Hacking Japan: Inside Tokyo for Less than New York – Part 2

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(Photo: Sprengben)

This is part 2 of 2 and a continuation of Part 1, which covered the top 4 unusual experiences, must-learn suffixes, budget-saving and healthy fast food, and more.

Below I explore choosing location, 5-star food for 2-star prices, drinking, and day trips from the concrete jungle of Tokyo…

Living on the Pulse: Yamanote or Chuo?

Choose accommodation close to major subway or surface lines, with first choice as Yamanote line and second choice as Chuo line. Shibuya is an excellent base for Shibuya/Harajuku/Shinjuku/Roppongi/Akasaka, and therefore cheap to get around and back to, even late at night. It has direct train lines also to Ginza, Asakusa, and numerous other places.

If you’re adventurous and without family, consider www.globalfreeloaders.com or other couch surfing options for free housing and a genuine local experience. If not, look at Tokyo rentals on Craigslist as a starting point for speaking with brokers and individuals.

Getting 5-Star Food for 2-Star Prices: Senmonten vs. Jack-Of-All-Trades

The best restaurants in any price range are those that specialize in just one type of food. Besides getting the true taste of each as it should be, you can experience the unique atmospheres (e.g. robatayaki restaurants are quite different from sushi places). Look for—and ask for—areas with noren, small curtains hanging from horizontal poles in the restaurant doorways, which shows the specialties of each.


Noren curtains (Photo: yomi955)

Look for one at dusk busy with young people, just as people get off work to drink and dine with friends. It’s the most fun time of day in Tokyo, and one that foreigners miss by eating at hotels or formal restaurants. Here are nine variations to start with. If in doubt, ask someone where you can find “many noren restaurants” or a “[fill in type below] senmonten,” or specialty shop:

* Yaki-tori: chicken and veggies on skewers, grilled. Ask for true meat items like sho-niku, momo, mince, and other low-fat, low-skin items.

* Robata-yaki: charcoal grilled meat/fish/veggies. Cheap friendly environment usually.

* Tonkatsu: pork deep fried in special batter. Hirekatsu is the lean fillet.

* Tempura: deep fried at very high temperatures. Fish and veggies.

* Sushi and sashimi (the former can include almost anything atop vinegared-rice, but it’s generally sliced uncooked fish)

* Teppan-yaki: meat/fish/veggies grilled on hot plate.

* Nabemono: fish & veggies cooking in water in a pot. Suggest yose-nabe, a typical nabemono dish.

* Shabu-shabu: Japanese fondue with thinly sliced beef (ask for low/no fat)

* Suki-yaki: beef in pan in very sweet stock. Ask for low/no fat, or go for shabu-shabu instead. Dip in the raw egg provided, which should be whipped in a bowl.

The last 3 of these specialties are often found at one restaurant that specializes in these 3 types.

How to Not Look Like an Idiot While Drinking

If you dine or drink with someone, watch their glass because … you pour theirs and they pour yours. Pour for older men first. Offer to pour again when their glass is half empty, and lift your glass off the table when they pour. If you don’t, it’s like treating them as a server or someone of lower status—not recommended. To stop drinking, leave your glass at least half full and decline top-ups.

Bite-Size Escapes from the Concrete Jungle

One of the best places to roam around for a look at the older, cultural side of Japan is the leafy, historic town of Kamakura, nestled among green hills, one hour by suburban train from Tokyo.

It’s a wonderful counterbalance to the concrete and cars of Tokyo. Some good spots there are Zeni-arai Benten (take a cab there and tell them to wait so that you can move easily on to the next place), Daibutsu (Giant Buddha), Hachimangu-Shrine, and Komachi-dori shopping/dining street, especially at dusk.

###

There are about 128 million people in Japan, and at least 100 million of them are happy to help foreigners learn to know and love Japan.

