Stop Thinking Japan Is Too Expensive! (When It Doesn’t Have to Be) Mark Silvester September 26, 2019 Asia, Budget Travel, Travel Tips This blog post was updated on June 12, 2020. When thinking about Japan, so many amazing things come to mind. Delicious food, futuristic technology, rich culture and history, streets crammed with polite people, and — that it’s too darn expensive. Japan is such a magical destination and yet, we still think that a visit will cost an arm and a leg! True, Japan isn’t considered cheap — at least not by the standards of other Asian countries. But it certainly is not as prohibitively expensive as you’re led to believe. You can actually experience everything Japan has to offer on a budget. Seriously! Follow these tips for the ultimate Japanese budget-friendly travel itinerary. Food Japanese cuisine is like nothing else, and when introducing yourself to a different culture, food is always a great place to start. The good news: food in Japan is inexpensive! Sure you can hunt down the fancy and shockingly expensive restaurants (which is true anywhere), but, in general, Japan caters to the penny-pincher in all of us. Despite the lack of street food culture, the country makes up for it with deliciously cheap noodle restaurants and mouth-watering sushi trains. You can also pocket some extra yen when dining out because tipping in Japan is considered rude! Eat at Convenience Stores Convenience stores in Japan are unlike their equivalents in other countries because the food here is both healthy and tasty. Here you’ll find a great selection of pre-cooked dishes such as bento boxes, and different options of rice balls with meat or fish filling, which are all very affordable. Use Sushi Trains This one is hardly a tip because eating sushi while you’re in Japan is a must! So it’s a bonus that the sushi trains here are unbeatable for value. You can expect to pay as little as $2 a plate! Take Advantage of Vikings Baikingu, or “Vikings”, are all-you-can-eat buffets that locals enjoy on a daily basis. If you can find a good value Viking (some can be expensive), then you’ve found the best dinner option out there! Expect to stuff yourself on as little as $20. Avoid Fresh Fruit Fruit in Japan is considered a luxury product and is therefore priced accordingly. Don’t worry though, just make sure to get plenty of vegetables at your next sushi train visit. Check Out Noodle Bars Possibly the best way to get a cheap and filling meal in Japan. Noodle houses offer big bowls of ramen, udon or soba, and they can be found on almost every street corner. They also serve tea (hot or cold) for free! Be sure to slurp loudly as well, it’s a sign that you’re enjoying your meal. For more tips on mastering Japanese manners, read this. Accommodation With lots of people, limited space, and high housing prices, accommodation in Japan can cost a pretty penny. And even though this will be one of your major expenses, it doesn’t mean that you’ll have to pay dearly for it. In fact, you’ll find a whole host of accommodation options that are ingenious, cheap, and uniquely Japanese, like a library hostel or a 24-hour internet cafe. See how to sleep in Japan on the cheap! Recharge At a Capsule Hotel Not quite a hostel, and not quite a dorm, capsule hotels are perfect for savvy travelers who’re looking to cut costs. They are basically the most economical hotel ever, where guests sleep in tiny capsules and share facilities like bathrooms and common areas. Each capsule is quite cozy and comes with a reading light, outlets and sometimes a small TV. You can expect to pay around $35 per night. Crash At a Hostel Most people are already aware that hostels are a universally accepted means for cheaper accommodation. And if you don’t mind sleeping in dorms, then you can find hostels in Japan for as low as $20 a night. An extra incentive is that it’s not uncommon for hostels in Japan to let you stay for free if you clean for a few hours a day! Sold! Rest Easy At a Business Hotel If you aren’t on the backpacker budget and prefer your own room, then stop by a business hotel. These hotels are frequented by business travelers that choose to spend a night at a hotel rather than go home after a late night at work. And while they’re nothing flashy and are the size of a shoebox, they are perfect for skimping while also enjoying some level of comfort. Each room is clean, has a private bathroom and all the other traditional hotel amenities! You’ll have more price competition in the bigger cities, and you can pop by these hotels without reservation. A room can go for about $70 per night, but keep in mind that they don’t offer breakfast. Microwavable noodles are a great way around that. Transportation Renowned for punctuality, cleanliness, and reliability, the Japanese public transport system is arguably one of the best in the world and, unfortunately, one of the most expensive. Greatness surely comes at a price, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any shortcuts around that price tag. With buses taking a lot of time and taxis completely out of the question, trains are by far your best option for getting about the country. They are fast, clean, easy to use and, when taking advantage of a rail pass, cheap! Get A Japan Rail Pass (JR) If you plan on traveling around Japan, a JR pass is a must! A Japan Rail pass is a prepaid ticket that gives you almost unlimited use of the country’s extensive railway system. This pass is only available for foreign tourists, lasts for periods of 7, 14, or 21 days, and, although the starting price is high at $425, the alternative is much worse. When compared to buying individual tickets, the JR pass is the easiest and least expensive way to see more. For example, even if you just get the seven-day pass, it’s the same price as a round-trip train ticket from Osaka to Tokyo! And, that’s just seeing one city! Plus, the JR trains also serve local city areas so you can hop on and off whenever and wherever you please. So, do yourself a favor and buy a JR pass online before you leave. Or a Seishun Juhachi Kippu Pass Only available three times a year during school holidays, the “Seishun ju-hachi kippu” pass allows for rail travel at about half the cost of the Japan Rail Pass! Available for purchase at most JR stations for $108, the ticket gives you five days of unlimited, nationwide travel. The five days don’t have to be consecutive, and the pass is a non-personal, transferable ticket, which means it can be used either by one person on five days or be shared by up to five different people! Keep in mind that the pass doesn’t cover the Shinkansen (bullet) trains, so be sure to factor in slower travel time when planning your day. Check out these amazing Japanese castles you probably didn’t know about. Sight Seeing No trip to Japan is complete without checking out some of its unique temples, shrines, castles, gardens and museums. And even though there is an abundance of cool things to do in Japan that don’t cost a single yen, such as walking through bustling public markets, city centers and admiring contemporary architecture (to just name a few), the majority of temples and museums will have an entrance fee. This fee isn’t usually expensive, as they usually cost around $10 to get in, but if you are after a complete Japanese cultural immersion, then those fees could add up. That being said, there are ways to see it all whilst maintaining a budget-friendly travel itinerary. Time Your Visit to Occur During Bunka no Hi Book your cheap round trip flights to Japan so that you make there in time to celebrate Bunka no Hi, or “Culture Day” as it’s known in English. On the 3rd of November, the entire nation commemorates this glorious national holiday which features free exhibitions, discounted (or free) entrance fees and huge parades! So, if you happen to be in Japan on this day, take advantage and visit as many museums, concerts and artisan workshops as humanly possible. Some of great ideas for specific places to visit during Bunka no Hi include: The Edo-Tokyo Museum, which is solely focused on the history of Tokyo and is located in the Sumida City area of the Metropolis The town of Hakone in Kanagawa Prefecture, which every year for Bunka no Hi hosts a reenactment of the feudal lord march, known as the “Daimyo Gyoretsu”, with over 150 actors in traditional costume and dress. The Studio Ghibli Museum in Tokyo Inokashira Park, which is dedicated to everything pertaining to the famed animation studio. All tickets for the museum need to be purchased in advance. There’s Also Free Guiding Services A great way to help friendly locals practice their English skills is by letting them take you on a guided tour. Volunteer guides provide free tours in major cities, and other than occasionally paying for admissions to sights or transport for you and the guides, they are completely free! It’s also nice (if you can afford it) to treat your new friend to lunch. Do you have any tips on how to travel to Japan on the cheap? Let us know in the comments below!