How to Turn High Cost Japan into a Cheap Place to Visit

By Nomadic Matt | Published June 18th, 2012

For years, I’ve been putting off going to Japan because I was afraid of how expensive it would be. The rumors I’d heard about the country’s high prices made me hesitant to go. I’ve always loved Japanese culture, and I knew any visit would involve gorging on sushi and ramen, visits to lots of temples, and heavy train travel through the countryside. And the thought of how much that would cost always made me think, “I’ll wait until I have more money.”

But at the end of April, I had the chance to finally visit. I was shocked to discover that, while it isn’t cheap, Japan isn’t the prohibitively expensive country people may think it is. In fact, I actually found Japan to be very affordable and on par with (and sometimes cheaper than) countries in Western Europe.

Here’s how much things typically cost in Japan and how you can cut down those costs to make the country affordable:

80 yen = $1 USD

Transportation

fast bullet trains in japan
Transportation is one of the most expensive aspects of travel in Japan and comprised the bulk of my expenses. The bullet train, while awesome, comfortable, and fast, is not cheap. Individual tickets can cost hundreds of dollars. Yet I think train travel is the best way to see the country, so in order to reduce your train costs, get a Japan Rail pass. The pass is indispensable for travel in Japan.

These passes cost 28,300 yen for 7 days, 45,100 yen for 14 days, and 57,700 yen for 21 days. All pass times are for consecutive travel. Even if you just get the seven-day pass, it’s the same price as a round-trip train ticket from Osaka to Tokyo (14,250 yen each way!). Moreover, these JR trains also serve local city areas and so can be used intra-city. I used my pass to get around Kyoto and Tokyo instead of buying metro tickets. So even if you aren’t going to do much travel around Japan, buying a pass is better than buying individual tickets. While the high price of the pass can cause sticker shock, the alternative is even worse.

Most of the city metro tickets cost 100–200 yen for a single journey. (The price varies by distance and may often be higher.) Fares were usually around 220 yen to travel across Tokyo but less for shorter distances. In most major cities, you can buy a day pass, which gives you unlimited travel for 24 hours for around 800 yen.

Buses are a less expensive alternative to the bullet train system in Japan, but they take more time. For example, the two-hour bullet train ride from Tokyo to Osaka becomes a ten-hour bus ride. The price for that seat is 4,500 yen, but at some point, you need to think about how much your time is worth. For me, saving some 10,000 yen was not worth the extra seven hours of travel, since I had such limited time during my visit. If I’d had more time, I’d have simply taken the bus. There are also bus passes available that offer unlimited travel and begin at 10,000 yen for three non-consecutive days of travel.

Flying is an option of last resort. There are many budget carriers now serving Japan, and a flight search on sites like Vayama or Skyscanner will reveal them. In general, their prices are on par with bullet train tickets.

I think the train pass is the best way to save money on transportation for those with limited time. It’s expensive, but it’s the best way to optimize your travel time and see the country. For those with more time, take the bus and save money.

Food

cheap food in japan
Surprisingly, I found food to be inexpensive in Japan. True, I have a sushi addiction, but overall, I found that I was spending far less on food than I’d anticipated. Since Japan imports so much of their food, I was afraid of paying through the nose, but eating cheaply was actually the one thing that kept my daily totals down!

As long as I didn’t feed my sushi addiction, I found I could eat for less than 1,500 yen per day. Some typical prices were:

Sushi lunch sets (sushi, soup, salad): 1600+ yen
Traditional Japanese set lunches: 1,200+ yen
Sushi trains: 100–500 yen
Small pasta: 399 yen
Western meal set menu (sandwiches, burger, or pizza with drink): 1200 yen
McDonald’s Value Menu: 600 yen
Ramen: 700 yen
Tempura dishes: 80–120 yen

There’s an array of cheap food options in the country, and unless you go out to mid-range or better restaurants, you don’t really need to spend much money on food. You can save money on food by doing the following:

