Unusual Destinations Reviews from Not Ordinary People

How to save money when travelling in Japan

Author Richard Summers
Tue 2 Oct 12
/ 5
Japan Miyajima


Trains in Japan are unbelievably convenient and reliable. They are rarely off schedule and have stations in every major location throughout the city.

Japan Rail Pass (best for travel across Japan) - www.japan-rail-pass.com/?ap=j0095g

Tokyo Metro Passes - www.tokyometro.jp/en/ticket/value/1day

JR East Rail Passes - www.acprail.com/rail-passes/japan/jr-east-pass

If you would like a quick train pass that works on all trains in Tokyo, you could always purchase a SUICA card (I always use it) and it’s a unique souvenir in the end. Suica can be filled with any amount of money and all you do is swipe through all train gates, use it with most vending machines, easy pay in convenience stores and even in some restaurants or shopping centres. www.japan-guide.com/e/e2359_002.html



One of the main places that people can grab a cheap bento or snack in a convenience store (called “combini”). You can get heated bento, Japanese onigiri (rice dumplings), hot drinks, beer and other fun snacks.  They are also a great place to buy Japanese snacks as souvenirs.   Major chains are 7/11, Lawson’s and Family Mart, then there are Mini Stop, Circle K or Sunkus. There are many other small ones, but you pretty much can’t go two blocks in Tokyo without seeing one of those combini.

For inexpensive and healthy meals, it’s also a great idea to check out supermarkets or mall food courts.  They usually make traditional and western style bento, heat them up for you and give you utensils.  They are great to take to parks for a mini picnic (most people in Japan just buy prepared food for picnics).  If you do plan some time out in a park, there will always be a food stall or small restaurant that sells snack foods and small dishes for next to nothing.

Izakaya are fantastic places to try a wide range of traditional Japanese style and sometimes unusual creations at a low price.  There are izakaya all over the city.  Shibuya is especially full of them.

* Every mall in Tokyo will have top floor restaurants and while they will certainly have many lovely selections, they will also be more expensive.  They are a great opportunity to try traditional Japanese dishes since most malls will have one floor with mostly Japanese style restaurants.

Here’s a site that shows you 10 of the top izakaya - www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2008/feb/26/tokyo.food

For food options of any type and budget in Tokyo or Kyoto –check out this site: http://bento.com/

*Most restaurants, even the expensive ones will usually have a fantastic lunch deal. If you’re travelling around and want to try some more high-end food without spending too much, try to make lunch the biggest meal of the day. Most restaurants will offer a big lunch set for anything from ¥800- ¥1500.

Some of the malls that have great restaurants are:

  • Takashimaya in Shinjuku
  • Oazo or Marunouchi Building in Marunouchi (area near Tokyo Station)
  • Any Atre mall
  • Basically the basement level of pretty much any mall or major train station.

Finally, hotels like the Four Seasons, Peninsula, Hilton and so on will have beautiful Japanese restaurants.

For some other inexpensive food places across Japan, try:

CoCo Ichiban (Japanese curry) - http://www.ichibanya.co.jp/english/info/multilingual.html   (logo is at the top left corner in yellow)

Yoshinoya (beef rice bowls) - http://www.yoshinoya.com/   (logo is at the top left in orange and black)

Tenya (tempura bowls) -  http://www.tenya.co.jp/index.htm  -though their brand is written in Japanese, you can easily find them if you look for their blue and yellow logo (top right corner of the revolving images on the site)


Street Food

There are a lot of street food vendors around the city, but of course, most of them move around.  I’ll tell you where they usually are, but I can’t guarantee 100% they will be there. The weekends are your best bet to catch them.

Ramen – lots of vendors around the city. One of the more popular ones is in front of Shinjuku West Exit.

This is a highly recommended ramen chain –it has a huge following and you can expect to stand in a long line during lunch time and dinner time. http://www.ramentokyo.com/2007/06/ramen-jiro.html

Takoyaki – fried octopus balls with special sauce and bonito flakes. Famous from Osaka, it`s also widely enjoyed in Tokyo.  Especially during weekends, Yoyogi Park will have a few vendors.  

Yakisoba – Fried noodles with meat, nori (dried seafood flakes) and sometimes with pickled ginger is found during festivals, or you can also find vendors in Yoyogi on weekends.

Yakitori – skewered chicken with a variety of sauces. They are usually found in streets during festivals, sometimes Yoyogi park, or just order them from Izakaya (like “EN”)

Okonomiyaki – fried pancake type food http://www.bento.com/rf_ok.html

There are restaurants throughout Shinjuku, like this one in Kabukicho http://www.botejyu.com/botejyu/shop/tokyo_shinjuku-subnade.html

Crepe – Although crepe are not Japanese, there are modern Japanese versions of crepe. They are not healthy and usually strange ingredient combinations, but they are most definitely a Tokyo thing.   You can find them everywhere, especially Harajuku Takeshita Street (across from the Harajuku station Takeshita Exit.

* Harajuku and Yoyogi are walking distance, so if you would like to see Yoyogi Park from Harajuku station, just take the “Omotesando Exit” instead of Takeshita.

