Now, before we get into the post proper, I'll be the first to raise my hand and admit i'm not an expert on travel in Japan. (A Girl & A Bald Traveller is a blog on exotic travel, not usually on Typical Singaporean destinations like Tokyo) In fact, I think most of our friends have traveled Japan more extensively than we have.
Our travel experience in Japan is limited to simply Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto. This post is a result of a combination of both our travels in Japan in 2015. This time, we will focus only on Tokyo. If you'd like to read about "The Girl's" solo trip to Osaka & Kyoto, just click on the link below.
A Girl's Solo Trip. 10 Days in Kyoto, Osaka & Tokyo @$1.2k Nett! (Including AirTickets)
What we ARE experts on, is how to travel a country as inexpensively as possible, WITHOUT spending the trip like a beggar and WITHOUT forgoing mandatory travel experiences (you can't travel to Japan and just eat bread and water to save money surely).
Yes, and sleeping at peoples homes or spending our nights shivering in the cold under a bridge to save money isn't our idea of a vacation either. We only believe in realistic yet comfortable travel.
With that, lets begin.
(Some points may be an overlap if you've already read The Girl's solo travel experience)
Sensoji Temple; Asakusa, Tokyo
How much should a ticket from Singapore to Tokyo cost?
Because Tokyo is a typical Singaporean travel destination, many airlines offer "promotions". If you don't mind flying budget, promotions should cost any where from $300 to around $450 SGD Nett. In fact, "The Girl's" Return air-ticket from Singapore to Tokyo cost just $280 SGD! (Courtesy of a UOB + Scoot promotion)
Now, obviously these kind of promotions don't come by all the time, but securing a promotion for around $450 SGD is fairly easy. If you're paying more than $450 for a budget flight, you're overpaying.
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The "Bald Guy" in Kabukicho (Tokyo's red light district)
How many days should you spend in Tokyo & what's there to do?
In our opinion, Tokyo City itself doesn't deserve anything more than 3 days.
Sure, there are interesting quirks here and there in the city (we'll come to that later) but generally, if you're planning to spend a week in Tokyo, do yourself a favor and get out of the city.
Nearby Hakone offers the best views of Mt Fuji and a Japanese Onsen experience.
It was a cloudy day in Hakone and my "view" was restricted to this.....
THIS, is what the view from Hakone is supposed to be like on a clear day.
View of Mt Fuji from Hakone. Imagecredit Wikipedia
Hakone deserves 2 days of your time. As part of the Hakone Free Pass, you can sail about the lake on a Pirate Ship (above) and hopefully view Mt Fuji, ride the cable car, visit the geothermal region, soak in a hot spring, and basically laze around enjoying the Japanese nature.
If you have a day left, visit Kawagoe (also known as Little Edo) in the morning.
Think of Kawagoe as a substandard Kyoto. It deserves just half a day. Obviously, if your time in Japan already involves Kyoto, skip this. But if you're like many Singaporeans who travel to Japan just to visit Tokyo (no idea why), an "ancient Japanese" atmosphere is an interesting alternative to the endless buildings in Tokyo city.
Streets of Kawagoe (Little Edo)
As for the other half of the day?
Visit the Meiji Jingu Stadium and catch a Baseball game (example of a general game's ticket pricing), soak up the atmosphere of watching a match together with passionate Japanese fans in a stadium. I know, Singaporeans don't watch baseball. (we only watch soccer) That's fine, I don't watch baseball either. It's all about the atmosphere. Surely a visit to Japan isn't just about sashimi, anime and cherry blossoms right?
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Of course, experiences in Tokyo aren't limited to the above.
Visit the Imperial Palace or the Meiji Shrine (boring stuff for aunties & uncles). Or perhaps you're feeling rich and you'd like to be ripped of while enjoying a bird's eye view from the Tokyo Tower? (the view from Tokyo's city hall is free) If you're in Tokyo on a weekend, drop by Takeshita Street and be amused by the anime cos-players decked out in their favorite costumes.
Maid Dreamin is probably the most popular Maid franchise in Tokyo. They are everywhere!