  • 100-yen shops – There are many 100-yen shops in Japan, where set meals, groceries, water, toiletries, household items, and more are simply 100 yen. I did all my shopping at these stores. Their names vary by region, so ask your hotel/hostel reception where the nearest 100-yen shop is located.
  • Sushi trains – Sushi in Japan is delicious at all levels. While I had a few fancy, sit-down meals, you can’t beat the sushi trains for value. At 100–170 yen per plate, I could stuff my face for less than 1,500 yen most of the time. I usually just ate at sushi trains.
  • Eat at 7-11 – 7-11, Family Mart, and other corner stores have a lot of pre-set meals for 100–300 yen that make for cheap lunches. Additionally, supermarkets have many set meals at similar prices. I noticed this was a popular option for many Japanese people.
  • Cook your food – Hostels have kitchens, where you can cook and cut your food expenses to less than 800 yen per day, especially by shopping at the 100-yen stores.
  • Avoid fresh fruit – The one rumor about Japan that turned out to be true was that fresh fruit and vegetables were expensive. Outside of shopping for an apple or banana at the market, I generally avoided fresh fruits and vegetables. They were too expensive.
  • Curry, ramen, and donburi – I essentially lived off these three foods during my three weeks in Japan. Curry bowls are as cheap as 280 yen per plate. Donburi, bowls of meat and rice, are around 400–500. Ramen is never more than 700. These are the best ways to eat cheap and filling meals in Japan.

Accommodation

capsule hotels in japan
Living costs in Japan are incredibly high, with limited space, lots of people, and high housing prices. And those high costs transfer over into the tourism industry, making finding cheap accommodation a real pain. Hostel dorms typically cost 1,900 yen per night (sometimes as low as 1,500 yen or as high as 2,700 yen in Tokyo) and hotel rooms start at 5,000 yen per night or more. Here are some ways to save on accommodation:

  • Work for your room – Hostels in Japan let you stay for free if you clean for a few hours a day.
  • Couchsurfing – Hospitality exchanges are not as widespread in Japan as elsewhere in the world, but there is a small, active Couchsurfing community here. Make sure you request rooms well ahead of time to increase your odds of success. Read more about Couchsurfing here.
  • Use credit card points – It’s times like these that those credit points I talk about come in handy. Frequent flier miles and regular hotel points can be redeemed for lots of free nights. I used my free accumulated nights from hotels.com for two free nights in Tokyo, but with the large sign-up bonuses right now for hotel cards, you can get up to a week’s free accommodation!
  • Capsule hotels – A step up from hostels and a step down from hotels, capsule hotels (pictured) are tiny capsules you sleep in. You share bathrooms and common areas. Your capsule has a light, outlet, and sometimes a small television. They are frequently used by businessmen who work late. These capsules begin at around 2,700 yen per night.

Attractions

Kinkaku-ji, a.k.a. The temple of the Golden Pavilion
Most of the attractions were very cheap. I didn’t spend more than 500 yen per museum or temple. In Kyoto, there’s a temple pass that gives you unlimited transportation and access to the temples for 1,200 yen. It’s a good deal, considering you’re probably going to see a lot of museums in Kyoto. Osaka and Tokyo had similar passes for their attractions.

Overall, I found these passes to be the best way to save money on temples, museums, and other attractions. Additionally, there are many free gardens, temples, and parks! I hardly spent any money on attractions while I was in Japan.

How much do you need?

Japan has an image of being one of the most expensive countries in the world, and if you’re staying in hotels, eating out, and traveling around a lot, it can be. You can easily spend over $200 USD per day by traveling that way. However, I don’t think a trip to Japan needs to be that expensive.

Staying in a hostel, buying a rail pass, eating relatively cheap food, and visiting a few attractions will cost around $100 USD per day. A 21-day trip would cost at least $2,100 USD (plus flight). For that much money, you can go to Southeast Asia for months!

Instead, by utilizing the tips above, I think you can get by on $70–75 USD per day. This would mean more bus travel, a (very) limited amount of sushi, only cheap restaurants, and the occasional night Couchsurfing (or other free accommodation).

On a bare-bones budget, you can get by for $50 USD per day if you stick to Couchsurfing, cheap food, bus travel (trains would be far too expensive), and free attractions. I saw lots of travelers in Japan traveling on the cheap. They did it, and it’s possible—but you’ll never feed your sushi addiction if you travel this way.

To me, budget travel is value travel. Japan is never going to be as cheap a destination as Cambodia, Ukraine, or Peru, but there are ways to save money in every place in the world and Japan has plenty. The country will never cost $20 USD per day, but it also doesn’t need to cost hundreds.

comments 74 Comments

I want to visit Japan soon because I’ve heard such good things about the people and the culture. It’s nice to know that there’s a way to visit such an expensive country for so cheap!

White Lotus

Japan might not be as inexpensive as Cambodia but they actually have a pretty high standard of living in Japan whereas Cambodia is a just an undeveloped, dirt poor country. When I visited Cambodia in 2010 there was only one fast food restaurant in the country, a KFC in Phomh Penh.

