here in Tokyo, I saw three on the same day at Meiji Shrine.

japan wedding shichi go san
like me, this child who was in Meiji Shrine for the 7-5-3, couldn't help but stop and look at the bride and groom

In my opinion, you haven't been to Tokyo if you haven't stepped foot at Shinjuku. No itinerary necessary, just walking along its streets and joining commuters during the rush hour, fun right? There are many unique cafes and shops here, like Shinjuku VR Zone, an innovative game hub where you can try out games such as Dragon Ball, Mario Kart and Evangelion.

If you are running out of funds, Shinjuku has lots of places you could visit for free. There’s the Shinjuku National Park for a taste of nature and tranquil amidst the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. I recommend visiting skyscrapers like Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building that offers a view deck for tourists who’d like to get a bird’s eye view of the city.

the busy Shinjuku Station

One of the highlights of this three-day stay was a discovery I made a few days before the trip, the Kagurazaka Street Stage O-edo Tour held during the second Saturdays and Sundays of November. I’ve always wanted to experience a festival abroad and finally, I was able to see not just one, but two during my entire stay in the country. This is a fairly new event though and if I remember it correctly, it was only organized this 2012. The two-day festival is a cultural overload! Be prepared to be immersed in traditional Japanese music, dances and art. I was only able to partake during the first day where they had shamisen music and rakugo performance. I definitely recommend this, it’s a big plus that the location is at the romantic district of Kagurazaka, mostly known for its French influences while still retaining its old charm.

More time for Tokyo? Here are some more recommendations...

I spent three of my remaining days here doing day trips from neighboring cities just because I wanted to go on easy hikes, see more nature and learn more about traditional Japan. I went to Nikko for the waterfalls and autumn foliage, Kamakura for the temples and the huge statue of Buddha and Kawaguchiko for the lakes and the amazing view of Mt. Fuji.

There are still lots of things to do within Tokyo, I barely scratched the surface with this itinerary, however, I think I covered everything that I wanted to see and experience, except for one – going to Studio Ghibli. Unfortunately, this museum that features works of the famous animation studio was closed for maintenance during my ENTIRE stay in the capital. So guess what will be the first on my list the next time I go to Tokyo?

Tsukiji Market is often recommended by blogs for the fish market and the fresh sushi but it starts very early in the morning and I couldn’t wake up as early as eight, so..

I had these listed in my to-do list but eventually lacked the time to go to both Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Skytree. I could always see them from afar, but I really wanted to take a photo of these buildings in a much closer distance.

Akihabara is said to be the “otaku paradise”, I enjoyed watching anime TV shows but I am not a big fan so I decided to just skip this. However, if I went to Japan ten or five years ago, I surely would not miss going here.

Tokyo also has lots of unique cafes (maid, robot, cat, even owl cafes?) that I missed out on just because I thought it would be more fun to try them when I am with friends, so hopefully next time.

More details about my 25-day trip soon :)


  1. Glad you have started blogging about your trip, while I am still stuck on Day 4 of my 2016 trip. I am just too lazy. Anyway, I look forward to reading about the rest of your trip!!! Keep it going, Mariane!

    1. Hey we can do this! Have no idea how I'might supposed to write about a 25-day trip but let's see.


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