How to travel through Japan without losing your fortune.

clear view of snow capped mount fuji during December

Is Japan open for tourism?

Updated on 31 Jan 2023 – Since Oct 10 2022, Japan has been fully open to international tourists. You can now enter Japan like before the pandemic, especially fully vaccinated (3 doses) travellers. Check their official website for the latest update.

“It is not easy to Travel to Japan on a budget”, -They said on most online forums. So Every time we thought of visiting Japan, we felt we needed more money. 

I always wondered why Japanese toilets are futuristic. Whenever Japan made it to the headlines with one or other technological advancement, we both wondered how a nation that was hit with a nuclear bomb has become the most advanced country in the world. We always read and saw Mount Fuji pictures in our Social Science textbook. And absolutely, we loved watching Ghibli movies and anime series.

The pricey travel dream didn’t stop me from planning!

Since 2020, I have kept reading about Japan without knowing when I would eat my veg sushi and meet snow monkeys. Fortunately, the universe spoke, and Japan reopened to tourists completely in October 2022. We found out that travelling to Japan in December would be much cheaper, and we did it!

Like a charm, our 19 days Japan trip turned out more pocket friendly than we anticipated. And we are here to show you how to travel through Japan on a fair budget.

statue of two Japanese men in traditional dress

How much money do I need per day in Japan?

It cost nearly 35000 yen/day/for two people in December 2022. Trust me; this is a good deal – Unless you are a full-term backpacker or a couch surfer!

Japan budget travel to Shirakwago during december

If you choose to go to Japan in the peak tourist season of Sakura, you will pay double the amount we paid in December.

This includes

One month Tourist Visa fees | 18-night stays at budget business hotels | Breakfast and coffee at 7/11 | Lunch and dinners at delicious local food joints/street food | Luggage forward services | 100% public transport using trains/buses | 7-day JR Pass. | One day Universal studio | all experiences like Sumo stable, Tuna auction and entry fees to attractions.

Ninetendo world Osaka, japan

And excludes -International flights to and fro | Shopping | 2 SIM Cards

Can Japan be done on a budget?

Kyoto canal with autmn leaves IN DECEMBER

Yes and No Both!

No, if you –

  • Go during peak season.
  • Use taxis and random public transportation passes without doing research
  • Picking tourist hotspots for accommodation.
  • Eating only at restaurants.
  • And play a lot of Gacha or Taito game stations.
PACHINKO SLOT BUILDING IN TOKYO JAPAN

Certainly, you can reduce your Japan travel budget, if you

How to plan a Japan trip on a budget?

Tourists on budget travel to japan clicking photos at a lake

Read and watch a lot if you want to travel to Japan on a budget!

Planning a Japan trip is easy if you love reading and watching vlogs. You have blogs like ours. Plus Japan National Tourism board is always active online. I don’t recommend asking questions in the JNTO forum. Usually, I got a weird reply which wasn’t an answer to my doubt. Instead, email them – They traditionally take two days to reply, and their responses were always to the point and useful.

Things not to do to save money in Japan.

Don’t skip Team Lab Planet Tokyo – There is nothing like being one with the art, which is as rare as finding a mermaid!

  • Don’t cut down on exploring/experiencing Japan’s history and traditions.
  • Don’t hesitate to buy winter wears at Uniqlo.
  • Buy a lot of heat packs at supermarkets during winter.
  • Don’t save money by not drinking Sake – Sake is cheap and the most “makes you feel good drink” in the whole world, in my opinion.
  • Don’t skip Jiggley cake in Osaka and Kichi Kichi Omu rice in Kyoto. They aren’t very expensive. Plus, experiencing that two food is worth every yen you spend.

How to save money in Japan on sightseeing?

Plan Sightseeing that can be done for Free 

Not everything you want to see in Japan costs you money.

Choose public gardens to experience traditional Japanese gardens instead of visiting a garden at a temple that takes entrance fees.

The viewpoints need not be necessarily paid for – Usually, the city’s metropolitan buildings’ terraces are open to the public. Find that to enjoy the charismatic views. The terrace near Toyosu fish market is open to all and gives you a fantastic view!

Add a variety of activities!

Saving money by not experiencing local culture is a crime.

