A how-to for getting more out of Asia’s most exciting city, our guide to Tokyo on a budget covers distinctive eats, the niche places to shop, and the must-try activities in Japan’s capital – all without breaking the bank.
Known for its buzzing bars, incredible restaurants and far-out hotels, Tokyo has made a name for itself as a visitors’ paradise. It does not, however, have a reputation for being one of the most wallet-friendly cities to visit. Fear not. We’ve compiled a guide to some of the best Tokyo has to offer, even if you’re on a tight budget. From places to shop to standout meals and things to see, here’s our guide to getting the best bang for your buck.
Best Restaurants in Tokyo
If you’re looking to sample several different dishes in a cost-effective way, head to the International Forum in Tokyo. Come lunchtime every day, the ode to modern minimalism that is the Rafael Viñoly designed high rise becomes home to a cute row of thematically designed food trucks. Head to the food court during lunch hour to mingle with the locals, check out the longest line for the day’s most popular fare, and feast on everything from the famous Tokyo Paella food truck to Rotisserie Chicken from BONAPPETIT as well as traditional Japanese fare such as curries and ramen – all against a backdrop of curved steel beams and a modern but intrinsically Japanese aesthetic.
Insider’s Tip: If you’re there on a Monday, look out for the famed Indian truck Plus Spice. Their curries are fantastic and served with a big piece of naan bread.
Address: 3-5-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, 100-0005
Open From: Mon – Fri: 11:30am – 2pm; Forum is open every day 7am – 11:30pm
Price: JPY 300-800
Tachigui Food (Standing while Eating)
Loosely translated as ‘standing while eating,’ Tachigui is one of Japan’s solutions to its fast-paced lifestyle. Part of Tokyo’s fast-food culture, Tachigui restaurants usually take the form of long benches attached to a food counter with a short curtain to shield you from public view. From the outside, you’ll just see a cluster of disembodied legs. For those fond of soba, look out for spots located in almost all train stations where, for just JPY 250+, you can get a fresh bowl of steaming hot noodles in under three minutes. The only catch? You have to eat them standing up. For those in the know – and after a more premium plate of noodles, head to Sobausa. While pricier than its chain store counterparts, its blend of Eastern and Western fusion soba is thought by many to be well worth the price.
If noodles aren’t your thing, what about standing sushi? By giving up the luxury of a seat, you can enjoy these delicious mouthwatering nuggets of goodness at a budget-friendly price. To do it like the locals do, go to Uogashi Nihon-Ichi-Sushi, located in the business district of Shibuya, to scarf down a wide variety of sushi prepared by expert chefs.
Insider’s Tip: In most Tachigui soba places, especially those at train stations, purchase a meal ticket at a machine before handing it to the staff.
Address: 1F, 2-5-2 Kojimachi, Chiyoda, Tokyo
Open From: Mon – Fri: 11am – 3pm, 5pm – 9pm; Sat: 11am – 3pm
Price: JPY 600 – 1000
Address: 1-12-12 Kasai Bldg. 1F, Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku 160-0023 Tokyo Prefecture
Open From: Mon – Fri: 11am – 11pm; Sat – Sun: 11am – 10pm
Price: JPY 600 – 1000
Touted as Tokyo’s oldest onigiri specialist, this little family-owned restaurant has been around since 1954, perfecting the art of making small but perfectly formed little rice balls for over three generations. Its gimmick-free, simple and hearty food has been the secret to it withstanding the test of time, winning this spot Bib Gourmand status in 2019’s Michelin Guide to Tokyo for the very first time. With an ironclad reputation, you’d think they’d be vying for top dollar for a bite to eat here, but it all comes at a surprisingly affordable price of JPY 280 – 330 per onigiri with lunch sets available for as low as JPY 690.
Insider’s Tip: The owner advises against picking an onigiri solely from the pictures on the menu. Instead, ask the waiters to pick the perfect one for you!
