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Five Super Quick Tips for Non-Luxury Budget Travel in Japan

By Edited Sep 20, 2016 7 11

Japan Budget Travel Tips


It is a widespread misconception that travelling in Japan is expensive. Granted, Japan is one of the top 10 countries in the world for high cost of living [7692]. However, with some planning and know-how, it's possible to enjoy a budget trip in the land of the rising sun, without missing out on Japan's high quality of goods and services. This article lists five tried and tested tips.

1. Buy a Japan Rail Pass

Restricted to foreign visitors only, this is a very cost effective rail pass for long-distance train travel in Japan. It covers either 7, 14 or 21 consecutive days and offers unlimited travel on most trains operated by Japan Railways, including shinkansen or bullet trains, at prices that residents themselves can only dream of.

 The prices are always the same in Japanese yen e.g. the Ordinary 7-day pass costs 28,300 yen and could be cheaper or more expensive for you, depending on the yen value. 

However, please purchase the JR Pass before your arrival in Japan as it is not for sale within the country. What you will receive is an Exchange Order which you will have to exchange for the actual pass itself upon arrival in Japan (simply do so at Narita Airport in Tokyo or see this list).

**Tip: If you happen to be in Tokyo on business and have time for only one other city e.g. Kyoto, it's still cheaper to get the JR Pass than the regular train ticket.

**Another tip: Kyoto and Osaka are 30 minutes or less, away from each other. This is very handy to see both places within two days, or even the same day. You can opt to spend the night at one or the other.


2.  Pre-book Low-cost Accomodation

Japan has a variety of low budget accomodation and it is recommended to book in advance. Hostels and dormitories can cost as low as 1,500 yen are usually characterised by a lively social atmosphere.

One can also opt for Japanese-style accomodation by staying in a ryokan (Japanese style inn) or minshuku (B & B).  These cost between 5,000 and 10,000 yen a night. A few ryokans even provide meals and snacks for a small fee.

For a unique budget experience, book a night or two in

a capsule hotel - enclosed bunk beds that are "stacked" two high (see picture on the right). Each capsule might have its own television, electronic console and wireless internet connection and costs around 2,500-4,000 yen per person, per night. They are catered for guests who typically want only a good night's rest. However, they could also be an enjoyable and eye-opening experience for the tourist in Japan. Some capsule hotels cater to male guests only.

If that wasn't good enough, there are even budget onsens. Visit onsenexpress.com for budget onsen options that could provide meals and lodging.


3. Opt for Free Sightseeing Places

Believe it or not, quite a few sightseeing spots in Japan don't cost you a cent.

Tokyo: Tsukiji Fish Market, Imperial Palace and East Gardens, Sensoji Temple

Kyoto: Philosopher's Path, Fushimi Inari Shrine

Nara: Nara Park (where deer roam free), Heijo Palace

Yokohama: Kirin Beer Village, Chinatown

Nagoya: Toyota Factory Tour

Hiroshima: Hiroshima Peace Park + museum that costs only 50 yen to visit, Mazda Museum...

...just to name a few.


4. Eat Food on a Budget

  Yes, we've all heard horror stories on how expensive food in Japan is, especially beer. Well, the tax on the latter is one of the highest in the world, so no wonder. Instead of drinking beer at a restaurant, opt for one of the local brands from 7-11 instead, which are open 24-hours and only cost around 100 yen or slightly more.

Some of the best and least expensive food in Japan can be found at noodle shops. These usually have a vending machine outside and plastic representations of their meals in the window display, so you don't get confused while purchasing your food. You can get a decent bowl meal for around 200-500 yen and iced water is on the house.

Fast food chains such as Yoshinoya or Coco Curry House are another option. A step-up from these would be family restaurants such as Dennys - you can get decent breakfast starting at 380 yen from there, which is quite a steal.

For cheap sushi,  don't rule out supermarkets. The sushi there is not only a lot more affordable than going to a restaurant, it's also delicious.

P.S. I have had a decent lunch on-the-go of onigiri (rice balls) and fried chicken purchased from a convenience store outside the railway station in Kyoto. Can't go any cheaper or better than that!


5. Love Fashion/Shopping Discounts

Love Japanese vintage fashion and Harajuku street wear but are running on a tight budget? Check out a cheaper alternative at the Yoyogi Flea Market in Tokyo, located between Shibuya and Harajuku.

Probably the hippest of flea markets in Japan, Yoyogi Flea Market is only open to sellers of recycled goods; this market promotes environmentally-friendly practice of  reselling used goods and is not profit driven. Think leather jackets for around USD$50.


Alternatively, Japan visitors can enjoy a 5% tax waiver when spending more than 10,001 yen at licensed department stores.

If you're a fan of certain Japanese brand cosmetics or beauty products, be sure to grab some as well- it's more likely to be much cheaper than in your home country.


If you have any other tips for inexpensive travel in Japan, please let me know. This article was written for non-luxury travellers like myself.



Mar 15, 2013 4:37am
This is a great guide. I've been to japan several times on a budget and this is pretty accurate.
Mar 15, 2013 11:13pm
Thanks, bluethree!
Mar 20, 2013 10:36pm
Very helpful article on budget travel in Japan. Some of the tips work in other countries too, but it is very specific.
Mar 20, 2013 11:45pm
Thanks, JadeDragon!
Apr 20, 2013 2:08am
I'd love to find the time and money to pop next door to Japan and have a look ;-) From what I've been told it's very beautiful. Your article is very helpful thanks for the tips
Apr 20, 2013 7:25am
Great tips. Thanks for the guide.
Apr 20, 2013 8:34am
Hey guys, thanks for reading and commenting. I forgot to add that even if you're in Japan for a few days and only have time for one other city (e.g. Kyoto) besides Tokyo, it's still cheaper to get the Japan Rail pass than to purchase a normal train ticket like the locals.

Apr 25, 2013 9:29am
I've always wanted to go to Japan! This article will be a great guide. Thank you.
Apr 26, 2013 9:22am
Hi xscottbx, thanks for reading and commenting! I hope you'll get to visit Japan in the very near future as it will surely be worth your while :)
Apr 30, 2013 1:31am
So faraway but yet so tempting, Japan is a place I would love to visit simply because I find this country unique in so many ways. Thanks for the tips trufflehunter.
Apr 30, 2013 1:55am
You're most welcome, mikerobbers (is that your real name). It is a unique country! This report by echizen has more cool info: http://www.infobarrel.com/Five_things_you_dont_know_about_Japanese_politics
Thanks for reading and commenting :)
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  1. "Budget Travel in Japan." Japan-guide.com. 13/03/2013 <Web >
  2. "Yoyogi Flea Market – Pictures & Video From Tokyo’s Hippest Open-Air Resale Market." Tokyo-fashion.com. 13/3/2013 <Web >
  3. "Cost of Living Index for Country for 2013." Numbeo. 21/3/2013 <Web >

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