Just start a conversation with ‘sumimasen’ (excuse me) and then ask the question when you have them listening. Finish with ‘domo arigato’ (thank you). If you want to keep chatting with someone friendly a bit longer, ask them if they want a cup of coffee. You buy the coffee, they write down more suggestions, you both swap name cards, and go on your way.

Tokyo is like NYC but full of Mr. Rogers-like eagerness to help… if you make the effort with a few words of Japanese first.

The most important thing to remember is: Don’t be afraid of Japan.

It is a joy to get lost and have to ask a stranger where the koban (police box used by everyone for directions) is. If you’re not uncomfortable at least once a day, you aren’t experiencing Tokyo fully or interacting with the locals. Step outside the norm and INTERACT WITH JAPANESE PEOPLE. The worst that will happen is someone latches on to you to practice English. The guaranteed result is stories that you will have for the rest of your life.

Happy hacking.

###

Special thanks to Japan expert Philip Ashenden for his help with this two-part series.

Posted on: June 9, 2008.

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49 comments on “Hacking Japan: Inside Tokyo for Less than New York – Part 2

  1. Excellent two-part series. I’ve never been to Japan before, but now I really want to go!

    I should point out that the link to more info regarding Kamakura leads to a page with no information on it.

    Like

  2. I would also recommend, at least for males, staying in Capsule hotels if one is nearby. They’re usually for drunken businessmen caught out late and just needing a place to crash, but the one I stayed at in Osaka was VERY peaceful and comfortable. You get your own locker, there’s a lounge for TV and snacks, and the capsule room is dead quiet (all sorts of acoustic insulation). The capsule itself had a buckwheat pillow and a down comforter, a roll-down shutter once you get yourself tucked in, and there’s a TV, radio and alarm clock inside.

    Best of all, it’s CHEAP for Japan… I think I paid 2900Y (About 29 dollars) for the night.

    Like

  3. Ok,

    Tim, this really sounds like a true cultural experience. Your tips are extremely handy. I like how you have implemented a search box for keywords. This has helped me find lost posts that I needed at a later time, for example the clear card.

    Best & Have Fun at Boulevard 3, its probably gonna be a smash!!!

    Jose Castro-Frenzel

    Like

  4. Great tips. Thanks Tim and Phillip.

    Shibuya has a HUGE intersection that usually has throngs of people crossing in all directions. (You have probably seen it in the movies, I believe that I saw it recently in Babel.) It’s similar to Times Square in NY with massive neon signs and video monitors. Very cool. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shibuya,_Tokyo

    I really miss yakitori. Easily my favorite Japanese snack. I also recommend trying yakisoba. (Note to the health conscious: it’s high in sodium). Here is a nice little paragraph I found that pretty much sums it up:
    “Yakisoba is my favorite Japanese dish. Simply put, it’s just fried noodles with a special kind of sauce and some meat and vegetables. It can almost be described as Japanese junk-food, the Japanese version of hamburgers or whatever. In Japan yakisoba is sold at all kinds of restaurants, and vendors drive around with their carts and sell it to stressed sarariman. It’s also a popular “nightsnack” for drunk people on their way home.”
    Source: http://www.algonet.se/~otsu/yakisoba.html

    If you’re in Japan on a Sunday, you’ve gotta check out Yoyogi Park. (Remember what Tim said about “outfits that make Marilyn Manson look like Pokemon”?

    http://neilduckett.com/harajuku-bridge-to-yoyogi-park/

    Like

  5. Tim…….. thank you for the interesting blog post about Japan. YES! most of us, Japanese, want to help travelers!!!! but the problem is, at least I think, we are shy…… and we don`t want to make mistakes in conversati in English. We basically have 6 years of english study in school, so we know how to speak English! wow ! right? so PLEASE don`t hesitate to talk to us……. and I bet you will have true experience of Japan.

    About convenience stores, we are so proud of that. THE best place on Japan. You name it, you can buy it there. And lots of people say that it is very costy to go Japen. I would say yes, but think this way: You are on vacation, so spent it! same as you spend a lot in Hawaii. if you don`t want to pay a lot, you just need a little resarch, that is all and Tim`s blog is good way to start for some resarching!

    good people are living here in Japan! so come to Japan and have a good time with us!

