Travel Japan on the Cheap and Have Fun Doing It
One of the most common questions that travelers to Japan ask is, "Is Japan expensive?"
The answer to this question is not simple. Yes, compared to some other countries in Asia, Japan is expensive. However, for avid travelers of Europe - especially countries like Sweden, the United Kingdom, France, and Denmark - Japan would not be considered expensive.
If you are planning on visiting Japan, and don't want to leave with your wallet hurting, here are some top tips for traveling to Japan on a budget:
Japan Transit Budget Tips:
Get a JR pass
"JR Pass" stands for "Japanese Rail Pass," and it is a discounted train pass for tourists in Japan. If you're traveling through Japan for several weeks, and will be taking the train often, this pass can save you a ton of money. Note: It must be purchased before arriving in Japan, so be sure to buy it online before getting on the plane.
Travel by overnight bus
Save money on train AND accommodation costs by riding an overnight bus. Check out companies like Willer Express for discounted rates.
Explore by foot
Instead of taking cabs, explore Japan by walking around. It is a great way to exercise, and discover off-the-beaten-path locations.
Rent a bike
Or, ride around Japan on a bike. Just like walking, you'll discover more places and save money, but you'll be able to cover more ground on a bike.
Use apps like Jorudan app to find the cheapest way to get somewhere
Jorudan is a popular route planner application. Other options include Google Maps.
Purchase an unlimited transit card
Most major cities in Japan will offer an "Unlimited Pass" to travelers for a few days (usually 24 to 72 hours). If you are trying to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time, this could be a great way to save money on transit.
Japan Food Budget Tips:
Eat at 100-yen shops
There are a lot of 100-yen shops around Japan ($1 shops). If you are looking for a quick bite between meals, this is a great place to find cheap snacks.
Eat at 7-11
Forget the 7-11s you know from home! In Japan, 7-11s are practically restaurants. There are tons of fresh food and drink options, all at reasonable prices. This is a very popular option with backpackers in the country.
Another discounted option is conveyor-belt sushi. In these restaurants, guests pay by the plate. There are usually some plates that are 100-200 yen.
Seek out lunch specials
To get people through the door at lunch time, a lot of fancy dinner restaurants offer cheap lunch deals. Keep an eye out for these.
Look out for "Nomihodai"
This means "All you can drink."
Eat street food
No matter where you are in Japan, a street food cart is always nearby! You may not know exactly what you are ordering, but if you are looking for an adventure, eat from these carts!
Bring a reusable water bottle
Don't pay for water in Japan - there are plenty of places to refill a reusable bottle.
Eat samples at department stores
If you are really on a budget, department stores in Japan have a lot of samples. Department store hop around town, and fill up on kit-kat samples.
Purchase take away meals from grocery stores
Another inexpensive meal option is take-away dishes from grocery stores. These are generally priced fairly, depending on what you get.
Buy discounted meals in the evening
It is very important in Japan that food is fresh. To get rid of uneaten meals at the end of the day, grocery stores discount prepacked dishes in the evening (around 7:00 to 9:00 PM).
Wander off from tourist areas
Get off the tourist path! The restaurants near sights and monuments are a lot more expensive than other places. Take the extra time to walk a block or two out of the way. You never know what you may find!
Talk to the locals
If you make friends with a local while out and about in Japan (you probably will - locals like to practice their English), ask where their favorite places to buy cheap eats are.
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Eat in subway stations
Subway stations are another place to find inexpensive food.
Drink in the streets
It is legal in Japan to drink on public transit and in the streets, so buy beers at a grocery store and drink them on the way to the bar.
Watch out for table charges
Some small restaurants and bars charge for sitting at a table. Be sure to watch out for this/avoid these places.
Stock up at early morning bakeries
There are a lot of cheap bakeries around Japan for commuters in the morning. Get up early, and purchase some fresh treats for the day.
Japan Accommodation Budget Tips
Stay in a capsule/pod hotels
Pods are very cheap "hotels" in Japan. Basically, guests get a tiny pod, just big enough to fit a bed. The pod is usually located in a room with dozens of other pods. Guests share bathrooms and other amenities. While not very spacious, these options are usually very cheap.
Rent an Airbnb
If you are staying in an area for a decent amount of time, it may be cheaper to rent an apartment. For most places, the longer you stay, the cheaper the price becomes. Additionally, in an apartment, you will most likely have a kitchen, so you can also save money on food. Check out our post on 6 Airbnbs in Japan You Must See!
Follow accommodation prices
Don't book the first accommodation you find. If you are booking a hotel, track the prices for a few weeks to see when they are cheapest (and what is a good deal) before buying something.
Stay in a Manga Kissa
"Manga Kissa" are manga cafes. Basically, these are all night shops where people can spend money to play video games and read comic books. Because they are so popular, there are usually beds or sofas by each desk. If you are looking for a very cheap place to crash (or arrive late and have no place to stay), seek out a Manga Kissa.
General Japan Budget tips
Bring souvenirs from home
If you are meeting up with anyone in Japan, or are invited over by a new friend, it is customary to bring the host a gift to say thank you. Instead of looking for a nice gift in Japan (which will probably be expensive), bring tokens from your hometown as gifts for new friends.
Tipping is not customary in Japan
You don't need to tip, and you may even offend someone if you try.
Don't travel in peak season
Spring (cherry blossoms) and fall (autumn foliage) are the most popular times to visit Japan. Prices go up, so don't visit Japan during peak season.
Visit free sights
There are plenty of free things to do in Japan, including temples, sumo wrestling practice, and monuments. Check out this Lonely Planet list of free things to do in Japan
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