The price of the airline ticket to Japan, is still doable. But then … “Japan is very expensive” or “high costs in Japan” are some of the first phrases you see when you start reading more about this cool country you are going to visit. A single train ticket costs 100 euros, and an orange can be as pricey as 50 euros.. Wait what!!? You’re shocked, and didn’t realize that Japan would be that expensive. How are you going to enjoy this beautiful country, which seems to be really unaffordable?
No worries, Japan is not as pricey as you often read and hear. I was very impressed and I sometimes even found Japan very cheap. You just have to know what to look out for. Therefore, below you will find five tips which will make sure you won’t go broke on a trip to Japan.
1. Book accommodations in time
Most tourists in Japan are Japanese people themselves. And Japanese people are often very well organized. This means that they have booked most of their accommodations beforehand. In this case the saying applies: “When in Rome, do like the Romans do”. So book your accommodations as early as possible. In our case, I had already booked the hotels almost a year in advance. It surprised me back then how many cheap options there were available, while when I looked again a few weeks before departure, I only saw extremely high prices! Being an early bird really pays off in this country!
Our accommodation costs were on average € 60 per night (2 people).
2. Sleep in Japanese style or book an Airbnb
We stay on the topic for accommodations a bit longer. Since it can be very profitable to know the difference between sleeping Japanese style versus Western style. In Japan you can sleep in Western hotels, where the hotel room is exactly as we know it in Europe as well. These types of hotels are pricey. You can also opt for Japanese style, which is not only cheaper but also a very special experience.
A Japanese style hotel room is an empty room where the floor is covered with rice straw mats (Tatami mats). There is only a low table located in the room and one or more wall cupboards. In these wall cabinets you will find Futtons, thick mattresses that you put on the floor at the moment you will go to sleep. Spend the night in this Japanese style in a Ryokan (inn) or a Minshuku (bed and breakfast). The price of an overnight stay in a Ryokan or Minshuku is between € 22 and € 50 per night (per person).
Another Japanese way of staying overnight is by sleeping in a Capsule hotel. You do not sleep in a hotel room, but in a capsule, sort of a bunk bed, but then completely disconnected from the rest of the guests. In this capsule there is light, heating, sometimes a TV and Wi-Fi. The bathroom is shared and your luggage is locked in lockers. It may not be cosy when you travel in company, but it is a truly special experience! The price of an overnight stay in a Capsule hotel is between € 15 and € 40 per night (per person).
Finally, in large cities such as Tokyo, it is also cheap to book a (tiny) apartment or Ryokan via Airbnb. This is also a lot cheaper than Western hotels! Next to this, there is a huge couch-surfing community in Japan, might be cool aswel!
3. Japan Rail Pass
Public transport is expensive in Japan. Train tickets can easily be more than € 100 for just a one-hour train ride. Taxis are also pricey. However, good news: for tourists the Japanese have made a nice exception: the Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass)! This is a railway subscription which allows you to travel unlimited for a fixed amount and a fixed period. We bought a JR Pass for 2 weeks and traveled through the entire country. The Price: 344 euros per person. That may sound like a lot, but believe me, this is a more than fair deal! Japan is a huge country, the train network is extensively and trains are ALWAYS on time! In addition, the trains are super clean and often high speed trains. Therefore you travel in a pleasant way, in no time all over the country.
Depending on how long you are in Japan, and whether you travel a lot, it may be worthwhile to buy a JR Pass. Note: a pass must be requested and received outside of Japan. If you are already in Japan, it is no longer possible to buy it. So order in time! For more information, visit the JRPass website.
If the JR Pass isn’t a good option for you, consider taking the bus. Busses are much cheaper than trains. They take longer, however in case you travel by night, take a sleeper bus. This way you don’t need an accommodation for that night anymore. Hence a very big budget saver! Also hitchhiking is very common in Japan. This is (most of the time) a save and budget friendly way of transport.
4. Visit museums with a discount
Another nice thing the Japanese do for their foreign visitors: tourists get a special tourist discount at museums and other cultural places. With this discount, you sometimes pay less then 50%, which makes museums very affordable!
Something else that you will find everywhere in Japanese cities are free walking tours. With a free walking tour you walk with a guide through a certain neighbourhood where the guide tells you all about the history, art or architecture of this neighbourhood. Afterwards you can give a tip, depending on how happy you were with the tour and what your budget allows. This tip is not mandatory.
5. Eat as a local + supermarket deals!
Eating in Japan can be very expensive. Fresh fruit, fresh vegetables and dairy products are a lot more expensive than in Europe. On the other hand, things like fresh tuna or salmon are a lot cheaper, and also of much better quality. If you don’t want to run out of money, eat like the locals do. For breakfast and lunch eat some soup or Onigiri (filled rice triangle). You can get Onigiri everywhere and they are even in the supermarkets or 7/11’s of good quality. Price: 110 Yen which is less than one euro. Do you have an appetite for something sweet? The Japanese love French bakeries, where all kinds of delicious sweets are being sold. I still dream of the extremely delicious coffee buns! In case you cannot wake up without a cup of coffee in the morning, then buy one at a convenience store. Coffee is being sold for just €0.80 at 7/11, Lawson or FamilyMart.
On a budget? Don’t eat in a sushi restaurant, it’s often very pricey, but eat at one of the thousand tiny Ramen shops spread all over the country. You will sit between only Japanse people and eat the best Misosoup or Ramen you have ever had! Ordering is done at a vending machine, after which you receive a receipt that you bring to the kitchen counter. At the counter, a big bowl of steaming hot soup will be waiting for you. You can enjoy this enormous bowl of broth with vegetables, noodles and egg. Believe me, after eating this delicious bowl of broth with vegetables, noodles and egg you won’t be hungry for a long time!
Another tip: at the end of the day many supermarkets have large shelves full of discounted dishes, sushi and bread. Most of the time the discount is between 50-70% and the quality of the food is still very high. We often got sushi or sandwiches at the end of the day with which we had breakfast the next morning. Super tasty and incredibly cheap!
We spent around €40 a day on food and beverages in Japan (2 people).
As you read, Japan does not have to be expensive at all! Do you have tips that are missing here or do you have a question? Leave a comment.