    Like

  6. Good tips – I especially agree that Kamakura is worth a trip, but I disagree with your tip on the taxi at Zenarai Binten. There is actually an excellent walking/hiking path from Kita-Kamakura station (the station one above Kamakura) that goes there, and then if you continue, takes you through some beautiful hills and then dumps you out at the Daibutsu, after which you can walk across the street to Hase-dera, which is also great. Because most people skip the walking path, it’s pretty quiet and serene, and helps get you in the right frame of mind, and a little bit away from the maddening crowds.

    A suggested plan for a day is to go really early (the temples all open crazy early, and are much better in the morning). Get off at the Kita-Kamakura station, take the walking path through to Zenarai Binten and on to the Daibutsu, go see Hase-dera, then hop on the nearby Enoden-line to Kamakura station (it’s a cute train, and worth the 10 minute ride). Thats about lunchtime – there is a great street right to your left out the main exit to go look for lunch (many “noren bearing shops”) At the end of that street (about a 10-15 minute walk) is Tsurugaoka Hachiman Shrine, which is pretty cool. If you walk back after that, you’ll be on the train and back in Tokyo in time for dinner and a night out. And the whole trip will be pretty cheap.

    Special note on Kamakura – go as early as you can get up. The temples are quiet, restful, and beautiful in the mornings. They are loud and full of giggling schoolgirl tourgroups in the afternoons.

    Like

  7. Thanks for the info. on Tokyo. It brought back great memories – i lived there for a year. Just wanted to fine tune a definition you posted:
    (Wikipedia)
    n Japanese cuisine, sushi (??, ?, ?, sushi?) is vinegared rice, usually topped with other ingredients, including fish (cooked or uncooked) and vegetables. Outside of Japan, sushi is sometimes misunderstood to mean the raw fish by itself, or even any fresh raw-seafood dishes.[1] In Japan, sliced raw fish alone is called sashimi and is distinct from sushi, as sashimi is the raw fish component, not the rice component. The word sushi itself comes from an outdated grammatical form of a word that is no longer used in other contexts; literally, sushi means “it’s sour.”

    There are various types of sushi: sushi served rolled inside nori (dried and pressed layer sheets of seaweed or alga) called makizushi (??) or rolls; sushi made with toppings laid with hand formed clumps of rice called nigirizushi (???); toppings stuffed into a small pouch of fried tofu called inarizushi; and toppings served scattered over a bowl of sushi rice called chirashi-zushi.

    Have to let other vegans out there knowthat there are plenty of options for us in Japan!

    Thanks.

    Like

  8. I’ve been expecting this kind of entry since I read 4HWW (The part you mispronoucing “Okosu (wake)” as “Okasu (rape)” was really funny).

    After I read those entries, now I’m convinced that you are a real Edokko(Tokyoite). :-)
    As a native Edokko myself, I’d like to add some cool spots:

    Karaoke box

    If you miss the last train, just go to Karaoke box. Usually they have “All Night plan” with all-you-can-drink service, the total cost will be 20-30 bucks each. They have a lot of English songs, and unlike Karaoke bar, you don’t have to sing in front of strangers. You sing in a small room with your friends.

    Manga Kissa (Manga/Internet Cafe)

    Actually this place has “All night plan” too, which costs only 15 bucks. You have private partitioned area (not exactly a room), where you can enjoy internet, DVD, comics, and softdrink for free.


    I have much more on my list, so I’ll add them here when I have time.
    Let’s hang out next time you visit Tokyo!

