Thursday, 17 October 2013

Frugal City Guide: Tokyo

The two most asked questions when we arrived back from Japan were: 'how did you get on with the language' and 'was it really expensive'?
I am about to bust both those myths. We had no problems with the language at all. Not everyone speaks English (and why should they?!) but we spoke through actions and pointing and in fact, it made it more fun. And sure, if you eat dinner at the Park Hyatt it will set you back £100 a head...but that's like the equivalent of eating dinner at The Ritz in London - which I would never do.

Here is a list of places we went and restaurants we enjoyed without breaking the bank. Tokyo is huge and one thing they don't lack is restaurants, but often best to have an idea of where you want to go first. We were so thankful for all of our recommendations:

Where To Stay
We stayed a few nights in Hotel Cerulean Tower - a nice, business-y hotel but a few minutes walk from Shibuya station (and the famous crossing), which is VERY central.

View from our room at Hotel Cerulean Tower
Where To Eat
Possibly our favourite night in Japan altogether was this 'Fish Shack' style restaurant - 'Uoshins' - it's opposite Nogizaka station, near Ropponghi, and offers fresh fish in a cool, relaxed setting - everyone eats sitting on crates.

Really reasonable menu

Ironically, my favourite Japanese dishes sushi and katsu curry are not that common in Japan. The main dishes we ate were noodles (ramen or udon), nabe (broth style dish), tempura vegetables, BBQ skewers and sashimi. That's not to say we didn't go out of our way to find the best places, though! This Japanese curry restaurant - 'Coco Ichibanya' - is a chain which has just branched out to the US - I hope it comes our way soon. The best katsu curry of my life (you choose your spice from a scale of 1-9) and only £4.50 - take that Wagamamas!

Kaiten sushi (conveyor belt sushi) is kind of considered low-rate in Japan, it's a bit more pricey in Tokyo than somewhere like Kyoto but still nothing like UK prices. Each dish will cost you just over a pound..the two of us ate lunch in Heiroku Sushi near Harajuku for £10. They also more 'western' sushi such as salmon and avocado - my favourite...
It's a little bit Touristy BUT...good food and atmosphere and it was supposedly the inspiration behind the fight scene in Kill Bill - Gonpachi in Nishi Azabu does great meat skewers. And if you get tired of noodles and fish? Mos Burger is the Japanese equivalent of McDonald's but you can get teriyaki burger (or a normal one), so you still feel like you're staying on the right side of culture.
Mos Burger
What To Do
My husband loved Akihabara 'Electric Town' - the largest town of electric appliances in the WORLD. It's so bustling in the day and it's also a real hub for Manga and Anime fans and collectors. Yodobashi is a 9 floor electronics store and the basement has an entire floor dedicated to photobooths where you can enhance your features and add graphics like anime!
We made our eye huge and whitened and dewrinkled our skin, which is why we look about 16 years old!

Tsukiji Fish Market is apparently going to be relocated now Tokyo has won the Olympics bid, but if you get a chance to go before it relocates, it is well worth it. It's a hub of activity and there are good restaurants in there...did you know that Japan eats 20% of the world's fish content? It's actually a little scary...

Fish market
If you love shopping for trinkets (or 'tat' as my husband refers to it) whilst seeing culturally beautiful buildings, then Sensoji Temple at Asakusa is a must. The Temple is surrounded by hundreds of little stalls selling magnets, Hello Kitty phone charms, postcards, food stalls etc. However, if you're planning to do Kyoto on the same trip, this 'tat' can be bought much cheaper there.

Sensoji Temple
Walk though Takeshita Dori in Harajuku to see all the stalls and goth shops (a bit like Camden and very touristy) and then cross over to Yoyogi Park - a place of serenity amongst the madness. On Sundays, loads of guys dressed as Elvis dance with their radios and you see some sights! Walk through the park to the Meiji Shrine, it's really beautiful and if you're lucky on a weekend, you might see a traditional wedding.

Wedding at the Meiji Shrine
Karaoke - we actually did karaoke in a tiny village in the Japanese Alps but there are loads of places in Tokyo - Ropponghi or Shinjuku are probably a good place to start. You can hire your own room (even for 2 of you) so no need to embarrass yourselves amongst strangers and most rooms come with telecom service for drinks and tambourines! Shidax looked impressive in Roppongi and apparently the one from 'Lost in Translation' is called 'Karaoke Kan'.

Where To Shop
The only thing I wanted was STICKERS! We had a Japanese Tourguide for one day in Tokyo and she took me to 'Loft', possibly the best stationery store in the world. B Side Label is also a great sticker store in Harajuku.

Post-it note heaven!
And then my list wouldn't be complete without Daiso - the 100 yen store in Harajuku! When I was there the exchange worked out at roughly could buy pretty much everything - toiletries, stickers, Hello Kitty wallets, lampshades....need I go on? LOVED it...

Lastly, we used the Metro the whole time, found it really easy to use. As we were there for 4 days, we got the pass (a bit like an Oyster) and topped it up, and it was roughly 80p a journey. Taxis were very expensive and not worth it. 

We planned our whole honeymoon with Unique Japan Tours and it came with a personal Tourguide for one day in Tokyo - ours was so friendly and helpful and she planned the day according to what we wanted to see, do and how far we wanted to walk etc. You can book day tours here - I would highly recommend it if you don't have loads of time and find it hard getting your bearings.

Useful Links:
Tokyo Cheapo - a cheapo's guide to doing Tokyo on the cheap (my kind of blog).

The Guardian's Best Budget Restaurants Tokyo - this was how we found 'Uoshins'. 

That Food Cray - love this blog and all its recommendations. She highlights some great burger bars in Tokyo, too.


  1. I've just come back from Seoul, South Korea and had a similar experience. I really wish I had popped over to Tokyo while I was there but I was worried about the cost. It seems like most places, if you research you can do it at a reasonable cost!

    1. How was Seoul? Somewhere I'd love to go as haven't really done that much of Asia (considering my husband is actually part Chinese!). I was astounded by the reasonable prices in Tokyo - it's expensive to get there but you can definitely do it on a budget.

  2. Ahhh. Thank you. Satisfied :) roll on April. Sigh.

  3. Two quick questions...

    Is the Ushvani cleanser the exact one that the make-up artist used? Do you wash it off or use cotton pads?

    My favourite Guinot cleansing milk has just been discontinued (hate when that happens!) and I desperately need to find a replacement.

    Thanks, lovely!

    1. Hi! No, the French make-up artist used a Dior cleansing milk (she worked with Dior).
      This Ushvani one you use cotton pads and don't wash it off. I use it only on my eyes after cleansing with another product which works on my skin x

    2. Link to the Dior one

  4. I loved this post! Alex, thanks so much for the great recommendations, I wish I could book a ticket for Japan...I would love to visit that country! Like Amy, I went to Seoul last year ( and I was absolutely fascinated by it! Caterina


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