Get a train pass as soon as you can. 1-month, 3-month, and 6-month passes are available and it gets cheaper the longer the term gets. Students usually have a 50% discount on passes; you have to bring your school ID when you purchase the pass. Some grad students aren’t able to purchase half-price passes until they pass their university entrance exam; because until then their status remains as a researcher. Kung sineswerte ka, ipapamana ng iyong sempai (senior) sa iyo ang kanyang lumang pass kapag paalis na sya sa dorm (kasi kapag electronic renewal, di na kelangan ng ID). Hehehe. Tagalog lang ang tips, baka mabisto ;-) Usually passes can cost around 8-9K, halve that if you’ve a student ID. But in the first few days, budget at least 2K a day for transpo, you have a lot of paperwork and legwork to do---alien registration, enrollment, bank, etc. In addition, on the first day, the fare from the airport to Tokyo can set you back about 1.5K. Grab a train map and figure the best (and cheapest) route, or try ekitan.net
Yup, food in the big daikon is expensive, so you can save a lot by learning how to cook. Most universities have cafeterias that serve up delicious meals for 380-600 and have free tea and water. There are a lot of cheap places to eat too, Mcdo has sets starting at 490, Yoshinoya has beef bowls for 300, and convenience stores have bentos for 350-590 and sandwiches for 290. So that takes care of lunch and dinner. For breakfast, a carton of milk is about 200-250, a loaf of bread (6-8 slices) is around 150-200, and a packet of cheese is about 298 for 8-10 slices. There are also a lot of places you can make your own bento for around 300-500 (like Hokka hokka tei or Origin bento). Once in a while treat yourselves to eat-all-you-can places where you can chow for 60-90 minutes for 1000-1,500. Ika nga ng isang ka-batch ko, pwede nang pang isang-araw na kain! Hahaha!
Most of you will be housed in a dormitory for the first 1-2 years. This is probably the cheapest and most decent kind of accommodation you will ever find. Dorm rates are about 35-45K for singles (10K if you’re in a university dorm, mga bwiset kayo. hehehe), and 65K for couples. To that sum, add around 10K for utilities (gas, water, internet, mobile phone). After 2 years, you have to look for an apartment of your own. I’m not going to scare you with the rates yet, but believe me when I say room rates in Tokyo are a bit unreasonable. That is why most people tend to room together or live outside the city.
I recommend bringing at least 2 weeks worth of toiletries to tide you over during the first few weeks. A refill pack of shampoo, conditioner, and body soap can set you back 290-345 each. Soap bars are a cheaper option if you’re really pinching pennies. Laundry machines cost 150-200 for a full load, driers for 100. Also, you can get a lot of freebies if you hang around Shibuya much. They’re always handing something out over there, packets of tissues, product samples, food, and magazines. My Thai friend had a drawer-full collection of tissues from Shibuya. Wahaha! Also, ask the sempais where it’s cheapest to shop and what time its best to go. Some shops have time-sales in the evening and its best to get your stuff then. Avail of a point card if you can, accumulated points can be converted into cash credits ;-)
Imbibing local culture is part of studying in Japan. How to do this cheaply? Sign up for a Japanese volunteer or join circles (orgs) at your dorm. Most dorms are connected to a Japanese volunteer association that sets up fun activities for students. One of my favorite groups is the CWAJ; their past activities have included Kabuki, museum visits, shodo (calligraphy), sumo matches, lectures, and exhibits. Also, your department or college at university usually has free trips and tickets. Try to sign up for those; they’re on a first-come, first-served basis. One trip I really enjoyed during my first few months at Toudai’s grad school of engineering was a trip to a pet bottle (plastic bottles) manufacturing company. We got to take home a full-sized Shisheido toiletry kit (shampoo, conditioner, and soap bars) as omiyage. Woot! That was almost 2 months’ supply of toiletries ;-) Hahahaha!