Towns like Kyoto /Nagano have more than 100 temples. You only want to visit each if you are a Shinto priest or a monk. Likewise, in Tokyo or Osaka, don’t plan to visit only modern neighbourhoods where you can hog, drink and float in the world of anime. Instead, add in the variety of experiences.

In addition, some of the traditional experiences require you to be accompanied by Japanese guides. You can book such local adventures on Japan’s Rakuten experiences for reasonable prices. It is easy to book on Rakuten, and their customer communication service is good. Plus, they are reliable, legit and affordable.

Take free walking tours.

Enthusiastic Japanese conduct many free walking tours. These walking tours range from pilgrimage, urban planning, culture, food or bar hopping. Pick your area of interest, and go ahead! You will learn more than anywhere else when a local Japanese takes you around. Remember to tip them with whatever you feel is worth.

Plan your interests area-wise.

Pick one neighbourhood a day – So that you spend less time on the bus/train and won’t pay more. For example,

  • In Hiroshima, you can keep the peace memorial park and castle on the same day. Both of these are within walking distance. The next day can be exclusive to Miyajima island.
  • Head to snow monkey park in the morning and dip your feet in the hot springs at Yudanaka – You will save a lot of money on transportation by doing this.

How to save money in Japan on accommodation?

Often, many Japanese cities rank among the top 10 expensive cities in the world. It isn’t just Tokyo but also Nagoya, Yokohama and Osaka.

Why are hotels in Japan so expensive?

Japan is a fairly remote island. The accessibility to the country from other nations is only via air or sea. So there is little scope for land expansion. With a compact landmass, there is a high scarcity of space for building. The result of this is compact living spaces everywhere. (I would rather call it tiny yet efficient). So the accommodation prices are almost through the roof. 

How much does it cost to stay in a hotel in Japan?

As everywhere else, accommodation prices vary greatly according to the season; Prices are highest around New Year and cherry blossom season and lowest in December.

Japan has several types of hotels beyond luxury hotels/resorts and hotels.

  • Ryokan – Traditional Japanese inn with a tatami-matted floor. Visitors can wear yukata, wander around the house and spend time with the owner’s family – A very homely but expensive experience.
  • Onsen (hot spring) inns are popular in northern Japan, where many hot springs exist.
  • Shukubo – Many Buddhist temples, especially in Kyoto, Wakayama and Nagano in Japan, offer visitors a chance to stay overnight and experience the daily life of the temple, from vegetarian meals to prayers and meditation. These aren’t cheap, but they are a blissful experience.
  • Air BnB – It is legal in Japan. But I don’t recommend it anywhere after reading about some scary incidents. Plus, in 2014, Japan introduced strong vacation rental regulations. So, think 100 times before going for Air BnB here.

What is the cheapest form of accommodation in Japan?

Love hotels, Capsule hotels, or business hotels are cheaper than all the above 3 forms.

What is a love hotel in Japan?

Love hotels offer double rooms for short periods. You can rest in the room for a minimum of one hour (called rest) or stay overnight.

But it is, in fact, a hotel that rents rooms to couples to make out on an hourly basis! From condoms to sex toys, you can rent many kinky things here! They aren’t the cheapest. But better than other most other hotels. Some solo women travellers claim it to be safer!

What are capsule hotels called in Japanese?

Often called pod hotels, this is a unique accommodation. Each gets a bed-sized pod enclosed in a capsule. The capsule can be closed with only a curtain and can’t be locked as per Japan’s law. The capsules are stacked one above the other. Sleeping and shower areas are located on various floors and are separate for men and women. 

How can I sleep cheaply in Japan?

Pro-tip on Japan budget travel experience –

We wanted to experience Ryokan but didn’t want to spend much. So we chose a private room in the hostel with Tatami flooring and a Fulton bed.

For couple Travellers, business hotels are the cheapest option. Pods work perfectly for solo travellers as they cost 4500 yen /per night/one pod. Because the cost for two of us at a capsule hotel for one night cost us 9000 yen. While a room for two with an ensuite bathroom at a business hotel costs the same. This price I mentioned is for December. I know people who paid 9000 yen for one pod/night.

When you book business hotels in Japan, keep the following things in mind.

  • Choose neighbourhoods away from tourist hot spots and closer to Metro/bus stations. These hotels aren’t noisy as you think.
  • Don’t opt for rooms with any meal plan – Their breakfast prices are on the higher side.
  • The prices increase if you choose daily room cleaning. Check this while booking.

