Cheap Drinks in Tokyo: A Guide

Can you go out, or go drinking, cheaply in Tokyo? Yes, you can!! Here’s a guide…

Looking at this years Mercer cost of living survey my initial instincts were to think the Tokyo public was a little hard done by by the figures. No doubt some complex thought went into producing the final numbers, but at $14.54 US, the survey had undervalued the real price of movie tickets paid by your standard adult day in day out. The world ought to know your average Kenji here normally gets punked to the tune of 1800 yen per ticket, i.e more than $23 download-baitin American bucks at current exchange rates. This also means of course that even though it did manage to again win the gold medal for the worlds most expensive place, Tokyo perhaps didn’t finish as far enough ahead of the next city, Luanda, Angola, as it ought to have.

Now with that all cleared up, I am going to deny the obvious charge and tell you that actually Tokyo is not all that expensive, in spite of this survey representing the proverbial beaten, bloodied and bound body in the trunk of the Tokyo’s sedan. This is something well known to most people who have lived here for a while, ok at least all the cheapskate English teachers, however, it would be easier to convince people back home that Tokyoites are taller, see further, read fewer comics and eat less sushi than folk in the US, UK, Australia etc. Expensive is the one word guaranteed to emerge from the lips of someone who suddenly finds you live there, not really disapproving but often with a hint of better-you-than-me wariness, kind of like you are throwing strips of Kobe Beef over the fence each night to feed the neighbours dog.

It’s normally easier to play along obediently. The kind of exchanges mentioned above invariably emerge when you’ve just been introduced to somebody by a close friend, usually over a beer in convivial surroundings. So one doesn’t wish to run the risk of calling the mutual friend’s judgement into question by appearing a slightly disagreeable know it all and have them thinking I might be waiting for the right moment to inform them that duck’s quacks do in fact echo, and once I was on a roll, that redheads were created by the British Royal Family by mixing the DNA of aliens with vampire disease and an as yet unreleased strain of SARS.

Now there are no people to risk rubbing up the wrong way and no beers in convivial settings to risk spoiling, its time to set things right.

In Tokyo, as often as not, this means shuffling down to the local convenience store where a single bottle of Corona sets you back about 268 yen (or $3.23 at the exchange rate at the time of writing). On the other hand if the guy manning the counter at your local service station in Australia was unwilling to part with any of his personal stash in the fridge out the back, a trip down to my local convenience store (read service station) in search of Corona would be in vain due to the comparatively wowserish licensing laws. So then, you would have to walk, or more probably drive to the nearest bottlo, say Dan Murphys, where, at the time of writing this, a single bottle of Corona sets you back $3.99 AUD. And in case, you think that was a lucky punch, consider the following; a 375ml bottle of Jack Daniels at Dan Murphys costs $24.99. Stump up the equivilent of 21 cents more and you can get yourself a 700ml bottle of the same brew in Seijo Ishii, Tokyo’s most prolific imported food supermarket.

And Tokyo’s victories in this alcoholic showdown aren’t merely consigned to the house parties, parks, beaches and the work drink container, there’s plenty of love from bars and restaurants, featuring the most happy of hours. No doubt the ubiquitous Hub chain has had it’s happy hour taken advantage by greater number of foreigners than any other place. Half priced, or near enough spirits drinks 5-7pm (you get an extra hour at the Roppongi main Hub), for example jumbo gin tonics ¥260.TGIF’s comes to the party also as do plenty of others There are plenty of others about with the most destructive I’ve or seen at a well known bar in the gay haunt of Shinjuku 2 chome is perhaps the most potentially destructive I know of. Happy hour at Advocate’s is just 1000 yen for 3 hours.

And once you roll out of one of those places you can mozy on over to any one of a zillion izakayas for an all-you-can-drink (nomihodi) special. 2000 yen for 2 hours is a decent one. Try this web site as a guide. And karaoke bars are also a decent bet for a cheap night. unless you have to stump up the wages of a couple of Hollywood actors.

Most of this is quite recent mind you. Go back more than a few years it have been very possible for the unitiated to step out of a train station and stumble in to a convenient bar and be stung for 700 yen and upwards a beer. Plus a possible seating charge (expect atleast ¥500). And we are not talking about stumbling into some swanky bar laced with femme fatales, nor even are a lively bar, rather, a miserable hole in the wall patronised by one or two lonely middle aged salarymen cooling there heels til the next pay so they can head off somewhere else.

Nowadays, it’s near enough to impossible to inadvertently stumble into a pricy dive. The landscape around the city’s neighborhoods have become littered with izakayas who put their (invariably cheap) pricing policy into the name. I’ve seen 300 yen, 299 yen, 290 yen, 280 yen and 270yen (Japanese style pubs) about the place, with the latter group spreading in a way that would make any virus proud. As such, it is near enough to impossible to go to any sizeable train station, head out the busiest exit and fail to see one of these bars within a few blocks stroll. Even plush and prohibitive old Ginza, the place where you could once lay the equvlivilent of a $100 note on the ground and have the note worth less than the ground it covered, has a couple of 300yen bars.A cursory online search is all you need to direct you to a bar or izakaya in the vicinity selling beer for around $2 – $3 a pop, which would probably be illegal back home these days. If thats still not good enough. You could for example type something in like ‘180 yen izakaya tokyo’ or ‘100 yen beer Tokyo’ in Google for starters).

Perhaps I am committing a moral and ethical transgression by revealing this. After all, any place where you could at one point pay $500 for a cup of coffee probably deserves to have the adjective “expensive” stuffed between the cracks of the sofa and left to fester and putrify for at least a millenia. But the reality now is that the only excuse for a night that would costs anything near what it would back home, let alone more, is because you wish it that way. And given the other advantages Tokyo has, more people, especially the budget conscious, ought to know.

With the bubble economy hangover entering its third decade and those who were around to enjoy and endure the show shuffling off into middle age and beyond, a new, or rather second, Tokyo has emerged to serve the younger, comparatively skint generations, they can now seriously serve the traveller on a budget who considers a few drinks part an indispensible part of the trip.

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