You may also be aware that the Study Abroad offices here at UC offer some great opportunities to study in Japan, including the Faculty Led Program: Japanese Architecture and the Contemporary City. Applications for the program aimed at Arts in Architecture students, closes on the 28th of February, so if you’re interested you better get in quick! If you’re not an Architecture student, but still want to plan an awesome holiday abroad, this guide is for you.
Tokyo is known for being one of the world’s most expensive cities, but there are plenty of ways to get a taste of what this fascinating metropolis has to offer without blowing your student budget.
Tokyo is home to two international airports: Haneda Airport (HND) and Narita Airport (NRT).
Although Narita manages a significantly larger number of international flights, it is located 60 kilometres from the outskirts of Tokyo, and the journey in takes approximately 90-minutes.
Haneda, on the other hand, is centrally located, and is less than a 30-minute ride into the city. Flying into and out of Haneda will not only shorten both ends of your journey, but it will also cut down on transfer costs, saving more yen for the fun stuff.
Where to stay
Accommodation will chew up the bulk of your budget in Tokyo, so look out for hostels and budget hotels. If there’s a group of you travelling, why not opt for AirBnB to cut down on costs?
Another option is to try a capsule hotel. Essentially, they’re little pods to sleep in and store your things but if you’re out exploring all day, a bed’s a bed, right?
The best (and savviest) way to explore Tokyo is on foot. Not only will you be working off that extra plate of gyoza, but wandering and getting lost in the streets truly is the best way to immerse yourself in this lively city.
If you’re wanting to explore a little further though, jump on the Tokyo Metro. Trains are extremely punctual, arriving every 3 minutes in peak hours, and every 10 minutes in the early morning and late at night.
For the Metro, you can purchase a PASMO card, onto which you can load yen to make frequent travel much easier. PASMO cards ask for a 500 JPY deposit upon purchase, which is refunded upon its return.
Tip: Taxis in Tokyo are expensive, so if you’re on a strict budget, try to avoid them!
Where to eat
There’s an incredible range of dining options in Tokyo, and you can find a delicious, filling meal for under 800 JPY if you know what you’re looking for.
Smaller, more casual eateries display plastic representations of their dishes out the front of their establishments. These models will often have prices attached to them, which makes finding an affordable meal easy, especially if your Japanese isn’t up to scratch.
Tip: Tokyo is a built-up city, and many of these smaller, cheaper restaurants will be located on the second, third, or fourth (or even higher) floor of buildings.
It’s also common for smaller restaurants to have a vending machine ordering system. Place your order through images on the machine, and then pass your ticket to the waiter. Again, this system is great if you don’t speak Japanese well.
Be sure to try…
Ramen – hot noodle soup
Okonomiyaki – vegetable pancake
Yakitori – grilled meat and vegetable skewers
Sashimi – thinly sliced raw fish
Gyoza – fried dumplings
Tempura – lightly battered meat and vegetables
Takoyaki – deep fired dough balls with octopus
Korokke – croquettes filled with potatoes and crab
…and of course, lots of sushi.
Tip: in Japanese culture it’s polite to slurp your noodles.
Where to drink
Japan is well-known for its drinking culture, and Tokyo is crawling with an abundance of quirky bars and nightclubs that are just waiting to be discovered.
The average cost for a beer at a bar in Tokyo is 600 JPY and a cocktail will set you back 1100 JPY. Whilst these prices aren’t too bad, they will add up quickly if you, like me, enjoy a colourful night out.
My best advice is make yourself familiar with the term nomihōdai. It translates to ‘all you can drink’ and many karaoke establishments and izakayas (casual Japanese pubs) will offer it as a part of their evening deal. Generally, an hour of nomihōdai will set you back around 1000 JPY.
In between bar hopping, keep an eye out for 7-Elevens and vending machines selling alcohol. Drinking in the streets in Tokyo is completely legal.
Be sure to try…
Sake – fermented rice wine
Umeshu – sweet plum wine
Shochu – distilled liquor
… and lots of Japanese whisky.
Tip: if you’re going out, go out hard or close to your accommodation. Whilst Tokyo is a 24-hour city, trains don’t run through the night, and all services stop between 12am – 1 am.
What to do
Explore shrines and temples: marvel and wander through Meiji Jingu, Yasakuni, Senso-Ji and many others whilst in Tokyo.
Shop ‘til you drop: follow your eyes (and heart) through buzzing districts like Harajuku, Omotesando, and Shibuya. Be sure to check out Ginza as well, but be prepared to just window shop there.
Tip: take your passport shopping. Many stores offer tax-free shopping for foreigners.
Visit the Imperial Palace: wander the colossal, moated walls and snatch a glimpse of the Emperor’s majestic residence.
Karaoke: down your whisky, grab your new-found travel buddies, and sing your lungs out in a tiny disco-lit booth. Karaoke is an absolute must whilst in Japan.
See Mt. Fuji: if there’s one thing you should splurge on in Tokyo, it’s taking a bus out to Lake Kawaguchiko for the night. From Shinjuku Station, the ride takes 2.5 hours, and the lake and and the town’s cable car service provide picturesque views of the volcano. You can even climb Fuji if you’re feeling daring.
Soak in an onsen: natural hot springs are widely popular in Japan, and many hotels (ryokans) offer them as part of an overnight package. Trust me, you’ll never feel cleaner or more relaxed after soaking in a steamy onsen.
Tip: If you have a tattoo make sure you check before arriving whether the onsen allows tattoos as they are typically not culturally acceptable in Japan.
Do the Shibuya Scramble: be one of 2,500 people who navigate the world’s busiest crossing every time the light changes.
Navigate Tokyo in your favourite Mario Kart: live out your childhood dream by driving a motorised Kart dressed as Yoshi through the city.
Check out the view from Tokyo Tower: Tokyo Tower offers a discounted price for students. Be sure to head up on a clear day – you might even be able to catch a glimpse of Mt. Fuji!