How can I save money on food in Japan?

We aren’t fond of cooking while travelling. I know it saves a lot of money, but we can’t do it. So apart from cooking for yourselves, we found many other ways to save money on food in Japan while sticking to authentic Japanese food.

  • Have breakfast with coffee at Kombini, AKA supermarkets. The bread and coffee you find there are no less fresh than in any cafe. 7-Eleven is our favourite as they had the highest option for breakfast. The next best is Lawson -Their bread with whipped cream is one of the best dishes in Japan. Family mart had more options for non-vegetarians, and their bread variety was decent.
  • Use vending machines – Japan vending machines are epic. Common vending machines give you canned juices and hot coffee (Yes, you read it right – hot coffee) for less than 150 yens. Then there are Sandwich/ramen vending machines also!
  • Eat at Metro station’s restaurant – especially for Udon and Ramen.

  • Explore Japanese chain restaurants – Yoshinoya’s rice bowls are amazing. Lottera and Mos burgers serve you some of the cheapest yet most delicious food.
  • Snack at Starbucks – They are way cheaper than in India. Plus, they serve some Japanese-influenced dishes along with continental.
  • Fill tap water into your reusable bottle – Japan’s tap water is good for drinking. Bottled water costs you around 130 yen!

Try street food like Manju, fried fish and a lot of ice cream.

  • Don’t eat in the tourist hot spot neighbourhoods.
  • Don’t choose dine-in restaurants to eat Sushi, Takoyaki (Octopus balls) and Tempura while you can have them by the streetside stalls. It is tempting to stand in the long line as the Japanese stand and devour the delicacy – If you want to travel through Japan on a budget, don’t do it.
  • Don’t buy fruits – One apple cost 280 yen ( 168INR)
  • Temple meals are vegetarian but mostly expensive. 

The myth about Japan’s supermarket food

I read everywhere that Japan’s supermarkets sell food at a discounted price by evening. We have bought food from Kombini at all times. And not even once we found any discount tag on the food.

How to shop cheap in Japan?

Unlike EU countries, where tax refund is done at airports while you exit the region, Japan offers tax-free shopping while paying for the items at the shop. The bill amount should be a minimum of 5000 yen.

A most important tip to travel through Japan on a budget –

Japan has a skill of making anything and everything cute – Like those rice cookers of alluring colour. It is easy to lose yourself while shopping for random cute things – Be with your mind and think of your bank balance before going bankrupt

Usually, you get a 10% reduction on your bill because of Japan’s tax reduction policies for tourists. So remember to always carry your passport with Japan’s short-term visitor visa sticker. And ask the shops if they give you a reduction before you begin shopping.

Japan is an ocean of electronic items. I-Phones are way cheaper than elsewhere. But not everything!

What is the cheapest way to travel around Japan?

Using cabs in Japan is the worst way to travel around the country. The taxis cost you around 2000 yen for 2km. The cheapest way to travel around in Japan is by public transport. They are the best in the world, efficient, clean, comfortable and cute! However, it is neither free nor cheap, but more affordable than private taxis. So it is best to walk a lot – even for 2km or so!

Do you have to pay for public transportation in Japan?

Yes! Japan’s public transport isn’t free. Unlike in Austria, you will always be checked if you have a valid ticket. It is rare people get caught without a ticket. But officers /drivers check everyone’s tickets.

Then, How to Save on Transportation in Japan?

Firstly, no Japan’s city that we visited has 24hr public transport (including Tokyo’s airport monorail). Tokyo stops buses and trains by 12. Other towns, like Kyoto and Hiroshima, stop theirs by 10.30. Past that time, cabs are your only choice. So make sure you land on time so you can reach your hotel rooms by bus/train and not by expensive taxis.

There are some passes which can bring your Japan budget down fairly. You may have already thought of buying a JR Pass. If you are travelling in Japan for 19 days like us, you must have thought of buying a JR Pass for 21 days – Hold on. This is where many tourists lose a fortune. JR Passes give you flexibility but isn’t cheap.

Will a JR Pass save you money?

Yes and No, both. You must know the following before buying a JR Pass-

  • JR Pass is issued for “non-Japanese Citizens” who are in Japan on a short-term visa only.
  • Plot your destinations and keep longer hauls on consecutive days so that you get the worth of it.
  • Buying JR Pass is cheaper in your country than purchasing it in Japan. Don’t buy JR Pass if you travel between only two or three cities.