It’s a sad world when the amount of fast food restaurants a country has is directly proportional to how developed it is…

I like the observation that “budget travel is value travel.” Not everyone sees it that way. Too many buget travelers get so caught up in the price of everything they see the value of nothing. Sometimes there really are places and experiences that are worth paying a premium for.

@EveryoneOnce – That’s a great point to remember. A few countries that are expensive (I found Australia to be worse than Japan) are a lot more simpler if you just accept before you need to dig a little deeper to enjoy yourself.

Living off 100yen food is not a great long term solution. But it is part of management of travelling to the place. Matt’s strategy is a good starting point for people wanting to enjoy the place, going in unplanned is quite costly, that’s a mistake I made in Australia, I assumed it was a cheap place as loads of backpackers went there and worked on farms, but I was very wrong.

I found vending machines to be a killer too in Japan. It’s easy to get sucked into the bright flashy lights from the convenience gods, but it’s not until you walk into a supermarket you realised just how overcharged you was for that coke.

Chris Booth

Too true, we spent a fortune in Australia but was it worth out? Every damned cent! I simply don’t understand travelling on a budget if it means you pass on things you really wanted to do. Yes, you might have to cut a few days off the trip, but if you were going to spend those days lounging around the hostel drinking goon and watching The Simpsons then what is the point in any of it?

Travel to get the most out of your life, not to simply opt out of life.

melkonian

@AventureRob

I agree that Australia is far too expensive and probably more so than Japan, though I haven’t been to Japan yet (I am going in Sept 2013 for 3 weeks).

I was in Australia for 7 weeks and budgeted as much as I couldn’t, despite not drinking much, and I dont smoke. Even fast food was expensive and wasn’t goo either !( $12/£8 for thin greasy burger and a handful of over cooked chips!).

Kyle

Interesting to hear about Australia, I have lived here my entire life (25 years) and trust me its more expensive to live here :P

Bruce Elio

There are also a few options for overnight buses as well which has the added benefit of saving a night of accommodation.

There are also many things in Japan that unfortunately just cost money but are still worth it in value. Sumo, baseball, ryokans, eating many of the delicacies, getting to one of the festivals, etc.

Great suggestions to save make Japan more affordable.

Does the JR pass cover bullet trains or do you pay extra for those tickets?

NomadicMatt

It covers the bullet trains.

But not the Nozomi trains. If you wish to take these (the fastest bullet trains) you need to buy a ticket.

Chris Booth

If you have the pass then you pay a supplement to use the Nozomi, which is less than the full normal cost. But Nozomi are only worth it if you’re in a crazy rush.

Lance

Do you have a source for this? Everything I read online says that you have to pay full price for the Nozomi. JR Pass holders can not play a supplement to ride the Nozomi. It would be nice if I’m wrong.

Great advice. I’m not really into Asia normally but Japan always intrigued me. Will definitely bookmark this for a future trip.

NomadicMatt

Welcome to the club! We meet in Bangkok for awesome food and good drinks! :)

interesting – we’ll be traveling to Japan in September for two weeks and it will be our first stop. I fear that we may not have the budget experience to truly economize in Japan like we will in later countries, despite the fact that it is so necessary. Will take these tips into consideration though – thanks.

I love posts like this. It enables travellers to make travel a participatory experience as opposed to reading about it. My son works in Japan, This post will be incredibly useful when I visit. Of course his advice will also be invaluable,

Angela

I agree..we didn’t find Japan to expensive at all & we did the same things Matt did.

Hi Matt,

nice article and great tips. I am living in Tokyo for over a year now and I can confirm that Japan is not that expensive, except for transportation and fresh fruits and vegetables.

For myself, I found a really good guesthouse that is also pretty cheap in Tokyo. I do pay only 48,000 Yen a month including everything, I mean everything, and I am living in Tokyo, between Akihabara and Asakusa.

NomadicMatt

My hostel was in that area. I liked it a lot.

Did you stay at a Khaosan hostel? I stayed at the Khaosan Annex and then Khaosan Kyoto when I went there, and they were both excellent! A lot better and cheaper than the crappy hostels in NYC ;)

Count me in the group that has always assumed Japan is expensive. Great tips as always, and hopefully I’ll get to use them soon…

You also have the Seishun Juhachi Kippu (youthfull 18 ticket) which you can use during the Japanese holidays (and only then), it allows you to travel on local JR trains, and you can use them on non consecutive days… Here is a link in English http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2362.html
We used them with some friends and it was great for travelling overnight and then exploring the different cities for more than one day…

If you get really desperate for a place to stay, many internet and manga cafes have overnight plans that give you a small booth and access to a shower and some tea.

