Tokyo on the cheap - how to survive the world's most expensive city

Any self-respecting backpacker knows that the ultimate challenge for them lies not in monotony of a two-minute noodle diet, nor in negotiating local transport, whether it be the metro or a tuk-tuk; no, the greatest feat of all is to survive a day in the world's most expensive city without becoming completely undone. The award-winning city, third year running, is of course Tokyo .

Tokyo is a thriving, chaotic metropolis that burns through money like their mint was in overdrive. With $10 cups of coffee, capsule apartments the size of toilets and a shopping district that could measure land value per square milometer , the city's a far cry from its cheap Asian counterparts of Bangkok , Hanoi and Beijing . That said, the supercity has an unprecedented, electrifying atmosphere – you don't come to Tokyo for a bargain, you come here for the head-rush.

As soon as I stepped outside Narita Airport and took my first breath of air a question sprung to mind – did that just cost me? Little did I know then that Tokyo could be a lot cheaper than the common stereotype suggests. After all, in a city that heaves with 5 million vending machines, window displays jammed with plastic food, an eclectic youth culture and a sea of hypnotic neon lights, the best thing to do is sit back and enjoy the ride…no matter how fast it goes.

For me the ‘ride' began with astonishingly speed. Jet-lagged and dazed I found myself joining the swarm of tourists at the Tsukji Fish Markets the following morning. Meandering through the wet, slimy labyrinth, I soon found myself lost in a sea of fish. Quite literally! The market, considered like a kitchen for the city's 12 millions inhabitants, handles around 2000 tones of marine product a day.

The best time to come here is between 7am-10am , when the city's retailers sift through mountains of fish and shells, frantically pointing and haggling for the best catch of the day. If you can stomach the intoxicating fish fumes, then head to nearby Uogashi-Yokocho Street for some of the freshest breakfast sushi around, prices start from $10 but entry to Tsukji Markets is free.

A fifteen minute stroll away is the famed shopping district of Ginza, Tokyo 's 5 th avenue . In the 1870's Ginza was one of the first areas to modernize, and by the 1900's the country's first department store moved in. Nowadays, caught between the circus of neon lights, the throngs of sophisticated businessmen and wealthy housewives, you'll find a plethora of prestigious labels here - Louis Vitton, Bvlgari and Versace just to name a few.

If you don't want to max out their credit card make a beeline for the Sony Building, located right on the frantic Sukiyabashi zebra crossing. The eight-storey has an assortment of gadgets all on display, along with a high vision theatre, two restaurants and some of the newest, weirdest technological trends. As far as trends go, Tokyo is often one step ahead of the rest, being the first to create mobiles, the play station and even robots that simulate your average pet dog.

But despite delving headfirst into the future, Tokyo 's connection to its past remains evident, and this is no more so apparent than in its numerous shrines and temples. Trapped between the cement skyscrapers, these religious symbols also double as a place of refugee, something that the weary traveller may find welcoming.

Ueon Imperial Park, the city's largest, is not only home to blah number of shrines, pagodas and temples, it offers an aquarium, a lake, a zoo and a number of museums, including the Tokyo National Museum, the largest in Japan. A volunteer organization called SGG also conducts free guided tours of the park every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday at 10.30am and 1.30pm , and with it comes an insight into Tokyo 's history.

I was fascinated to learn that Tokyo was once nothing more than a rural fishing village called Edo . It wasn't until the early 17 th century that an actual city became to thrive, under the powerful command of Tokugawa Ieyasu, and with it brought lots of bloodshed and an unjust class structure, according to rank and status.

Still, despite its size, the city remained in isolation until Commodore Perry from US Navy demanded Japan open ups its trading ports in 1853. By 1868 the capital and emperor's residence moved from Kyoto , and Edo name's changed to Tokyo , literally meaning Eastern capital.

Across town a different story is being told, not through temples and shrines but through an eclectic, outlandish and colourful array of fashion items and accessories. In the district of Harajuku the youth have invented their own fashion bible, assembling anything from Vivienne Westward to Comme des Garcons and Celux to the cult London underground label of Ziad Ghanem and old Rod Stewart tour T-shirts in order to create a bizarre and absurdly-colourful Lolita-esque type look.

To the uninitiated these mix-bag outfits may look like its been plucked out of a washing machine and thrown on haphazardly, but those in the know are aware of the painstaking skill of transforming incongruous layers of clothing into an art piece. To them fashion is their life. The Harajuku youth spend up to 90% of their income on the latest trends, some to rebel against the office-working ethos, some to fit in and others ambitiously prowling for the eye of a fashion photographer.

The bizarre fashion ruling the Harajuku streets have already caught the world's attention, no more than with Gwen Stefani, the platinum blonde singer who not only pays homage to Harajuku fashion in a few of her songs, but parades around controversially with four Harajuku Girls that are more likened to fashion accessories than anything else.

The best time to see the fashion of Harajuku is on a Sunday but any other day of the week you'll still find the fashion groupies parading the Harajuku catwalk, particularly outside school hours. The district stretches from Tokyo Yoyogi Park all the way down to Aoyama, with the area outside Harajuku train station being the least trendy place to hang out (often the uninitiated or pale-faced gothics will start here). But from the train station it's only a short walk until you're on Takeshita Street , the area's melting pot of fashion, colour, shops, food, lights and people.

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