Tokyo has a reputation as an expensive city, but is Tokyo really expensive to visit? The reality is that Tokyo can be very cheap if you know what you’re doing! Sure, you could eat all your meals at fancy restaurants and stay in five-star hotels, but Tokyo is also friendly to backpackers!
But what is cheap in Tokyo? First, we need to define “expensive” and “cheap”.
If you’re comparing Tokyo to other cities in Asia, you’ll probably find the costs significantly higher than in other cities. If you’re comparing Tokyo to major cities in the West (such as London, Paris, or New York), I think you’ll find things are much, much cheaper!
A good rule of thumb is to think about what is considered cheap in a major Western city. Spending $5 on a full meal or spending $20 for a night in a hostel is relatively low. These prices would also be considered cheap in Tokyo!
To answer the question of “is Tokyo expensive to visit?”, I’ll be breaking down the Tokyo travel budget to the prices of food, hotels, transport and hotels.
Food and restaurant prices in Tokyo
The thing that I found most surprising about Tokyo was how cheap it can be to eat out. If you know where to go, the cost of food in Tokyo (and also Japan)is reasonable; you can easily spend under ¥500 ($4.60) per meal.
Places to check out if you’re looking to eat for cheap:
- Family restaurants such as Saizeriya, Gusto, and Royal Host
- Convenience stores such as Seven Eleven, Family Mart, and Lawson
- Gyudon (or “beef bowl”) restaurants such as Yoshinoya, Matsuya, and Sukiya
If you’re looking for “authentic” Japanese meals, however, those tend to be more expensive. Kaiseki is a multi-course meal steeped in tradition and it’s never cheap. Upper-level sushi restaurants will also hit your wallet harder than low-cost conveyor-belt chains.
Cost of hotels in Tokyo
Hotels in Tokyo are just as expensive as hotels in other major cities. You can expect to pay at least ¥10,000 ($92) a night, but your final cost will vary widely on the hotel. So where can you stay affordably?
Unlike much of Europe, Japan seems to do hostels right. Many of the hostels in Tokyo have received reputation awards for being clean and having decent service. A typical hostel bed will set you back by about ¥3000 ($27.50) or so.
Capsule hotels are a uniquely Japanese option if hostels aren’t your thing. You rent a private space that’s secured with either a door or a curtain. Prices usually vary between ¥2000–3000 ($18–27) for a bed. The K’s House Hostel chain blurs the line between capsule hotel and hostel in many of their facilities, so I definitely recommend them!
If you’re travelling with others, staying in an Airbnb is another good option. The price varies widely, but many hotels and hostels in Japan charge per person instead of a set fee for private rooms. Airbnbs also come with kitchens, so you further lower your costs by cooking your food yourself!
If you’re feeling particularly thrifty, you might consider looking into a stay at an internet café. These places usually offer free internet access and some even feature manga (Japanese comics). Many have showers and laundry facilities as well. Net Maru is known for being a decent option. Expect the room prices to be between ¥1500–2500 ($13–23) for eight hours.
Transportation costs in Tokyo
Using public transportation in Tokyo is pretty affordable. You’re unlikely to spend more than ¥1000 ($9.20) one way if you’re within city limits and fares under ¥300 ($2.75) are much more typical.
Taxis and other forms of private transportation can get very expensive in Tokyo. The city prioritizes people who walk. If you have issues getting around in daily life, you may find your trip to Tokyo will be much more expensive than able-bodied people.
You may hear people recommending the JR Pass for travelling around Japan. Personally, I’ve found the JR Pass is only worth it if you’ll be doing a lot of intercity travel. If you plan to only visit Tokyo and one other major city, like Kyoto, I do not recommend the JR Pass.
Why? Because it’s incredibly expensive and getting your money’s worth out of it requires a lot of fast-paced travel. You’ll find it’s much cheaper to use local area passes if you plan on just staying in the Tokyo area.
For day trips from Tokyo, you should look into passes with Odakyu Railways, JR East, Seibu Railways, and Tobu Railways. Each one has its own set of positives and drawbacks, but I think they’re all much better for trips in the Kanto area than the JR Pass.
The Hakone Freepass with Odakyu Railways is an especially good deal! Getting around Hakone is shockingly expensive when compared to other areas of Japan due to its popularity with the wealthy elite. Another good deal is the Tokyo Metropolitan District Pass, which allows unlimited travel within the Tokyo city limits for just 750 yen ($6.90)!
An important thing to note is that alternative passes often allow foreign residents to purchase them, whereas the JR Pass is only available to foreign tourists.
Cheap souvenirs in Tokyo
I get scandalous looks when I say I don’t buy many souvenirs for people. I prefer to send postcards when I can get away with it. But if you feel like you must get gifts for people back home, you should check out ¥100 Shops ($0.95 Shops) or “One Coin” shops where everything is under ¥500 ($4.60).
These places are filled with all sorts of goodies that you can bring home. I find chopsticks, nail stickers, face masks, and stationery kits all make decent gifts.
Free things to do in Tokyo
Most of the attractions in Tokyo aren’t free, but there are a handful of things to do that won’t hurt your wallet. Just to name a few:
- Visiting the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building’s free observation decks. They offer a great view of the skyline for free and you might even see Mt. Fuji on a clear day!
- Visiting Meiji Shrine. Despite being in the centre of Tokyo, the shrine is surrounded by a dense forest and offers a reprieve from the bustling city atmosphere.
- Walking along Takeshita Street in Harajuku. You’ll be able to see the awesome Tokyo street fashions here for free!
- Experience the Chofu Aerospace Center of JAXA. This Japanese space agency facility has all sorts of attractions, but you’ll need to schedule your tour in advance!
- Check out the Imperial Palace Grounds. You used to have to reserve a tour in advance, but now they offer same-day tours!
Tokyo budget per day
Personally, I find budgeting to be a pretty personal thing. It’s impossible for me to guess how much you should estimate per day. Do you like fancy food? Are you the kind to pack as much into a day as possible? Do you only do free things?
In general, for a thrifty traveller, I recommend a base food budget of at least ¥1000 ($9.20) a day. I also estimate a minimum of ¥3000 ($27.50) per night for accommodation in a hostel. For transportation and entrance fees, most people won’t spend more than ¥2000 ($18) per day in Tokyo.
The food budget includes lunch out, but you’ll have to eat dinner and breakfast at your accommodation. Raise it by ¥1000 ($9.20) for each restaurant you want to eat at. If you prefer hotels or Airbnb to hostels, your cost per night might be ¥10,000 ($92) or more. On top of that, inflate the budget if you’re visiting expensive attractions like Tokyo Sky Tree.
So… is Tokyo expensive to visit?
For myself, I usually estimate around ¥6000 ($55) per day I spend travelling in Tokyo. That includes my food and hostel accommodation.
Would this be considered expensive for you? Having an answer to that would answer the question of “is Tokyo expensive to visit”. Hopefully, it’ll also give you a baseline for your trip.