Japan is a fascinating country, where history co-exists with modernity. Blessed with a unique culture, Japan doesn’t leave anyone indifferent and never fails to amaze visitors. From some of the oldest temples in the world to some of most modern shopping centers in the world, Japan has something to offer to everyone. Despite its beauty and uniqueness, Japan is also one of the most expensive countries I’ve ever been to in Asia.
Ever thought about visiting Japan but held back because of it’s price tag? This guide about budget travel in Japan was made for you !
We stayed for 24 nights in Japan, and we spent slightly less than 500US$ for the three of us, which means a little less than 7$ a day per person. Overall, we spent more than we usually do when visiting countries because we wanted to treat ourselves with the exquisite Japanese food. We spent around a 100$ on accommodation and less than that on transportation. Most of our expenses were food related or entrance tickets.
In this guide we will cover the 3 main sources of expense : Eating, sleeping and transportation. On top of that we’ll give you a few extra tips on traveling in Japan. After reading this article, you should have no problem to budget travel in Japan with 10$ a day or even less, depending on how adventurous you might want to be!
You can also check the course we’re offering on how to budget travel around the world, you can apply many of these tips to travel Japan!
Table of Contents
Comparing to other Asian countries, the food in Japan can appear rather expensive. Anyways, it’s still much cheaper to eat out in Japan than in Western Europe or the US! You can find many restaurants offering lunch or dinner for less than 10US$ per person. Although, if you want to budget travel in Japan you might want to consider some other options than restaurants. Here’s my suggestions:
100 yen shop
My main advice is to eat in 100 yen shops. The name is pretty clear, everything inside (should) costs a 100¥.
As of today 100 yen is equal to 0.77€. You can find a lot of different things in this kind of shop, from food to kitchenware or clothes. In terms of food, most of what they sell are unhealthy snacks, but if you dig you might find something suitable for you such as nuts, rice balls, bread or noodles. Some 100 yen shops are selling fresh products like fruits, ham and various other food suitable to make a sandwich and a quick picnic in a park.
Don Quijote is not a 100 yen shop, but you can find a huge variety of food at a cheap price. They are usually located at the upper floors of commercial buildings near the main train station. They sell baked sweet potatoes at only 100 yen. It’s usually cheaper than a supermarket. A great place to budget travel in Japan!
Traveling on a budget in Japan rhymes with Konbinis. A konbini is the japanese name for a convenience store, such as 7-Eleven, Lawson or Family Mart. It’s pretty cheap to eat in and the food is decent. If you’re hitchhiking, konbinis make a great starting point to exit a city as they are located everywhere and interestingly usually before a toll. Most Japanese love their konbinis and will stop there to get a snack, smoke a cigarette or use the toilets. The perfect place to ask them for a ride!
Supermarkets are a good place to eat at night, they offer big discount after around 7pm (time depends on the supermarket) on fresh food like sushi, cakes, lunch boxes…
If you want to eat on a budget, here’s a list of cheap ingredients to get while you’re in Japan :
- Udon (a Japanese noodle)
- Sprout beans
It won’t be simple for vegetarians or vegans to eat outside, fish is omnipresent in the Japanese food. Cautious ! It often appears in the manner of fish sauce or fish stock (Dashi in Japanese), which are difficult to detect at first glance.
Sleeping in an internet café
One of the popular options among Japanese is to stay overnight in an internet café or manga café. Travelers can also adopt this habit to budget travel in Japan, as these places offer shower, drinks and food. This is one of the cheapest options to spend time, it will cost you about 2000 yen (15€) for a night. Be aware that some don’t have shower facilities.
The best option to budget travel in Japan, as it is certainly the cheapest option out there. You can camp at service areas on the highway if you’re hitchhiking, otherwise if you’re inside the city you can head for the bigger park you can see on the map and crash for the night, and wake up before sunrise.
I wrote an article to give you my best tips to wild camp without trouble, check it out!
Airport – Train station
Sleeping in an airport works always well in a developed country, even though it’s often located far from the city, meaning that you need to hitchhike or take the train to get there. Check the local situation and how convenient it might be to reach this place. Although less comfortable, another option could be to sleep in the train station if it’s big enough to be open all night. You’ll more likely won’t have safety issues in Japan.
Sleeping in a public bath
Similar to South Korea, some public baths are opened 24 hours a day, which means that technically you can sleep there, and some travelers and locals take advantage of this policy.
Before coming to Japan, we were a bit scared because some fellow travelers told us it would be difficult to use Couchsurfing. Despite these warnings, we had no trouble to find hosts pretty much everywhere we went. Out of 24 nights, we spent 19 nights with 7 different hosts that we found through Couchsurfing and Trustroots. We were traveling with a toddler, and some hosts openly told us this impacted their decision to accept us. Be aware that popular hosts in touristic cities can receive up to 30 requests a day, so you’d better be the most original out there !
If you really want to do it on a budget travel in Japan, I believe that you’re down to two options : Cycling or Hitchhiking. Of course you can also walk.
Japan is pretty suitable for cycling, actually you’ll see many workers going to work with their bike, or moms picking up kids from school. I loved it ! At least, Japanese will get to the closest train station by bike. Car drivers are well aware and I felt much more respect towards cyclists than in neighboring countries such as South Korea or China. Pavements are usually wide, with a lane for pedestrians and one for cyclists. Coupling it with camping it can definitely be a fun & cheap experience!
