How to Visit Japan on a Budget

Six Methods:Planning HelpGetting thereGetting around JapanAccommodationsFood and shoppingActivities

Japan is a wonderful country full of ancient history and modern wonders. It can also be a fairly costly place to visit and yet, if you plan correctly, you can avoid spending too much and still have a fantastic visit.

Planning Help

Sample Trip Schedule

Packing Checklist for Short Trip

Sample Budget for Short Trip

Method 1
Getting there

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    Plan ahead and be flexible for your plane ticket. An international plane ticket is expensive but if you shop around and pick your travel time well, you can spend a lot less. If you buy from a travel agent and come to Japan in April or May, you will pay almost $2,000. If you use the internet to find your ticket and come in early March or the rainy season (June), you can spend as little as $750. Compare prices for tickets to Narita Airport and Kansai Airport––sometimes one is quite a bit cheaper than the other.

Method 2
Getting around Japan

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    Get a Japan Rail Pass. This special passbook is available only to people on a tourist visa, must be purchased before arriving in Japan and offers unlimited rides on Japan Railways trains for one, two, or three weeks. A rail pass for one week is around 28,300yen or $300USD for regular cars, to 37,800 Yen or $415USD for green cars. A "green car" on Japanese trains is a luxury car. The difference is very small and you will find that all seats on the Shinkansen are quite comfortable and spacious.
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    Rent a bicycle. Near most train stations you can rent a bicycle for the day for under $10. If you're going to tour a whole town you might find that a bicycle is cheaper, more convenient, and more fun than taking the bus or a subway. However, if you come during the rainy season to save money on the plane ticket you may want to stick with the buses and subways. If not, affordable rain gear can be purchased in any convenience store.
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    Hitchhike. It sounds like bad advice but in Japan hitchhiking isn't nearly as dangerous as it can be in other countries, especially for men. Many Japanese people will drive you as far as they can for nothing more than a few hours of English conversation. It is not recommended for solitary female travelers and is best done in pairs if you do hitchhike. For more details, read Will Ferguson's Hitchhiker's Guide to Japan.

Method 3

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    Take a good guidebook to Japan. A guidebook will tell you where you can find lodging in any city you're likely to visit in Japan, and has everything conveniently sorted by cost, allowing you to quickly spot the budget options. A guidebook will also list popular restaurants, attractions, and other points of interest.
    • Note that Japanese accommodations have two basic classifications––Western-style and traditional. It's a good idea to plan at least one night's stay in a traditional Japanese inn (ryokan), which will give you a good taste of the traditions of Japan, even though this might be pricier than your other budget stays. The room price in a ryokan usually includes breakfast and dinner. If you do stay in a traditional place, be sure to follow local customs or you may offend the Japanese.
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    Consider capsule hotels and internet cafes. If you're traveling alone or with a small thrifty group you can often save money by staying in a capsule hotel or an internet cafe:
    • Capsule hotels were invented to give Japanese business men a place to sleep until the first train of the next day if they missed the last train home. However, they also offer tourists a cheap place to crash. You don't get a room so much as a tube with a mattress, but you cannot beat the price. To get in and out, you usually have to slide and there isn't room to sit or stand. You'll usually find these clustered around train stations or the areas with nightlife. Ask whether bathing facilities are included in the price, as sometimes they are. Not all capsule hotels will accept women, so bear this in mind.
    • Internet cafes also can be an inexpensive place to sleep. If you come in late, you can often get a room from midnight to 8am for about $20. You may be sleeping on a couch, but if you really want to save money it might be worth it. The internet cafes often have showers as well.
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    If you aren't shy and you speak some Japanese you can stay in a Love Hotel. Love Hotels are places where Japanese couples get some privacy from their multi-generational homes for a few hours. However, after 11pm you can get the room for the night and usually for very little money. The room usually comes with a free condom as well and you get to see a truly bizarre sight, a sex-toy vending machine.
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    Consider a pension. This Western-style place to stay is usually run by a married couple near or in resort areas of Japan. You'll usually get a meal with the price.
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    Look for business hotels in city centers, around train stations. These are budget-conscious hotels used by business travelers and can also be used by tourists. You will usually need to know some Japanese though, as these hotels aren't catering to tourists. As well as a good price, you'll get a clean room and it's likely that you'll be near at least one affordable place to eat.
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    Use a youth hostel. Japan has plenty of youth hostels and they are good for the budget-conscious traveler. The downside to hostels is usually their location––they tend to be found in the outer parts of built-up areas or tucked in out-of-the-way places. This can increase your travel costs but it can still be better than expensive central accommodations. For the cheapest rates you'll need a membership card but decide whether this is worth it by considering how often you'll stay at hostels.
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    Go camping. There are campsites throughout Japan and if the season is right, this can be a fun, albeit often crowded, way to experience Japan. Be aware that overcrowding is fairly typical during Japanese holiday seasons. You can sometimes rent tents and in some places you'll also be able to rent a cabin or lodge if you've booked in advance. However, the Japanese National Tourist Office does recommend that you take your own gear, "to avoid disappointment". Also note that getting to and from campsites can be problematic if you don't have your own transport. For more details, check out Camping in Japan at:

