My friend Matthew Baxter, who writes at his blog Supercheapjapan has just published his first book. Congratulations! I’ve read the book and I love it, he does what I can’t do when it comes to travel writing: he explains all the details and tricks to move around not only cheaply but also to enjoy every place like the locals would do.
To celebrate the launch I invited him to write an invited blogpost here about drinking on a budget in Japan.
Enter Matthew Baxter:
Many people would think that drinking out in Tokyo is expensive, just like in other major Asian cities such as Hong Kong or Singapore. In fact it’s actually surprisingly cheap to get your beer in the Land of the Rising Sun. In my new book, Super Cheap Japan: Budget Travel in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Hiroshima and Surrounding Areas, I have made a guide to show exactly how you can travel on a budget in Japan. Through my experiences writing the book, I occasionally enjoyed a few drinks, but as I didn’t have much money, I found the best ways to do it cheaply.
Drinking in an all-you-can-drink bar
The best place to start your night out shouldn’t be the bar, but the nearest convenience store. Unlike many countries, convenience stores in Japan sell a wide selection of beers, spirits and ciders, as well as Japanese drinks such as shochu and high-balls. Prices are low, with a large selection and cans in sale for only a few dollars. Supermarkets have an even bigger range, especially ones specialising in foreign goods such as Yamaya. So enjoy walking down the streets of downtown Tokyo, and get a few drinks in before you enter the bars and clubs.
The area you go drinking can have a big effect on how much you’ll pay. In busy, crowded or cramped areas, the dreaded cover charge can apply. It’s understandable, as some bars can only take half a dozen or so customers, but having to pay 500 to 1000 yen just to enter a bar is too much for most budget travelers. Therefore, avoid areas such as Golden Gai in Shinjuku, and head to cheaper spots. Good areas to head to are Takadanobaba and Waseda, with their large student populations and therefore student prices.
Once you are in a good area, there are a variety of ways to drink cheaply. Cheap Izakayas are numerous. Catering to the budget market, they have menus where everything goes for, say, 270 yen. That’s another pint for a few dollars! Look out for the large restaurant signs, which will proudly display how much they are selling drinks for, as well as any daily deals. Plus, even though the prices are low, these spots have a great atmosphere and are fun places to hang out with friends. You can even try out new Japanese foods for a few dollars as well.
Friendly bar in Shinjuku
Another option, one that is best for heavy drinkers, is the all-you-can-drink restaurants. Called ‘nomihoudai’ in Japanese, there are a large number of these across the city. Even in expensive areas such as Roppongi, you are never too far away from a nomihoudai restaurant. It’s usually around an extra 1000 yen with a meal. Even KFC are now experimenting with nomihoudai at some of their new family style restaurants.
All-you-can-drink at Kentucky Fried Chicken
All in all, Tokyo is an excellent city to spend a night. Just follows these tips, keep an eye out for signs advertising cheap prices, and you’ll have a great night out. And remember to sleep in the net cafes if you miss the last train home!
This post was written by Matthew Baxter, author of the new book Super Cheap Japan: Budget Travel in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Hiroshima and Surrounding Areas. It’s the ultimate budget travel guide to Japan, full of the most useful, up-to-date information for a cheap holiday in Japan. With extensive tax-free shopping, crazily discounted train passes and an unbelievable exchange rate, there has never been a better time to visit. The book shows you exactly how, where and when you can save money. Go shopping for $4 clothes in Tokyo, enjoy inexpensive hikes in Nikko, or visit Kyoto’s beautiful shrines and gardens on the cheap; all with this super helpful guide.