Travel Japan on the Cheap and Have Fun Doing It

ViaHero · October 21, 2018

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 Europeespecially countries like Sweden, the United Kingdom, France, and DenmarkJapan would not be considered expensive. Read on for some excellent tips for budget travel in Japan; afterward, feel free to message us with any questions you still have.

Want to make the most out of your trip? Tap into our network of local travel planners—Heroes—who build unique, locally-curated trip plans, designed just for you. Get started.

If you are planning on visiting Japan, and don't want to leave with your wallet hurting, here are our 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. 

jr pass japan tips japanese rail pass

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 to find the cheapest way to get somewhere

Jorudan is a popular route planner application.  Google Maps is another option.

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. 

Conveyor-belt sushi

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.  

sushi conveyor belt japan food tips

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!  

japan street food

Bring a reusable water bottle

Don't pay for water in Japanthere 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 KitKat 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. 

japanese grocery stores japan tips

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

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 willlocals like to practice their English), ask where their favorite places to buy cheap eats are.

Use a ViaHero trip planner

Our local trip planners understand budget eats, and are happy to share discounted spots, off the beaten path.  Have one of our locals plan your trip and suggest their favorite restaurants! 

Eat in subway stations

Subway stations are another place to find inexpensive food. Stations will have vending machines at a minimum and the vending machines in Japan sell just about anything from candy bars to miso soup to sake. 

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. 

japan tips pod hotels

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 if your main goal is budget travel. 

japanese cherry blossoms sakura trees

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

Book a ViaHero trip planner

For just $25 a day, get a personalized itinerary from a local!  Get off the beaten path with ViaHero. Match with one of our local Heroes today!  

Have more questions about traveling to Japan? Here is a list of our local Japanese Travel Experts who can help or you can message us any questions you have. And before your trip, make sure to check out: