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Japan is an expensive country to visit but I really don’t think that you should let the cost of visiting Japan put you off if you really want to visit. After Backpacking Japan for 2.5 weeks I’d say that Japan is on par in terms of cost as Western Europe including the UK, and like anywhere in the world you can save money in Japan if you are visiting Japan on a budget.
Whether you’re in Japan already or planning your Japan trip, here are some ways you can travel around Japan on a budget and save money travelling in Japan!
Get a JR Pass & Be Clever With How You Use it.
You have probably heard that you need a JR Pass to travel around Japan and if you plan to visit multiple cities and places in a short amount of time, you do need one! The best way to save money on transport in Japan is to purchase a JR Pass, even if they are expensive initially.
I was in Japan for 18 days but I purchased the 14-day pass, not the 21-day pass as my first 2 days were spent in Osaka when I didn’t need to use it, and my last days in Tokyo where I didn’t need to use it either. Doing this saved me £80.00 which was the price difference between the 14 Day and 21 Day JR Pass at the time of my purchase.
You can use your JR Pass to do day trips in Japan as well as moving around the country which means you can fill your days in Japan with day trips that essentially cost you not much as the transport aspect has already been paid for.
For Example – Going to Nara and Kyoto on Day Trips from Osaka where accommodation is cheaper!
Get Your JR Pass here from Japan Rail Pass – They offer fast, quick, worldwide delivery & a free Japan guide!
Use the JR Rails Within Cities as much as possible.
The JR Pass is not just used for the fast Bullet Trains / Shinkansen Trains in Japan!
Cities in Japan have subway’s and metro’s which are the main and most obvious way to get around the cities. When using the subway, metro or tram’s in Japan you need to pay for them even if you have a JR Pass.
However I found, especially in Kobe, Kyoto and Tokyo that they have JR (Japan Rail) Train Lines going through the cities as well, these are noted on signs in the train stations and on map’s as ‘JR Lines’ and when you take them you just need to show your valid JR Pass to the inspectors at the gates and you get on.
No ticket needed, nothing, because they are included in your JR Pass and you don’t have to pay any extra.
I spent 3 days exploring Tokyo whilst my JR Pass was still valid and made sure to only take JR Lines meaning I spent £0.00 on transport in Tokyo in 3 days.
Refund Your ICOCA Card.
To get around the cities of Kansai on public transport (on non-JR Lines or when you don’t have a valid JR Pass) like Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Nara and Hiroshima to name a few, you need a loadable card called an ICOCA Card. This costs 2000yen to start with, you can order it online for the same price and get it delivered to your home so you have it ready to go or purchase it in the stations.
The cost of 2000Yen includes 1500Yen credit for transport and 500Yen as a deposit for the card. To save a bit of money in Japan, when you leave Kansai be sure to go to a ticket office and ask them to refund the 500Yen deposit and any extra credit you have on the card!
Book Accommodation Near a JR Station.
If you like the idea of using the JR Lines with your JR Pass to get around Cities at no extra cost, be sure to book accommodation near a JR Line Station so that you do not need to take a subway from a JR Station to your accommodation meaning money spent on the subway.
I found that most hostels in Japan note in their Booking.com description if they are close to a JR Line or people had written about it in the reviews.
Book a Hostel in Japan & Book a Big Dorm.
Japan is full of hostels and from my experience, the hostels in Japan are very well designed making them a popular and cheaper accommodation option to hotels in Japan.
To save money in Japan on accommodation not only will you want to stay in a hostel but for the cheapest accommodation in Japan, you’ll need to stay in a big dormitory room.
I saw hostel dorms in Japan advertised with up 56 beds! Personally, I find this crazy and the biggest I did in Japan was a 22-bed dorm but to save money in Japan, like the rest of the world, the bigger dorms will be the cheapest, so book them and be sure to pack your eye mask and earplugs!
Eat Breakfast at your Hostel.
I tend to find that Breakfast is always a pain to find in most places. Either it’s expensive as it’s a full meal in a cafe or restaurant, or it’s hard to find somewhere open.
Hostels in Japan, from what I saw, have Kitchens so buying some bread and eggs or cereal and milk when you get to a hostel is a great way to save money on breakfast costs and means you do not need to spend ages trying to find food in the morning.
Some hostels also include breakfast in their rates so look out for this.
Make Use of Supermarket Food.
On this note, the Supermarkets in Japan, mainly 7/11 and Family Mart, have some really good food options.
They have a huge range of Sushi from small individual pieces to whole boxes, as well as pre-made Japanese meals which can be eaten cold as well as selling ones that need heating up, and these meals actually look pretty good for less than half the price of a meal in even a cheap restaurant.
As mentioned, I found most hostels in Japan do have kitchens so you could heat a meal up in your hostel instead of eating out in a restaurant for every meal.
If you’re not staying somewhere with a kitchen, 7/11 and Family Mart have microwaves and will ask you if you want your pre-made meal hot so you could heat it up there and take it away, although some supermarkets also have tables and chairs so you could eat it inside.
Eat Street Food in Japan.
The Street Food in Japan is really good and is offered in many of Japan’s popular areas and Cities.