I’ve found it fairly tough to live frugally in Japan, especially since a typical “budget” dinner out with friends usually runs around 3,000yen. Kudos to everyone who’s found a way to do it!

For those wanting to go to karaoke, it’s MUCH cheaper during the day and picking a rainy day instead of going at night can be the difference between paying 700 and 2,000 yen.

Oh JR rail pass, it is so amazing and I hate that I can’t get it because I’m not here on a tourist visa. Helloooo night buses!

Osaka and Tokyo both have a “slum” area that offer the cheapest accomodation options in the country. If you speak Japanese, it is possible to find a Japanese style room for under $10. If not, no problem. Many of the hotels in these areas have begun catering to foreign backpackers and they offer rooms for around $20-$30, which is cheaper than both a hostel bed or a capsule hotel.

The word “slum” may put some people off, but a slum in Japan is like a normal neighborhood anywhere else. These areas are perfectly safe, but slightly dirtier than the rest of the country.

The “slum” in Osaka is located near the Shin-Imamiya Station on the Osaka loop line. It can be used as a base to explore the whole Kansai area (Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Kobe) In Tokyo, the “slum” is located near Minami-Senju Station on the Hibiya Line.

NomadicMatt

Do you have any links to these cheap rooms? I’d like to know more about them.

Wow, I took my time with this answer……I just found this page along with my old comment and your question following my comment. I never checked back after commenting and didn’t get a message or anything, so I didn’t realize you’d replied. Sorry about that.

Anyway, I was going to say that most (maybe all) of the hotels in those area probably don’t have an online presence, but did a quick Google search just in case and found this: http://www11.ocn.ne.jp/~otomari/oig/index.html

You’ll actually find quite a few places even cheaper than the hotels listed on that page, but as it says in the note under the list of hotels, they don’t accept international guests. That’s not quite true–they just can’t speak any English. They’ll be happy to accept you if you know Japanese. But even the more expensive ones are cheaper than you’ll find anywhere else.

I’ve stayed at a few of these hotels before and they are clean and cheap… really a great deal for long term travel in Japan. Hotel Raizan doesn’t have a curfew anymore (that was the only downside) and most people I met are staying for at least one month. There were plenty of tips going around there on tutoring or teaching English to make some travel money.

Regarding fresh fruit and veggies, the rumor is just that, a rumor. There is the expensive produce in supermarkets, but when you’re looking at seasonal produce (perhaps not underneath department stores…) it’s not that expensive at all. Also, there are farmer’s markets all over, especially on weekends, that offer very inexpensive local produce. But even imported goods like bananas, etc., aren’t that bad. It’s just a matter of knowing where to buy. Pineapple and other items are cheaper here than in the States.

I also want to offer a word of caution regarding the rail pass: If you are traveling all over Japan, it’s a good option, but if only going to say, Tokyo and then maybe another city like Kyoto, it might not be the best way to save money.

The thing with hotels is that you can easily stay in nice and luxury hotels for very cheap, if you can search in Japanese. I honestly hate staying at hostels, and sleeping at an internet cafe just sounds awful, but I’ve easily booked hotels for $30-70 a night (and they are high quality hotels, though I’ve also stayed in standard business hotels). Though this also depends on what part of Japan you’re visiting. Unfortunately I find a lot of the sites in English tend to rip people off. I’m not sure that it’s intentional, but I do find it interesting (which is why I rarely book in English).

Anyway, just wanted to add my two cents from living in Japan the past four years. :)

NomadicMatt

We can agree to disagree on the vegetables. I never found them to be cheap, especially if you bought them in supermarkets or got a meal at a restaurant. Neither did anyone else on my trip.

I also disagree with you about the rail pass. A bullet train round trip to Osaka is the same as a 7 day JR Pass. Why not buy the JR pass in case you decide to add on trips instead of having to pay extra. Even if you don’t use the extra days, you still have them just in case at no extra cost.

Chris Booth

I have to say that I agree with Ashley regarding the JR Pass – but with an essential caveat: If you buy the 1 week pass you will almost definitely break even. But I got the 3 week pass and only JUST broke even. We traveled a lot, from Kansai Airport-Osaka-Hiroshima-Miyajima-Hiroshima-Kyoto-Nara-Kyoto-Hikone-Kanazawa-Takayama-Nagoya-Inuyama-Nagoya-Tokyo-Matsumoto-Tokyo-Okazaki-Osaka using bullet trains wherever we could AND city metro systems covered by the pass. The reason we only just broke even? The bullet trains are so much more expensive than local express trains. Look up the train fares you expect to use before you buy the pass and you can soon see if it’s worthwhile. I have to say that the ease of travel the pass provided made travel in Japan an absolute joy, and it’s very hard to put a price on that!

zain

So if I was to go to Tokyo and Kyoto, what would I use in stead of a JR pass?