    Oh, I also want to list the URL of “Train Route Finder” website (in English), which is pretty useful.

    http://www.jorudan.co.jp/english/norikae/

    Like

  9. there is not much to add but i think it can not hurt putting things here that make tokyo a great omoi-de (memory) are: shopping – ameyayokocho (or short ameyoko) located at ueno-station (yamanote-line, ginza-line) one of asias biggest markets. there you can buy from food to souvenirs everything, at reasonable prices. and do not fear the 100- or 1000yen-shops. if you run short on things like tissue, nail-clippers, batteries, post-cards or if you just need a notebook to write down what you want to remember… its all there.
    hotels – if possible do not stay in western hotels. if you can not find a ryokan (japanese inn) that fits your target-price-range, at least ask for a japanese room and eat japanese breakfast. ok, that one might set you back a little more, but trust me, it is great.
    eating: try everything. most of the food-stores offer samples. try them. most department-stores do have food-markets with local specialities in the basement. go there! tako-yaki is a great snack to eat on the way to the next sight. try okonomiyaki (omelette with vegetables or noodles) and omu-raisu (rice wrapped in an omelette), when eating sushi, order uni (sea urchin) … japanese tend to take you serious if you tell them, you even ate uni. for most westerners its more challenging then fugu (pufferfish).

    Like

  10. I’ve been expecting this kind of entry since I read 4HWW!

    After I read those entries, now I’m convinced that you are a real Edokko(Tokyoite). :-)
    As a native Edokko myself, I’d like to add some cool spots:

    Karaoke box

    If you miss the last train, just go to Karaoke box. Usually they have “All Night plan” with all-you-can-drink service, the total cost will be 20-30 bucks each. They have a lot of English songs, and unlike Karaoke bar, you don’t have to sing in front of strangers. You sing in a small room with your friends.

    Manga Kissa (Manga/Internet Cafe)

    Actually this place has “All night plan” too, which costs only 15 bucks. You have private partitioned area (not exactly a room), where you can enjoy internet, DVD, comics, and softdrink for free.

    —-
    I have much more on my list, so I’ll add them here when I have time.
    Let’s hang out next time you visit Tokyo!

    Oh, I also want to list the URL of “Train Route Finder” website (in English), which is pretty useful. http://www.jorudan.co.jp/english/norikae/

    Like

  11. Great post, Tim! Made me want to go back to Tokyo!

    Smiled at the bit about asking people for help with “sumimasen”. I found I could do almost anything/get anywhere with “sumimasen” and “domo arigato”!

    One thing people don’t talk about is how safe Tokyo is! I would NEVER just stand on a street corner with purse slung on my arm and a map open looking dumbfounded in New York. In Tokyo, you’re sure to have someone (honestly!) come offer to help you within 20 seconds…and most of the time I found they’d even walk me to where I wanted to go (instead of just pointing or telling me).

    Like

  12. My experiences are similar to Tara’s. I was on tour there a few years ago and felt incredibly safe, despite being wonderfully out of my depth. It was a really nice feeling. I’m lucky enough to have played all over the world, yet I’ve never felt so far away from home, but not in the slightest bit homesick!

    I’ve been hatching plans to go back and live there ever since. I’ll be referring back to these articles when I do, Tim. Thanks!

    Like

  13. I enjoyed the articles, Tim. As a 20-year+ resident of Japan, a few comments:

    1. Correction: Yamanote and Chuo lines are surface lines, not subway. (Slip of the keyboard, I’m sure.) There are also many, many subway lines.

    2. Minor note on sushi/sashimi: Someone will no doubt point out that sashimi is raw meat (usually fish), but sushi is defined by the vinegared rice, not fish/flesh; it may use vegetables, cooked fish, or something else entirely. Still, it’s true, sushi made with raw seafood is most popular (and usually delicious).

    3. Nabemono: “Stew” is an easy one-word description – though I think stew typically implies long cooking times, which isn’t typical of nabemono. If anyone wonders about the difference, just order it and find out! Great stuff in winter.

    All in all, a good quick bunch of suggestions.

    ###

    Thanks for the comment, Traveler! I always mix up subway and surface trains, as I’m accustomed to thinking of surface trains for long-haul travel. Thanks again!

