If you think traveling to Japan is expensive, you are absolutely right. But can a backpacker on a tight budget hack the average travel spending in Tokyo? The answer is YES!
Tokyo is one of my favourite cities. It’s a vibrant metropolis packed with hundreds of things to do for travelers and locals ranging from interesting to suuuper weird.
During my recent trip with my friend Joan, we followed a DIY itinerary that avoid the need to pay entrance fees and other extra expenses. (We didn’t hold back on spending for food though :b) We had a fantastic time wandering around the colourful metro until we ran out of energy while I spent a lot less Yen compared to my first trip back in 2014.
So if any of you are planning to visit Japan anytime soon, here’s a list of fun ways to explore the city for budget backpackers. This is for those who want to maximize their stay and love to take great photos without emptying the Yen reserves in their wallets.
1.) Search for Godzilla in Shinjuku
What’s a typical evening in Tokyo? Well… the usual bright neon lights, crowded streets, fashionable teenagers, salarymen in a hurry, irresistible ramen restaurants – with a slight chance of a memorable encounter with a hungry Godzilla sneaking behind one of the buildings.
There’s something oddly satisfying about walking around the streets and asking people “Where is Godzilla?” to which you get an amused smile from a random local while pointing to the direction that you needed.
It’s an installation on top of Shinjuku Toho Building, where one of the largest film theaters in Tokyo, the Toho Cinemas Shinjuku occupies the 3rd – 6th floor. The higher floors is part of Hotel Gracery Shinjuku which offers Godzilla-themed room with collectibles and a good view of the iconic beast of Japan.
2.) The Tokyo Tower
You don’t need to pay an entrance fee to witness the glowing beauty of the Tokyo Tower. Sure you can spend ¥900 to go to their main observatory, but the best view to enjoy the stunning radiance of this iconic tower is by admiring it from afar.
Boasting with vibrant orange light, this second tallest structure in Japan is a historic symbol of the country’s economic boom during the post-World War II era. If you want to appreciate it even better, I highly recommend watching Always: Sunset on Third Street before coming to Japan. It is a film trilogy set in Tokyo during the crucial period in Japan history after WWII, a time when they started building the Tokyo Tower.
3.) The Life-sized Gundam
This is one of the must-go places in Tokyo even if you haven’t seen anything from the Gundam Anime Series. The life-sized robot is the main attraction of Diver City Tokyo Plaza, which is an entertainment complex located in Odaiba.
It’s quite huge, standing at 18 meter tall, with its detailed parts and structure, it almost looks like a full-functioning interstellar weapon that will start the engine anytime to fly back to space.
Its power does show up at night for few minutes when you can watch its suit changing in different lighting with minimal movement of its head. The show is accompanied by short animated films that you can watch and enjoy for free while sitting on the ground.
WALL-G GUNDAM – MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM UNICORN – A Phantom World
730PM/830PM/930PM (Approx.7 min/show)
WALL-G MOBILE SUIT – GUNDAM THUNDERBOLT – A Session in the Sector of Thunderbolt
8PM/9PM (Approx..5 min/show )
4.) Sit on a lap of a Huge Sexy Robot
Speaking of robots, I think it’s worth to mention the famous Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku. Though it has an entrance fee of whooping ¥8,000 so not really for recommendation but…
If you want a glimpse to get an idea of what’s inside then you’re in for a luck. If you fancy a nice photo of yourself sitting in a lap of an anime model robot with big breasts, it’s FREE, just right outside the entrance of the restaurant 🙂
5.) The Rainbow Bridge in Odaiba
If you decide to visit the Gundam in Diver City, take some time to chill in this soothing evening view of Tokyo bay and the metro before going back to the city center.
The Rainbow Bridge connects the man-made island Odaiba to the rest of Tokyo.
Pro tip: If you’re taking the Yurikamome line to Odaiba, prepare your camera and get in the front vehicle of the train. They don’t have the train operators infront (and I honestly don’t know where they are) so you can have a VIP view of the railways (which are pretty), the harbor, and the city.
6.) Nakamise Asakusa Shopping Street
I know it’s a shopping street, a dangerous trap for budget travelers but hey, hear me out first. It’s not your ordinary bunch of restaurants and souvenir shops because it has a scenic atmosphere and the streets and corners around it are picturesque.
It’s also the best way to reach Senso-ji Temple, which you can also visit for free so just chill, and gather your courage to avoid opening your purse.
But they do have a lot of nice things in here. I was really happy to find the same katana umbrellas that I bought and fell inlove with during the last visit, only to be left confiscated by security in Kansai airport. This time, I made sure to put them inside my check-in baggage to avoid the same fate as the first ones. They managed to arrive in the Philippines safely 😀
7.) Stop Look Feast your eyes on the Local Railways
It’s probably just my personal preference but I do love trains and railways during my travels.
Maybe it subconsciously reminds me of my childhood trips.I grew up taking PNR trains (Philippine National Railway) from Manila to Bikol back in the days. I remember it was so entertaining to observe different people passing by on one side and beautiful sceneries on the other.
I once thought that you could easily judge a country by their railway system, and there’s a high chance that your judgement is accurate. Local railways and train stations in Japan are amazing so remember to take few seconds to look around and appreciate its beauty before boarding the approaching train.
8.) Overlooking from Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
Here you can have overlooking views of the city for FREE from any of the two observation decks of Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building.
The downside of the observation area is the reflections of the well-lit shops that makes it difficult to take good photos. The good thing about it is (a bit personal) that’s how I met my boyfriend in 2014 😀 He saw me struggling with my camera and showed me the trick to get rid of the reflection so I was able to take nice photos 🙂
Of course you should never miss the statue of Japan’s famous loyal best friend Hachiko which is located few meters away from Hachiko exit in Shibuya station.
Doesn’t matter if you’ve watched the original film or the Richard Gere version, if you proudly admit that you cried like a baby watching it or if you say ‘I almost did’ in your last failed attempt to appear manly, you just have to go here and pay some respect to Hachi, period.
10.) Shibuya’s Scramble Crossing
You’d seen it in films, animes, promotional ads, music videos; now it’s about time to experience it yourself. Few steps away from Hachiko statue is the famous Shibuya crossing where thousands of pedestrians cross every hour.
You can be one of the pedestrians and you can view it from above to see the hypnotizing movements of hundreds of people chaotically heading to different directions. It’s free in Shibuya Mark City but if you’re willing to pay a minimal amount for a cup of coffee and a comfortable seat, then go to Starbucks and head straight to the second floor to secure a spot in a viewing area.
I went there twice and managed to get (almost) the same spot. It was a good area to take photos and film videos. Lucky!
I was just able to pick 10 for this list, but surely there’s still plenty of inexpensive things you can do around Tokyo for fun to capture stunning images of the city.
Learn to maximize the ‘free stuff’. You’d be surprised on the number of options.
11.) Your Pick…
Anything else you can add on the list is more than welcome 🙂