Exploring Tokyo — The World’s Biggest City — on a Backpacker Budget

There’s no city quite like Tokyo. The Japanese capital is both the biggest city in the world and one of its most culturally interesting, combining three-hundred-year-old temples and skyscrapers, rich cultural gems with cutting-edge technology. When it comes to experiencing high-tech Asia, there’s truly no real alternative to a quick trip through Japan’s mega-metropolis.

But Tokyo has a semi-deserved reputation for expense, particularly for travellers. Ranked as one of the world’s most expensive cities for expatriates, the megacity is often thought of as a destination for those with Herculean budgets. We don’t think so – with the right spending strategy and a bit of calculated frugality, the Japanese capital can be a good budget travel destination.

Where to start? Pick a hotel that’s outside of the city centre. Tokyo has the world’s most effective public transport system and it’s pointless to ignore it by booking into a central hotel. Provided your room is within walking distance of a train station, it’s no less convenient than one in Shibuya or the Shinjuku business district.

Don’t eat out, eat up. Tokyo’s ground floor restaurants tend to be overpriced and disappointing, with basic plates of ramen attracting five-star prices. Find better prices and better quality by walking up a floor or two. Third and fourth-floor restaurants in Tokyo tend to be less expensive, more friendly, and less crowded, giving you a better travel experience and better food.

Finally, learn basic Japanese. Tokyo is expensive and impersonal at first, but with a basic collection of Japanese phrases on your side it quickly becomes a manageable city. Arm yourself with a concise phrasebook and take note of some simple Japanese sentences, particularly ones related to housing or eateries. Japanese people love to help you out, provided you’re willing to put in some effort first.