You’ve always wanted to visit Japan, but hemmed and hawed over booking your trip after hearing stories of how expensive it can be — well, whoa whoa whoa, pump the brakes on that line of thinking. Long gone are the bubble days of the ’90s where the yen reigned supreme. Japan is more accessible than it has ever been before, so how can you enjoy Tokyo without breaking the bank?
I’m here to help ya out! Tokyo Survival Channel challenged me to hit nine of Tokyo’s iconic spots in one day while only paying for a train pass and food. That meant no entrance fees allowed. No taxis when my feet gave out. And, unfortunately for me, no shopping. Keep reading to find out if I passed the challenge!
While a Suica card is normally the Internet’s recommended method for paying for travel in Tokyo, if you plan on exclusively using the Tokyo Metro (Ginza, Marunouchi, Hibiya, Tozai, Chiyoda, Yurakucho, Fukutoshin, Hanzomon, and Namboku lines) and think you’ll get off at more than three train stations, there’s a better option.
Tokyo Metro 24-Hour Ticket
You can buy a Tokyo Metro 24-hour ticket at any Tokyo Metro station ticket machine, and it requires no advanced booking. For ¥600, you can get pretty much anywhere you need to go in Tokyo. The pass is good for 24 hours from the first use and will get you on any of the lines listed above.
With my ticket in hand, I hopped on the Ginza line from Omotesando station at 10:30 am and rode all the way to the end of the line.
Exploring Tokyo’s Landmark Locations on the Cheap
With my itinerary planned and ticket in hand, my final task before starting this challenge was to download an offline map of Tokyo through the Google Maps app (in the settings you can choose “Offline Maps” and then you can screenshot an area you want to download). I was also determined to use as little cellular data as possible, so I decided to check every location I went to for free WiFi.
As one of the largest entertainment areas in Tokyo during the Edo period, there are still millions of things to see and do (even if you’re not spending any cash). Enter through the giant Kaminari Gate and take a stroll along the Nakamise shopping street as you head toward Sensoji temple.
Feel free to do some window shopping along the way (and maybe grab a few samples from the shops selling snacks).
If you are starting to feel a bit hungry, there are myriad shops selling street snacks ranging from ¥100–500 each.
After you check out the impressive Sensoji temple (did you know it’s both a temple and a shrine? That’s rare.) I suggest wandering around all of the nearby narrow side streets. The area is steeped in history, so make sure to read all the little signs scattered throughout.
Yen Spent: ¥0
A better experience with money? Not really
Free WiFi: Yes, look for Asakusa’s free WiFi hotspot on your phone
A pleasant 15–20 minute walk (or ¥180 train that’s not covered by the 24-hour Tokyo Metro ticket) will take you from historic Asakusa to one of the most identifiable landmarks along Tokyo’s skyline.
Tokyo Skytree hosts a number of varied activities, such as the lower and upper observation decks with expansive views at 350 and 450 meters, respectively, an aquarium, shopping, and restaurants.
But is it really necessary to pay to go to the top? I stumbled upon a secret. If you head to the east side of the complex, there’s a building called the Skytree View — find it and ride the elevator up to the 31st floor. You won’t be as high up as the observation deck, but you’ll still get a pretty amazing view of Tokyo from 150 meters up!
If you’re able to splurge a little bit, you can get a fancy experience for decent deal at the Top of Tree restaurant by ordering their lunch set for ¥2,500 (lunch sets are always a great deal in Tokyo if you want to try out a fancy restaurant without spending all of your travel money) — you’ll also get seated at a window facing Skytree!
Once done with taking in the skyline, head down to the shopping floors for some more window shopping. I suggest definitely visiting the Pokémon Center if you’re in to that! If you exit the mall near the Pokémon store, you’ll end up at the base of the tower, which you can gaze up at in awe (ya know, if you’re in to that).
Yen Spent: ¥0
A better experience with money? Not unless it’s essential to visit the observation decks
Free Wifi: Yes, look for SkyTree’s free WiFi hotspot on your phone
After walking back to Asakusa, hop on the Ginza line and head a few stops down to Ueno Station. Ueno is known for its massive park, several museums, and a zoo featuring pandas Li Li and Shin Shin (kids 12 and under get in free). Stroll through the park and check out the various seasonal blooming flowers that pop up throughout the year. I was lucky to be there during hydrangea season, but the park is also known for its cherry blossom lined paths. Ueno also houses a few temples and there always seems to be street performers around the park to entertain passersby.
