With all these talks of Japan finally being visa-free to tourists with Philippine passports (I say, let’s still wait for formal announcement), people are getting more and more excited to visit the Land of the Rising Sun. The fact remains, however, that Japan is an expensive destination. But just like any other destination, there are ways to lessen your costs if you know what to do and where to look.
Here are some tips on how to get by and stretch your money a little bit more:
PS: Get ready, this is quite lengthy!
1. Take the BUS from the AIRPORT to THE CITY.
We booked a hotel in Ginza, a nice area for shopping and eating, and a good base to go around Tokyo. A Limousine Bus (bus that drops passengers to major hotels) is usually the recommended “cheap” way to get to the city. It ranges from Y1000-Y3000. To Ginza, it would cost Y3000 (PHP 1300). Luckily, I found another option, and a much cheaper one. There’s a bus called BE-TRANSSE that takes you from the Airport to Ginza Station and/or Tokyo Station (click on the link to see their schedule). Since our accommodation was at Ginza, all we had to do was walk about 5-10 minutes to our hotel from the drop-off point. But even if you don’t stay in Ginza, a metro ticket would usually be around Y170 – 220 (PHP 73-95), so you can just hop on the metro to the station nearest your hotel. Here are their stations when you get off your terminal exit. We took Philippine Airlines to Japan and the nearest lobby to us was 19. Very short walk.
TERMINAL 2, LOBBY 2
TERMINAL 2, LOBBY 19
TERMINAL 1, LOBBY 31
Luckily, when we got out, there were very few people riding it, so we did not have a hard time hopping on the bus. You can reserve seats to be sure, too, but online reservation in in Japanese! So if you understand Japanese or know someone who does, go reserve especially if you’re a big group. Anyway, it was a smooth and comfortable 1 hour ride to Ginza Station. Going back, we took the same route, went to the area where we were dropped off, and went 30 minutes earlier than scheduled departure to secure our seats (by lining up).
OTHER WAYS TO GET TO TOKYO:
-Take Narita Express (NEX Tokyo Direct Ticket allows foreigners 50% off from Y3000 ticket. Available at JR ticket officers in the Narita Airport Basement.)
-Take Limousine Bus (Y1000-3000) and get extra Y100 for a unlimited daypass of Tokyo Metro.
-If you’re a big group or want private transfer, you can email Tokyo Airporter at email@example.com (around Y21,000 for 6-7 persons/way).
2. Book a Hotel near a TRAIN STATION.
Japan is pretty much a walking-friendly city, but after all that exploring and hopping from one subway station to another, trust me, you would appreciate a hotel that won’t take a far walk when you exit the station. Sure, it may cost a bit more, BUT, I am pretty sure it will still be cheaper than taking a taxi every night instead of walking because your legs just can’t handle it anymore. Location is very important when booking hotels for us. It saves time, effort, and money in the sense that we can easily get around by metro and not by a cab. Ginza is pretty central. We stayed at REMM Hibiya and it cost around USD 145/night for 2. The room was very small (3 adults won’t do), but it was modern, comfortable, and complete. It came with a massage chair, too, which was pretty helpful after all the long walks. For the area, the season (we went during Cherry Blossom season, which is super peak), and the location, we felt this was already a very reasonable price.
You can also try looking for hotels or hostels in the following areas:
Shinjuku & Shibuya (very busy areas; hip; great for shopping and eating out)
Asakusa (traditional area; usually cheaper than other areas; great for sightseeing)
Akihabara (modern; known as the center of all electronics- great area for that kind of shopping)
Ginza and/or Marunochi (high-end shopping area; quiet neighborhood with lots of restaurants)
Roponggi (area for those who like the nightlife and partying)
Ueno (mix of shopping and culture – full of parks, shrines, and museums)
You can start looking at hotels here.
3. Eat at Convenience Stores/ Train Stations/ Japanese Food Chains
Food is good anywhere in Japan, and while yes, you should try sit-down restaurants from time to time (save up for this because damn, their food is yummy!), you will run out of money if you keep on doing that. You can either head to the supermarket and buy all the basics there like water and bread/chips, or you can also try the food at convenience stores like 7-11/Family Mart, train stations, and Japanese food chains. Japanese food chains that are friendly on the pocket would be the following: Matsuya, Sukiya, Shirokiya, Yoshinoya, Osho-Gyoza. A meal would cost from Y200-Y800 (PHP 86-350). One tip I read prior to flying was to follow where the Japanese salarymen walk for lunch. An authentic, budget way to do it, I suppose, though we never got to try this tip!
Another tip from my friend Naya (who lived in Japan and is currently there now for training), you can also ask “Susimasen. Yakiniku tabehodai wa doko desu ka?” which translates to, Excuse me. Where is the barbecue buffet? (As in YAKITORI barbecue) This would set you back around Y1000-1500 (PHP 430-PHP650) for unlimited meat, rice, salad, and soup.
NOTE: Susimasen is pronounced as SEE-MAH-SEN and DESU KA is DES-KUH.