This is helpful. Japan has been moving up my wish list, but I figured it was beyond me. Thanks for the specifics.

The ‘work for your room’ and couchsurfing is pretty interesting. Why not? For the love of traveling and saving a significant amount for other valuable expenses, I’d certainly go for this. Whether you want it budgeted or not, thing is, it’s all worth the trip and the cost since Japan is an awesome place. Thanks for these tips by the way. Glad you had a good time there.

Love your blog it’s truly an inspiration.

For those that want accommodation one step up from hostels try the budget hotel chains like Super Hotels, Toyoko Inn, Richmond, Monterey. They’re reasonably priced business hotels with all the mod cons where a double can be had for $60 – $120.
They all had free LAN in every room.

How I long to visit those featured in the post.Yes it is true that one of the great expensive you will have to surpass upon travelling in japan is the transportation.Accompanied by great foods is the afct that you will enjoy travelling in Japan.

Doutor is a Japanese coffee franchise that serves cheapish food too. Coffee ain’t great but the food is good.

Chris Booth

The words ‘Japanese coffee’ evoke Coffee Boss for me. His sinister Orwellian silhouette gracing every public pace I trod. I ended buying a ‘fake’ Coffee Bozu towel after it broke into my psyche…

We are starting our backpacking trip in Japan this fall so there are some great tips here. Right now I’ve estimated $80 per person per day which seems in line with your daily budget. Definitely hoping to find some couchsurfers to stay with!

NomadicMatt

Send requests out far in advance. It took me ages to find one in Osaka.

NomadicMatt

I’ve only been to Seoul. Fun city, great food, cheap but a bit boring when compared to Japan!

It is very interesting blog about Japan.
As you wrote, some of expense in Japan is actually much higher than the other countries.
But, Japanese first food restaurants are very cheap (and most of my foreign friends always said it is very fresh).
Thank you for shearing this blog!

Bruce Nakadai

Mark

I’ve went to Japan many times and it depends on the mentality of how much you want to spend. If you want to travel very lightly and in an inexpensive way, it is possible.
you can always use hostels and those kinds of places, but you can always use cheap hotels too!
Although cheap hotels are for business travelers inside japan that just want to sleep and have decent bedding without hearing other people’s loud snoring like in capsule hotels.

Travelling from place to place would be good if you use bus to travel. For example, if you use midnight bus to travel from Tokyo to Osaka, it is a lot cheaper than using those bullet trains.

The best thing about Japan is that many people are friendly and smile, they try to offer advise even though they can’t speak English at all, and best of all, it is safe and you won’t be getting any food poison unlike Korea, China and other Asian countries.
I’ve went to Korea few times, and of those few times, 100% of the time, I had a severe diarrhea. China I would never recommend to friends as you won’t know what food you are eating. Food in China are dangerous from my collected info as industrial salt can be used as a table salt, which the restaurant owners will never use as they know its dangerous. Also another aspect is of China is that many places use sewage oil as cooking oil. yes, I’m not joking. They filter it so that it looks like an oil but sewage oil has many dangerous substances such as heavy metal and human feces.
On the Korean side, many restaurants gives out to you many small dishes at the beginning like Kimchi and all those sorts of things, but if its left over, they just put it back in the whole big pile and reuse them with the next customer. Like it or not, that’s just the way it goes for korean and China. For Japan, it doesn’t happen that way as laws are not strict but they just like to offer better service where ever you go as it seems as its how their race goes. Don’t forget that its always fresh too! and you can drink tap water almost anywhere as that’s why they had sushi from even when there wasn’t any fridges around. Korea, China and other parts of the world has undrinkable water so they couldn’t get fresh products and had to fry them to get polluted substances wiped out.

Getting back to the subject, yes, its still high priced, but compared to Singapore, it about the same price even if you travel over there.

If you have to use a Taxi, which is somewhat expensive, you should take a map and/or an address. Nowadays they have gps in almost all Taxis in Japan. Also, public transportation is very secure and on time unlike other parts of the world. Japanese people tend to be extremely punctual. In Tokyo area, Taxi fare starts out from about 650 to 680. If it says “Kojin” taxi, usually in white colored taxi, its a taxi not owned by a big company but a taxi that is run by an individual owner which costs less.