Should you pay for the zoo or museums? Meh. They’re all very small, so if it’s your very first visit to Tokyo, I think there are better things to see and spend your money on. Just enjoy your stroll through the park.
Yen Spent: ¥0
A better experience with money? If you’ve run out of things to do or really love pandas.
Free Wifi: Yes, look for Ueno’s official WiFi hotspot on your phone
Right across from Ueno Park is Ameya Yokocho, an old market that is still lively and bustling today. Check out the fresh fish vendors and grab a seat at one of the small food stalls lining the pedestrian street.
As the market attracts tourists from all over the world, the stalls have really become diverse with their food offerings — everything from Hong Kong soup dumplings to rainbow grilled cheese can be found!
By this time, I needed a little pick-me-up, so I found the air-conditioned refuge of Tully’s coffee and snagged an iced coffee and waffle cookies.
Yen Spent: ¥530
A better experience with money? If you’re hungry or a foodie
Free Wifi: Yes, look for Ueno’s official WiFi hotspot on your phone
One station, or a quick walk, away from the end of Ameyayokocho will take you right into the heart of the land of otaku. Generally, Akihabara is where tourists come to drop some serious cash, but I think it can be enjoyable without spending a single yen.
Head to one of the game centers and get a kick out of watching people try to win prizes. The UFO catcher games are my favorite, but you’ll probably end up spending quite a lot trying to win something. If you see a figure or toy you absolutely have to have, head to one of the toy shops that have these clear cases. They’re rented individually by people that sell their personal winnings. You can often find the figure you want for a fraction of what you’d pay to win it!
Window shopping is great, but if your feet or body start to get tired, pop into one of the large electronic stores and take a nice relaxing break with a free massage.
If you’re still feeling hungry, there’s a great onigiri shop where you can grab one on the go.
Yen Spent: ¥180
Worth it to pay for anything: If you’re hungry from all that free walking
Free Wifi: Yes, look for Akihabara’s free WiFi hotspot on your phone
An Impossible Challenge
By this point, the day was getting the best of me. My phone was dead, and the sun was trying its best to kill me, as well. I had been challenged to hit as many places as possible, and my body hit its limit. Hanging my head in slight defeat, I headed home and took a nice long bath after snagging some convenience store soba to slurp up for dinner (¥240).
Total Yen Spent: ¥1,550
Areas of Tokyo Seen: A lot (Asakusa, Tokyo Skytree, Ueno, Ameya Yokocho, and Akihabara)
All in all, I wouldn’t recommend doing this schedule in one day, let alone all 9. I rushed myself through everything and didn’t really have time to truly enjoy anything. Can you do it? Sure. Should you do it? Probably not.
The big takeaway is that you don’t really need to spend money to enjoy Tokyo. There are plenty of things to see. But if you’ve got the money, spend it — you’re on vacation, so enjoy yourself!
Popular Places I Didn’t Cover
There were a lot of other places I was challenged on hitting up but didn’t make it to. Here are my thoughts on whether or not it’s worth going to on a tight budget.
Tokyo Tower: It’s not really worth going to if you’re not buying a ticket for the observation floor. If you want to get a selfie with the iconic tower, there are better views from a distance in places like Roppongi Hills or Shiba Koen.
Tokyo Disneyland: A crazy addition to this list. There’s not a whole lot out this way, but there is the nearby Kasai Rinkai Park along Tokyo Bay that offers an open space to relax and a very nice aquarium that’s 1/3 of the price of Tokyo Skytree’s aquarium tickets (also, kids 12 and under get in free). If Tokyo Disneyland is on your bucket list, then check their website to see if they’re offering “After 6 Passports” for the day you’d like to go. It’s a ticket that gets you into the park in the evening and is about 1/2 the price of an all-day ticket.
Shibuya: Pop into the Starbucks at the crossing and go up the escalator. You’ll get an amazing view of Shibuya Crossing without spending anything.
Kabukicho: While not everyone’s cup of tea, I think the Robot Restaurant in Kabukicho is definitely worth paying for. It’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen some weird things. If you just want a cool snapshot, head to the restaurant in the evenings and take a free picture with their two robot ladies outside. Then wander around Kabukicho and check out the tiny bars of Golden Gai. If you want to buy discounted tickets to the Robot Restaurant, Tokyo Cheapo has a good article on the topic.