A Family RTW Travel Adventure (2008-2009)
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In A Nutshell

Tokyo is an amazing place.  We found it utterly confusing – and completely fascinating.

It is also, by far, the most expensive place we have visited.  Though, with a little luck, it is possible to survive on something approaching a reasonable budget.

To be fair, we were only able to spend five days in Tokyo, so our impressions may be misimpressions.  Still we all enjoyed our time there and unanimously agreed we’d like to return one day and explore more of the country.

One word of warning to travelers:  Plan your cash management carefully.  Not every ATM in Japan dispenses cash for foreign ATM cards.  The ATMs in 7-11 stores and in post offices do accept foreign ATM cards, so be on the lookout for them.

Also note that credit cards are not as widely accepted as you might expect.  Just be aware so you don’t end up with little or no yen in your pocket.

Finding Affordable Accommodation and Food

For those traveling to Japan on a budget, the first order of business is finding an affordable place to stay.  We highly recommend spending at least a few nights in a traditional Japanese inn or guesthouse – also known as a ryokan.

High-end ryokans can be extremely expensive, but there are plenty of budget options too.  We stayed at Homikan Honkan – one of three ryokans under the same management.  It was a wonderful experience and added a lot to our understanding of Japanese culture.

Tokyo (and Japan) also has a good network of hostels. But be warned, in our experience they tend to fill up early, so book as far in advance as possible.

Food is another significant expense in Japan, and it takes some planning to avoid busting your budget.

We were able to eat affordably at a combination of noodle shops, “sushi train” restaurants and convenience stores.  That’s right, convenience stores. We found that both 7-11s and Lawsons have a pretty good selection of prepared foods for lunches.

Another great source of snacks (and quick lunches) are the ubiquitous vending machines selling everything from hot coffee to beer to noodle soup.  Basically, in Japan you can get any product imaginable from a vending machine.  I’m not kidding.

Exploring Tokyo

Half the fun of being in Tokyo is just trying to figure it out.  We spent hours exploring neighborhoods, shops, parks and riding the subways.  The city is an amazing show, and it is endlessly entertaining watching the Japanese live their lives.

We highly recommend a visit to Ueno Park, particularly on the weekend when families are there.  It’s a great place to wander, there’s a lake, food stalls and it’s also home to the Tokyo zoo.

We also enjoyed a nightime visit to Shiyuba to see the city lights and the world’s busiest pedestrian crosswalk. During the day, Asakusa is a great neighborhood to wander, with temples, a pedestrian mall and food stalls.

Another day we visited the excellent Japanese Museum of Science and Innovation and Tokyo Beach (which is not really a beach, but is an interesting place to walk).  You can also see a miniature Statue of Liberty at the “beach.”

Without a doubt, the highlight of our visit to Tokyo was our visit to the Ghibli Museum, dedicated to the work of Hayao Miyazaki. Best know for films like My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle, Miyazaki is Japan’s Walt Disney, a man of incredible talent.

The Ghibli Museum is an extremely creative venue that celebrates animation and imagination.  If you are in Tokyo, it is well worth the effort to travel to the western suburb of Mitaka for a visit.  But be sure to buy your tickets in advance.  They cannot be bought at the museum.  Tickets can be bought at Lawson’s convenience stores all over Tokyo.

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