Roderik

Mark,

In Korea too there are strict laws concerning the reusage of left-over food items from meals. Reading your comment almost makes me doubt as to whether you have visited the country in fact, as late at night you often see restaurant owners bring out huge backs of left-over foods that are then thrown away. I also know several restaurant-owners myself who do nothing but throw left-over food away.

Regarding the water too, while Korea’s water may not be as fresh as water in my home country (the Netherlands) it is perfectly safe to drink as it is chemically filtered.

Mark

Oh, if you like doing samplers in Japan, try them out at those supermarkets next to the stations. They’ll give you tons of them! Just say ask them in English with a nice smile.

And with the supermarkets, if you go after 8pm or so, they tend to price down many foods, including sushi. Its because they’ve to sell it as its fresh product or they’ll just have to throw them away.
Not trying to be a peddler, but being s smart traveler, you can negotiate those to get the price down when its nearly closing time and they still have them out. You can catch the store people or store people that change the prices that comes by with the round/square red stickers!

If u ever need something, go to the 100yen stores which are usually located in the terminal stations or outside the moderate sized stations. They sell very good things at 100yen(105yen w/ tax). Many of those things if you buy them in the states or elsewhere will cost more than 100yen or more than a buck. Unbelievable prices.

keiko

If you understand Japanese so so,I recommend you “manga kissa”which is described as Manga cafe in Wikipedia .
They are like internet cafes in America and European countries,cost around $20 per night, still cheaper than Capsule Hotels.
Japanese young people usually use them when they miss the last trains in the midnight.
They don’t offer beds but floor chairs in individual booths you are able to ask non smoking,lots of manga and videos (sorry they are in Japanese) internert, , shower,free drinks in a public space.
If you don’t mind no beds in small booths, they are the best choise for young people.
Please see more details in wiki.
Also Japan is no longer a safe country any more, be aware of your bags and stuff , never leave them even in the booths.

Mark

BTW, there’s a new law in Japan that you’ll get arrested for watching or downloading illegal contents after October 1, 2012. I don’t think it applies to foreigners, but like all Asian countries and dumb politic rules/law, its up to the big brother of that country to decide if you’re a criminal or not so watch out.
The new law just passed in favor of JASRAC, the Japanese music association, that says that CDs aren’t selling because people are downloading illegally. it even prohibits copying of DVDs for your own sake.

Like Keiko above says, it isn’t a safe country in a way, but a safe country just for the people working in the government. Also, there’re bad people out there but more awful are the police, who just stops you for nothing and illegally arrest you. The police can stop you but answering to what they say is by law OPTIONAL, but they say that it is MANDATORY. Never touch police officers or make jokes to them, as they won’t understand and take everything very seriously. They won’t pummel you but will surround you and never let you leave without arresting you for false accusations which will just lead your happy vacation to a sad conversation with a cellmate. If you think I’m joking take your chance.

Kimiko

In Japan, there are bento (lunch box) shops anywhere. Some companies have a lot of franchises all over Japan, while many shops are run independently.

Please see menus and prices:
http://www.hottomotto.com/menu/list/index.php?id=32

Also I recommend you to go to universities’ cafeterias. Every prefacture has at least one national university, and they are open to the public. Enter the campas, and ask students where it is. They will be kind enough to take you there.

This is an example.
http://www.nagasaki-u.ac.jp/ja/about/info/publicity/file/c023-06.pdf

In addition, prifectural offices and big cityhalls usually have cafeteias with good dishes at reasonable prices.

About accommodation:
In some old spa areas in countryside, there are inns for spa-curing (tohji yado), and they offer rooms with kitchen at 2500 – 3800 yens.

This inn in Beppu has the kitchen with natural hot spring steamer.
http://www.coara.or.jp/~hideharu/EngSmry.html

I took advantage of the cheap airfare last summer and headed to Japan, and was SHOCKED at how affordable everything was…actually quite a deal compared to a lot of NYC spots! Also, western tourism was still really down while we were there, so all the hostels and hotels we stayed at were fantastic deals, and everyone was refreshingly polite!:-)

I’m currently in the midst of planning a year traveling and Japan was number one (ichiban!) on my list of places to go. I actually had tickets to go right around when the earthquake/tsunami happened and had to cancel my trip so I am really excited to finally have the time to explore. One of my biggest concerns is blowing my entire budget there based on the stories I’ve heard of cost, so this post was really informative. Thanks!