Vending Machines – They are a wonderful thing in Japan. There are many places that offer hot or cold drinks, food and even hot soups in a can. They are quick and easy for a quick bite on the run.

Train Stations – Most train stations will have little restaurants or stalls that offer cheap food or a variety of bakeries. Most will have traditional snack foods but there are some that will have mini food courts that offer a wide variety of things.  The busier stations (Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ueno, Shinagawa, Shimbashi and Kyoto station…) will have a big selection. 



As mentioned earlier, izakaya are fantastic.  

There are also quite a few “one coin bars” around the city. There are a few in major areas like Shibuya and Shinjuku or even Ebisu.  They will literally have a sign that says “one coin bar” and it’s easy to ask anyone because they all understand this term.   These places generally have drinks at ¥500 –which is quite cheap in Tokyo, trust me.

Alcohol is readily available in many vending machines (though you might need to swipe id at some) and all combini will have beer if not more (many places will sell wine, chuhai, sake and more).



Asakusabashi Station (East Exit) – There is a chain called Shimojima that has about 5 different buildings full of items from traditional Japanese to supplies, food, housewares and more.  Their main building is approximately 3 minutes from the East exit and has about 8 floors of things to look through. 

The Asakusabashi area is great to find many different traditional items from toys, food, kimono accessories, faux flowers and decorations and Japanese party supplies. There are many shops that sell inexpensive Japanese gifts, even little stalls run by very old Japanese grannies (I used to buy traditional Japanese furoshiki and tenugui 70% cheaper than anywhere else from one granny in this area).

Harajuku (Takeshita Exit) - Walking down Takeshita street will certainly be an interesting experience.  Here you will find many clothing shops (mainly for younger people) but also the largest 100 yen shop in Tokyo.  Daiso is famous for many people as the cheapest place for souvenirs and this one has about 5 floors full of stuff from housewares, stationery, decorations, to toys, clothing, snacks and more.

Asakusa – Also a great place to buy traditional items. The entire area is filled with sweet shops, small toy shops, souvenir shops and many stalls, but because it’s a very common tourist spot, some things may be more expensive than Asakusabashi.

Shibuya (Hachiko Exit) – If you are looking for Japanese fabrics (like kimono style fabric) there is a great little shop near the station.  When you exit from Hachiko, walk towards the l’Occitane shop on the left (when facing the giant Starbucks), you’ll see tons of fabric on the street and a small shop filled.

Clothing/Accessories – If you would like to find some nice clothing, try Uniqlo and Muji. They are near all of the major stations (like Shinjuku, Shibuya, Akihabara, Ginza and Omotesando ) throughout Tokyo.  They have many different styles, great quality and inexpensive compared to most other places.  Muji also has many different items for home, stationery, toys and also fun snacks and food.

Train Stations – There are many train stations that have a shopping area in the basement area where items are usually cheaper than normal. Some of the stations are: Shinjuku, Shibuya, Tokyo, Ikebukuro and Ueno.

* Avoid large malls like Isetan, Marui (0101), Takashimaya or Daimaru because they are very expensive.

*Kyoto shopping will generally be more expensive than Tokyo, especially for traditional gifts, however, the father away from the station and major tourist areas you are, the prices drop.  Always explore small alleys and streets since there are usually hidden treasures to behold.  Most of these little shops and stalls will have cheaper gifts that are also (in most cases) better quality.

Aeon – There are a few Aeon shopping malls in Kyoto, where you can find many different items from clothing to household items but at a much lower price than other malls (like Daimary, takashimaya…)

Nishiki Market – Tons of different food, spices, sweets are found along the rows of stalls in Nishiki Market. You can either walk straight down Karasuma street (right at Karasuma and Shijo street) from Kyoto station or you can reach it from Shijo Station (about 2 stops or so from Kyoto station).

Unique Shopping 

Donki hotei – The only place to find the most interesting and unusual items in Tokyo.  You can find them in Akihabara (3 minutes from Electric Town Exit), Shinjuku (3 minutes from Shinjuku West Exit) and Shibuya (5 minutes to the left of Center Street from Hachiko Exit).

In Kyoto: http://www.donki.com/search/shop_list_en.php?pref=27

Loft – Great place to find anything from modern to traditional items. They normally have one floor dedicated to toys and gadgets.

Muji – Found near most stations in Tokyo and Kyoto, it’s a no frills chain that carries many popular items in Japan. They have housewares, stationery, clothing, food and more.

Tokyu Hands – There are several Tokyu Hands locations in Tokyo, however there are no locations in Kyoto yet. One of the largest is in Shibuya. There are about 8 floors with several subfloors filled with many different items. Like Loft, this place has anything and everything you could want from housewares, stationery, toys, gadgets, clothing, traditional souvenirs and more.

Winter Onsen (Hot Springs) 

They are a wonderful experience in Japan and perfect for chilly days outside. It’s nice to find random onsen around town; however it’s important to note that there are still quite a few places that are not open to “foreigners”.

This is a very popular onsen in Kyoto for travellers: http://www.kurama-onsen.co.jp/index_e.html

And these in Tokyo:  http://www.timeout.jp/en/tokyo/feature/536/Tokyos-top-onsen

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