How to Experience Tokyo as a Backpacker

Tokyo has long had a reputation of being one of the most expensive cities on the planet, with everything from hotels to restaurant meals being higher in price then comparable offerings elsewhere. This doesn’t mean that backpackers can’t travel here, but it does mean that you’ll have to bend the ear of an expert to find the hacks that will allow you to experience Tokyo as a backpacker. Let’s get started.

Affordable Places to Stay

The best hotels in Tokyo for backpackers may run you more money than a similar place in a developing country, but it makes for a great nest to crash in after a long haul flight from Europe or North America.

If you are looking for more of a hostel atmosphere, booking into Khaosan Tokyo Kabuki will satisfy this need admirably, as it combines a central place within the city with a high level of amenities and services. With en suite bathrooms for all private and dorm rooms (starting at about US$30), free supplies in the showers (shampoo, conditioner and soap), and relatively cheap beer for sale, it is an awesome spot to socialize with travelers and get your bearings here.

While budget accommodation has been traditionally hard to come by in this nation’s urban heart, the airbnbs in Tokyo have begun to introduce better value to this marketplace where it has been missing for a long time. While there are a few options that are suitably priced for backpackers, our personal favorite is a 17-square-meter apartment, which has all the comforts and features that will make for a comfortable stay, like a kitchen, wireless internet, and a washer that will help you get the dirty clothes in your pack clean. 

A good value hotel that will keep yen in your wallet is the Hotel Nihonbashi Villa. For the equivalent of US$21 per person, you can enjoy a cozy room with a comfortable bed and a fridge that will keep the leftovers fresh, so you can graze on them for breakfast. With the Tokyo Sky Tree (the tallest building in Japan at 634 meters high) and the Imperial Palace nearby, it is the perfect place to begin your adventures in one of the biggest cities in the world. 

Excellent Budget Eats

Once you have stashed your pack in the accommodation of your choice, hit the streets in search of a cheap meal. Kanda Yabu Soba is an excellent place to try Japanese buckwheat noodles. This quaint eatery harkens back to a bygone era, with waitresses wearing kimonos taking orders from patrons in a wooden structure that resembles a tea house more than a noodle shack. Have your soba cold, which is how many locals like it, or piping hot if you are visiting during the dead of winter—both versions of this dish are equally awesome and, with a price tag that doesn’t exceed US$9, your wallet will be content as well.  

Sitting amidst the gleaming skyscrapers near Shinbashi metro station, near some of best hotels in Tokyo, the budget Japanese BBQ restaurant known as Maruni has long appealed to salary men and women in this district for the incredible value that it provides. With cuts of Wagyu beef being grilled by you over your personal stove with a variety of sides, you’ll get your fill of some of the best beef in the world for less than US$6—simply wonderful.

After a long evening of partying in nightlight districts like Shibuya, you’ll likely be searching around for some post-bar food that will fill that void in the pit of your stomach. Do what many of the locals do and get a steaming bowl of ramen at restaurants like Ippudo, where wheat noodles are paired with flavorful ingredients such as pork, eggs, and spring onions. Found all across the city as a regional chain, you’ll likely stumble across one on your way back to your place, and with most options costing little more than US$5.

Attractions and Entertainment That Won’t Break the Bank

While Mount Fuji beckons on the horizon, be sure to take several days to get to know the urban behemoth that is the greater Tokyo area. Don’t leave town without checking out the Imperial Palace, which is home to the Japanese monarch. Formerly the site of the mighty Edo Castle, this current royal residence is no less impressive, though you should note that its inner sanctum is off-limits to visitors for all but two days out of the year. Visit Tokyo during the holiday season and plan to visit on December 23 or January 2 to catch one of these tours; book early and don’t forget to search for cheap flights to Tokyo!

Being a religion unique to Japan, experiencing a Shinto holy place should also be high of your list of sightseeing priorities. The most significant is the Meiji Shrine, which was built in the 1920s to honor the first emperor to rule the nation in the modern times. The start of this era was marked by the end of feudal rule and the beginning of the rise of Japan’s power in the Far East. Situated amidst breezy and leafy parklands, the majestic torii gates, offering halls and gardens that make up this cultural site will make for an afternoon of wandering that culture hounds will thoroughly enjoy.

Finally, don’t forget to avail yourself of Tokyo’s round the clock nightlife. While it can be pricey compared to other destinations in the world, there are ways of softening the blow on your finances. Start by sourcing the first alcoholic beverages of your evening from vending machines and convenience stores.

Drinking in the street is legal in Japan, and so long as you conduct yourself with respect, you won’t draw attention from the local authorities. Hit up a izakaya for cheap beers that can be had for as low as US$3.50, so long as you buy food, and then head to Roppongi where several Nomihodai specials will allow you to consume as much alcohol as you like for about US$12.  

Any Tokyo gems that we missed (they are so many)?  Let us know about them in the comments below!   

Author Bio: Alex is a freelance travel writer, Hipmunk writer, and adventure blogger at www.findingthefreedom.com. When he is not living on the beach you can find him riding a motorcycle through India. Have a look at his blog and follow along his adventure!

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