“Each complex is a small town, and their numbers make up this enormous capital. Like cells in a body, each contains identical elements, and the resulting pattern is an organic one.” – Donald Ritchie
The nighttime lights in Tokyo are overwhelming. Billions of bright bulbs and boards begging for your attention, yearning for your Japanese yen. You think: ‘With all this brilliance, the rumors must be true: this must be one of the most expensive cities on Earth. How else could they afford their electricity bills?’ But I’ve got a little secret for you: Tokyo isn’t as expensive as everyone says it is.
This past winter, I decided to take a solo trip through Japan, visiting Tokyo, Kyoto, Mt. Koya, and Osaka along the way (videos to come soon). Unlike my previous, way over the top trips, like spending a Weekend in Stockholm, visiting the Avenue of the Dead, flying First Class from Hong Kong to San Francisco, or staying at the Ritz Carlton in Macau, I decided to a take a more down to earth approach to Japan, staying in hostels and meeting locals. Over the course of 4 days in Tokyo, we grew our squad to 3 Americans, 2 Australians, and 1 Malaysian, visited some of the best spots and bars in Tokyo, and found what it truly meant to visit the Land of the Rising Sun. Below I’ve compiled a list of the top 10 affordable places you should visit in Tokyo.
1. GOLDEN GAI
Golden Gui was, by far, one of my favorite places to visit in Tokyo. A subset of the Shinjuku neighborhood, Golden Gui is composed of a small network of 6 narrow alleys, barely wide enough for a single person to walk through with over 200 tiny, shanty-style bars, clubs, and eateries in one square block. Many of the bars are restricted to “foreigners” and are reserved for regulars only, while others are open to new visitors and feature various themes ranging from old-school speakeasies to straight up Hello Kitty.
Shinjuku is the larger neighborhood that contains Golden Gui and is one of the largest neighborhoods for nightlife and bars when compared to Hong Kong, London, or even New York. This neighborhood is just as busy as the popular shopping district, Shibuya, but with more millennials and some of the craziest sites in Tokyo, like the Robot Restaurant shown above.
Shibuya is the largest shopping district in Tokyo, with more neon signs per square block to compete with Times Square in New York. There are more two-story televisions in this neighborhood than anywhere else in the world. It’s a popular shopping and eating destination among many Tokyoites (Yes, that’s actually what they’re called). Beautiful lights at night, and hundreds of shopping options, make this a classic destination of choice in Tokyo.
I stayed in a hostel in Asakusa during my visit to Tokyo. One of the more affordable locations for solo travelers, and also home to Sensoji Temple, Tokyo’s oldest and most significant Buddhist temple. During the day, you can walk by the hundreds of restaurants and tourist shops lining the path leading up to Sensoji Temple.
5. UENO PARK
Take a stroll through the beautiful Ueno Park, and watch families soaking in the sun, observe street performers, and find locals painting some of the beautiful scenes that can be found within the park, like the old man painting Toshogu Shrine above.
6. OWL CAFE
You’ve probably heard of the many cat cafes throughout Japan, allowing weary travelers to grab a coffee while enjoying the company of cats from around the world. Owl Cafes, on the other hand, are a whole nother animal (pun intended). Take a break by checking out the Owl Cafe in Asakusa, grab a coffee, and pet a Barn Owl.
7. MAID CAFE
While lesser known, Maid Cafes are a subset of the many cosplay restaurants in Tokyo. Waitresses dressed in maid costumes act as servants and treat the customers as masters. Definitely one of the more interesting experiences in Tokyo, and a must for groups!
8. TSUTA RAMEN RESTAURANT
Enjoy Ramen? Then definitely stop by Tsuta, a tiny ramen restaurant located in the Sugamo neighborhood, and the only ramen restaurant to receive 1 Michelen star. I got there early to get a ticket with my reservation time for 1pm, allowing us to explore the city and come back at our specified time. Once inside, you go to the vending machine, select the type of ramen you would like to order, and pay. Needless to say, it was some of the best ramen I’ve ever had in my life.
9. TOKYO SKYTREE
The Tokyo Skytree is a broadcasting, restaurant, and observation tower just north-east of the Asakusa neighborhood. While traditionally more touristy, you can get sweeping 360 views of Tokyo from the upper decks, and American tourists can get priority access. I would suggest going to the Skytree right before sunset to catch a glimpse of why Japan is called the Land of the Rising Sun.
10. MT. FUJI
Mt. Fuji is a must see if you go during the summer. I made the mistake of going in the winter when amateur hikers are discouraged from making the trek due to limited amenities and guides available. The mountain itself may look more attractive from afar than from close up, but the views on clear days and the experience of climbing through the early morning hours among hundreds of equally minded hikers from across the world are very rewarding.
See anything that should be on this list or interested in taking a trip to Japan and would like more advice or places to see, things to do, and food to eat? Shoot me a comment below.