Alinda

Awesome post! I especially liked what you’ve shared about the accommodations. Working for your room and couch surfing sound very interesting. I’d love to hear more about these types of experiences.

Thanks for sharing!

Alinda
@travtar

One of my dream destinations, together with my partner, is Japan and we are really trying to save a lot for the trip. You are right that if we do the same as how we normally travel in Southeast Asia we’d really be racking up on credit card bills after. Your tips, however, gave me the courage to look into the alternatives like Couchsurfing. I’ve heard about it thru stumbleupon and immediately became a member. We also have a few friends there so now it seems doable, perhaps within the next 6 months. Thanks so much for a well researched article. You are a gift to the traveling community.

Deano

I live in Japan at the moment…coming from the UK where I thought life couldn’t get more expensive, I was shocked to say the least. I’ve had family come and visit me and it’s very difficult to get them to appreciate quite how brutally expensive it is. As such I don’t expect many other visitor’s…

Someone already mentioned it but the Seishun 18 ticket is available twice a year. It goes on sale earlier but can be used from July 20th until September 20th. It allows unlimited travel on local and regular express trains for up to 5 non-consecutive days. It’s slow, but a great way to see the country.
In terms of food, places like Yoshinoya, Sukiya, Nakau, Matsuya etc. are cheaper than buying the ingredients and cooking it yourself – especially because you’ll have to buy ingredients in small amounts so you can use them all up.

certified Japanophile here! Enjoyed reading and learning things from your posts about Japan especially this one. I’ll be going there on July 2013 I’m very much excited to explore the place!

Steve

Hi, I think your info on costs in Japan is not realistic. Things are a lot more expensive and I believe it’s borderline impossible to travel for just $100/day.

In fact if you put all your energy into getting the cheapest hostel or hotel, getting only cheap and slow transportation, eat only the cheapest junk food and do not do much sightseeing it might cost that much, but really why would you come to Japan if you couldn’t do anything there???

One of the best things in Japan is the food. It’s possible to maybe just spend around 2000 Yen for breakfast and lunch, but many restaurants will easily cost several thousand for dinner, and if you plan to get drinks you will easily pay 500 yen for a beer in cheapo places. Add to that some snacks and you are looking at maybe 10000 yen total for a day. If you plan to hang out at specialty restaurants or nicer bars you can easily double, tripple if not quadruple that number.

Now hotels: Pretty much anything that is not a total shithole will set you back around 10,000 yen per night. You will pay a lot more for transportation, even if you only take busses: A single subway ride in Tokyo costs around $2 and since there are a ton of independent companies with their own subways and you will need to get around a lot you can’t really buy a pass.

Long store short: Budget $200 per day at the very least.

NomadicMatt

This is exactly what I spent in Japan.

I don’t know what you mean about the subway – I bought passes all the time and they got me on every subway line. Tokyo’s subway is city run. You might be referring to the JR line which is owned by a couple of different companies but a JR pass will get you on all of them.

I suspect our travel styles are quite different and you were doing something much higher end than I was but, even in regards to the food, it isn’t as expensive as you are making it out to be (as a number of the comments here can attest to) and suspect you avoided the local markets and restaurants on your trip, where you would find very affordable food. In fact, the food was so much cheaper than I thought I was completely shocked.

I’m currently in Cambodia but am thinking of changing up my original travel plans to include Japan. Nice to know it isn’t as expensive as people make it out to be. The “real” sushi – as in the raw stuff/sashimi – never did much for me anyway so I guess I can save money on food a bit! Thanks for the info Matt.

John

Hey Matt,

I am looking to visit Japan for ten days or so (hitting Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hiroshima). Excluding the rail pass how much do you think I should budget per day if I stay only at Hostels, and eat at local restaurants (nothing expensive), and use public transportation?

Also, are the cities traveler friendly for independent travelers? Like with a tour map could you navigate around easily?

Jeff

Hi Matt,

Both thumbs up for your blog! A lot of helpful tips and knowledge bundled, great! Just one thing that I don’t understand, is it that sushi is more expensive than the other options to eat you mentioned? I keep thinking that (eating) sushi in Japan is less expensive than whatever home country you’re from?

We’re (family 4) planning to visit Japan (and its Alps) this summer (any tips on weather?) and I REALLY look forward to satisfying my sushi addiction! Having to reconsider this would be major mindset adjustment (but I’ll get over it!).

NomadicMatt

You can eat from the sushi trains for 100 yen a plate (1 dollar). That will be your cheapest option.