Method 4
Food and shopping

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    Stick to budget restaurants and bars when eating out. Japan offers plenty of budget food choices in restaurants, so you don't need to avoid eating out altogether. Décor is often a good indicator of price, so be alert. Tipping is not expected in Japan, so you can save even more by not doing so. It's a really good idea to have a menu-reading list on your smartphone or in your guidebook so that you know what you're eating and the value. And it pays to ask for meibutsu if you're a food lover––this is the word for "speciality" and will ensure that you get the most locally true cuisine possible.
    • Noodle bars and night street stalls specializing in noodles (ramen) are often a great way to get very full at an affordable choice. You'll know a ramen restaurant when you see customers seated at a long counter eating from steaming bowls. Udon and soba dishes are another cheap way to eat in Japan provided you choose a cheap restaurant.
    • Izakaya is the Japanese version of a pub-eatery, and you can get a selection of typical Japanese foods as well as Western foods as such places. It's casual food, and therefore usually fairly inexpensive.
    • Yakitori is a skewer of vegetables and charcoal-grilled chicken. It's usually served with beer or sake after work and it might be enough for a meal in some places. There are yakitori restaurants (yakitori-ya), often found near train stations. Just be aware that prices are usually for one yakitori, so add up the costs if you want more.
    • Although sushi is considered to be a snack, it is possible to fill up on sushi as a meal. Look for automatic sushi places, known as kaiten-sushi, that serve sushi on an automatic conveyor belt. The color code on the plates you choose are the price indicators and they should match with a price chart on the wall. Choose carefully and you might be able to fill up for very little cost.
    • Look for places where the locals eat, although you'll need a grasp of basic Japanese as such places rarely have menus and if they do, rarely anything in English. Look for nomiya and aka-chochin Japanese restaurants or chuka-ryori-ya cheap Chinese restaurants.
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    Get food from grocery stores. Grocery stores sell plenty of prepared foods just like convenience stores but for a lot less money.
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    Check out the food vending machines. These are almost everywhere in Japan and you can get a range of food and drink from them, including snacks, green tea, coffee, beer, etc.
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    Visit the usual chain food stores. McDonald's and other fast food chains are everywhere. Try Mosburger, a Japanese hamburger chain.
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    Eat at food halls and food markets. These are great budget places to eat, with lots of variety available. Along with grocery stores, these can be a great place for vegetarians, as there will be plenty of fruit, rice snacks and vegetables for sale.
    • Bakeries are another option, although most food sold in bakeries is fairly sweet and isn't going to be quite what you're used to.
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    Avoid buying alcohol and clothing. You might have heard that things in Japan are really expensive, however if you avoid alcohol and clothing you will find that everything else is quite reasonably priced. You should, of course, try sake while you are in Japan. Just don't plan on going out to bars every night.
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    Get pre-made meals at a convenience store. Convenience stores have great tasting, inexpensive pre-made meals. They have everything from prepared ramen to beef bowls. Some convenience stores even have fresh bakeries. Most will have microwaves and chopsticks and/or disposable utensils available. Many have counters where you can eat in the store, if you wish.
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    Take plenty of digital photographs as your souvenirs. They're cheaper and more personal than souvenirs or expensive artisan items, and they're the best way to jog your memory years later.