    Tim

    Like

  14. Thanks for these hacking Japan posts, Tim. When I wrote about Japan, I got 27,000 visitors from StumbleUpon, and a number of comments from people who were furious I suggested that Japan is a nice place to visit. It has some disadvantages obviously, but it’s a great experience, and there are many aspects of their culture I wish we had in the U.S. “Sumimasen” will indeed serve you well, and while I hear they don’t like foreigners to stay too long, I found the people to be very friendly when you approach them.

    Like

  15. Hey Tim, what fun! I’ve always wanted to visit Japan…right after China, France, England, and Ireland…man, seems like it’s going to take forever.

    I wanted you to know about my four day media fast. I made some serious discoveries about myself and wanted to thank you for the inspiration to be comfortable doing something that I wasn’t previously comfortable with. I wrote a post about my media fast and thought you might like to read it.

    Like

  16. Hi All!

    Thanks so much for the great comments. A few things:

    @Ken UNO: thank you, thank you for the Ekisupaato link alternative. I couldn’t find a good English equivalent.

    -Fixed the limited definition of sushi
    -Fixed the Kamakura link

    You guys rock. The suggestions you give are making me want to pack up and go back to Japan!
    :)

    Tim

    Like

  17. I am putting Japan on my list of Mini-Retirements. I hear Vietnam is a good spot, too.

    Hey Tim, I just got back from my second mini retirement – Italy for a Month! It kicked ass, and it came just over a month from my previous mini-retirement in Switzerland.

    Thanks again for the inspiration!

    Couch surfed on both occasions with great success.

    Later!

    Like

  18. I lived in Japan for just over 3 years, recently returning to the US. One of the great things about Japan is that it is very safe; you can walk around with a lot more money (cash) than you’d otherwise feel comfortable doing here. It’s still very much a cash based society, and we never left for a night out in Tokyo with less than about 30,000 yen ($300-ish).

    While credit cards are used in most places, don’t count on being able to use a Japanese ATM with your cash card (there are Citibanks around, but not convenient). Instead, look for a post office (Japanese: YU-BIN-KYO-KU), and use the postal savings machine. For some reason, it “talked” to US banks, unlike the Japanese bank machines. Another bennie: no ATM fees.

    Another great resource for visiting gaijin is metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp), a weekly that can be found at most English language bookstores. It has tons of info on where to go and what to do, as well as info on cheap places to stay for pretty much any length of time.

    Do visit, though. It’s an incredible country!

    Great series, Tim…makes me miss my old home in Kamakura!

    Like

  19. Another great post Tim. This series along with the subsequent posts make me want to go back (and I was just there a month ago).

    A couple of other points of interest for those going or thinking of going:

    -If you’re a samurai buff or like related movies, a trip to Sengaku-ji in the Shinagawa area would be of interest. It is the final resting place of the 47 ronin who avenged their lord after he was cornered into an act that broke the law. You can look it up in wikipedia for a full explanation. It’s not as crowded as the other temples and you just leave having a feel for “old school” Japanese culture.

    -Go to a record store in Japan, especially on a rainy day, to sample what’s currently popular. My girlfriend and I did this on a very rainy day in Shibuya and it was a great break from bumping into a million umbrellas, folding and unfolding every few steps. We ended up buying a couple of CDs (just be careful about buying DVDs since they are in Region 2, which won’t work in most US DVD players).

    Happy traveling.

    Like

  20. If you need a chill place to crash on the cheap in Tokyo, check out the Ooedo Onsen. Its a Japanese hotspring “amusement park” in the middle of Tokyo where you can spend the day or night soaking in various natural hot spring tubs, getting out to eat sushi or yakisoba, get a massage, etc. Its a little corny, but one of the benefits is that it opens at 11am and you don’t have to leave until 7AM the next day. Upstairs, there are reclining chairs in a quiet room where you can opt to watch TV on headphones, or just sleep. Easy access from the train as well.

