Fly to New York, Bangkok, Cairo, Paris and, sure you’ll see some amazing sights and see some awesome cultures, but deep down you know you’re in the conveyor belt of travelers, fly to Tokyo and you’ll feel like you’re really traveling! This is one crazy city, and one that can be quite difficult to get around – arrive in Narita airport and you’ll be greeted by this:
Expect this to be a sign of things to come! The confusion that us Westerners undergo in Tokyo is a real highlight of the experience. I know you want to backpack in Tokyo for cheap so I’ve stepped in and tried to help so throw yourself in the deep-end and enjoy these top 10 things to see in Tokyo:
1) Stay in a capsule hotel – no more expensive than any youth hostel so certainly worth the experience. Be prepared for feeling like you’re in a morgue and mass communal naked bathing in the morning, I personally see the latter as a perk. One night will be more than enough. Accommodation can get pricey too and you need to book in advance (not like the rest of Asia), to book a hostel in Tokyo can cost in excess of $20 as do the capsule hotels, which is why it’s imperative to keep your food and activity costs down
2) Tsukiji Fish Market – It’s free but get there early, preferably before sunrise so you can witness the organized chaos in full flow! Make your way to the ‘Visitors’ Passageway’ and you can check out the fish auction which kicks off around 6.30am. You can sample the famous blowfish fugu here, where if it’s not cut properly you quite simply die. You won’t want to take taxis anywhere in Japan so jump on the subway and take the Hibiya line of the Tokyo Metro to Tsukiji station, exit 1
3) Sumo – I was on a tight budget so I took the cheap (free) option and went to a sumo stable (training camp) where you can see these big guys train. Again get there early, they finish up around 9am so try to arrive around 6 or 7. There are so many stables across the city, just jump on google and you’ll have it sussed in no time. If you’re in season (January, May and September) then you can watch an actual sumo contest – head to Tokyo’s National Sumo Hall on the appropriate day and buy your ticket at the gate – remember the competitions start at 9am so you want to get there by 7am to grab yourself a ticket. Tickets cost around $20 and by all accounts, it’s well worth it.
4) Harajuku – free again! This area becomes alive with unadulterated fashion victims on weekend afternoons, famous for Japanese ‘cosplay’ fans, you’ll be picking your jaw from the floor after 15 minutes of people watching. Great entertainment.
5) Shibuya crossing – walking distance from Harajuku, this is the globes most famous road crossing –it’s a five-way “scramble crossing” under the giant video screen. Participate then jump in one of the restaurants over looking the crossing for a truly mezmerising scene. P.S this is free again!
6) Tokyo city view – This is true backpacking genius. The official Tokyo city view is $18 however shun their overpriced consumerism and head over to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices building in Shinjuku and make your way to the 45th floor to see Tokyo from their free observation deck (open 9.30-5.30 every day).
7) Meiji Shrine – you can walk here from Harajuku too so save your money and fit this, Shibuya and Harajuku into one awesome afternoon. Arguably Tokyo’s most famous (and biggest) shrine is a must for every visitor.
8) Shinjuku – the nightlife area, full of neon, gaming and everything that you expect of Japan. If you’re with friends, you can’t fail to enjoy a wander around Tokyo’s red-light district of Kabukichō – it feels like something between Bangkok’s Patpong area met with an all girls school! Crazy!
9) Odaiba – Tokyo’s largest (because they have a few) artificial island and home to various technology centres. Loads of cool modern inventions to drool over.
10) Imperial palace – the palace’s east gardens open to the public at 9AM (except Mondays and Fridays). It’s free, you can’t access the actual palace but the serenity will be a welcome break from the intensity of Tokyo, trust me!
Ok guys, so there is Tokyo on a budget. A great place to backpack in but certainly not cheap. However, stick to activities such as the ones I’ve listed and you can get by for around $30 per day including everything. Make sure you eat either noodles from the newsagents (my speciality) or from the ticket vending machine places (you’ll see them), of course you have to splurge on sushi and sake sometimes but be careful, that suff is not cheap in Tokyo! Happy travels and enjoy Japan 🙂