Whenever we talk about travelling to Japan, the general comment from people will be: “It’s very expensive!” Of course expensive or not is rather… relative, and it is very much depends on your budget and financial condition. Often there are people who find every single ways to save when they travel, like staying in the cheapest possible way (such as couch-surfing), eat in cheapest possible way, or even spend little in attractions admission ticket. Well, everyone plans their trip accordingly on their budget, I’m not in the position to judge on whether you should or shouldn’t spend on something. However, I would like to share some tips on ways you can actually save some money while still enjoying a lovely experience in Japan.
Airbnb is not really that cheap in Japan, and with the new regulation kicked in, it became harder and trickier to book accommodation through Airbnb. Some may choose to stay in capsule hotel, but I personally prefer to stay in hostel/guesthouse in Japan. They are not the cheapest, but I would say they are really value for their money. Per night rate ranging from 3,000-5,000 yen per person (depending on room type and facilities), they are reasonably affordable and much more comfortable that staying in a capsule hotel. They usually have common bathroom, wifi service, coin laundry machine, friendly reception that takes care of your luggage if you choose to check out early/arrive early and so on. On top of that, you get to meet with people from other countries while using the common spaces such as kitchen and dining room. I had always enjoyed the cozy environment provided by hostel/guesthouse, and it will certainly be my go-to choice whenever I travel to Japan.
You can expect food to cost from as cheap as 300-10,000 yen per meal! Well, that really depends on what you choose to eat. From cheap bento box to Kaiseki Ryori, there are abundance of choices in Japan for you to choose from. Usually I will balance up my meal with some cheaper options at times and some more luxury one once awhile.
For breakfast, usually I will settle at Family Mart, 7-11 or Lawson. Grab a drink with a bread/onigiri and everything should be below 500 yen or so. As for lunch and dinner, the cheaper options are those chain restaurant such as Yoshinoya and Matsuya, or some local restaurant that operate at friendly neighbourhood price. You can get a decent meal of Oyakodon, Hayashi rice, Ramen or Soba below 1,000 yen. Do go and experience ordering food via vending machine, it is perhaps Japanese’s obsession on vending machine at its best.
Some restaurants in shopping mall or food court, which have better settings and environment, may cost somewhere around 800 yen to 2,000 yen per meal. For that, you should be able to feast yourself with some set meal (Teishoku) or some local specialties. Do note that a lot of the cheaper restaurant in Japan are offering food at very good quality and taste. I tasted some very good ramen and teishoku meal and paid well below 1,000 yen for them, you just need to explore, and hopefully get lucky on your choice at times.
If you do not plan carefully, transportation cost will usually be quite expensive in Japan. However, for foreigners, you can always make full use of various discounted ticket or day pass which can save you quite some money. If you need to ride the shinkansen, do get the JR pass. However, for ultimate saving, I would advise you to avoid taking shinkansen altogether, unless you really need to fly into Japan and travel to places like Tokyo and Osaka in the same trip. You won’t be able to experience much this way, so the best way is to visit Osaka and Tokyo separately in different trips.
JR train and some local Metro train do offer day pass for unlimited use of their train services. Do check and plan your itinerary accordingly and see if you can maximize the usage and hence achieve saving by purchasing such ticket. In Kyoto for example, a lot of sightseeing spot can be reached via Kyoto Bus service, and you can actually purchase a day pass at 500 yen or so and get unlimited bus ride throughout the day, which is very budget friendly. If you are travelling to Osaka, consider getting Osaka Amazing Pass which covers unlimited metro train ride together with free entry to various attractions.
Attractions in Japan are generally not that costly (I’m not considering Disneyland or Universal Studio Japan), however when you visit a few spots a day, cost can add up pretty fast. Typically, temples, gardens, castles or museums have admission ticket that priced somewhere from 100 yen to 1,000 yen. Some attractions offer combine ticket that provide discount when you purchase ticket for various attractions at once. Make use of that and you should be able to save some money during your visit.
Some travel pass (such as Osaka Amazing Pass) offers free entry or discount on admission ticket which you can make use of. Also, some tour agencies also offer discounted rate for attractions when you purchased them before flying into Japan. Do check them out and make the necessary comparison first prior to your trip.
Some other things to take note
Generally speaking, Japan is not wheelchair or baby stroller friendly. A lot of places are lacking of elevator or covered with stone path, which can cause some difficulties.
When you travel to outskirt places, expect majority of the locals do not speak in English. It will be handy to learn a few Japanese words or phrases, or have a translation app in hand.
Japanese are usually very friendly and helpful. However, there are some who dislike foreigners so do keep that in mind. Be respectful and mindful of the etiquettes when visiting temples and shrines. When you give them your respect, you should be returned with the same level of respect as well.
All in all, travelling to Japan is certainly not cheap, but if you travel smart, plan ahead and manage your budget well, it is certainly not that expensive either. If you are able to snatch some cheap air tickets or travel during off peak season, you should be able to manage your budget well and make it a memorable and enjoyable trip. Hope this sharing helps you to get a sense of the cost of travelling to Japan. Till then.