How to Travel Japan on a Budget – The Ultimate Guide

how to travel tokyo on a budget

I recently spent 8 days living life (and getting lost in Japan) and I’ve had SO many questions about that experience. You can check out my Instagram if you want to see some of the things I got up to.

One of the questions that I’ve been asked over and over again is – how much did you spend? How much should I take? Is it possible to travel Japan on a budget?

Well, you wanna know the truth?

Here it is.

Is Japan expensive – yes. Did I spend a lot of money – yes. Is it possible to do it on a budget – yes.

All of the above are true and looking back on my experience now I can clearly see where I could have saved money. There are only a few things I would have done differently because I did have a great time and I didn’t go over my budget. I actually left with a ton of Japanese currency still in my purse.  That being said I don’t want you to think if you don’t have a big budget you can’t go. So without further ado, here’s how to travel Japan on a budget.

Accommodation

I believe anywhere in the world, yes anywhere, can be travelled on a budget. Whether it’s somewhere expensive like Australia or somewhere low cost like Thailand. It all comes down to planning and compromise. What are you willing to sacrifice for the trip of a lifetime?

For example – let’s say you went to Australia (I’m using this as an example because that’s where I currently live). There it costs about $35 average for one night in a *good* (by Australian standards) hostel. Say you’re there a month that’s $1050 on accommodation.

A considerable chunk of your budget right -but what if you didn’t stay in a hostel? What if you travelled around only staying at free campsites. Then all you’d need is a tent, sleeping bag and an airbed all of which would set you back about $100.

Now, for me, staying in a tent for a month sounds like fresh hell. For you – maybe not. It’s all about what you’re willing to compromise.

how to travel japan on a budget hostel

So, when you’re thinking about how to travel Japan on a budget I want you to keep that in mind. What areas are you willing to save a little bit on so you can spend in other areas?

I think the average hostel cost for me was about $30 but most of the places I stayed at did have great extras included in that price like breakfast or free bike rental. If you want to keep costs down I do recommend staying in hostels as the standard is extremely high in Japan. All the hostels I stayed at each bed came with a curtain set up and were super clean.

When booking your hostel check out Hostelworld for the best deals and you can read reviews and check out what previous guests have said. Whether it’s a good area, how clean it is and whether you’re likely to get stabbed while you sleep… all pretty basic stuff.

Food

Without a doubt my biggest expense was food. At home other than my rent my biggest expense is also food, I love to eat out and I also love trying interesting concepts.

If eating out every day isn’t high on your priority list you can easily get a Bento Box from 7 Eleven or Family Mart (two of the main convenience stores) for just $7! Obviously, a huge appeal of going to a new country IS trying the food so it doesn’t make sense to eat the equivalent of a Co-Op meal deal every day. If you’re on a tight budget I suggest alternating between shop bought food and eating out.

how to travel japan on a budget

When you do eat out there are cheap options like Yakitori, which is essentially Japanese tapas of foods cooked on a skewer (mainly chicken). Each skewer costs only a couple of dollars. Also, chain ramen restaurants, like Ichiran, are surprisingly really good. They have only one dish on the menu (ramen) which they absolutely nail every time. You have the choice to customise how you like your broth and how you want your noodles to be cooked.

Despite being a chain restaurant this is still a great part of the Japanese experience. Not everything has to be some elaborate show or fine dining to be good (although I do love that too!) Ramen vending machines were a real novelty for me, just a much as some of the more pricey experiences.

Drink

Now we’ve been doing really well so far but here’s where you potentially meet your downfall. Alcohol no matter where you go seems to make up for a big expense. In Japan, I won’t lie it’s not cheap to drink at a bar. But again it’s all about careful planning. Cocktails are probably going to be on your avoid list. Whereas Sake and plum wine, which are traditional Japanese drinks, are a lot more accessible – about $7 for a drink.

That is unless you go somewhere where you are also paying for an interesting or unique atmosphere – then you’ll be looking at 10-12$.

If you’re planning a big night out I highly suggest the Yakitori restaurant – Marukin in Shibuya, Tokyo where they offer ALL YOU CAN DRINK from $7.50 an hour. Suggested to me by a friend who used to live in Japan – yay for insider tips. You have to order at least one small plate so if you’re looking for a cheap dinner and drink combo this is it.