    Prices depend on when you show up, but you can spend a whole day there for about $28 (at current exchange rate), not including food or massages.

    General admission Adults (12 and over): 2,827 yen
    Children (4–11): 1,575 yen
    Evening rate
    (for admission after 6 p.m.) Adults: 1,987 yen
    Children: 1,575 yen
    Extra late-night fee
    (for admission after 2 a.m.) Adults/children: 1,575 yen
    Morning bath rate
    (5 a.m. to 9 a.m.) Adults: 1,567 yen
    Children: 840 yen

    http://www.ooedoonsen.jp/english/

    I spent my birthday there last year, and it was great. The sushi chef even made me a “sushi cake” =)

    Christopher

    Like

  21. HAHAHA,
    I am in the middle of my first trip to japan right now. Thanks for the info hopefully I will be able to use before I leave. One thing for everyone interested in coming to Tokyo. I am having a great time so far :)

    Like

  22. Great post Tim and thanks to Charles for the link which got me over here for the first time!

    Tim, you might be interested in the series i’m doing on the Yamanote Line. I was on there one day and went past a few sites i’d never seen before and at that point decided to do all 29 stops on the Yamanote line. I was going to do them one after another in a clockwise direction but then thought alphabetically might be best.

    Anyway, so far i’ve done Akihabara, Ebisu, Gotanda, Hamamatsucho, Harajuku and this week i’m back to Ikebukuro … last time i got out there it was raining so i abandoned it.

    Hope you and your readers like it!

    http://neilduckett.com/category/jr-yamanote-line/

    Like

  23. hi!!! oh my god i feel like we can be such friends!!! i used to live in tokyo for 3.5 years and went to school there… basically lived like a total japanese (very heartland) and stayed away from american-ish areas like roppongi. i miss it like crazy!!! when i saw you wrote about the ghibli musuem i almost squeaked. i wrote about it too, on an article i wrote a little while ago. (http://queengilda.com/2007/08/05/gildas-guide-to-tokyo/) i love it!

    Like

  24. I love Japan. I’ve been here nine months, only one month in Tokyo, and people are so friendly. And it is really safe. I don’t feel afraid to walk at night. I don’t feel uncomfortable talking to sale’s staff about problems or returning items even though my Japanese is poor. It just makes me want to do better about learning the language. Most of the time Japanese people are happy to try out a little bit of English, but you have to get the ball rolling, try saying, Eigo de, onegaishimasu…this will also get you most menus in English in Tokyo if you’re at a fancy restaurant. And they make it so easy at the fast food places, putting picture menus right in front of you so that you can point at the pictures. I love the thoughtfulness of the culture. This the kind of country that stocks emergency cellphone chargers if you lost yours and socks/stockings in case you have some kind of emergency in most of the 7-11s and Lawsons. Actually, they have everything in them that you would need to survive, I’m convinced. There’s a shoe repair station in some big stations and I see people just take off their shoes and get their shoes repaired in like three minutes while they sit and wait. Tokyo is so efficient. I’d suggest at least visiting Japan. Don’t be afraid of the language barrier. Also, visit some other places in the countryside. I’d recommend Nara city. It’s truly one of the most beautiful places in Japan. It’s like one big botanical garden and deer there are so well behaved they eat out of your hand. But I think Tokyo is number one having lived in the countryside. Countryside is only charming for so long then it gets boring.

    Like

  25. Nice hack Tim,

    End of uni trip to Japan is on the cards! I’ll try your last minute ticket idea since im probably going it alone ;)

    Like

  26. If you guys are in Tokyo, you should really check out Nikko (especially in the Fall), its a great day trip and didn’t cost that much at all.

    Also get some Korean food in Shin-Okubo, where you get more for your money and 100 percent authentic Korean food!

    Also, there’s this Israeli restaurant in Ekota on the Seibu-Ikebukuro line called Shamaim that’s really good. Actually the only Israeli restaurant in Tokyo.

