Travel to Japan on a Budget – Traveling to Japan is growing exponentially to become one of the most highly anticipated countries to visit for people from all around the world. The intricate culture, gorgeous landmarks, timeless structures, and abundance of food options makes it appealing to almost every, and we’re all for it.
However, one of the things people often overlook is the cost of traveling Japan. If you’ve been saving for eons or happen to be very wealthy, then by all means go for gold with tickets, food, accommodation, and everything else in between. But if you’re traveling and you have a bit of a budget, have a look at our tips below and see if we can save you a dollar or more – we can almost guarantee we will.
Travel to Japan on a Budget Tip #1 – Avoid the (Very) High Season
We’d like to preface this by saying: we get it, it’s the high season for a reason, and we’re definitely not discouraging you from going, but if you’re even a tad money-conscious, then definitely take into consideration that prices could hike up more than 100% of the lowest price during these periods. The cherry blossom season is arguably the most popular time to visit Japan for tourists all around the world and so you’ll find that tickets and accommodation during late February until mid-to-end of March are relatively expensive compared to the rest of the year.
If we were to suggest any other time to visit, then it’d probably be the few weeks ahead or after the sakuras because a). during some years, the flowers are forecasted to bloom ahead of their usual time, so you might be able to catch them before heading home, or b). you might still be able to capture the aftermath of the blooming. Either way, you’ll still be able to experience the beauty of Japan regardless of whether the trees are in full bloom or not.
Another suggestion would be to visit Japan during the Autumn season (from September to November), because that’s when the koyo (Autumn leaves) make their appearance every year, and some might argue that it’s even more stunning than the sakura blossoms. Mountainsides and parks that are adorned with trees will find themselves blanketed in layers of red, brown, orange and yellow leaves constantly falling from the sky; the beautiful foliage scenery is something you’ll likely never forget. And to top it all off, Autumn in Japan is definitely not considered high-season, so you’ll probably save a bit of money during that time!
For more info, feel free to check out this blog post: Best Time To Visit Japan.
Travel to Japan on a Budget Tip #2 – Stay at Hostels or Capsule Hotels
When you travel to Japan, at all times during the year, staying at a hostel or a capsule hotel is a lot cheaper than staying at a resort or a hotel. Before you go off and have nightmares about accommodations that have stained bed sheets, rusty sinks, and creaky stairs, trust us when we say, Japan’s budget hostels are on another level. Here, it’ll be like you’re actually not living on a budget, but you chose to stay in one of the many modern, clean, trendy places that offer just as much bang for buck as hotels.
If you decide to stay at a capsule hotel, you’re in for an even more exciting time. The capsule hotels are very unique to the culture, and consists of you sleeping in pods that are within close proximity to other travellers, yet in most places you’ll have enough room and privacy to be comfortable. They’re relatively cheap, and in recent years, many places have upped their antics to include technology advances within the pods themselves, comfortable lounging areas for when you’re not resting, and state-of-the-art kitchen facilities so customers can save money by staying in and cooking.
If you want some recommendation of hostels or capsule hotels in Tokyo or Kyoto, feel free to read these articles:
Travel to Japan on the Cheap #3 – Get a JR Pass in Advance
The JR Pass is definitely something everyone should look into, even if they don’t think they’ll do enough traveling to make the most of it. The many benefits of purchasing one generally outweigh the cost of it, and plus, it’s systematic way of getting in and out of the station can make it a lot easier for some travellers.
The purpose of the JR Pass is to save people money in advance if they are looking to travel across some of the major areas of Japan within a 1 or 2-week period. One of the most common routes that many travellers do during their first trip to Japan would be to head from Tokyo to Osaka and Kyoto, and then back again to Tokyo for their flight home (for example). In this instance, the JR Pass would definitely be the route to go, as if you were to purchase individual tickets whilst in Japan, you’ll be paying a lot more.
Purchasing this is something that requires some research, and our article on the JR Pass might just be able to assist you: Japan Rail Pass.
Travel to Japan on a Budget Tip #4 – Eat Local
The culinary world in Japan is second to none – and those of you on Instagram will know exactly what we mean. It seems as though every second restaurant is a Michelin star restaurant, and every other restaurant is good enough to earn a Michelin star. In saying that, if you’re on a budget, there is absolutely no reason you need to miss out on delicious all the delicious local food!
If you haven’t heard already, Japan’s home to some of the most unique forms of restaurants – the vending machine/coin restaurant. Here, instead of sitting down at a table and putting an order through a waitress, you order immediately at a vending machine that displays all the food and drink choices of the restaurant, grab the tickets that it spits out, give it to the waiter, and within a moment’s time (and it is literally a moment because Japan), you’ll have your piping hot, delicious food ready at your table – and we know you won’t be disappointed. Many a days were spent in popular vending machine chain restaurants such as Yoshinoya (personal favourite!), Matsuya, Sukiya, and many more by tourists, and there are never any regrets.
