Last updated on December 6th, 2016

Japan
Japan (Photo: CC0 Public Domain)

This article is part of Hipmunk’s Destination Unknown series.

If you’ve looked into a trip to Japan, you’ve probably already realized that Japan is not a cheap destination, even with a favorable exchange rate, and especially if you’ve grown out of staying in hostels. We are affordable luxury travelers, which means we look for the best deals we can find that offer a good level of luxury along with outstanding value – and that philosophy applies to hotels as well as restaurants, tours, and transportation.

Good deals can definitely be found in Japan; you just may need to put in a little extra effort to find them. Check out these budget hacks that will help you travel to Japan and South Korea without breaking your budget.

Most people who travel to Japan visit Tokyo, even if it’s only for a few days, because Tokyo has the most accessible airport in Japan. However, it’s likely that you’ll want to visit other parts of Japan as well, but transportation costs can really add up.

Kyoto

Gold Temple in Kyoto
Gold Temple in Kyoto (Image: CC0 Public Domain)

Take for instance the trip from Tokyo to Kyoto, a popular destination that’s a journey from Tokyo. The fast train from Tokyo will cost around $120. This is where the Japan Rail Pass really comes in handy. If you plan to do even a small amount of traveling between cities, it will pay off quickly. You’ll get unlimited rail travel with the seven-day pass for $250. While in Kyoto, be sure to check out this post on How to Experience Fushimi Inari Shrine.

Osaka

Dotonbori in Osaka, Japan
(Image: CC0 Public Domain)

One of the most food-centric cities in Japan is Osaka. Known for its incredible food, Osaka is a prime spot for foodies who want to try many Japanese specialties, like ramen, yakitori, and sushi. You can quickly break your budget with food in Osaka, but you don’t have to. Instead, visit the popular Donatori area along the canal, where you’ll find dozens of street vendors and cheap eats.

Sapporo

Sapporo Bier Garten in Sapporo, Japan
Sapporo Bier Garten in Sapporo, Japan (Image via Flickr by Clint)

When we travel, we like to visit wineries and breweries when we can, not only to get a taste of the local spirits, but to learn more about the ingredients and processes used there. In Sapporo, save on your bar bill by visiting the three major breweries in town: Sapporo, Kirin and Asahi, where you’ll get a tour and free tastings (at least at the latter two).

Fukuoka

Fukuoka, Japan
Fukuoka, Japan (Image: CC0 Public Domain)

One of the best parts of Fukuoka is its ancient temples, art museums, and architecture. There’s no better way to see the city than to walk! Instead of booking an expensive group tour, consider joining a free walking tour, or put together your own self-guided tour of the top sites in the city.

Busan, South Korea

Busan, South Korea at night
Busan, South Korea at night (Image: CC0 Public Domain)

I bet you never considered combining a trip to Japan with South Korea. Located on an island off the western mainland of Japan, Fukuoka is only a three-hour ferry ride from Busan, South Korea. Thrifty travelers are always looking for ways to maximize their travel dollars and time. Taking the ferry between these two countries could save hundreds of dollars because you can easily and cheaply combine both countries into one trip.

Use these budget hacks during your next trip to Japan and you’ll find that it’s not nearly as expensive as you once thought. If you plan well, you can travel in Japan for cheap

28 thoughts on “Budget Hacks: Traveling in Japan & South Korea for Cheap

  1. Rob Taylor says:

    What a great plan. We haven’t done Asia as a family. Self guided walking tours are where we have our greatest successes though, so glad to hear that’s an easy option.

  2. sabrina barbante says:

    Lovely alternance of pics of old style structures and modern areas, you give an idea of the double (and incredibly interesting) face of this country that I really wish to visit as soon as possible!

  3. Meg Jerrard says:

    Thanks for the tips – I’ve heard really good things about the Japan Rail Pass; we’re looking for our next destination for 2016 from Australia so Japan is definitely on the cards. Just have o toss up between that or South Korea!

  4. Stacey Valle says:

    I love Japan! Even though it can be pretty expensive, I tried my very best during my visit there for a week! Japan Rail is definitely worth it! Expensive but worth every penny, especially since I only stayed for a week – which is not enough time to explore a lot of things I want to see in Japan, haha. I missed out Sapporo and Fukuoka! Osaka as well, I went there but didn’t really explore since I focused primarily in Tokyo, Kyoto (my favorite!) and Hiroshima. I didn’t know about the ferry from Fukuoka to Busan! That’s really awesome, I just didn’t realized that it’s only about 3 hours away. I’ll keep that in mind for next time 🙂

    • Laura Lynch says:

      Yes, Japan Rail is definitely the way to go for getting around. I bet most people don’t realize that the two countries are so close and can be reached like this. It cuts down a lot on transportation costs between the two.

  5. Karla says:

    I love japan and the food, thanks for the tips. We budget $30 a day for food and it was enough. We still got to sample most of it. Loved the market places too.

  6. Jenna says:

    Great tips, especially the bit about South Korea! Will have to try and add that in on our next visit 🙂 We redeemed hotel points for most of our time in Japan so that saved a ton–I think trains were our most expensive thing! The JR Pass really helped though! Would love to check out Sapporo next time as well–we love visiting breweries when we travel!

  7. Nicole says:

    I’m sharing this immediately because I have quite a few audience members that this would be perfect for. Thank you for sharing your deep knowledge on the subject with us. It’s so helpful and I’m also bookmarking it for future reference!

  8. Mar Pages says:

    Japan is in a world of its own, and I LOVE it. Could use the tips on South Korea though, can’t wait to get there next! Korean BBQ all day every day. 😀

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