PS: In some Yakitori or small stalls, if you order very little, they charge you table fee. Maybe because their eateries are really small (good for very few people at a time), so if you don’t order enough to make your stay there worth it, I suppose that’s when they charge you table fee on top of your bill. Not so sure about the mechanics of this one, but this happened to one of our companions during our trip.
4. Bring WATER BOTTLE with you.
Tap water is available almost everywhere in Japan, so to save on buying water when you get thirsty, you can just refill your bottle from your hotel and/or restaurant before you head out to your next stop. It is also worth mentioning that this is important because drinks are expensive in Japan. You can easily spend PHP 70 for a softdrink bottle.
5. Take the TRAIN (and download the TRAINS.JP app)
The easiest, fastest, and generally cheapest way to get around Tokyo is by taking trains, so ride them! And your life will be so much easier if you download the TRAINS.JP app (no internet needed, available for iPhone, not quite sure about Android yet…).
- Best App For Japan Commuters!
Not only will it teach you how to get from your station to your destination (even telling you when walking is needed), it will also tell you how much it costs. So you know beforehand around how much you will spend on the train fare. Now, if you already know your itinerary, then you can decide if ONE DAY UNLIMITED METRO PASS or OTHER DISCOUNT PASSES are worth it for you (it wasn’t for us since we don’t always follow our itinerary, plus we tend to linger in one area). You can check the different kinds of passes HERE.
NOTE: As of April 2014, the fare quoted on the app was inaccurate by Y10. So if they showed cost of Y160 on the app, it was Y170 already in reality. So all we did was add Y10 to every fare the app showed. Knowing this helped us a lot, too, in purchasing tickets. See, when you purchase tickets for a train ride, you don’t look for your destination. You purchase the AMOUNT of your destination, so the app gave us an idea which amount to press, and figure out how to get there (which platform, etc) later on. This is very helpful especially because some subway/metro/rail maps posted are all in Japanese. So make sure you keep an English version of the subway map with you at all times. Also, the Japanese train system can be quite confusing, so make sure you know how to read subway maps, and make sure you know the right exit to your destination, because their stations ARE REALLY HUGE.
Unlike in Manila where taking cabs or driving is the more common option, Japan is very friendly for walking around (and even for people on a wheelchair or children on a stroller!). You can use the train to go from one area to another, but if you can, WALK to get around. Not only will you be able to save, you’ll more likely feel the local vibe, too. That’s usually how we stumble upon hole-in-the-wall city gems.
7. Rent a POCKET WIFI.
Some of you have asked me whether it’s cheaper to get from the airport or elsewhere, the answer is: I don’t know. I left this responsibility to my husband, so we never got to check how much they are being rented out at the airport, but we were able to rent from this website. We looked for one a little bit too late so for the dates we entered, the cheapest that came out was around PHP 3500 for 13 days (though we were only there for 10 days. It was either 7 or 13 days for the plan available). So it would be great if you can rent this out early. You have to register, though. The good thing is that it was delivered straight to our hotel, and we had an option to either leave it at the hotel, or drop it off at a post office’s box at the airport. Now, how is this stretching your budget? Well, pre and post costs must be included in the budget, too, right? Turning on your international roaming will be most likely be much more expensive than renting this and using Viber to communicate back home or with your fellow travelers. Very useful, too, when you need to know last minute information such as the subway exit of your destination, or checking out apps like Yelp! to see nearby areas of interest.
8. For pasalubong, shop in DAISO or DON QUIJOTE
If you think moving around or eating out is already expensive, wait till you see the price tags when you go window shopping. But fret not, because Japan is also famous for their version of dollar stores, right? You can’t go wrong with Daiso. The multi-level store along Takeshita Dori in Shinjuku ranges from food to beauty products to home products to cute craft stuff and everything in between. The best part is, they are only Y100 (PHP 43). If you want more variety, you can also look at the Don Quijote branches spread across Tokyo. Fondly called DONKI by the locals, this department store has everything you need at generally cheaper prices. We found Kitkat Green Tea chocolates here much cheaper than the ones we see around (they were on sale). They also sell clothes, electronics, costumes (yeah, those anime and mask fanatics can go here to take a look!), food, etc!
NOTE: For kimonos, I preferred buying second-hand kimonos on one of the streets of Shinjuku, than buying new ones from everywhere (Though I did buy a new one from Yodobashi Building in Akihabara-of all places!). For one, they were a lot cheaper. They came out around PHP 800-900, and secondly, I liked the fabrics and prints much better. After all, they came all the way from Kyoto, one of Japan’s more traditional areas.
9. Take a FREE TOUR of Tokyo
TFG or Tokyo Free Guide is formed by a group of Japanese volunteers to encourage the understanding of Japanese culture and its people. So yes, they can take you around for FREE. However, you are responsible for paying for your (and your guide’s) expenses incurred during the tour such as meals, entrance fees, train rides, etc. Learn more and book a tour HERE.
We weren’t able to do this because we were going around with my husband’s family, but I love ideas like this one. More than saving some money, it’s getting to know the locals and their culture that gets me.
