I had postponed a trip to Japan for years due to cost concerns. I was apprehensive to visit Japan because of stories about the country’s exorbitant expenses. I’ve always admired Japanese culture, so I expected any trip to include plenty of sushi and ramen, as well as temple visits and long train rides through the countryside.
But, when I considered how much it would cost, I always thought to myself, “I’ll wait till I have more money.”
Years ago, when I finally visited Japan, I was surprised to learn that, while it isn’t cheap, it isn’t the outrageously costly nation that many people believe it to be. In reality, I found Japan to be quite affordable, comparable to (and sometimes cheaper than) Western European countries.
I’ve learned to master the culture and turn a high-cost destination like Japan into a budget-friendly destination in future travels.
Traveling to Japan does not have to be expensive. Here’s a step-by-step guide to saving money so you can go to Japan on a budget!
Contents of this publication:
Best way to save on transportation on your trip to Japan
Bullet trains in Japan are a great way to save money on transportation.
While the bullet train is fantastic, pleasant, and quick, it is not inexpensive if you pay for individual tickets. It might be rather expensive. However, I believe that rail travel is the greatest way to tour the nation, therefore obtain a Japan Rail (JR) pass to save money on your train tickets.
These passes are 29,650 JPY ($282) for seven days, 47,250 JPY ($449 USD) for fourteen days, and 60,450 JPY ($574 USD) for twenty-one days. All pass times are for travel in a straight line.
Compare that to single tickets, which cost 10,500-15,500 JPY ($100-150 USD) each way for the three-hour travel from Osaka to Tokyo. That single journey costs nearly as much as the whole seven-day package!
Furthermore, some JR trains service local city regions and can thus be utilized within the city. Instead of buying metro tickets, I utilized my pass to go about Kyoto and Tokyo. Even if you aren’t planning on doing much traveling in Japan, purchasing a pass is preferable to purchasing individual tickets. While the pass’s hefty price may seem off-putting, the alternative is far worse.
For a single ride, most city metro tickets cost between 100 and 300 JPY. The cost varies depending on distance and is frequently more. Fares in Tokyo range from 170 to 320 JPY, with a 24-hour pass costing 600 JPY ($5.75). In most cities, you may get a day pass for less than 800 JPY ($7.50) that allows you unrestricted travel for 24 hours.
Buses are a less expensive option in Japan than the bullet train system, although they take longer. The three-hour rail journey from Tokyo to Osaka, for example, becomes a nine-hour bus ride. The cost of that seat is only 4,000 JPY ($38), but you must consider how valuable your time is at some point. Because I had such little time during my stay, that saving 10,000 JPY was not worth the extra seven hours of travel for me. I would have taken the bus if I had more time.
Bus tickets with unlimited travel are also available, starting at 10,200 JPY ($97) for three non-consecutive days of travel.
Many low-cost airlines now fly to Japan, and you can locate them on sites like Momondo or Skyscanner. Peach, Spring, Jetstar, and Skymark are some of the most popular low-cost carriers.
Their rates are often comparable to those of bullet train tickets. They may even be less expensive than taking the train if you book ahead of time. However, if you’re only traveling a small distance, this will almost always be more expensive and not necessarily faster.
ANA also has a secret page on their website that provides discounted last-minute fares. It is exclusively available to foreigners and, on occasion, can be less expensive than flights found on Skyscanner, particularly for lengthier journeys across the nation.
Best way to save in food on your trip to Japan
Surprisingly, I found Japanese food to be reasonably priced. True, my sushi obsession significantly raised the expense of my vacation, but I discovered that I spent considerably less on food than I had anticipated.
I discovered that I could eat for less than 1,500 JPY each day if I didn’t “fuel” my sushi obsession. The following were some common prices:
- 1,600+ JPY for a sushi lunch set (sushi, soup, and salad).
- 1,200+ JPY for traditional Japanese set lunches.
- Sushi trains cost between 125 and 625 JPY each meal.
- 400-500 JPY for a small pasta.
- 1,200-1,500 JPY for a Western set menu (sandwiches, burgers, pizza, and so forth).
- 700 JPY for fast food.
- 700-1,000 JPY for ramen.
- 100-150 JPY for tempura dishes.
There are many inexpensive food alternatives in the nation, so you won’t have to spend a lot of money on meals (unless you want to splash out). In Japan, you can save money on food by doing the following:
Eat at “100-yen” shops
In Japan, there are a lot of 100-yen shops (the Japanese counterpart of dollar stores) where you can get set meals, groceries, water, toiletries, home products, and more for 100 JPY. These were the only stores where I conducted all of my shopping. Because their names differ by area, inquire at your hotel/hostel reception about the nearest 100-yen shop.
It’s recommended since sushi in Japan is excellent on all levels. While I did have a few expensive sit-down dinners, the sushi trains are unbeatable in terms of value. Most of the time, I could eat for less than 1,500 JPY ($14.25) at approximately 125 JPY ($1.20) per plate. I used to just eat at sushi restaurants.
Eat at 7-11 (7-Eleven)
7-11, Family Mart, and other convenience stores sell a variety of pre-packaged meals for less than 500 JPY ($5), making for inexpensive lunches. In addition, stores sell a variety of pre-packaged meals at comparable costs. This seemed to be a popular choice among many Japanese folks.