Address: 3 Chome-9-10 Asakusa, Taito City, Tokyo 111-0032
Open From: Lunch: Mon – Sat: 11:30am – 5pm; Dinner: Thu – Mon: 6pm – 2am, or until they run out of rice
Price: JPY 280 – 330 for an onigiri; lunch sets from JPY 690
The best and cheapest ramen in Tokyo? Yes, please. And, as Japan’s first Michelin-starred ramen joint, Tsuta Tokyo can certainly try and make that claim. This small eatery, conveniently located a few minutes walk from Sugamo Station, serves up just 150 bowls of delicious ramen a day, each masterminded by owner and chef Yuki Onishi, who you may spot, thanks to him modelling his own souvenir T-shirt on their ticket vending machine. Head there early to grab a ticket for a spot at the counter later on in the day, and then feast on a bowl of perfectly crafted noodles made with natural, fresh ingredients and no artificial flavours to create ‘a delicate, multi-layered umami flavour burst,’ as the head chef puts it.
Insider’s Tip: Ticketing starts at 7 am for 11 am slots, so be sure to get there early to secure a seat. If you’re going after 4 pm, just queue up and pray there’s some broth leftover by the time it gets to you.
Address: 1 Chome-14-1 Sugamo, Toshima City, Tokyo 170-0002
Open From: Thu – Tue: 11am – 6pm
Price: JPY 900 upwards
You might also like Our Guide to Tokyo’s Best Sushi Spots
Best Places to Shop in Tokyo
100 Yen shops
Just because you’re on a budget, it doesn’t mean you can’t shop. You may not be heading to one of the city’s luxurious department stores, but there are some very quirky and uniquely Japanese things to be found at 100 yen stores. Ever wanted a case to keep your banana? They’ve got you covered. Perhaps you want an easy dumpling maker or some plastic sushi? If you’re looking for inexpensive souvenirs that’ll put a smile on your friend’s face, this is the place to be. Our recommendation would be the Daiso in Harajuku. A chain store with many shops across Japan, this is one of their most popular.
Insider’s Tip: Make sure to check out the sushi erasers in the stationery section. They make great souvenirs and look adorable.
Address: 1–19–24 Jingu-mae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Open From: 10am – 9pm
Price: JPY 108 per item because of 8% consumer tax
Well known for its densely packed fashion retailers and indie vibes, Shimokitazawa, in all its colourful glory, is a fashionista’s paradise. Served by a metro station of the same name, the whole district is filled with many independent stores selling everything vintage. Often described as indie, artsy and hipster, the whole area is beautifully curated with different types of art and culture from clothing stores and old record shops to cafés specialising in latte art. Top shops to hit include the New York Joe Exchange, an American style vintage store rocking tonnes of affordable and interesting choices – and all at JPY 10000 or less. What’s more, you can also exchange your unused clothes for items off the shelf.
Insider’s Tip: The sales staff appraise the value of your second-hand clothes based on the ‘coolness’ of the garment. So bring in your most fashionable items!
Address: 3 Chome-26-4 Kitazawa, Setagaya City, Tokyo 155-0031
Open From: 12pm – 8pm
Price: JPY 2000 – 10,000
What To Do in Tokyo
Watch Washi Making and Origami at Origami Kaikan
If you are a fan of Japanese culture, you’ll have heard of origami. At Origami Kaikan, they take this craft to the next level. In this colourfully decorated, paper-adorned building, you can learn everything about this delicate art form from the production of colourful washi paper used in origami to the art of folding it. Best of all? It’s all free to see! Just support them by buying some origami pieces from their shop, or make your own in one of their guided workshops for a small fee.
Insider’s Tip: Watch an origami master demonstrate things you’d never have thought possible at one of their workshops.