    And if you want some great ethnic food at decent prices, there’s a lot of cool restaurants in Takadanobaba, right by Waseda.

    Like

  27. Hey Tim, I hope this is OK, but I wanted to let any prospective Japan travelers know about my ebook “Memoirs of a Gaijin,” based on the trip I took to Kyoto in April. Free and no opt-in required, just click my link for direct access to the PDF, and 250+ original photos and video clips.

    My apologies if this doesn’t jive with your comment policy, but I figured that relevant + free = cool!

    Like

  28. I’m in Japan for two months–although that’s about half over–and I’ve found that the ATM’s in the subways also work with my American credit cards and such.

    Good advice! I’ll have to check some of it out.

    Best advice given to me–bring an umbrella :) Nobody would move to Japan for the beautiful June weather!

    I, too, am blogging about my experiences (it’s mostly food based though and centered around my constant confusion).

    Like

  29. Tim,
    I lived in Kamakura, Japan for nearly 5 years! The GREATEST place on earth. I miss it dearly and I’ve only been “home” for 7 months. You left out the wonderful beach bars in Kamakura that are set up June 1st – July 31st as well as some terrific hiking trails and great restaurants.

    I can’t wait to return someday…after I implement my NR plan which I’m working diligently on as I read your book:)

    BTW-I think I saw you in Tokyo in September of 2006 at Wallstreet? Does that sound familiar…with some MMA fighters? I know the Chute Boxe crew in Tokyo so I was out with them around that time and you seem very familiar to me so there is a chance we crossed paths in Roppongi.

    Thank you!

    Like

  30. Great post! I lived in Osaka for three years ending in 2000 and took a trip to Japan with my wife, daughter, brother, and father for two weeks in April/May of this year. I highly recommend going at that time of year. Cherry blossom season is by far my favorite time of year to be in Japan. The weather is usually good (though it can be rainy) and the blossoms make the whole country that much more beautiful. Also, you have the chance to crash people’s hanami (cherry blossom viewing) parties!

    I got my first JR pass this trip, and I highly recommend it if you’re going to do any traveling around the country. The shinkansen is the way to go.

    If you’re there when there’s snow in the mountains, I also HIGHLY recommend a trip to see the snow monkeys in Jigokudani. We did it as an overnight trip from Tokyo and splurged on a traditional room in a hot spring resort with dinner and breakfast included. The monkey park is not that popular with the Japanese, which is a huge plus since, when we arrived at the monkey area we were the only people there.

    My brother, our father, and I stayed very cheaply ($28/night for a tiny private room with shared bath) at the Hotel New Koyo in Tokyo, but I wouldn’t recommend it. The location isn’t that convenient, the accommodations were borderline depressing, and it seemed like there were always people smoking and talking in the hallways.
    Hotel New Koyo room
    Hotel New Koyo hallway

    In Kyoto, we stayed at the Tani House, which was an old standby that has lost its Lonely Planet plug. It’s cheap and super funky, and not especially clean. The location isn’t the greatest, either. Still, the place has a very old-school Japan feel to it. We rented the big downstairs private room with shared bath for less than $100/night and easily slept the three of us on our futons. This place is not for everyone, but it could be a great experience for folks with patience and the right expectations.
    Tani House Room

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  31. Among dining options, I also love the donburi shops — and got so addicted to gyudon I had to learn how to make it when i got home.

    The little stand-up noodle shops are great, too — but I don’t think I actually ate anything I didn’t enjoy. Every little shop seemed to hold some delight. And snacks were great, as well, from little fried donuts to curry-filled bread (pan).

    As for day trips out of Tokyo, I’d also like to recommend Enoshima Island. It’s a wonderfully mountainous little island that gracefully combines an air of antiquity with the bustle of tourism — though almost all the tourists are Japanese.

    But again, thanks for the tips and the stuff I didn’t know. I’m looking forward to trying out the new stuff.

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  32. Great list Tim. Most of the places noted are great for night life, but for those looking to get a little more traditional feel, it is best to get to the outskirts of Tokyo.

