Most people I’ve spoken to have always put off travelling to Japan because of how much they anticipate it’s going to cost. Japan DOES NOT have to be expensive and yes, it is entirely possible to visit Japan on a budget – I even had a budget of $1000 for two weeks.
Since 2012, I’ve visited Japan three times and spent 6 months living there. Despite a significant increase in tourism, inflation is almost non-existent and prices are still fairly similar to what I paid 7 years ago. While you can spend an exorbitant amount of money in Japan, it is absolutely possible and easy to keep it cheap. Here’s how.
Note: ¥100 = $1USD
- HOW TO SAVE ON TRAVEL IN JAPAN
- HOW TO SAVE ON TRANSPORT IN JAPAN
- HOW TO EAT CHEAP IN JAPAN
- HOW TO VISIT JAPAN ATTRACTIONS ON A BUDGET
- STAYING THRIFTY WHILE SHOPPING IN JAPAN
HOW TO SAVE ON TRAVEL IN JAPAN
1. Travel during the shoulder season
People often hear Japan and think ‘cherry blossom’ which is a dead giveaway that Japan’s peak season is when the cherry blossom is in full bloom, usually around early April. During winter, the peak time to travel is Christmas, New Year and Lunar New Year.
Avoiding peak travel times can save you a lot of money as accommodation rates are usually cheaper and any last minute bookings won’t cost you a kidney. For snow, consider travelling around mid to late February (but check Lunar New Year dates first) in Hokkaido for a balance of good snow and a smaller number of tourists.
2. Plan ahead during Japan’s Golden Week
Golden Week is a series of four national holidays within a week from the end of April to early May (usually around 29 April – 5 May). This when you can expect most Japanese people to take leave and travel locally and internationally. While this is a great time to visit Japan, it’s going to be busy in more regional areas and you can expect places to be booked out.
3. Book flights in and out of different airports if possible
To save yourself the journey back to the airport you arrived in, you should try to fly in and out of different airports. For example, fly into Osaka and depart from Tokyo.
4. Get Travel Insurance
You don’t need it until you do. While chances are you won’t need to use it, in the event of a medical emergency, you don’t want to be left stranded and out of pocket. Most travel insurance companies require you to purchase before you leave your home country but World Nomads allows you to buy abroad.
HOW TO SAVE ON ACCOMMODATION IN JAPAN
5. Book accommodation in advance
While I am not the biggest fan or organising the A to Z for my trips, I must (reluctantly) recommend that you do so for Japan. Why? Because people plan on spending a shitload of cash when they get there, so they like to book these things waaaaaaay in advance. Unfortunately for our tight wallets, that means we too need to lock in some accommodation to secure the cheap stuff. Consider booking accommodation in Japan at least a couple of months in advance.
6. Stay at hostels
If you’re accustomed to the standard hostels around the world, prepare for Japan to blow your mind! Okay, that’s a minor exaggeration on my part but honestly, the hostels in Japan are some of the best I’ve ever stayed in.
The Japanese standard for hostels (and basically everything else in life) is ridiculously high so you can expect clean, comfortable and simple accommodation. The rooms aren’t going to be that spacious but will have everything you need.
TIP: A hostel DOES NOT mean you have to sleep in a dorm room. Hostels also offer private rooms that usually work out cheaper than hotels. Check out Santiago Guesthouse in Hiroshima for example.
7. Work for a bed
Hold up, that sounds a bit sketchy. It isn’t. And I’m not even talking about hard work either. Daniel and I opted to do some Workaway in Hiroshima at a hostel so that we could spend a week there without breaking the bank.
In exchange for 8 nights of accommodation and free rice (the best bit, obvs), we had to work for 2-3 hours for 4 days and just had to do some easy cleaning. We’ve done Workaway in a few different countries and encourage you to try it if you’re wanting to spend a little longer in each place.
If you’re under 31, you may also be eligible for a Working Holiday Visa in Japan so you can work and travel.
Couchsurfing is a great way to save money on accommodation and meet locals. You connect with hosts who can offer you a place to stay and usually want to meet foreigners and give back to the travel community.
People are often quite sceptical of Couchsurfing given it sounds too good to be true or that there are indeed some creepers out there who don’t use it for the right reasons. We’ve only had the best experience and encourage you to use it wisely.
HOW TO SAVE ON TRANSPORT IN JAPAN
9. Don’t buy the JR pass and avoid bullet trains
Bullet trains are awesome, yes, BUT they are expensive as hell. One train ride could set you back 2 – 3 days worth of funds so it’s not really worth it! Most travellers will also tell you to get the JR train pass but I’ve never bought one (and you can check out our breakdown from our last Japan trip) and have found it cheap and easy to travel Japan without it.
10. Take buses for longer distances
Long distance buses in Japan are the cheapest alternative to bullet trains but they will also take longer. For example, an overnight bus from Tokyo to Hiroshima is ¥8,600 ($86 USD) takes 10 hours. The bullet train is ¥19,080 ($190 USD) and takes 4 hours. For me, taking an overnight bus means I save money on a night’s accommodation AND spend around half of what I would on the bullet train.
Buses in Japan are also comfortable and clean. The seats recline (though not completely flat) and have privacy head covers. Japan is extremely safe and I would have no issues taking these buses solo as a woman.