If you like the quirky or have paedophilic instincts, have a sake at one of the Maid Cafes in Akihabara and be waited upon by 12-16 year old girls parading and dancing in a Maid costume (disclaimer: I was there for the quirky experience, not the pedophilia).
That being said, visiting a Maid Cafe in Tokyo ranks among one of the weirdest experiences i've had. It's worth a visit, if you can afford the entrance fee and expensive drinks. (hint; it's not cheap)
Sneaking a photo at a Maid Cafe. Photography apparently is banned. Ssshhh...
When you're done with all the above, wake up at 4am to visit the Tsukiji Fish Market and queue (Singaporeans favourite) for the world's most expensive sushi. Walk around the street bazaar in Ueno and wash down your day with an overpriced beer in the Roppongi Hills.
If you're having a sleepless night, head to Kabukicho (Tokyo's red light district) to pay for some company. Yes, it's not limited to men; ladies too can have their pick of dolled up Japanese gigolos.
Where to stay in Tokyo?
The dining/ common area of a typical Japanese hostel. Not too bad eh?
Fortunately for pampered Singaporean travelers, budget accommodation in Tokyo is fantastic.
Even the most fussy Singaporean should find Air B&B, Hostels, or Capsule Hotels in Tokyo pleasant enough for a night of sleep. Hostels cost anywhere from $25 SGD to $35 SGD a night. Capsule hotels cost upwards of $50 SGD. Anything more than $50 is expensive in my book.
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"The Girl" in a capsule hotel (this was in Kyoto though; just an example. In Tokyo, she stayed in hostels)
For the benefit of our overseas readers; Singaporeans tend to find $100 accommodation cheap, and anything less; unthinkable, unlivable, and tend to say "why spend so much money to visit Japan to suffer?" and proceed to give you a weird look like "why you'd travel all the way just to save on accommodation?"
That's usually why most Singaporeans spend half their life getting into debt; and the other half, trying to get out of it.
Visit Hostelworld for a list of cheap accommodation in Japan.
I'd suggest staying at locations along the JR Yamanote Line as most of the major districts like Shibuya, Ginza, Shinjuku and Ueno are found along this line. Fortunately (if you're open to hostels) many of the cheapest hostels are found in the Ueno district of Tokyo; all you have to do is find one within walking distance to the JR Line.
Ueno also happens to be home to a couple of Tokyo's highlights; namely the Zoo and Ueno Park where you can gaze at Cherry Blossoms all day long. Don't get the month wrong though, Cherry Blossoms bloom in late March to early April.
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If you've tattoos like I do, one question you'll absolutely need to know is "am I allowed in public onsens?" (Just in case you don't know, tattooed men are generally banned in public onsens)
The answer is NO, your not allowed; BUT if you're obviously a foreigner (with tattoos), some public guest houses might make an exception. (like how they did for me)
Your worst case scenario? Book a more expensive room with it's own attached Onsen.
How to get around Tokyo?
In the same way you wouldn't be an ass and travel around Singapore by buying Single Trip Ezlink Cards, the same logic applies to traveling in Tokyo. The 3 Day Tokyo Subway Ticket gives you UNLIMITED rides to most places typical Singaporeans usually visit for just 1500 yen!
The easiest way to buy this ticket is at the Airport. Just ask the concierge and they will direct you. Once you leave the airport, you can pretty much forget about it as only selected travel agencies offer this ticket.
This ticket is specifically for tourists (us!) and you will need your passport in order to purchase one.
This pass is EVEN cheaper that the usual 1 Day open ticket pass. (i've heard this pass might have been put on hold for the rest of 2016, if it has, i'm afraid you'll you'll have to settle for the usual Day pass. Trust me, even that is better than buying single trip tickets.
Visit Tokyo Metro for more information on how/where to buy this ticket.
How to find cheap delicious food and how much does food cost?
There are three ways to enjoy/find delicious food at affordable prices in Tokyo:
1. Open your mouth and ask a local (would you recommend a foreign tourist a plate of $3 coffee shop Chicken Rice or the $27++ rip off in Mandarin's Chatterbox?)
2. Stay in a hostel. The reception is OBLIGATED to direct you to where the locals eat because it is THEIR job as part of a hostel reception to answer to guest queries, take our a map and circle where the best places are to dine around the area, and advise you on food costs.