Method 5

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    Set a daily budget for entrance fees and associated costs with visiting places. This will help you to make good decisions about what is worth paying to see and what is not really affordable.
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    Find the free or low-cost things to do. There are many ways to experience all that Japan has to offer without having to pay much. Just a few of the things you might like to do:
    • Visit Akihabara (known as "Akiba" for short) in Tokyo. This electronics district has all the latest otaku (geek) trends and simply taking it all in can be an exciting experience.
    • Visit Japan's beaches. There are lots of beaches on both mainland Japan and on the islands of Okinawa. If the weather is good, these are a fascinating way to spend some time.
    • Visit Shibuya, the shopping center for Tokyo youth. Here you'll see many trendy Japanese, along with emerging trends. Bring your camera along.
    • Take time to check out the architecture. Tokyo has a smorgasbord of amazing buildings to examine and photograph.
    • See what festivals are happening while you're visiting. Getting caught up in the excitement of festivities can be a great way to remember your time in Japan.
    • Visit temples and shrines. There are so many that you could make your entire trip revolve around these beautiful, peaceful and enlightening places.
    • Take time to see Japanese gardens. Some may charge, some may be free but you'll find plenty to see and enjoy as you take a rest from the hectic pace outside of the garden.
    • Go hiking. Provided you can get to the good hiking locations, this can be a very affordable way to see more of Japan. The huts on hiking trails tend to be priced reasonably and there are amazing things to see, from volcanoes on Japan's southern island of Kyushu to the peaks of the Japan Alps in Central Honshu.
    • Save money on Tokyo's museums by getting a Grutt Pass, which will get you free or discounted access to around 75 museums in Tokyo.[1]
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    Buy souvenirs in 100, 300, 500 and 1,000 yen stores. One price stores come in many types in Japan, corresponding roughly to $1, $3, $5 and $10 stores. They have more expensive one price stores as well. Many items in these stores look like they were far more expensive and make great gifts for yourself and others. Look for THE DAISO, Seiriya and 3 Coins, but there are countless others.


  • Always have cash on you in Japan. Although credit cards can be used in many high-end places, cash is still the preferred method of payment in most places. Don't even think of taking checks!
  • Osaka is known for its bargain shopping; if you really want to shop, this may be the place to do it, in the "city of merchants"! Kyoto has great flea markets and lots of trendy boutiques. Tokyo has everything––which can be a real budget destroyer, so take care.
  • Pack lightly; the less you have to lug with you, the less you'll feel stressed out and inclined to spend more just to feel better!
  • Plan your trip in advance. A well planned trip will always beat one where you're "winging it" when it comes to budgeting. Knowing the potential costs in advance allows you to build in buffers and entitles you to a splurge now and then, as you know you can afford it.
  • If you're over 60 or 65, inquire about senior's discounts––showing your passport in many places should help you to get senior discount rates. This includes some airlines.
  • If you decide to stay in mountain huts when hiking, reserve ahead. Although you can get a hut with a meal included, it's cheaper to prepare your own food.
  • Travel with a friend; you can share many of the costs and sometimes take advantage of shared meals, etc.


  • Gifts are a much more acceptable way of showing appreciation than tips.
  • Japanese people will stare at you––don't take it personally.
  • If you decide to visit Roppongi in Tokyo be extremely careful. This area of Tokyo is a stomping ground for the Yakuza (Japanese mafia) and other criminals. If you get a drink there, watch it continuously. Some tourists have had their drinks spiked and wake up the next morning with their credit cards maxed out.
  • Be careful if you choose to hitchhike. There is always a potential risk of something bad happening.
  • Discrimination is legal in Japan.
  • The Japanese may take offense at usually acceptable Western habits. Make sure you don't offend them. It may be better to do some research about manners before you go.Practice Good Manners in Japan may help.
  • There will be certain places such as bars, massage parlors, and nightclubs that will not admit foreigners.

Things You'll Need

  • Japan guidebook
  • Japanese phrasebook
  • If you plan on camping, bring your own gear
  • Easily carried baggage

Sources and Citations


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