If you want to immerse yourself within the busy environment that Japan offers, then your best bet would be to stay at The Tokyo Hostel, in Ryusen Taito-Ku. The hostel is often home to a number of backpackers from all over the globe and makes for a fun and social accommodation option. Offering a superb selection of room options, from dorms to private rooms and at a great price too, this is an ideal place to stay when visiting the Japanese capital.
The no curfew rule means that you have access to the hostel 24 hours a day, meaning no restrictions to your evening’s plans. All in all this is an ideal hostel in Tokyo, as it offers great amenities and central location.
If you fly into Narita, go to the JR ticket office (on the lowest floor where the trains leave from) and there they have a combo offer allowing you to buy a Narita Express ticket (the train to get you into Tokyo) and get a Suica card (the Japanese Oyster card equivalent) at the same time. The best bit is that the combined cost is little more than the cost of the Narita Express ticket on its own and the Suica card comes with 1500yen preloaded on it and you don't have to pay the usual 500yen deposit. You need your passport to be able to take up the offer..
A great place to find cheap accommodation in Tokyo. They have a great hostel in Asakusa overlooking the prettiest fairground I've ever seen, and for longer stays, they have apartments all over the city (we paid £550 for a month for a place in a fab location!)
There is so much going on and it’s all free. See the old forty-something rockabillies dancing to rock’n’roll and the young kids dancing to northern soul. People practising their tap-dancing or tai chi, not to mention the new bands hoping to be spotted by a record company giving it their all. Take a picnic and enjoy the atmosphere, that seems to be what most of the rest of Tokyo does!
It was my first time in Japan, and I was looking for somewhere cheap to eat that wasn’t a burger joint. I happened upon Yoshinoya (they’re everywhere, look for the bright orange signs). The menu is mainly rice-based: the dishes include pork, beef etc. with ginger, curry etc. The dishes cost from 360 - 630 yen (approx. £2-4) including rice and miso soup - fantastic value for money. I ate there four times in a 10-day holiday, and every time we were the only westerners there; as they say, if it’s where the locals go it must be good!
Everywhere in the major cities
Very trendy and very affordable discount store in the Shibuya-ku district of Tokyo. This is a great shop to stock up on trendy Tokyo fashions for presents back home, or just to treat yourself. Prices start from £1!
3-5 Udagawa-cho (Shibuya-ku)
They may still be more expensive than supermarkets but the lush Harrods-style food courts in the big department store Isetan are a great place to pick up Japanese delicacies for much cheaper than restaurant prices.
Take advantage too of the constant free samples…
See some of the coolest new technology at Honda’s flagship store. Ride the motorcycle simulator or see the demonstrations of ASIMO, the humanoid robot (daily at 10.30am, 11.50am and 3pm). Best of all, it’s free!
2-1-1 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku
You can’t leave Tokyo without sampling some sushi but the city can be a pricey place to eat out. Head instead to Kaiten-zushi for affordable plates from a conveyor belt. This fad may have spread to cheap London chains but the quality is definitely better out in Japan. There are several branches across the city, including Shinjuku.
It’s also handy for anyone who doesn’t speak Japanese or like surprises when it comes to their dinner!
This Tokyo hostel is really great – clean, affordable and with heaps of Japanese style including Tatami mat floors.
There’s also self-catering facilities, a comfortable lounge and no curfew for backpackers who like to party hard.
Situated in Asakusa, it’s a pleasantly peaceful base after a long day of sightseeing but close enough to all the major sights, shopping and nightlife to still be really convenient. Overall, a big thumbs up!
2-16-12 Nishiasakusa, Tokyo, Taito-ku, 111-0035, Japan
Upon arrival in Tokyo Narita International airport (or just before you leave!), don't just rush headlong into the city... If you have come long-haul and are tired, there's nothing better than to get your head down at one of the airport hotels for a few hours, and then use Narita as a gentle introduction to Japan/Tokyo. It is a nice small town, which is very walkable, and has many little gems including a temple, local restaurants, shops and backstreet pubs. Prices for food, hotels et al will be much cheaper that Tokyo city, and it allows you to acclimatise in a much less hectic/congested atmosphere. I have always found it a perfect way to take a breather before business in Japan and/or exploring the country on vacation.