Travel to Japan on a Budget Tip #5 – Travel Off The Beaten Track
Tokyo and Kyoto have a high traffic volume, and with this, comes hiked prices across the cities. Unfortunately, this is then sprung onto the tourists who visit. From food to accommodation, venue entry prices to everyday household items, you can tell that there is a difference between the main areas and the smaller towns even just a train ride out.
Whilst we absolutely adore the city of lights (aka Tokyo), and the city of Old Japan (aka Kyoto), we implore visitors to also consider spending time outside of the main areas, to truly immerse themselves into the Japanese culture and lifestyle and people and get a taste of what it’s like to live in a smaller suburban town or even the rural side of Japan.
You will find more off the beaten track destinations in Japan here: Japan Countryside.
Travel to Japan on the Cheap Tip #6 – Use the Bus (if you don’t have the JR Pass)
If you don’t plan to buy a JR Pass, another great way to reduce your travel costs is to use the buses to get from one city to another. This tip is very convenient for the people who want to travel slowly in Japan and don’t want to stick to the maximum of 3 weeks the JR Pass gives you.
The buses in Japan are pretty confortable and as you do breaks at least every 2 hours, you can make a lot of friends during these breaks. But of course, the main idea to travel by bus is to save money. As an example, you can get from Tokyo to Osaka with 5,000 yens instead of 14,000+ yens with the Shinkansen.
Travel to Japan on a Budget Tip #7 – Buy Your Pocket Wifi Online in Advance
We highly, highly, highly recommend purchasing a pocket Wi-Fi before you come to Japan, and if you do it in advance, well, that’s even better for you because you get to save money! Pocket Wi-Fis are honestly godsend. You don’t need to remove your current sim and use another, and if you get the unlimited data pocket Wi-Fi, then you’re in for a good time (because the internet is just so fast in Japan – we kid you not, it might be on par with the internet you have connected at home).
Most pocket Wi-Fi companies will provide a bit of a discount if you order it in advance, and/or if you order it over a certain period of time (specifically in regards to the latter, check whether you might even save money if you book for slightly longer than your staying, with the possible lower cost per day).
We have an awesome article which outlines the pocket Wi-Fi in Japan, and we’ve got some recommendations as well: Pocket Wifi Japan.
Travel to Japan on a Budget Tip #8 – Cut Your Hair at QB House
This is aimed at those who are staying in Japan for a lengthy period of time, but if you’re just there on a short trip, are on a budget, and decide that you need to get your hair cut, well then, QB House is your answer! It’s one of the most quintessential things about Japan – you head in, pay 1200 yen at a vending machine, grab your ticket, and wait in line for the next available hairdresser. There could actually be up to 15 hairdressers within one store (Japan’s all about efficiency after all), so you’ll never have to wait very long. They also cut women’s hair as well, although if you’re a tad pedantic about your hairstyle, then you might need to be a bit cautious.
Travel to Japan on the Cheap Tip #9 – Sleep at a Manga Café (Manga Kissa)
If you’re strapped for cash and want to spend as minimal as possible on somewhere to rest your head at night, then maybe crashing at a manga/internet café is the way to go. For as little as 1,200 yen for 5 hours (Media Café Popeye), you get your own cubicle, and you can even shower there as well! They stock the place up with food and drinks which you can purchase to make the stay more comfortable, and even have a ‘lights out’ period so people can try to get some decent rest.
They usually charge in time increments, so you can stay for as little as 1-2 hours, and for as long as a few days (although it might get a bit uncomfortable after a while). It’s also a very Japanese experience, and even if you’re not strapped for cash, maybe a night here will be just the experience you’re after!
Travel to Japan on a Budget Tip #10 – Tax Free Shopping!
One of the biggest perks about shopping in Japan is that many stores, especially those situated in the dense metropolitan areas that see swarms of tourists all year long, offer tax-free prices (-8%) so long as you meet their minimum spend quota (usually 5,000 yens). This is great for spenders across the entire budget spectrum, because you’ll save no matter what! Some of the biggest souvenirs bought by travellers are from local drugstores and the famous Don Quijote stores, and the minimum spends at these places are not very much at all.
Outside of souvenirs, many large department stores selling everything from women’s fashion to vintage electronics also offer massive discounts via tax-free prices, so if you’ve been eyeing a certain luxury branded coat, a limited edition pair of sneakers, a new luggage suitcase, or even new camera gear, then hold off for now and get your hands on it in Japan.
Bonus Tip – Get your souvenirs at a 100-yen shop, they’re JUST as good!
We mentioned before that you can grab your souvenirs at drugstores and mega stores and get a tax-free discount, however, if you’re just after a few knick-knacks (or even a large number of knick-knacks), then the numerous 100-yen stores sprinkled all over the cities of Japan are where you need to visit. Here, you’ll find a plethora of gorgeous ornaments and little trinkets that you either didn’t know you needed until now, or that would make great gifts for friends and family back home. Some of our favourite souvenir gift ideas from 100-yen stores include Japanese chopsticks, decorated tea cups, wooden fans, and, of course, Japanese snacks!