Say you had only one weekend to travel around in Tokyo and had a microscopic budget. Here are some recommended tips for making the most out of a low-budget weekend in Tokyo.
So you have arrived in Tokyo, or more specifically Narita, the international airport outside of Tokyo. You will need to take a train or a bus into the city. While this trip is inevitably expensive, there are day-passes for unlimited travel on Tokyo’s efficient and quick subway system for ¥1,000 (roughly $11 USD). Once you arrive, you will probably be dying from jet lag and will need a good night’s rest to recover. There are plenty of budget hotels and hostels, but even these can be pricey for the budget traveler.
If you really want to get the best deal, log onto couchsurfing.org for free accommodation in Tokyo. It is also Japanese custom to bring a small gift to your host in appreciation for letting you into their home. In addition to getting a free place to sleep, you will also have a local guide to help you in Tokyo (which can be very confusing for first-timers) and how to avoid the expensive tourist traps.
Chances are high that due to the different time schedule, you will be waking up very early in the morning. If you do, head over to the Tsukiji Fish Market, where Tokyo’s eateries stock up on fresh seafood for the day. Admission is free, and while seeing dead fish for sale might not be everyone’s cup of tea, it gives you great insight into the Japanese fishing industry, and also, there are several restaurants nearby that sell heavily discounted sushi for breakfast!
After seeing and smelling more fish than you will probably ever want to again, head on over to Ueno Park where there are a plethora of museums, gardens, statues, a temple, and a zoo. The park is nice to explore and if you go there the right time of year, you may be able to see the cherry blossoms (also known as sakura) in bloom in the park.
After that, use the subway to get to Ginza, Tokyo’s famous shopping district. Browse through the various department stores and see the variety of high-end products, even though you should not buy any. And while you are in Ginza, be certain to stop at the Sony Building, which has free admission, and has show rooms from the first to fourth floors showcasing Sony’s latest and greatest products.
If you’re hungry for lunch, be on the lookout for the Japanese “fast food” restaurants like noodle shops, or restaurants that have big displays of plastic fast food and pictures with the prices next to them. You can get a nice bowl of noodles easily for ¥500.
For fans of Japan’s anime (animation) and manga (comic book) subculture, a vital stop is Akihabara Electric Town, home to all manner of shops that have models, DVDs, video games, comic books, toys, cosplay outfits, and just about anything anime and manga related that you can think of.
When the sun starts to set, head on over to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building which has a free observatory where you can enjoy the beautiful view of Tokyo lit up at night. If you arrive before sunset, you can sometimes see Mount Fuji in the distance.
If you are hungry for dinner you can either head downstairs to the basement of the Government building where there are a variety of restaurants at reasonably priced menus. Or as an alternative, you can head over to Hoppy Street that is full of pub-style eateries that feature “Hoppy” a nonalcoholic brew mixed with sochu (a distilled liquor). The street is full of bright and boisterous restaurants filled with Japanese workers kicking back and enjoying themselves, and is a fitting way to end the day for you as well.
After moving from site to site at about the speed of sound on Saturday, take your time and enjoy the traditional Tokyo on Sunday. First head over to the Imperial Palace Gardens. You can take your time and slowly walk through the gardens, or use one of the free bicycle rentals (available only on Sunday) to pedal on the path around the Imperial Palace.
After exploring the gardens, head on over to the Sumo museum, which has free admission. Here you can learn all about Japan’s massive warriors. And afterwords feel free to browse the nearby shops and restaurants, which are all sumo-related.
And for your final stop before going to the airport, head to the Meiji shrine, dedicated to Emperor Meiji, who brought Japan into the modern age. The complex is located in a dense forest that makes you feel like you have entered the old Japan and forget that you are in the middle of a gigantic city.