Backpacking Japan on a Budget

Backpacking Japan on a budget slider

Japan is not your typical backpacking destination. Not only are the costs significantly higher than lets say many countries in Southeast Asia, the people you’ll meet in Japan are a totally different crowd too! Is it possible to go backpacking in Japan on a budget though? Well, traveling in Japan can indeed be an expensive affair, but a bit of planning & research can definitely help with reducing your costs.

Want to know how to turn Japan into a budget-friendly destination? Here’s an overview of typical costs for transportation, accommodation, food and activities and some tips to cut down your expenses!

 

Temple in Tanabe

Temple Kumano Kodo

 

Transportation

Transportation is often the largest part of the cost of a trip. Japan is no different – transportation costs are pretty high, especially for long distance trains. Here’s a breakdown for all modes of transportation.

 

Travel by Train

JR Rail Pass – A lot of people opt for a JR Rail Pass when traveling in Japan, which is a very convenient and fast way to get around. Rail Passes are available for the durations of either 7, 14 or 21 days and have to be bought before you enter the country. The downside of the Rail Pass? It is pretty expensive! Prices for a 7 day pass start at around 250€ and go up to 500€ for a 21 day pass.

So do you need a Rail Pass? I’d consider it the best option if you only have limited time, as the Shinkansen (bullet train) is by far the fastest way to move between cities. However, if you are not in a rush and don’t mind longer bus rides, you can definitely do it without one!

 

Regional Rail Passes – Several Regional Rail Passes are sold within Japan. They all differ in duration of their validity, prices etc., but might be worth to consider if you are planning to travel around a lot in a certain area!

Tip: In case you want to move between Osaka, Kyoto and Uji, take the Keihan Railway trains. The tickets from this private railway operator are much cheaper compared to JR trains!

 

City Day Passes – In some cities, Day Passes are available. As with the Regional Rail Passes, these might be a way to save money if you intend to move around a lot in a particular city.

 

Seishun 18 Kippu Ticket – The Seishun 18 Kippu is a Seasonal Discount Ticket which is available three times during the year. It can only be used on JR local trains and JR rapid local trains (“Kaisoku” and “Shin-kaisoku”) – for exceptions see the website of the JNTO. The ticket costs about 95€ (11,500 Yen) and is valid for either 5 days of travel (consecutive or non-consecutive) or a group of 5 people traveling together on the same route (e.g. five people for one-day travel).

 

Arashiyama River

 

Travel by Bus

Busses are a less expensive alternative to traveling by train. The downside of their price advantage? They are much slower! However, if you are not in a rush, they are a good way to make your Japan trip more budget-friendly. By taking overnight busses for long distances you can even save money on a night’s accommodation, win-win! 😉

There are several bus companies that operate on long distance routes. Willer Express have quite an extensive route network and an easy to use English website. Kosokubus too has an English website, but some routes can only be booked on the Japanese website.

Willer Express also offers bus passes. Unlike the JR Rail Pass, these can be purchased from within Japan. The bus passes are offered for either 3, 5 or 7 days. Travel dates do not have to be consecutive , you can choose any 3, 5, or 7 days within two months to travel within Japan. Note that the bus passes do not include Hokkaido and Okinawa.  Moreover, they are not available during Japanese national holidays (Golden Week in May, Obon week in August and Silver Week at the end of September)!

 

Travel by Plane

There are several low-cost airlines operating in Japan, such as Peach, Scoot and Eva Airlines. If you’re planning to book several flights with the same company or partner companies, try to book them all at once. You might end up getting a discount on the overall fare.

In case you still need to find cheap flights to enter Japan, check out Korean Airlines and China Airlines for flights from Europe. For flights from East Asia and Australia, you can try Jetstar Airlines and Airasia. Cebu Pacific is worth checking when coming from the Philippines. Of course, a search on Skyscanner doesn’t hurt either.

Prices for flights are likely to increase in peak season, keep this in mind when planning your trip. Make sure to book your flights well in advance if you intend to visit Japan during peak times such as cherry blossom season.

 

Note for all modes of transportation:

Japan has several public holiday periods when many people travel (because for once everyone is off) and prices increase. This concerns Golden Week at the beginning of May, Obon in mid-August and Silver Week at the end of September. The exact dates change every year, so check accordingly. During Christmas and possibly New Years prices may increase as well.

 

Arashiyama Mountains and Cherry Blossoms

 

Accommodation

Accommodation will be your second major expense next to transport. Hostels are the cheapest option and will start at around 20€ (prices vary depending on the city and time of the year). This will add up quite quickly, but I do have to say that the hostels in Japan were the nicest ones I’ve ever stayed in! The staff was always incredibly friendly & helpful and the hostels were immaculately clean!