Address: 1-7-14 Yushima, Bunkyo 113-0034, Tokyo Prefecture
Open From: Mon – Sat: 9:30am – 6pm
Price: Free but ~JPY 800 if you participate in an origami workshop
Whether you’re a car fanatic or not, you’d be hard-pressed not to be wowed by Toyota’s own car-themed amusement park. With two whole floors dedicated to vehicles, Mega Web offers visitors a chance to see and try some of Toyota’s latest innovations. It’s divided up into three main sections, each with a unique offering (Toyota City Showcase, History Garage and Ride Studio) and littered with cool tech. Throw in activities for children at its Ride Studio, a 200m indoor and outdoor track that allows children to experience driving firsthand and get their first license, as well as impressive exhibits and you’ve got something here for all the family. (You can also test drive one of their cars on their 1.3km track, provided you have a Japanese/international driving license and pay a small fee. Check their website for more details.)
Insider’s Tip: If you are thinking of test driving a car, be sure to book ahead.
Address: 1 Chome-3-12 Aomi, Koto City, Tokyo 135-0064
Open From: 11am – 9pm
Price: Free to look around. Prices vary for some activities
As Tokyo’s oldest temple, this place has a long history dating back to the year 628, but was rebuilt after World War 2. Legend has it that this colourful temple was built for Kannon, the goddess of mercy – after two brothers fished a statue of Kannon out of the Sumida River, even though they returned it, it always came back to them. It’s free to visit and can be accessed via Nakamise-Dori, a 200-metre shopping street filled with endless stalls offering traditional Japanese souvenirs like Yakuta as well as local snacks from Asakusa.
Insider’s Tip: Discover your fortune by drawing an Omikuji (a fortune written on a piece of paper) at Sensoji for only JPY 100.
Address: 2 Chome-3-1 Asakusa, Taito City, Tokyo 111-0032
Open From: Main Hall: 6am – 5pm, but you can visit the Sensoji Temple anytime you want.
Price: Free admission
No trip in Tokyo is complete without a trip to Shinjuku’s Golden Gai. This narrow alleyway is packed with small bars and a few restaurants – and provides one of the most famous bar crawls in the world, thanks to its 200 tiny watering holes packed into a very tight space. In theory, this place shouldn’t even exist as the Yakuza (Japanese mafia) tried to burn it down in the 1980s for redevelopment, but despite the odds, it has survived. Our top pick for a tourist-friendly bar and first-timers has to be Ace’s. The simple decor and English-speaking bar staff (not to mention cheap drinks at a flat rate of JPY 800!) make this place one of the best and cheapest places to spend the night.
Insider’s Tip: Ace’s doesn’t have a cover charge, but some bars do, so check before you go in. To get the most out of your night out, go on Saturday nights as it’s most lively then!
Address: 1 Chome-1-9 Kabukicho, Shinjuku City, Tokyo 160-0021
Open From: 8pm – 5am
Sentos and Onsens (Public Bath Houses)
Even if you’re on the tightest budget, you can’t skip out on a Japanese bathhouse experience. There are two types of public bath houses on offer: Onsen and Sento. Both communal bathing spots, Sentos use hot water whilst Onsens give you the benefit of natural volcanic spring water known for its healing properties. Kotobukiyu Sento offers a public bath in soothing warm waters for a low price of JPY 460, with an extra add-on sauna experience for only JPY 200.
Oedo Onsen Monogatari, although on the pricier side, offers six different types of baths, and is decorated more like a theme park more than a bath house. After collecting your Yukata (Japanese-style bathing robe), you enter a hall that resembles something of a Japanese summer festival with street games, food and lanterns before heading out to the picturesque gardens to enjoy a foot bath paved with pebbles and finally heading to the natural hot springs to relax your body in their soothing volcanic waters.
Insider’s Tip: Due to Japan’s shady history with tattoos, while some Sentos and Onsens do allow tattooed customers, many public bath houses still do not permit tattoos at their establishments. So check with them beforehand!
Address: 5 Chome-4-17 Higashiueno, Taito City, Tokyo 110-0015
Open From: 11am – 1:30am
Price: JPY 460 – 3000
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