With the value of the Japanese yen falling, its even cheaper than it has been for a long time to travel in Japan. Im a bit more of an ‘upmarket’ traveller and use Toyoko Inn Hotels in my travels around the country. they cost around $60-70 USD/AUD (even in Tokyo central area) a night and are very clean, friendly and well supplied with everything you need, internet etc. Also they are all over the country next to main railway stations and you can pre book online in English!
http://www.toyoko-inn.com/eng/
I agree with many of the above posters, you can get cheap, good quality food from the markets, convenience stores and by picking your local restaurants carefully. On the other hand if money is no problem you can happily buy a $200 square water melon!

jeff

Going to Japan November of 2013. Thank you for your money and time saving advice.

Brandon Mathews

Hey, NomadicMatt. Thank you for sharing the information/insight. I’m a 28y/o recovering alcoholic, and am in many ways just beginning my adult life. I’m staying with family right now and really need a breath of fresh air.

I’ve always felt a sort of aching when I saw glimpses of Japan and Japanese culture. I feel as though my spirit has been there before, and I’ve always longed to travel there.

I’ve been working at a bakery in western PA for about 7 months now, and have saved a couple thousand dollars.

As crazy as it may seem, I feel like now may be the time for me to fulfill this desire I’ve had for the latter half of my life. I would most likely use any/all money I have to my name in doing this, and would be looking at a very uncertain future. Sounds crazy to me.

If you see this and have a chance, I would greatly appreciate any advice, knowledge, & wisdom you could share with me.

Thank you so much.

Brandon

zenobia

Hi, i enjoyed reading your article. It was helpfull. Cheers, zenobia.

Matt, thanks for sharing yoru tips for Japan. I am trying to put together a ‘reasonabel’ costing to take my family of five over there so your comments on how much to budget per day are very useful.

You can delete this next paragraph but you might want to have a look at your site as when I read this article there are quite a few places where the text is garbled with strange characters! I am not sure if it is just this article or whether other pages could also be affected.

I had no problem with funny characters

Vernon Henro

Matt-
I travel to Japan every year, staying for a month or two with my son and his family. Rail passes are a must, and I’ve travelled most of the islands at one time or another. One thing I think you and your readers have missed is the use of business hotels. They are usually near the train stations, often just across the street. Most cost about $60 a night. The rooms are small, but the are clean and comfortable with ensuite bathrooms, wi-fi and televisions. In Kanazawa I stayed in one that also proved an in-room computer. And, most offer a buffet breakfast. Lonely Planet is a good, reliable guide to these hotels.

NiceSharky

I’m just finishing up visit to Kyoto and certainly agree with posted comments. One correction I would offer is that the metro day pass is only good until midnight of day purchased, not 24 hours…At least in my case. On the food topic, we often grab some ‘rice balls’ at Lawson or Family Mart for days we will be on the move… Triangle – shaped, with tune or other fillings

CC

Nomadic Matt

Your tips about Japan has reassured me that I can still have a wonderful time over there and it won’t cost me a fortune. Thank you.

I look forward to my trip in 2015.

NomadicMatt

Awesome to hear!

lsen

Japan’s frequently cited as being expensive simply by measure of erroneous comparisons to SE Asian countries; it’s a modern, industrial, technologically advanced (with unusual caveats to that statement) country, and should thus be compared to similar countries such as Singapore or city states like Hong Kong. Japan has a high standard of living, which, like anywhere else, you pay accordingly.

The transport system is just about the best in the world, accommodation is contextually reasonably priced, and the food is amazingly good value given the quality. On which note I would strongly advise against eating solely at fast food restaurants as you are missing out on one of the main reasons to come to Japan. Drinking is, however, very expensive, unless you avoid beer, which is heavily taxed. Sake, shochu, whisky, and other spirits are remarkably cheap in comparison.

In my travels around Japan, I set my accommodation limit at ¥6,000 – 8,000, which will get you a cheap business hotel or a reasonable ryokan. Capsules are awful, but worth doing once, hostels variable (but generally good, though not for me), and there’s often a good minshuku deal to be had. Love motels are another option, though obviously more fun with a partner. Add the fact that I don’t skimp on food, have nights out, and aim to enjoy my traveling rather than compete on squeezing every last penny, and I’d say a more palatable figure is much more around the ¥15 – 20,000 a day. ¥10,000 a day would just be a miserable subsistence experience. Blanket rules cannot be applied to budget traveling, Japan is a culinary extravaganza; deny yourself that and you may as well not bother coming.

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