10. Explore one area at a time!
Do it the OC way, and you’re more likely to save not only money, but time and effort.
Here are some groupings you can explore:
AREA I – (Asakusa / Kappabashi/ Ueno/ Akihabara)
AREA II – (Shinjuku/ Harajuku/ Shibuya/ Meiji Shrine area)
AREA III – (Akihabara/ Ochanomizu)
AREA IV – (Tsukiji/ Ginza/ Marunochi/ Roponggi/ Asakasa/ Shiodome)
AREA V – (Odaiba)
11. Visit Shrines and Gardens
Most gardens have minimal fees, but if you spend a day lounging around and watching the locals/culture here than spending hours at a shopping district, you’re most likely to spend less, right? Bring a portable mat, some snacks and drinks, and have that picnic party just like the locals. This is a good way to wind down, too. After seeing all of busy Tokyo, this would be a good way to cap off a long day.
12. View the city FOR FREE
Sure, it would be great to see the view of Tokyo’s mega buildings from Tokyo Tower or Tokyo Sky Tree, but they would easily set you back Y800-Y3000 (PHP 300-1300). Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices allows you to view the city for free. On a good day, you can even see Mt. Fuji. Observation deck is open from 09:30 AM – 11PM everyday. The northern tower has a Tourist Information Center on the ground floor that closes at around 5 or 6pm. This is where you can get most of the nice and free brochures of Tokyo and Japan in general. Most of the brochures on the subways are on Japanese, so best to head here if you want to gather more information and maps. Tocho-mae Station on the Oedo Subway Line is located at the basement of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building.
13. Watch a ONE-ACT KABUKI/ SHOW
Tokyo’s premier Kabuki re-opened in 2013 and supposedly still the best place to catch a traditional show in Tokyo. Tickets range from Y4000-Y20,000, but the good news is, you can also watch one-act shows for only around Y1800 (PHP 780). You have no choice but to sit on the upper tiers and you cannot reserve tickets. In case the seats are full, you can go in but you have to watch while standing. Set it on a weekday so you have more chances of getting available seats. Performance schedule changes, but try to go there around 04:30-05:00 pm because they will surely have something in the evening. You can purchase the tickets then get something to eat before it starts. The kabuki (an all-men performance that dates back to the Edo period!) lasts for 2 hours. For the best experience, rent a headset (Y500/headset + Y1000 deposit) that translates what’s happening in English. For only PHP 220, you get to understand the story! For a total of PHP 1,000, you get to experience the Japanese traditional culture. Not bad at all.
14. Take advantage of the FREE BUSES
There are Free Shuttle Bus that anybody can use free of charge according to Go Tokyo!
It runs between 3 major spots every 15minutes.
- Marunouchi Shuttle (Otemachi/Marunouchi/Yurakucho)
- Metrolink Nihonbashi (Yaesu/Kyobashi/Nihonbashi)
- Bay Shuttle (The new Tokyo subcenter on waterfront) – this is in Odaiba, I believe
15. Research and Canvass
A lot of people don’t realize this, but really, even if it takes a lot of work, researching for your destination can surely save you from getting shocked at your expenses! This way, you would have an idea how much the activities you want to do, food you want to eat, or sights you want to see cost. This will allow you to plan your routes effectively and stick to your budget. For starters, these sites are my recommendations (apart from my bible that is Lonely Planet, of course):
PS: The brochure TOKYO HANDY GUIDE was my favorite of ALL the free brochures I got from Japan. I guess you can notice how worn-out it looks after our trip!:P
Now that you’ve researched, you also need to canvass. This is how we found out that for our group number (we were 13 during our recent trip), renting a minibus to take us around Mt. Fuji and the Five Lakes, was more cost-effective than taking the public transportation. Do not assume that private tours or transfers are automatically more expensive. Sometimes, the DIY (do-it-yourself) route can come out less cost effective or, more tiring for almost the same price. In the case of our Mt. Fuji sidetrip, the cost per person still came out more expensive than taking the bus, but for a few hundred pesos only. And it meant stopping in 1 lake only and not all 5 lakes. So it turned out that renting private transfers proved to be more efficient for our group.
So, hope these little tips help you a lot when you plan your trip for Tokyo!
Yes, it is possible to stretch your budget, but again, Tokyo is NOT a cheap destination (in relation to a lot of Asian countries including ours, the Philippines). I don’t mean to discourage you, but I believe it would be wiser to go to Tokyo when you’ve saved enough, instead of trying to push it just because there’s a seat sale. Visa free or not, the truth is, when you get there, it’s still going to cost you a lot more than other countries do. So save up, prepare ahead, and then enjoy the fruits of your labor! Happy trip!:)
* Yen to Peso conversion were all rounded off and based on today’s date, May 02, 2014.
RESOURCES OTHER THAN MY OWN EXPERIENCE:
-Internet Sites stated above
-Lonely Planet Japan
-Tokyo On A Budget article of Mabel David-Pilar for Cebu Pacific’s SMILE Magazine