Where to buy JR Pass for a lower price?

“JR Pass – Freedom to Explore Japan” is a legit and reliable agency to get your JR Pass exchange order delivered to your home outside Japan. Or even to your accommodation in Japan.

We paid 228 USD for one ordinary 7-day JR Pass and ended up using it for almost 435 USD! This is because we planned to make long journeys by train where JR Pass is allowed on consecutive days.

FROM – TOTYPE OF TRAINPRICE IN YEN FOR ONE TICKET FOR ORDINARY CAR WITHOUT RESERVATION
Kytoto to Hiroshima shiinkanesen11000
Hiroshima to Nagoyashinkanesen15000
Nagoya to NaganoShinano express train7000
Nagano to Kanzawa shiinkanesen9200
Shin-Takaoka to Naganoshiinkanesen7100
Nagano-Tokyo – Haneda airportshinkansen- metro-monorail8300
TOTAL57600 = 435usd

If none of the above-mentioned points works for you, don’t buy a JR Pass. Instead, go for Regional JR Passes, buy individual shinkansen tickets or use highway buses for long hauls. Check this post to know how to calculate whether you need a JR Pass.

How much do buses cost in Japan?

All city buses we used in Japan had flat fares except for Omni buses in Mount Fuji. Flat or fixed-price buses charge you anywhere between 200 to 230 yen for one ride, irrespective of where you embark and disembark. So, for example, a 2km ride and a 0.5km ride cost you the same amount of 230 yen.

What are Highway buses in Japan?

Buses are a great way to travel through Japan on a budget, and you have time to spend more hours on journeys.

These buses connect two different cities. Several companies operate these buses and are route/region specific. When compared to bullet trains, highway buses are cheaper. Long-haul night journey buses sometimes have sleeper coaches with bathrooms. Mind that these are more expensive than the regular night buses with reclining seats.

How to buy bus tickets in Japan

highyway bus tickets that helps you travel on budget to Japan

You can buy the tickets a day before the intended journey date at the kiosk. Mind that each company will have one or two stalls in a city. And they don’t issue tickets for the other lines. For example, at Kanazawa, they give tickets Kanazawa-Shirakawago (to and fro if you need them) only. Even though the same company operates on the line Shirakwago-Shin Takaoka, they don’t issue the tickets at Kanazawa.

During peak season and weekends, reservation is a must. Japan Bus line website is where you book these tickets online if your cards get through.

yellow and red city bus on snow filled road at Yudanaka, Japan

Here are some passes which we used and will be useful for you to travel through Japan on a Budget

Girl wearing yellow sweter standing and watching aumn foliage at skyhop bus tour in TOKYO
  • One-day Sky Hop bus in Tokyo lets you see the most beautiful parts of Tokyo from the open double-decker bus. I am never a fan of these hop-on buses. But, it is essential in a gigantic city like Tokyo – Read here why!
  • Tokyo Subway pass – 24/48/72-hour passes are available and must be used on consecutive days. Plan and choose the most suitable one. Example. If you are in Tokyo for 3 days and planning to go on a day trip to Kamakura, buy a 48 or 24hr pass. And head to Kamakura on the third day.

Kyoto one-day bus pass –

Kyoto bus pass help you travel on budget in Japan
  • Kyoto city buses charge flat rates. You hardly need to use the subway to reach any tourist attraction. So, bus passes are the best.
  • Nagano Snow Monkey pass for two days -Admission to the Jigokudani Monkey Park, 2-day unlimited use of the Nagaden limited express trains and buses in the region.

Should I get an IC card in Japan?

Japan’s IC cards are godsend plastic cards which act like prepaid and rechargeable debit cards. These cards are widely accepted almost all over Japan. Remember, these cards neither give you discounts nor act as public transportation passes. But buying this resolves all your issues of dealing with Japanese yen coins. Plus, these cards can be tapped on buses and trains. So you need not approach the ticket office at all! Read the post ” How to use Japan’s public transport and IC cards efficiently” to know more.

Found our tips useful to travel to Japan on a budget? Let us know in the comment section below.

Published by Sahana Kulur

Traveller | Blogger | Architecture and history

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