A lot of people in their twenties avoid Japan, eschewing it in favor of more budget-friendly places in Asia, such as Thailand or India.
However, if you live in a big city such as NY/LA/SF/Miami and go out to nicer places frequently, I doubt you will find Tokyo to be any more financially taxing than your usual rituals.
That said, here are some tips for how to ~*~SAVE~*~, so that you can then ~*~SPEND~*~ (on the most kawaii AF shit, which I will be recommending in the forthcoming part II of this series).
1) Airbnb >>>> Hotel
[The bedroom of my multi-room Airbnb in Shinjuku. There was a separate kitchen with an American-style dinner table too.]
I saved literally thousands of dollars by opting for a (relatively huge and centrally located) $75/night Airbnb instead of a hotel in the same neighborhood as me, such as the Park Hyatt of Lost In Translation fame.
Even a notoriously small room in a basic Marriott or Hilton can run you $400 or more a night, if you want to be in a convenient neighborhood. If you strive to be spoiled, a handful of nights at the aspirational Conrad or Peninsula can cost as much as your trans-pacific flight, so select wisely (unless you’re a bona fide HNWI, in which case, ball the f out and please bring me along)
I went to Tokyo for 10 nights, and since I am not quite a 1%-er (aspiring AF though), it was essential that I make a smart choice about where to stay. I knew I didn’t need Frette linens or Ferragamo toiletries, just somewhere clean, comfortable, cheap and centrally located.
The Airbnb I chose was right in the heart of Shinjuku, Tokyo’s chief business district. I didn’t have to travel south to witness the famous Shibuya Crossing, as the same phalanx (of office workers) made their way past me each morning.
Although I did have an issue with receiving my key upon arrival (paging DJ Khaled), I would still recommend Airbnb and this particular residence for the phenomenal savings. However, it was a little bit of an annoyance which one wouldn’t have experienced at a hotel, and does warrant mention*.
Airbnb isn’t perfect, but in my experience, it is worth it. Try it and save $$$.
2) SAVE REWARD/LOYALTY MILES FOR ASIA
I squirreled away miles for almost 2 years before booking my flight to Tokyo. I wasn’t sure exactly where I would go in Asia. But I knew that in the long run, I would appreciate having banked a ton of miles to put toward the notoriously expensive long haul flight, rather than spreading free miles out across a couple of quick domestic flights.
I book my reward travel using my Chase Premium Sapphire card, which has a $95/year fee, but gives you an additional 20% off all travel. Given how often I travel, the 20% discount offsets the annual fee, particularly when booking pricier voyages. With the discount, I believe I cashed in around ~90,000 miles to pay for my roundtrip fare. Conversely, a flight in September from Miami to Tokyo could typically run ~$1300-1400 or more, so hoarding your miles really can result in substantial savings!
3) JETTISON DREAMS OF JIRO AND HIS SUSHI
Unless you are truly omakase obsessed, there isn’t a reason to go to the hyper-expensive, Michelin starred sushi spots. Instead, there are countless of amazingly fresh and startlingly cheap local restaurants to try. More often than not, I ate my meals at the hole-in-the-wall restaurant a few doors down from my apartment. The decor was similar to any kind of takeout place in the U.S., but the food was great and so cheap.
For the price of a Starbucks latte (~$4-6USD), I would have giant bowls of brown rice and miso soup, which filled me up and gave me the energy to hike mountains and harass Harajuku girls. I also unintentionally lost 10 pounds in 10 days!
The Shinjuku Diet >>> The South Beach Diet
[Breakfast was an approximately ~$2USD fish-shaped cream pastry from 7/11… And I still lost 10 pounds!]
I did have one impromptu splurgier meal (after working up an appetite shopping) which took place at the Emporio Armani Caffe** . Even though its chic presentation garnered my MOST liked photo on Instagram in 2015, my prix-fixe lunch was actually only around $50, the same as one would pay in any major U.S. city for a multi-course, mid-day repast.
[Armani latte and Armani dolce <3]
That said, the bill would’ve been notably higher had I opted for some bubbly instead of the latte. That’s why…
4) IF YOU’RE GOING TO DRINK, CHANNEL YOUR COLLEGIATE SELF
Alcohol is one of the most expensive things in Tokyo. During one night of clubbing in Roppongi, my date spent over $200 on a handful of rounds of well drinks (and I thought STORY’s $26 vodka sodas were bad)…
[The one photo I have from my night clubbing with Japanese movie stars]
In the (unfortunate) event that you don’t have a cute date to spoil you with Skyy, I would suggest employing the following tactics:
a) Pre-game in your apartment like it’s 2008 and you’re getting ready for a wild night at the hockey house
[EXHIBIT A ^^^]
b) Spend an evening with the Tokyo Pub Crawl group. I am not one who would typically be spotted at a “pub”, but you actually go to a variety of types of bars and finish at a club. They also have college-esque themes for each night. The noche I spent with them was Angels & Demons inspired. I channeled the latter, as I I lost (and TG, found) my Chloe bag and passport*** by the end of the night.
Even if it isn’t 100% your scene, it’s a great way to meet Japanese people who love Americans, as well as expats and backpackers from all over. The guys who run the event are super sweet too… When I lost my bag and passport, they contacted me multiple times to see if they could help.
[Last stop of the evening, the ~nightclub~]
*~21 hours of straight traveling with 2 giant suitcases in tow+no sleep+having to wait another 90 mins on the stairs for the host to drop off the key=no bueno. To somewhat pacify the situation, my host bribed me with the equivalent of $12USD.
** [which will be addressed in a forthcoming blog on the most bae of neighborhoods, Omotesando]
*** Not sure which is more valuable to me, TBH