Most people have a perception of Tokyo that can be summed up in a single word — expensive. The thought of $80 melons and $200 cab rides scares travelers so much that many simply avoid Tokyo entirely, mistakenly assuming the city is a destination exclusively for the super-rich and executives on expense accounts.
The truth is Tokyo has an alter ego that can be surprisingly affordable. Japan, well into it’s second decade of economic decline, has finally acknowledged the middle class. As a result, the market has evolved to offer greater pricing variation for the necessities of every day life.
While it’s technically true that Tokyo is still the world’s most expensive city, there are now bargains to be found almost everywhere:
- Discount stores like the 100 Yen Shop offer the middle class a chance to trim the family budget. The concept has been well received in a country that boasts one of the world’s highest savings rates.
- Discount airlines are now offering rates that are frequently lower than US or European counterparts.
- Produce prices are dropping. A bunch of bananas that used to cost $8 can now be had for as little as $1.60.
As one resident notes:
“Sometime in the last five years Tokyo turned into a shopper’s paradise, a rare place where you have the choice of buying very cheap or very expensive, luxury things.”
Surprisingly, Japanese tourists who used to travel to find bargains are now finding themselves shocked by prices in major western cities. Etsuko Akiyama, a Japanese native, noted of his recent trip to the UK:
“I had heard London was pricey but I was surprised at just how expensive it is. Breakfast is usually free in Japan but the hotel charged £10 for an ordinary continental breakfast.”
If you are one of the few who can afford a luxury trip to Tokyo, you’ll find that high-end dining and accommodations are as expensive and extravagant as ever. If, on the other hand, you’re like the rest of us there are some general guideline’s you’ll want to keep in mind to cut costs:
- Avoid taxis whenever possible. Public transit is reliable, fast, and affordable.
- If you’re willing to sacrifice comforts like a private bathroom, there are a variety of cheap accommodations available in tokyo.
- You can buy just about anything from a vending machine in Japan. Avoid hour hotel room’s mini-bar and buy your Sapporo from one of Tokyo’s many mechanical bartenders.
- Tokyo Free Guide offers free guided tours.
- Eat a melon before leaving home. Get it out of your system so you’ll be able to avoid the temptation when you finally come face-to-face with an unbelievably expensive cantaloupe (it’s strange how tempting incredibly expensive produce can be).
Despite what you’ve heard it is possible to visit Tokyo on a budget. It just requires a bit of advance planning, flexibility, and a willingness to sacrifice some of the creature comforts you might take for granted.