There’s a common misconception that you need to save a lot of money in order to visit Japan. While some activities may dwindle your savings account, visiting Japan on a budget is absolutely possible. While I was planning my trip, I heard from many people how expensive Japan is and that I should save up a boatload of money. But Japan isn’t that expensive as rumors portray it to be. I found Japan to be on par with most European countries like Paris and Italy. Hint: if you’re visiting from the U.S., every $1 is roughly 108 yen which is advantageous.
From hotels to places to eat, here are 3 tips to budget your finances in Japan:
Find Budget-Friendly Places to Stay
There are some WTF hotel prices in Japan, especially in Tokyo. I’m all about living your best boujee life, but there’s a limit to how much I’m willing to spend on accommodations. Luckily, Airbnb’s, hostels, and budget friendly hotels are readily available in Japan.
Good Budget-Friendly Stays in Tokyo:
One thing to keep in mind is that Tokyo accommodations are very compact given the city structures. One room with two people can be challenging with no more than 400 square ft to coexist. If you’re looking for more space, my advice is to spend more for comfort.
- Super Hotel Shinjuku ~$100/night
- APA Hotel ~$100/night
- Airbnb options ~45-$100/night
- Nine Hours Hostel ~$30/night
Good Budget-Friendly Stays in Kyoto:
Kyoto accommodations are amazing and there are a lot of options you can stay for both comfort and accessibility. I recommend staying in the Shijo district as that is the most convenient center point without the high price tag compared to Gion. Kyoto rooms are far superior than Tokyo for half the price, and most hotels have bikes available for you to rent for sightseeing.
Save on Transportation
Japan has the most advanced transportation system in the entire world. Their train, subway, and bus systems allow you to conveniently hop through different districts and go on fun day trips. Even so, I found that we were mistakenly spending a huge chunk of our budget on transportation costs during our first few days — and quickly learned how to cut costs.
Had I known what I know now, I would ride the busses in Japan as often as possible. Secondly, I would map out where I’m going each day and look into purchasing subway day passes. When we first got to Tokyo, my boyfriend and I were buying single tickets and hopping around everywhere. After spending $30 just on subway tickets, we realized the magic of day passes which provides a lot of value if you’re going to be hopping the same metro line for most of the day. I highly recommend you utilize Google Maps on your phone, as it details your fastest routes and most cost-efficient routes.
The bullet train, or Shinkansen, is what we took to navigate between Tokyo to Kyoto. Though fast and convenient, the tickets cost us a pretty penny. You can also take overnight busses to save money, but I think if you’re trying to maximize your time and keeping opportunity costs in mind, you should just pay for the Shinkansen. You can purchase a 7, 14, or 21 day JR pass to save money, and you can use them consecutively once activated. The JR Pass is a fantastic way to save money if you know you’ll be traveling all over Japan as purchasing individual tickets do add up. We purchased individual tickets because it made more sense for our itinerary. Pro tip: use this Japan Rail Pass calculator to help you decide if you should purchase a JR Pass or individual tickets.
Eat Well for Less
This is a biased subject for me because I am a foodie and I’m more than willing to splurge on restaurants that I want to experience. If food is not too important to you, then you won’t be missing out on much. Sure, Japan has bluefin tuna, gastronomical eateries, and Kaiseiki, but you can still experience what Japan has to offer.
Fill up on snacks at convenience stores
You’re probably thinking, “Angie, you’re kidding.” No sir-ee, I am not. One of the most magical places in Japan are the likes of 7-Eleven and Lawson. Every miraculous thing you can find will be in these stores, from Japanese chips to kara-age (deep fried chicken nuggets). They also have cold sandwiches, bentos, and a variety of drinks and beer to take on-the-go — all for under $8!
Grab coffee at vending machine
Again, not kidding. Just like Lawson stores, there are vending machines on every corner and alleyway in Japan. These vending machines have water, soda, cold coffee, hot chocolate, and hot coffee (yup, HOT). Pro tip: We got lucky and chose hot coffee on our first day in Tokyo and could not find hot coffee in vending machines for several days thereafter, until we found out that ones labeled in red are hot; cold coffee is typically labelled in blue.
Follow the crowd
Something I learned in Japan is that the locals and tourists are willing to endure absurd wait times for restaurants or food stands that they like. These eateries are usually affordable and delicious. From ramen to conveyer belt sushi to izakayas, there’s no shortage of good food in Japan. Moral of this story is to follow the locals!
Here are some cheap eats in Japan:
- Tiger Gyoza in Kyoto (amazing gyozas and noodles)
- Uobei in Shibuya, Tokyo (conveyer belt sushi)
- Ichiran in Shibuya, Tokyo (ramen — the line is always long so get there early!)
- Nishiki Market in Kyoto (street food, just say yes)
- Steakland Kobe (if you’re looking for kobe beef for a reasonable price, this is the one)
- Dotonbori in Osaka (again, street food)
- Kinryu Ramen in Dotonobori (cheap ramen in Osaka)