I did not stay in any Airbnbs in Japan, but I’ve seen a few hostels on there, so it is definitely worth checking out!

Capsule hotels are another type of accommodation you might want to consider. They are made up of many extremely small “rooms”, aka capsules, where you sleep in. Many capsule hotels are only open to male guests though.

Ryokans, Japanese-style inns, are usually quite pricey. I’m all for spending a little bit more on certain experiences, so if you’d like to experience what it is like to sleep on a futon and a tatami mat, I’d suggest to go for it, but only stay for one or very few days at a Ryokan. This way you can still experience Japanese Culture without totally blowing your budget.

Last but not least, there is the option of couchsurfing. It is not very widespread in Japan, but you might be able to find hosts in the bigger cities.

Tip for traveling in peak season: Book your accommodation in advance! Especially in popular cities such as Kyoto, everything will book out quickly.

 

Cherry Blossoms Arashiyama

 

Food

Food can be as expensive or cheap as you want it to be! I ended up spending a lot less money than I had expected. Here’s a few ways on how to save money on food.

  • Cook your own food! Most hostels are equipped with kitchens, so it’s a nice and convenient way to save money. If you’re not in the mood for cooking, check the supermarkets and 100 Yen convenience stores for take-away meals.
  • Fresh fruit is fairly expensive in Japan. If you can’t live without it, try to find a farmer’s markets or check the 100 Yen Convenience Stores. These often carry a small selection of fresh fruit.
  • On the go? Buy snacks and ready-made meals at one of the many convenience stores. My favorite snacks were Onigiri, rice formed into a triangle which is filled with different ingredients such as pickled ume.
  • If you’d like to treat yourself to a meal at a restaurant, restaurant chains are your best bet. Budget options are “Yoshinoya”, “Matsuya” and “Sukiya”. These mainly serve rice dishes with meat – sorry fellow vegetarians, Japan is a bit of a tricky one! For Udon, try “Marukame Udon”, for Curries, “Coco Curry”.
  • Cheap sushi? “Sushiro” and “Kurasushi” are sushi chains where plates cost 100 Yen each.
  • Izakayas, Japanese-style pubs, are nother good options for budget meals. Menus are usually in Japanese but have lots of pictures, so ordering should not be an issue if you don’t know the language. For an overview of Izakaya chains see this article.
  • If you’re looking for a specific restaurants of the ones I’ve listed above, just google them. In most cities, you can find them on google maps like this.

 

Arashiyama Bamboo Foerst

 

Activities

  • Some of the historic temples charge an entrance fee, whereas shrines are usually free to enter. Entrance fees for temples usually average around 500 Yen. If you are in a city like Kyoto, which has over 2000 temples and shrines, I suggest to just pick a few – you can only really enjoy going to that many temples anyways! For an overview of the entrance fees to the temples in Kyoto you can check this website. An overview over temples & shrines in Japan, including entrance fees and how to get there, can be found here.
  • Wander around. I’ve visited Japan during cherry blossom season, and had the best time strolling through parks, along rivers and Tokyo’s streets. Some parks may charge a small admission fee, but there are many you can visit for free.
  • Do your research! Often, you can find free alternatives to expensive activities. For example, Tokyo’s Skytree which is heavily advertised costs around 30€! Luckily, there are tons of free observation decks in Tokyo which offer equally amazing views, so your expenses will only consist of a few bucks for the metro.

 

 

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32 Comment

  1. Anita says: Reply

    I must say you have put together great cost saving tips for not cheap Japan. I am very much impressed by transportation part of your post. I visited Japan about ten years ago and I sill remember the price of Japan rail pass. It’s nice to know that there are some great alternatives. I hope I could go back to Japan once and use your great advice. Thanks for sharing and beautiful pictures!

    1. dorohenrietta says: Reply

      Thanks Anita 🙂 My sister lives in Japan, so I was lucky to have someone who knew about all the bus companies etc. I really saved a lot of moeny by not getting the rial pass!

  2. Absolutely beautiful pictures and great advice. I’ve been wanting to visit Japan for a while but the potential cost puts me off. Tips like this are encouraging though. Thank you

    1. dorohenrietta says: Reply

      Thanks Mike! I’m glad that you find the tips helpful 🙂

  3. I wish to visit Japan soon, it’s on my bucket list for a long time. Thanks for sharing all of this, I find it very helpful for everyone who wants to visit Japan on a budget because we all know that Japan is not very budget friendly.

    1. dorohenrietta says: Reply

      Japan is indeed not particularly well-known for being budget-friendly 😉 Happy to hear that the post is helpful! 🙂

  4. Aisha says: Reply

    I’ll be honest, I’m not a backpacker but your photos and insight have really inspired me to explore this type of travel when I do visit Japan (hopefully next year 🙂 Thanks so much for taking the time to share your knowledge and recommendations!

