Budget Hacks: How to Travel in Japan on the Cheap

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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. You might need to get creative with your planning, but there are many ways that you can travel in Japan on the cheap.

Most travelers to Japan want to stay for at least a week, or even up to a month, so they can visit many parts of the country in one trip, but that can be difficult to budget for.

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

Transportation in Japan

Japan high-speed rail

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.

Japan has the high-speed Shinkansen train system that whisks people around at an extremely rapid pace. Itโ€™s really convenient for traveling long distances in a shorter amount of time, but itโ€™s also quite expensive.

Just one trip on the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto or Osaka will cost you roughly $124 one way. Add two or three other trips, and youโ€™ve blown your budget. Thatโ€™s where the Japan Rail Pass comes in.

The Japan rail pass is a virtually all-you-can-use travel pass that  only tourists can buy for a specific duration (7, 14 or 21 days). You can use it on pretty much any train, at any time, without the hassle of purchasing tickets in advance.

You can buy a rail pass that gets you standard seats or splurge for the Green Pass, a first-class rail pass that gets you reserved seats, plus other perks, in the best carriages.

The pass can provide significant savings over buying single tickets. The current price for an adult standard 7-day pass is $280 USD.

For all the information you need, plus where to purchase the rail pass, read our guide on the Japan Rail Pass.

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.

Eating on the Cheap in Japan

Takoyaki
Takoyaki

Known for its incredible food, Japan is a country where you will want to be sampling as many Japanese specialties, like ramen, yakitori, and sushi as you can.

However, you can quickly break your budget with food in Japan if you’re only eating at restaurants and not taking advantage of all the great izakayas and street food vendors.

I hear people say that they don’t want to eat street food when traveling because they’re afraid of food poisoning or stomach bugs that might ruin their trip. While you do have to be careful about the food stalls you choose, you don’t have to avoid them altogether.

Harajuku Gyozaro
Harajuku Gyozaro (Photo by Savored Journeys)

In fact, some of the best and cheapest places to eat in Japan are at food stalls. You will find them near and around markets like Tsukiji outer market in Tokyo and Dotonbori street in Osaka, and in Nishiki Market in Kyoto.

At these street food vendors, you can purchase a large plate of a specialty like gyoza or takoyaki for just a few dollars.

There are also Ramen streets in just about every city in Japan. You can purchase a huge bowl of delicious ramen that will keep you full for hours for just a few dollars too. Usually these ramen stalls can be found around the train stations.

For sushi, we found that grocery store sushi was the most economical way to eat great freshly made sushi for a lot less than you’d pay at a restaurant. We even ate grocery store sushi for breakfast! At most major train stations, there are huge basement grocery stores that have large sushi sections.

How to Drink on the Cheap in Japan

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).

If you like Sake, you can visit the sake breweries outside of Tokyo and Osaka, where there are often free tastings offered. Then you’ll want to visit a sake bar where you can sample as many sakes as you like for one small entrance fee. Kurand Sake Market in Tokyo carries over 100 different varieties of sake directly from the breweries.

Budget Accommodations in Japan

As you can imagine, hotels are one of the biggest expenses you’ll have while traveling in Japan. There are a plethora of high-end and luxury hotels throughout the country, and travelers also really love staying in traditional ryokans. But these options can be quite pricey.

I am not a fan of hostels, but there are some really nice hostels you can book in major cities in Japan that will save you a tremendous amount of money.

If you’re not up for a hostel, other budget friendly options include privately owned apartments and Airbnbs. You can find great airbnb options on their website, or you can often find apartments for short-term stays on Booking.com.

Japan is also known for its capsule hotels. These are sort of mini-hotels that are considerably smaller than a traditional hotel. They provide a bed and basic amenities and the price is often around $25 USD per night.

Activities on the Cheap in Japan

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

In Japan, there are many activities you can do that are free or very inexpensive. These are the activities you should aim to participate in to save money.

Free activities include walking around the city (there are so many unique things to see while walking around), visiting gardens (some have entrance fees), visiting temples from the outside. 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.

However, there are also a ton of museums, temples, and activities that are not free. And you don’t want to miss out on those. For the cities where the focus is on these things, you can get a visitors pass that allows entrance to multiple attractions for one low price.

Especially in Kyoto and Fukuoka is its ancient temples, art museums, and architecture. You can buy 1 or 2 day passes that allow you to see multiple things in the city, as well as ride public transportation.

Want help planning?
Want to plan your own Japan trip, but need a bit of help? ViaHero helps travelers plan independent trips in Japan. A local expert will help you plan your perfect trip and it’s very reasonably priced! You can even use our coupon code SAVOREDJAPAN for a 5% discount at checkout.

CONCLUSION

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.

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Japan
Japan (Photo: CC0 Public Domain)
Budget Hacks: How to Travel in Japan on the Cheap

27 thoughts on “Budget Hacks: How to Travel in Japan on the Cheap

  1. Marianne @ Mum on the Move says:

    Great article – Japan is so expensive, it’s always good to go prepared with some tips for ways of saving some cash!

  2. 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.

  3. Arzo Travels says:

    I also didn’t think you can fin bargains in Japan but happy to hear it is possible. South Korea sounds interesting as well.

  4. Traveling Rockhopper says:

    Beautiful places! My favourite is Kyoto, where I was in winter and everything was covered by snow and looked even more magical ๐Ÿ™‚ And of course, matcha ice cream ๐Ÿ˜€

  5. 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!

  6. 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!

    • Laura Lynch says:

      You can do both, Meg! If you’re planning to go to Fukuoka, ti’s really easy to get to South Korea – then you’ll get a two-for-one!

  7. 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

    • 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.

  8. Juergen | dare2go.com says:

    I confess: budget reasons have always kept me away from Japan (and the impression that it’s very crowded and busy in all cities). Good to know that there are some travel hacks.

  9. Christopher says:

    That house on the lake in the picture at the top is what and where I want my future house to be. Breathtaking. Great post.

  10. Elaine J. Masters says:

    Nice tips. I enjoyed traveling in Japan two times. Truly an expensive destination to explore. I hope these tips help others experience it nonetheless.

  11. 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.

  12. Jenna says:

    Great tips, especially the bit about South Korea! Will have to try and add that in on our next visit ๐Ÿ™‚ 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!

    • Laura Lynch says:

      Using points in Japan is a really great idea. We always try to save up our points to use in places that are especially expensive. Better value!

  13. 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!

  14. 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. ๐Ÿ˜€

  15. Jennifer Melroy says:

    I really want to see the culture in Japan. It is so interesting. It is nice to know that Japan can be done on a tighter budget. It always seems so expensive.

    • Laura Lynch says:

      The culture and the food are two of the top attractions in Japan for me. But yes, it can be expensive!

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