11. Take public transport in Japan
Public transport in Japan is reliable and easy to navigate with Google Maps. City metro tickets cost ¥100 – 400 for a single journey. The prices vary depending on distances and how many different metro companies you use. Some major cities also offer a day pass for public transport giving you unlimited travel in a 24 hour period for around ¥800.
12. Avoid taxis
There’s no way to travel Japan cheap AND take taxis. Prices of taxis in Japan will blow your mind and if you accidentally travel too far, be prepared to sell some organs to pay for it. A 5km ride will set you back around ¥2,000.
13. Plan your journey home after midnight
Whether you’re partying in Tokyo or just a night owl, always be prepared with a plan to get home if you are staying out after midnight. Trains do not run between midnight and 5am so don’t leave yourself stranded with a taxi being your only option.
Hitchhiking in Japan is very safe but difficult in big cities. I’ve only ever hitchhiked shorter distance in small towns but know people who have successfully hitchhiked longer distances through Japan. Make sure you can say a few words in Japanese and it’d help to have the names of the places you’re going written down. If you want to hitchhike between bigger cities, get a ride to the outskirts before sticking your thumb out.
HOW TO EAT CHEAP IN JAPAN
15. Convenience Stores
Also called kombini, Japan is pretty famous for its huge selection of convenience stores: 7-11, Lawson, Seicomart or Family Mart. Here, you can find mass produced pre-packaged meals that are way tastier than anything you’d find in a convenience store back home. Most kombini have a variety of sandwiches, sushi platters, donburi, ramen as well as fried foods for under ¥500.
16. Opt for Sushi trains over sushi restaurants
Anyone else a sushi addict? Kaiten-zushi, or sushi trains, are an awesome way to binge out on a budget. Uobei is a popular sushi train franchise where you can order off a multilingual tablet and all dishes are ¥108! While it’s not the best sushi you’ll ever have, everything is made fresh and is still very tasty.
17. Look for restaurants with ticket machines
Japan is full of restaurants specialising in a particular dish so you know that odds are, they do it pretty well. Walk around and look for places that offer a small selection of food and for restaurants with ticket machines.
These are usually much cheaper (under ¥900 a meal) compared to restaurants with table service. The idea is to get in, eat and move along pretty quickly.
18. Avoid the expensive fruit
And when I say expensive, I mean it’s mind blogging, totally outrageous, bloody expensive. You can buy square watermelons for ¥15,000 (yep, that’s $150 USD) or large red grapes for ¥40,000.
The fruits are supposedly spectacular and guaranteed to be best fruits you’ll ever have but are they really worth their hefty price tags? Not unless they can magically give me a six-pack when I’m done. Budget says no on this one.
19. Plan those splurge meals (and don’t have too many of them)
Streets throughout Japan are lined up with restaurants and street stalls selling some delicious food. The ‘when in Rome‘ mentality will send you broke here if you don’t have self-control when it comes to food. Yes, I’m guilty of this too!
So, repeat after me: I will not have the kobe beef. Say it again until you’ve convinced yourself.
Nah, I’m kidding. If unlike me, spending $100 on a meal means that you don’t get to eat for a week, go ahead and have that one splurge meal and treat yourself. Save it for the end of the trip so that you don’t get the #kobeaddiction (is it even a thing?) and end up going out for more.
Plan these spurge meals ahead of time and opt for more of the reasonably priced restaurants that are popular. We went to a Michelin-starred ramen restaurant that sells ramen for under ¥1,500.
20. Cook your food
Why cook when you’re in the land of some of the best food in the world? Well, sometimes you just get sick of Japanese food. There, I said it. Sometimes.
It’s also nice to have a home cooked meal with some of the variety I miss from back home. This will also give you a chance to wander through a Japanese supermarket!
HOW TO VISIT JAPAN ATTRACTIONS ON A BUDGET
21. Start with FREE attractions
Such as free walking tours! Look up some local walking tours in whatever city you’re in and get an opportunity to see the city from a local’s perspective. You should tip at the end though but this is much cheaper than a regular walking guide.
There are also plenty of free attractions in every city. Do some research ahead of time and balance these out with some of the paid attractions.
22. Look out for day passes, temple passes etc
Various cities in Japan have passes that combine entrances to attractions or public transport passes as a cheaper option for tourists.
For example, Hiroshima has a Miyajima day pass that includes 24 hours of public transport and the ferry across to the island that works out cheaper than a return journey.
STAYING THRIFTY WHILE SHOPPING IN JAPAN
23. Shop at 100 yen stores (like Daiso)
Daiso was one of my favourite places while I was living in Japan. As expected of any discount store, it had a range of random household goods, stationary,tools, food and clothing accessories like socks and gloves. Most products are ¥100 (plus 8% tax) but will usually all be under ¥400.
These stores are popular with travellers since souvenir opportunities are endless (like Japanese snacks, chopsticks, sake sets) without breaking the bank.
24. Look for tax-free shopping
Licensed tax-free stores are abundant in Japan and visitors can have the 8% consumption tax waived when spending ¥5,000 or more. You’ll need to bring your passport with you but just be aware of limits on bringing duty-free goods back into your country.
Do you have any other ideas to travel Japan on a budget? Let me know in the comments below!