    1. dorohenrietta says: Reply

      I’m happy to hear this! Hopefully your Japan travel plans will work out! 🙂

  5. Amazing tips! When I think of backpacking in Asia, I always think of other places and not Japan, but you have really laid out some budget friendly options! Did not know that capsule hotels are only open to men – hopefully this will change in the future!

    1. dorohenrietta says: Reply

      Thanks Samantha! Happy to hear that my post is helpful 🙂 Some capsule hotels are also open to women, but the majority isn’t, apparently for safety reasons from what I’ve heard? I’m not totally sure about the reasons….would love to stay in one as well though – seems like such a unique experience!

  6. Japan is quite expensive. The tips you gave to reduce the expenses are helpful. The affordable budget just made the dream destination to Japan more tempting.

    1. dorohenrietta says: Reply

      Happy to hear that the post is helpful! 🙂

  7. nicole says: Reply

    Great post because Japan is not a cheap place. I’ve heard more and more about their rail pass which seems like such a good value.

    1. dorohenrietta says: Reply

      Yeah it’s a good option if you only have limited time!

  8. Japan is my favourite country on earth! I went there for exchange for half a year when I was in university. Enjoyed every moment!

    1. dorohenrietta says: Reply

      Oh nice, you must have had an awesome time! 🙂

  9. Very nice tips and I agree transportation would be a great part of the budget, (I would say) especially for Japan. But the cost compensated by a clean environment, safe record and reliable services.
    Japan is one of my favourite countries and I always go back for a different experience! The food is amazing and the travel sites there never disappoint me.
    Hope everyone will have a good time in Japan as well! @ knycx.journeying

    1. dorohenrietta says: Reply

      You’re so right about that! Japan is one of those countries where higher prices are actually justified (well, to some extent at least ;))

  10. Japan is on our travel wishlist, so reading this article is timely. I never imagined that travelling by train would be so costly. Great tips and lovely photos! Thanks for sharing!

    1. dorohenrietta says: Reply

      Thanks Eulanda 🙂 Hopefully you’ll make it to Japan soon, it’s such a beautiful country!

  11. This is interesting, to be honest I never even thought that it would be possible to do Japan on a budget since it is so expensive.
    But as so soften it is all about the details and when you can save money just by eating regularly in restaurant chains, in the end this sums up of course.
    Totally cool, that you visit Japan during the cherry blossom season, I guess it is the best season at all probably…

    1. dorohenrietta says: Reply

      Cherry blossom is amazing, definitely would recommend going to Japan during spring time!
      It really is about the details – obviously Japan will still be more expensive than for example countries in Southeast Asia, but it does not have to be crazily expensive! The costs are comparable to other countries in Western Europe I’d say.

  12. I know Japan is expensive but wasn’t aware it is that expensive. It is definitely good to know because I am planning to visit Japan this year towards end of the year.

    1. dorohenrietta says: Reply

      I’d compare the costs to countries in Western Europe. There’s definitely possibilites to reduce the costs of your trip, don’t be intimidated 🙂

  13. Great post – Japan has been a possibility for us for a while now – but whenever I look at the costs I always pass it over. So thanks for sharing some great budget options – because I really want to go to Japan!!

    1. dorohenrietta says: Reply

      I was really hesistant to go as well in the beginning (because of the costs)! Glad to hear that the post is helpful 🙂

  14. Leiha says: Reply

    I’ve always wanted to go to Japan but was afraid it would be a budget buster for me. Thank you for sharing these tips on how to make it a little more affordable.

    1. dorohenrietta says: Reply

      I’m glad to hear that the post has been helpful! 🙂

  15. Sounds like a pretty expensive destination by all accounts of your and others I have read. In the big picture, it’s only as expensive as people make it. If its dream destination I am sure people can save longer and look for free activities in japan to offset the costs. Personally i would love to go on the bullet train

    1. dorohenrietta says: Reply

      Japan is indeed one of the more expensive countries I’ve bee to. A trip to Japan is obviously never going to be in the same price range as lets say Vietnam – but I do agree with you, it’s only as expensive as people make it.

  16. nicki says: Reply

    Thanks for sharing your insights on costs to visit Japan. I would not have guessed the rail pass was on par with as much as a Euro Rail Pass. I have heard from other people as well that Japan is costly, or at least can be depending on your mode of travel. I would like to visit during the Cherry Blossoms, as I live in Washington, D.C. and we also have it here – would be nice to see it there as well.

    1. dorohenrietta says: Reply

      Japan indeed can be very pricey! I’ve seen pictures of the cherry blossoms in Washington before, looks lovely as well!

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