    Also, it is very easy to eat for cheap in Tokyo even at the best restaurants. The key is to visit during lunch. You can get great set meals during lunch from around 650-1,000yen. Similar meals will shoot to around 1,500-5,000 during the evening.

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  33. This article was interesting but it didnt really prove to me that tokyo is any less expensive than New York. Further, I didnt really learn anything much about what is actually cheap in Tokyo.

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  34. I’m living in Tsukuba Japan, just North of Tokyo. I would highly recommend the street bars in Asakusa. It’s the more historical part of Tokyo and if you happen to find a bar with karaoke you’re golden. People will immediately come up to you and buy you drinks, talk to you, and encourage you to sing more songs. You will be like Barry Manilow at an all ladies night. It will push your limits of vulnerability, because you are forced to speak Japanese. Plus you will have some great stories and a bunch of new friends who you can return to at a future date for another memorable night. I try to spend as much time as I can in that area. Give it a shot.

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  35. Eating in Japan is not as expensive as most people think….well obviously it could be, but I agree that food in japan could be way cheaper (not to mention better than anywhere across the US)

    other things to add to your list of food:

    -Okonomiaki: it’s ‘free translation’ of ‘japanese pizza’ doesn’t do it justice and it’s something different (not to mention the pride of those living in Hiroshima)

    - TakoYaki – one of my favorites (fried ball shaped octopus legs with other goodies on top) usually go for about 3-4$

    - Zarusoba – cold soba noodles

    and the list goes on.
    During a ‘Matsuri’ (japanese festival) you get to try all of the above plus way more in the streets along with the smells, colors and great vibes such festival holds.

    Yonatan Weic

    There is

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  36. Eating in Japan is not as expensive as most people think….well obviously it could be, but I agree that food in japan could be way cheaper (not to mention better than anywhere across the US)

    other things to add to your list of food:

    -Okonomiaki: it’s ‘free translation’ of ‘japanese pizza’ doesn’t do it justice and it’s something different (not to mention the pride of those living in Hiroshima)

    - TakoYaki – one of my favorites (fried ball shaped octopus legs with other goodies on top) usually go for about 3-4$

    - Zarusoba – cold soba noodles

    and the list goes on.
    During a ‘Matsuri’ (japanese festival) you get to try all of the above plus way more in the streets along with the smells, colors and great vibes such festival holds.

    Yonatan Weic

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  37. Dudes

    My personal best was $5 per/day…

    BREAKFAST: box of cerals, litre of milk, loaf of bread, peanut butter and jar of jam from the 99yen shop = $5 that was breakfast and snacks.

    LUNCH: hitch hike around noon and mention you are hungry to the driver. they will always take you somewhere nice and refuse to let you pay = FREE

    DINNER: I went places like florists and would ask until i got a date. again they would pay for dinner and take you home = FREE

    otherwise if I couldn’t get accomodation. go to kareoke bar after 11pm and hire a room until morning for 10 – 15 bucks with one hour of all you can drink. Invite everyone in from the other rooms and go CRAZYYYY until you pass out on the ample sized bench seats..

    gambatte!
    MK

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  38. disregard all the cultural rules as he describes- they dont apply to Gaijin-foreigners. If you want to live cheap dont live on the Yamanote line unless you are staying with roomates. Try places like Ogikubo, Koenji or for really cheap try the old downtown areas on the east side or to the north side on Yamanote. Some places in Tokyo dont have bath rooms in the traditional sense and they are therefore really cheap- you go to the public bath- very cultural experience. This isnt a ghetto either. Koenji has cheap eats and drinks- try small bars under the tracks of the chuo-sen. Buy a used bike to get around tokyo if you dont have cash for the train. Tokyo is relatively flat and you will see awesome things riding and be able to go home when you want. Watch out for the police bike road blocks especially for foreigners.

    Most of this guys suggestions make him sound like a tourist. sorry.

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