If you want to hitchhike in Japan, we wrote a complete guide to share our experience and tips on hitchhiking in Japan.
For our trip, we chose the hitchhiking option, and it was pretty easy! Japan has the reputation of being one of the best countries in the world to hitchhike in and I can understand why. If you have ever hitchhiked in Western Europe then hitchhiking in Japan is somehow similar, you have to abide by the same unwritten rules : Hitchhiking from a rest area to another on the highway is the fastest way.
They are pretty strict on hitchhiking on the highway so you’ll need to stand before the entrance in order to get a ride. And usually there is not much space for cars to stop at the on-ramp. It does really sound like Europe!
But don’t get fooled by these similarities, your experience will be totally different than what you could experience in Europe! Communication is usually much more complicated here, so it would be a good idea to write a little note in Japanese explaining who you are, what you’re doing and where you want them to drop you. Otherwise an app translating works fine!
Another difference is that hitchhiking is not really popular here, even though it has become more common recently. You’ll probably be the first hitchhiker they’ll ever pick up, and they’ll try hard to be very nice with you. We often had people driving us past their destination to help us.
All in all, we had a great time hitchhiking in Japan, and we’ll definitely recommend this alternative to everyone planning to budget travel in Japan!
Plane / Bus / Train
Domestic flights are actually almost always cheaper than the train and can also be cheaper than the bus. A quick search on Skyscanner shows me that a plane between Osaka and Tokyo can be found at around 40$ one-way without check-in luggage. To be thorough you’ll also need to add the cost of a train ticket around 10-15$ for a one-hour ride to get in and out of these airports with public transportation.
Want to know the price of the train ? 14.000¥ which equals to 125$. The distance is about 500 kilometers and the train can cover it in just 2 hours and a half. The overnight bus will be cheaper on this route, but it will take around 8 to 9 hours. A bus ticket might cost you at least 3000¥ (25$) with a cheap company if you book in advance. The high cost of transportation makes it prohibitive to budget travel in Japan.
To move around the city on a budget, the best option is probably to walk as much as you can. It’s enjoyable since the sidewalks are well-maintained and wide. Renting a bicycle is also totally recommended !
Taking the train
To get to more distant places you can either use a bus or the train. The price is similar but it’s much easier to take the train. You can check the fare and timetable on Hyperdia. You can get pretty much anywhere with the train, but their system is confusing because multiple companies are operating in the same city. Transferring from a line to another is not an easy task, and you might have to get two tickets if you want to do so. Hyperdia will be your best friend for planning purposes !
Taking the bus
Taking the bus can be slightly unsettling at first because of the way it works. You enter from the back and get a ticket from a machine. You have to exit by the front door, first insert your ticket in the machine. It will tell you the correct fare to be paid depending on the distance you traveled. You can pay with cash or with an appropriate transportation card. I thought that was kind of like paying a parking lot.
BONUS: More tips to Budget Travel in Japan
There are lockers in every train station and most tourist information center. Bear in mind that you have to pay and they don’t come cheap (between 3 to 5$). The price is rather high for travelers planning to budget travel in Japan, but we noticed free lockers in many shopping centers, found all over the country and usually around the train station. More likely than not, you’ll need a 100 yen coin that they’ll give you back at the end, be prepared!
If you’re not much into ATM fees, you’d better cash back at 7-Eleven ATM or in the JP Bank Post Office ATM since that’s the only two that don’t charge anything. The rest charges a fee when you cash back with an international card. That being said I once found a 7-Eleven ATM charging a fee in the Osaka airport.
Check our article on how to reduce your bank fees abroad!
Tourist information center
In Japan, tourist information centers are usually really helpful. Some might have some computers for you to use and plan your trip, or some might offer you special free activities like the one in Nara. I truly recommend to always drop by no matter the city you are in. I always enjoy finding a English-speaking local!
You can easily take a shower in a Onsen (Hot springs). They are everywhere in Japan. The entrance fee starts from 600¥ (5$). A cheaper way to take a shower is to do so in the numerous public baths (Sento). 200¥ (1.70$) is the starting price. If you’ve been camping extensively, this a great option to stay clean while spending little to budget travel in Japan.
Charge your phone
I know how difficult it can be to charge your phone if you’re camping in Japan, even in Konbinis or restaurants they usually don’t let you plug your charger. Therefore I’d recommend buying a portable battery such as this one or this one if you prefer a solar option.
Although this is not directly related to budget travel in Japan, let’s talk about how easy it is to find Wi-Fi in the country. First, be aware that in my experience, most cafés & local restaurants don’t offer Wi-Fi. I remember running around the city trying to find Wi-Fi in order to teach a French lesson, but after asking half a dozen of cafés I just gave up on the idea.
Many cities offer free Wi-Fi in their respective touristic areas. They almost always ask for registration through email, but some don’t double-check if your email is correct or not.
You can also head to a convenience store such as 7-Eleven, Lawson or Family Mart. They have Wi-Fi, but you have to register.
Do you still have question about traveling in Japan ? Hope this guide on budget travel in Japan will help you in your journey. Feel free to write a comment down there and we’ll answer shortly.