On your own in Tokyo? Search out large office blocks, daytime or night time, there's usually a food court either at ground or upper level. Japan can be expensive and this is an easy and inexpensive way to eat out alone. Don't worry about the language, there are the plastic plates to point out.
All over town
If you want to know what the Japanese do on a Sunday afternoon, then head off to Yoyogi Park. The whole of Tokyo seems to descend on this wonderful park. Families come for a picnic, unsigned pop bands play inpromptu gigs, theatre groups practise their latest plays and people just hang out letting the world go by! Everything seems to happen in this one place! When I went there a year ago, I felt like I saw the real Tokyo - seeing the Japanese at play.
Don't miss it!
Adjacent to Yoyogi-koen and Meiji-jingumae Stations on the subway Chiyoda Line, and Harajuku Station on the JR Yamanote Line
Often overlooked by western tourists, Manga cafes are a godsend to the poor and weary traveller. At large branches of "Manboo", for example, you can relax in a private booth equipped with a broadband-connected PC, a television, a games console and a comfortable reclining chair, all for a reasonable 200-300 yen per hour (about half that for girls). A vast library of games and comics (the former very often being perfectly accessible to non-Japanese speakers) is provided for patrons to use at their leisure, along with drinks, snacks, and showers for those planning to stick around. Indeed, a good 24-hour manga cafe is a more comfortable, more entertaining and above all cheaper place to spend the night than an overpriced capsule hotel. You can even get a two-person booth if you're travelling with a partner.
All over Tokyo; the best-equipped cafes tend to be found in Shinjuku and Shibuya, but smaller locations are as common as Karaoke boxes.
Probably one of the largest expanses of gadget heaven on planet Earth. Think of anything electronic and you'll find it here. The current sterling/yen exchange rate also means that you'll pay around 15-20% less here (maybe a bit more if you bring your passport with you to get a further 5% off as a tax-free purchase).
On the Yamanote line (and others) two stops north of JR Tokyo station. For a preview of one of the biggest stores go to www.yodobashi.com (Japanese language only unfortunately).
In Tokyo the vast majority of people live in apartments and pets are not allowed or possible. Nekobukero is a response to this. It's a cat petting "house" where lots of Tokyo families and couples go to stroke and play with lots of lovely cats. The set-up itself is worth looking at with cat-themed decor including a cat-shaped TV and a cat-train where some of the moggies spend little holidays away from visiting hands.
There are plenty of toys to tempt the cats with but they also have the opportunity to jump up onto some high shelves to snooze or just to ignore all comers. It's a lovely way to spend a few hours with plenty of people watching points as well as the obvious joy of stroking cats at the top of a Tokyo highrise.
Nekobukero can be found in the Tokyu Hands department store in Ikebukero. (Ikebukero Station) Everyone knows where Tokyu Hands is so ask at the station. Once you get to Tokyu Hands Nekobukero is on the top floor, you enter through the pet department.
Kimi ryokan is a 4-storey, old-style Japanese inn, complete with well-lit darkwood hallways, small tatami mat rooms, and a friendly bearded owner, who is constantly polishing the wooden floors, all in the heart of Tokyo! The rooms may be functional (small), but they are very clean. The shower stalls may be communal, but they appear to be made of marble, whilst the deep wooden Japanese bath on the 1st floor is a must for soothing tired limbs in the evening. Don't forget to take your sake in with you! In 2003, singles cost 4,000yen, doubles 7,000-8,000. Definitely book in advance. They speak English.
Kimi ryokan is in Ikebukuro, 5 mins from the underground stn. Tel. 03 3971 3766.
One of the highest buildings in the skyscraper district of Shinjuku, where you can see views of Tokyo and the area around it, including Mount Fuji (only on clear days in late winter/early spring). The plus point is that this is one of the only things you can do in Tokyo for free. The viewing area opens about 10am and closes about 10pm.
The nearest train station is Tocho mae.
Gues-T House is a backpackers hostel in Azubujuban, SW Tokyo. I recommend it because it gives excellent value for money, and is in a fantastic location for seeing Tokyo.
One night - Y2,900 (c.£15)
Azubujuban Station - exit 4. Head up the road to the left of 'Wendy's' to a cross road (c. 200m). Turn left, and go down the road 'til you get to a park on your left. Look for a coffee bean shop, take a right and the hostel will be on your right, the same side as the coffee bean shop.
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