Japan often has a reputation of being an expensive place to travel. This is true, but it can also be very affordable with the right budgeting. This article will help guide you on managing your finances while traveling through this amazing country (and also leave plenty of money left for shopping!)
Most hostels will charge between $20-28 US per night for a dorm room. Capsule hotels cost between $24-40 US for a tiny little room (that’s really a pod). A double room at a budget hotel is closer to $48-64 US per night.
There are many cheap places to eat out in Japan from the ramen noodle shops to miso and soba noodles. These food options range from $1.5-9 US. Buying groceries will cost you $24-32 US per week. Most restaurant meals cost around $6.5-12 US. Mid-range restaurants can cost around $28 US. Sushi trains cost between $0.8-4 US per plate. Fast food is anywhere from $4 US upwards.
Transportation in Japan is incredibly expensive. Trains are the fastest but most expensive way to travel. A train ticket from Osaka to Tokyo can cost around $120 US! Most of the city metro tickets cost $0.8-1.5 US for a single journey. In most major cities, you can buy a day pass, which gives you unlimited travel for 24 hours for around $4-8 US on select trains. Buses can be even cheaper, but are sometimes less convenient – and also can be tied up by traffic during rush hour.
Most temples and museums are free to enter, although some popular attractions cost around $8 US. The temples in Kyoto (tourist hotspots) can cost up to $4 US. Many of the city’s parks are free, so take advantage when you can and spend the day there. You can buy city or temple passes that are valid for one day.
Visit the free attractions
With countless museums, shrines, temples, historic neighborhoods and parks, Japan is filled with opportunities to become immersed in its culture. Many of the nation’s parks and museums are free.
Get a JR Pass
The bullet trains in Japan are ridiculously expensive with one-way fares costing hundreds of dollars. If you plan to do a lot of travel around the country, get the JR Pass which allows you unlimited train travel and will save you a ton of money. I should note that the only way to obtain this pass is in your own country since it is not available for purchase once you arrive in Japan. Make sure you reserve and pay for the JR pass voucher prior to coming!
Take the bus
Buses are a far more economical option than the trains. They cost a fraction of the price but take a lot longer. For example, the two-hour bullet train ride from Tokyo to Osaka becomes a 10-hour bus ride. You can get unlimited travel passes for $100 USD for 3 non-consecutive days of travel. If you have the time, and like a slower pace – take the bus.
Shop at the 100 Yen ($1 USD) stores
There are many 100 Yen shops in Japan with set meals, groceries, water, toiletries, and household items. Store names vary by region, so ask your hotel/hostel reception where the nearest one is located. They really are a Godsend.
Eat at a kombini
A 7-11, or Family Mart, and other corner stores have a lot of pre-set meals for $1.5-4 US that make for a cheap lunch option. Additionally, supermarkets also have many set meals at similar prices.
Cook your food
Hostels have kitchens where you can cook and cut your food expenses to less than $4 US per day. Combining this with shopping at the 100 Yen stores will drastically cut your food costs.
Eat curry, ramen, and donburi
I essentially lived off these three foods during my three weeks in Japan. Curry bowls were as cheap as $2.5 US. Donburi, bowls of meat and rice, are around $2-5. Ramen is usually between $5-$10 a bowl. These are the best ways to eat cheap and filling meals while in Japan.
Work for your room
Hostels in Japan let you work for your room. You’ll spend a few hours in the morning cleaning and you’ll get free accommodation for as long as you want. Make sure you check the rules for this though, sometimes it can be a way of getting into trouble with the law.
Buy food at night
After 6 pm, supermarkets discount their fresh food as they have to get rid of it by law. The rates start at around 20% off and creep their way up. If you buy your food after 8 pm, you can save up to 50%.