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Be sure to take cash to save on ATM fees | © Dick Thomas Johnson / Flickr
Be sure to take cash to save on ATM fees | © Dick Thomas Johnson / Flickr
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9 Genius Ways to Save Money in Tokyo

Picture of Alicia Joy
Tokyo Writer
Updated: 29 September 2017
As anyone who’s ever been there can tell you, Tokyo doesn’t have to be expensive. From discounted travel tickets to lunchtime meal deals, stretch your yen further with these genius tips for saving money in Japan’s capital.

Consider the “Tokyo Subway Ticket”

Anyone coming over on a tourist visa can pick up a discount 24-, 48- or 72-hour “Tokyo Subway Ticket” that allows unlimited rides for the time allotted. The 72-hour ticket is 1,500 yen for adults and 750 yen for children, meaning you’d only have to ride about seven times before it’s worth it. This card is only valid for the Tokyo Metro lines; therefore, it won’t cover the JR Lines or anything outside of the city, such as the shinkansen. Grab one upon arrival at the Visitor Information Center at Haneda Airport or the Keisei Bus Ticket Counter in Narita.

Empty train on the Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line
Empty train on the Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line | © STTrain/WikiCommons

PASMO

PASMO is an option for stays of a month or longer. It’s a reusable smart card accepted by Tokyo Metro, JR, public buses and even some vending machines and convenience stores—just check for the PASMO symbol on the tap machine. PASMO only gives you a discount of around two to five yen per ride and costs 500 yen, which is why we recommend it for longer stays. Pick up a PASMO at the electronic ticketing kiosks in subway stations.

PASMO and Suica symbols
PASMO and Suica symbols | © Cassiopeia sweet/WikiCommons

Try cheap eats

It’s very easy to eat cheaply in Tokyo. Keep an eye out for shokudo, those restaurants that usually display plastic models of the food and prices out front, and that are sometimes called the Japanese equivalent of fast food. Chains such as Yoshinoya are another option. At places like this, it’s possible to have a generous serving of food for around 500 yen or less.

Gyudon from discount chain restaurant Yoshinoya
Gyudon from discount chain restaurant Yoshinoya | © Hajime NAKANO/Flickr

Keep an eye out for lunch specials

But you can’t spend the whole time eating gyudon (beef bowls) and ramen. The good news is that most pricier restaurants offer inexpensive lunch sets that cater to the working population. Even kaiseki (high-end Japanese cuisine) restaurants offer specials. Popular Michelin-starred kaiseki restaurant Kien in Akasaka has lunch sets starting at 1,700 yen (walk-in only and first come, first serve).

Know your internet

For browsing the internet or navigating the city, a mobile wifi device might be cheaper than renting a cell phone. CD Japan’s rates are some of the lowest. And if you have an unlocked smartphone, you can use a data-only SIM instead for half that price. If the internet is not that important to you, save your money and rely on free wifi hotspots throughout the city, though Tokyo is not known to be reliable or generous when it comes to free wifi.

A data SIM is cheaper than roaming or a rate plan
A data SIM is cheaper than roaming or a rate plan | © Pexels/Pixabay

Shop tax-free

Keep an eye out for tax-free signs and counters in large shops such as Don Quixote and Uniqlo, and inside popular malls and department stores. In Japan, foreign passport holders are exempt from taxes right at the shop, so there’s no need to keep track of your receipts or go searching for the return booth at the airport. Just remember that you have to spend above a minimum amount to be tax exempt. They’ll staple the receipt to your passport, and if you’re checked at departure (which is highly unlikely), you’ll have to show that the unopened item is leaving Japan along with you.

Don Quixote in Kabukicho, Shinjuku
Don Quixote in Kabukicho, Shinjuku | © Hikosaemon/Flickr

Visit 100 yen shops

While you might not be a stranger to dollar or pound shops, many people who visit the 100-yen equivalent in Japan say there’s just no comparison. Most things you buy from 100-yen stores, such as Daiso, are decent and not going to break after the first use. Use 100-yen shops to buy things that could be more expensive elsewhere, including snacks, umbrellas or spare socks.

Snacks at a 100-yen store
Snacks at a 100-yen store | © Andrea Schaffer/Flickr

Avoid using taxis

Walking to your destination instead of taking the train or a taxi can save you a ton of money. When sightseeing, plan to cover sights that are close together in a single day instead of crossing the city multiple times. Lots of locals would rather stay up all night or sleep in the most unusual places than hail a cab after missing the last train home and paying those nighttime fare premiums.

A taxi in Tokyo
A taxi in Tokyo | © Kure / WikiCommons

Carry cash

If you’re coming from overseas, be sure to bring plenty of cash with you. A lot of small boutiques and restaurants won’t be able to accept credit cards. Of course, you can withdraw your money from home with your debit card at almost every convenience store ATM, but you’ll have to pay double transaction fees: a flat fee for the ATM as well as your own bank’s foreign transaction fees.

10,000 yen notes, about 100 dollars each
10,000 yen notes, about 100 dollars each | © Dick Thomas Johnson / Flickr