Doing Japan on the cheap

Let’s face it. Japan isn’t cheap. Prices are on par with Sydney when it comes to food, accommodation and shopping. And transport? Well if you’re scraping by on Sydney transport, you got no hope in Japan ha-ha. But fear not!! All hope is not lost. If you do your research, plan your days, and travel smart, Japan is do-able on a budget.

The main thing we had to budget for was flights, the rail-pass, and accommodation. For 3 weeks, it averaged out to be $50 a day (not including the flight and rail pass), keeping in mind we stuck to local eateries, shared accommodation, and paid for attractions here and there if we thought they were worth it. I’ll admit Japan was an expensive trip and required some saving up but we were able to keep to budget every day and still see/do HEAPS of awesome things! You can easily spend $200-300 a day exploring Japan but budget is not a compromise for the quality of your trip! Here’s some of the ways we were able to do Japan on a backpacker’s budget:

Itinerary

Tokyo – Hakone day trip – Yamagata – Nagano – Hida/Takayama – Okayama – Hiroshima – Miyajima – Kyoto – Tokyo – Osaka

We got a Japan Rail Pass 

Ok these things are bloody expensive. But if you think about the number of journeys we took, it saved us HUNDREDS and a lot of time and effort. For a 2 week rail pass it was $550 each from memory. Each one way train trip can cost $80-100 apparently so given that we took at least 8 bullet trains, it was definitely worth it. Plus it made planning our trip easier because we could be flexible.

Tips:

  • The rail pass is activated on the first train trip. So even though we travelled for 3 weeks, we only needed the bullet trains in a 2 week window so we planned our trip to make the most of it!
  • You gotta order your Rail pass BEFORE you go to Japan, they can’t be purchased once you get there!

We walked a LOT! 

In the bigger cities like Tokyo you can get around cheaply on the metro. If i remember correctly we used a top up card and every trip was maybe $1 or $2 but it does add up quickly! We chose to walk between some suburbs instead, which only took 20-30 mins, but we got to explore and see more of the city that way, maybe find a hidden eatery we’d come back to for dinner 🙂

We stayed in Hostels or budget hotels 

Now I”m a hostels girl but since I had a companion, booking a budget hotel room or air bnb ended up being around the same price. So we did hostels and hotels half the time and it averaged around $15-20 pp a night. Hostelworld.com is my go-to but what I don’t like is having to pay a booking/deposit fee because travel plans can change quickly and I don’t like losing money! So what I’d do is scour hostelworld.com for recommended places and if I find a few I like, I would try to find them on booking.com as they’re sometimes cheaper and offer free cancellation up to the day of arrival – super handy! Sometimes I’d even book two places with free cancellation and once I’ve checked into one, I just cancel the other 😉

Tips:

  • Instead of booking through hostelworld with the deposit fees, email the hostel directly to reserve a bed. Sometimes the site isn’t most up to date on availability anyway and most of the time they won’t require any deposit.
  • Check if the hostel you want to book is on booking.com with free cancellation
  • If you’re plans are still in the air, note down a few hostels or contact them to confirm they have availability, and you can just turn up

We took advantage of free sampling!!! 

Oh Tokyo was the best for this. There were SO many snack stalls and souvenir shops and they ALL offer samples. We’d go from store to store, eating their samples with no intention to purchase, which is pretty rude but hey, you gotta take what you can when travelling on a budget 😛 It was really fun too and we learned about gift-giving culture in Japan.

We didn’t dine at any ‘nice’ restaurants 

Okay, we did ONCE but this was like our treat because we were doing so well with our budget haha. It only cost about $23 for both of us but we were used to spending around $3-4 for every meal. Food is EVERYWHERE in Japan and it was always easy to find a cheap eat. Our favourites became Lawson convenience stores and those locally run places that sell noodle/rice/curry dishes for $2-4 each. Otherwise we always popped by a grocery store to get some fruit and snacks to bring with us if we got hungry during the day. It sounds like we starved but I promise we tried a lot of yummy foods!

We made our own breakfast and dinners 

One of the great things about hostels is that they have a communal kitchen and fridge, so we always got some breakfast items the night before and cooked simple Japanese inspired dinners like rice and veggies or soba noodles. If you’re lucky there’s typically a ‘free shelf’ or ‘free food’ in the kitchen that other backpackers leave behind too – WIN! I remember having the happiest morning finding a free bag of muesli and matcha cake!

We saved our money for the attractions we really wanted to see 

A lot of things are free to see in Japan like museums, galleries in gardens. But when it came to paid attractions we did further research before deciding it was worth it. There were definitely experiences we missed out on like the Robot restaurant, Maid cafe or cat cafe, which would’ve been cool too. But we’re glad we spent on the attractions that gave us a real cultural experience like the Sumo tournament and Kabukiza theatre!


Even though Japan is a little less wallet-friendly I’d go back any day! But over to you – have you been to Japan and have any money saving tips? Leave a comment below as I’d love to hear it! 😀

If you enjoyed reading this post you might want to check out Top 10 things to do in Tokyo! (and hit that ‘Like’ button below 😉 )

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