Cook your own meals
Many hostels (as well as many Airbnb rental homes) offer kitchens where you can cook and keep your food costs around 1,100 JPY ($10) each day, particularly if you purchase at 100-yen supermarkets.
Avoid fresh food
One myth about Japan that came true was that fresh fruit and vegetables were prohibitively costly. I avoided fresh fruits and vegetables except when I went to the store for an apple or banana. They were too costly.
Eat curry, ramen, and donburi
These were the only meals I ate throughout my three weeks in Japan. Curry bowls may be purchased for as little as 400 JPY ($3.75) per dish. Donburi, or meat-and-rice bowls, cost about 500 JPY ($4.75). Never pay more than 1,000 JPY ($9.50) for ramen. These are the finest places in Japan to have inexpensive and substantial meals.
Best way to save on accommodation on your trip to Japan
Due to limited space, a large population, and growing property prices, Japan’s living expenditures are quite expensive. Unfortunately, those high expenses are passed on to the tourism industry, making obtaining low-cost lodging difficult.
Hotel rooms start around 8,500 JPY ($75) for a double room at a budget hotel. Hostel dormitories generally cost 2,500-4,000 JPY ($20-35 USD) per night.
Here are some suggestions for saving money on lodging:
Work for your room
Many Japanese hostels will allow you to stay for free if you clean for a few hours each day. Before you arrive, use a site like Worldpackers to look for possibilities.
While hospitality exchanges are not as common in Japan as they are abroad, there is a tiny but active Couchsurfing group here. Many expats love hosting since it allows them to reconnect with other westerners, so don’t be shy about contacting them. To improve your chances of success, make sure you email your request ahead of time (especially in popular cities like Kyoto and Tokyo).
Make use of your credit card points
Travel hacking comes in helpful in situations like these. Many free nights may be obtained by redeeming frequent flyer miles and ordinary hotel points. I utilized my free accumulated nights from hotels.com for two free nights in Tokyo, but you can earn up to a week’s free accommodation right now with the big sign-up incentives for hotel cards!
Hotels in capsules
Capsule hotels (shown above) are small capsules that you sleep in. They’re a step up from hostels and a step down from hotels. Your capsule includes a light, an outlet, and perhaps a tiny television, and you share restrooms and communal spaces. They are commonly utilized by late-working businesspeople. The cost of these capsules every night ranges from 3,000-5,500 JPY ($25-50 USD).
Airbnb is a cost-effective alternative, although there are a few restrictions according to a 2018 regulation. To begin, only hosts who have registered with the government are permitted to offer lodge. Second, you’ll need to submit a copy of your passport to your host ahead of time or allow them to copy it when you check-in. However, it is a cost-effective option for anyone traveling in a group or family.
How to save on attractions on your trip to Japan
Most of the attractions in Japan were inexpensive. Per museum or temple, I didn’t spend more than 500 JPY ($5 USD). A temple pass in Kyoto costs 1,300 JPY ($12.50 USD) and provides you unrestricted transportation and entry to the temples. It’s a terrific price, especially because you’ll probably visit a number of museums in Kyoto. Attraction passes in Osaka and Tokyo were comparable.
Overall, I found these permits to be the most cost-effective method to visit temples, museums, and other tourist destinations. There are also several free gardens, temples, and parks! During my time in Japan, I spent very little money on attractions.
What is the approximate cost of a trip to Japan?
Japan has a reputation for being one of the most expensive nations in the world, and it can be if you stay in hotels, dine out, and travel extensively. Traveling that route can easily cost more than $200 USD each day. However, I do not believe that your trip to Japan should be that costly.
If you know what to do and keep track of your expenses, traveling across Japan may be economical. Living like a native in Japan might help you save money.
A day spent at a hostel, purchasing a train pass, eating reasonably priced meals, and visiting a few sites will cost roughly $100 USD.
A 21-day trip, for example, would cost at least $2,100 USD (plus your flight). You could spend months in Southeast Asia for that amount of money!
However, I believe you can spend around $80–85 USD a day on your trip to Japan if you follow the advice above. If you don’t overspend, a day in Japan shouldn’t cost you much more than that. More bus travel, a (very) restricted amount of sushi, only inexpensive eateries, and the occasional night Couchsurfing would be the result (or other free accommodation).
If you stick to “Couchsurfing”, inexpensive meals, bus transport (trains are way too costly), and solely free attractions, a vacation to Japan will cost you $65-75 USD per day. In Japan, I observed a lot of people traveling on a budget. They did it, and it is feasible — but if you travel this way, you will never be able to satisfy your sushi obsession (if you have one).
Budget travel, in my opinion, is value travel. Japan may never be as inexpensive as Cambodia, Ukraine, or Peru, but there are methods to save money everywhere, and there are lots of ways to visit Japan on a budget. Japan will never be $20 USD per day, but it does not have to be hundreds of dollars.
When tourists return after a trip to Japan, they constantly comment, “It wasn’t as expensive as I expected,” because it doesn’t have to be! It is feasible to go to Japan on a budget, as this post has demonstrated.
Stick to low-cost public transportation, local cuisine, and local lodging to keep your expenditures down!
Until next post.
Note: This post is based on the experience of a traveler not related to Sugoi Japan and may not necessarily be valid for everyone. We recommend taking this article only as a reference in planning your trip.