What I really love about this place is you get to pour your own drinks from the bar. The bottle labels and taps are in Japanese so you just have to hope for the best. All I know is after a couple of pints of my concoction of plum wine and sake everything was starting to look the same anyway. It is kind of hidden away and even Google Maps can’t really figure it out so let me assist. You want to head to the big McDonalds and to the left, there is a lift/staircase – head to floor five.

how to travel japan on a budget

If you head to the infamous Golden Gai, in Shinjuku, Tokyo look for bars that don’t charge an entrance fee. Golden Gai is packed with themed bars that seat anywhere from 6-30 people. These tiny pubs and bars are a great place to meet locals but get down early if you want to get a seat. Around 10/11 they start getting pretty cosy. Even on weeknights. My favourite of the bars is Not Suspicious… you’ll have to keep your eyes out for a blog post on that later. All drinks inside are $7.50 which is super cheap for bars in that area.

It’s also legal to drink on the streets and you can get drinks from the convenience store like Strong Zero which is a 9% pint can of (I think?!) vodka and lemonade for ONE DOLLAR TWENTY FIVE. I take no responsibility for your hangover.

Attractions

I do think it’s possible to be a cheapskate with attractions in Japan considering a lot of shrines and temples have no entry costs. Other points of interest such as Osaka Castle you can enter the grounds and view the castle for free without doing the paid option (entering).

how to travel japan on a budget

I’m also someone who loves to soak up culture just by walking around and staring at things. If this is you too, there is A LOT to stare at, especially all the cool different neighbourhoods in Tokyo.

Another cool experience that’s pretty cheap are Onsens, which are traditional Japanese natural hot springs that are enjoyed naked. In Osaka you can find some of these for $7.5o, I went to one that was a bit more commercialised but was still a really cool experience nonetheless. The one I went to was called Spa World, which cost $15 for TWELVE HOURS. It was a huuuuge complex with separate floors for men and women then on each floor, there were a variety of Asia/Europe themed heated pools, saunas, steam rooms and a mud room too.

On the third floor, there’s a swimming pool you can use (clothed) for both men and women, a gym and a lounge area where you can actually choose to sleep as long as you don’t run over your 12 hours. Don’t worry about getting hungry they also have services you can pay for like food, drinks and spa treatments.

I don’t have any photos from there cause, well, naked people. So you’ll just have to take my word for it that it was a really relaxing and enjoyable experience.

Transport

Now, let me talk to you about transport which is possibly my biggest annoyance on the trip. I did my reading online and concluding I simply could not go to Japan without a rail pass. You can preorder them online before you go. Then all you have to do when you get there is swap it for your actual ticket. Surprisingly the whole process was very simple.

how to travel japan on a budget

What I didn’t know was that the Japan Rail Pass does not cover trains on the underground. Based on where I was staying the underground actually ended up being my main mode of transport. So, when I calculated at the end despite using my pass to travel from Tokyo to Kyoto, Kyoto to Fushimi Inari and back, Kyoto to Osaka and Osaka to Kansai Airport I still lost well over a hundred dollars on buying the pass.

My advice to you is to calculate whether you really need one because they’re not cheap at $330. If you’re going to be cycling, walking or spending a lot of the time on the tube it might not be worth it.

How to travel Japan on a budget – final costs

All in while I was in Japan not including my rail pass, pocket wifi or flights (I prepaid all of these) I spent AU$1500/US$1060/GBP £817 in 8 days.

This included:

  • Eating out for every meal except breakfast
  • Two dinners that were priced $100+
  • Catching the tube
  • The cost of hostels
  • My obsession with Smirnoff Ice Wild Grape
  • Some attractions (Borderless museum, Kawaii Monster Cafe)
  • Two events (a comedy show and a magic show)
  • The cost of losing my bike lock (oops) and my locker key at Spa World (also oops)

how to travel japan on a budget

It can absolutely be done for less, especially if you’re not travelling alone like I was as you can share costs.

If you’ve been wondering how to travel Japan on a budget I hope this post has shed some light for you. If there are any burning questions you still have just pop them in the comments.

What about you guys? Have you ever been to Japan before? Would you like to go?

Let me know in the comments!

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how to travel japan on a budget