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3. Share food costs for expensive items:
Another perk of living in hostels is meeting like minded tourists also on a budget. Within 30mins of checking in, you should have already made friends with a couple of tourists who (like you) are also eager to taste authentic Japanese cuisine without breaking the bank.
Beer and Yakitori? Definately cheaper and more fun to have in a group as opposed to paying for 10 sticks and realizing you can't finish your meal.
A random eatery in Japan for a decent Japanese fix under 500 JPY
As a gauge, here's how much food should cost in Tokyo:
- Ramen (500 - 750 JPY) if your paying 800 JPY and above, your overpaying!
- Sushi (from 50 JPY for a basic sushi like Tamago for instance) 100 JPY is on the average to high side.
- Udons, Dons, etc are all over Tokyo from (400 - 450 JPY)
Our average daily spending on food was around 2000 JPY a day.
475 JPY. Yes, inclusive of Tempura!
Fried Udon 250 JPY!
50 JPY for the egg, 100 JPY for the prawn
Another random eatery in Tokyo
Obviously on this budget you don't expect to be dining at the Tsukiji Fish Market or some Michelin Star Restaurant every day. We usually take breakfast free at the hostel or have a cheap Onigiri fix. The average cost of lunch is around 400 - 600 JPY depending on our mood, the odd Takopachi as a snack here and there; and a better dinner.
Just follow the above 3 steps and you'll be able taste a wide variety of Japanese cuisine without returning home with an empty bank account.
Hakone Checkpoint Musume
If you plan your trip this way, you would have enjoyed the following "Japanese experiences".
- Seen Mt Fuji
- Soaked in an Onsen
- Wandered around an ancient Japanese city (Kawagoe)
- Experienced the Japanese sporting atmosphere
- Experienced the Japanese quirks
- Visited the usual tourist sites
- And seen more than just Tokyo (Hakone)
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The "Bald Guy" stayed at this Hostel in Hakone
These calculations were made based on the experience of our average spending from two trips to Japan for the year 2015. The "Bald Guy's" Tokyo trip was in the 1st half of 2015, "The Girl's visited Tokyo in the 2nd half of 2015 (as part of her solo trip including Kyoto & Osaka) We compiled our individual spending costs over two trips to work out this "itinerary".
- Day 1, (Arrival Tokyo City)
- Day 2, (Tokyo City)
- Day 3 (Tokyo City + Kawago half-day)
- Day 4, 5 Hakone
- Day 6 (Tokyo City/ Departure)
Our average Exchange rate was 1 SGD / 88 JPY
("The Bald Guy's Trip 1SGD/85 JPY, "The Girl's Trip, 1SGD 90 JPY)
Airtickets ($450) + 5 nights Accommodation ($160) + 6 Days worth Unlimited Metro Travel Pass/Miscellaneous Transport ($45) + 2 Day Hakone Free Pass ($60) + Food ($140) + Entrance Fees/Maid Cafe/Etc ($135)
Total: $990 SGD
Pachinko Parlour in Ikebukuro, absolutely no idea why this is Japan's most popular game.
We aren't saying that you need to follow our itinerary to plan a fun yet affordable trip to Tokyo. Plan your own trip, it's your holiday. Rather, what we're saying is kick the assumption that Japan has to be expensive.
If there's any country for you to step out of your "accommodation comfort-zone" to save some cash, it's got to be Japan. Budget accommodation is unbelievable, you don't have to stick to hotels. Why, even a night in a capsule hotel is an authentic Japanese experience. (and it's still cheaper than a typical hotel)
Food is really cheap, as long as you don't insist on sushi for all meals. And if you tweak your budget around and cut down on where you usually might spend, being able to afford travelling frequently isn't out of your reach. A vacation to Japan doesn't have to be once a year!
Well? Stop thinking about it. It's time to book your flight now!
For more on other "Japan Related Articles" check out:
A Girl's Solo Trip. 10 Days in Kyoto, Osaka & Tokyo @$1.2k Nett! (Including AirTickets
So Cheap?! Taiwan + Japan Multi-City Airfare From 369 SGD?! (Including Taxes)
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