It ranges from picky foods like Sticks of Mochi (Japanese Rice Cakes), to different types of Rice Cakes, to its famous Beef and famous Takoyaki (Octopus Balls) and also to main meals like Okonomi Yaki and Noodles.
Depending where you go it’s not always the cheapest food and you’ll probably find cheaper food in the Supermarkets as Street Food is offered in touristic places in Japan but Street Food is a good and cheap way to eat lunch or grab a snack in Japan as well as being able to taste the local foods and much cheaper than eating a meal in a restaurant.
Don’t Eat in the Touristy Areas.
This is the most obvious money-saving tip when travelling I know, but it’s worth mentioning as Japan has so many touristy areas like Dotonbori in Osaka and Harajuku in Tokyo with their huge signs and cool looking restaurants but these will cost you a lot more to eat in and a big way to save money in Japan is to avoid these.
On my first day in Osaka, I was hit with an unexpectedly higher bill as I saw a price on a menu outside that looked ok, ordered that meal but they made me order a drink which I never usually do, and tax was added on at the end meaning it cost a lot more than I initially thought.
Outside of the major tourist areas and streets, this does not happen.
Cafes you’ll also find in the tourist areas are ‘Animal Cafes’ from Owls to Pengiuns. This is why you should avoid animal cafes in Japan due to obvious ethical reasons, and they are also expensive to enter and eat and drink at so this is even more of a reason to avoid them.
Consider the Tax or Look for Tax-Free Shops.
I was surprised to find that a lot of the prices shown in Japan do not include tax which as I said above can really make you end up spending more money than you thought.
Always look to see if tax is included or not to help you work out the final price, and look for tax-free shops!
Get Coffee from the Vending Machines.
If you’re a coffee addict don’t get your coffee from Starbucks and the other coffee chains in Japan. Instead, use the vending machines that are literally all over the Country!
They offer a range of drinks including all sorts of Coffee’s and Tea’s and they even have Hot Tea’s and Coffee’s which is great if you’re in Japan in the Winter and need warming up.
Not only are the vending machine Coffee’s half the price of Coffee Shop Coffee’s but it’s fun using the machines too!
Look out for Free Things To Do in Japan.
As with all country and cities, Japan has plenty of activities you need to pay for but I found a number of really good free things to do in Japan as well as exploring the parks and cool neighbourhoods which can take you days to do and is completely free!
Have a look at my post – Free Things To Do in Japan’s Most Popular Cities for more info!
Consider the Time of Year you Visit Japan.
I visited Japan in Spring during Cherry Blossom Season and the prices of accommodation definitely increase during Spring.
If you want to visit Japan on a budget, winter is the best time to visit as it is less busy with tourists and accommodation is less expensive.
Summer in Japan is also a good time to visit but it does get very hot.
I’d really recommend looking into accommodation at different times of the year before booking flights to Japan to ensure you don’t visit during high season.
I used Booking.com to book all of my accommodation in Japan and the best thing about Booking.com is its flexible booking options so you could always book and reserve accommodation now and change it nearer the time if you see something cheaper with no cancellation costs!
Fly into One City and Out of Another.
I flew into Kansai Airport which serves Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe City and flew out of Tokyo Airport. This really saved me money (and time), not only on the actual flights as it was cheaper for me to fly from Taiwan to Osaka than Taiwan to Tokyo but also because it meant I didn’t have to go back on myself.
Remember what I said in point one about using the JR Pass smartly. At the end of my trip in Tokyo my JR Pass was no longer valid so I had to pay for a train from Tokyo Station to the Airport but had I booked a flight out of Osaka I would have had to made sure my JR Pass was valid until much closer to the end of my trip and probably would have had to buy a 21 Day Pass instead of 14 Day Pass.
I used Skyscanner to search for my flights to and from Japan and compared lots of dates and routes to find the best deal!
Take a Free Walking Tour.
It’s always nice having a guide to show us around and explain what we’re seeing isn’t it but usually this costs money which is where free walking tours come in.
For some reason the idea of taking a free walking tour did not occur to me until the last day of my trip in Japan, however, Japan does offer lots of free walking tours especially in the Cities of Tokyo and Osaka so be sure to look into these when you arrive.
Note that they are not totally free and a tip is expected at the end if you enjoyed the tour but it is a budget friendly thing to do in Japan and will help save money on full priced tours.
Don’t Buy a Sim Card.
Getting a Sim Card in Japan is pretty expensive compared to so many other Countries and is not a way to save money in Japan.
I got a 3GB Travel Sim Card in Japan for about £20.00 and used the 3GB in one week meaning I spent the rest of my trip in Japan with no sim card and internet apart from using WIFI.
You can get 10GB for about £35.00 or get a WiFi Pocket Router which you pay for per day, however I found that the WIFI in my hostels was really great and some Cities like Osaka had public WIFI in the stations, I didn’t find Tokyo great for public WIFI but most cafes and restaurants did too so I didn’t need constant internet anyway in the end.
I hope you these ideas and tips help you plan your Japan trip and save money when you are in Japan!
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I’m Ellie Quinn!
I’m a travel addict who has been travelling on and off since 2010. In the Summer of 2018 I quit my office job in London, left my flat and I now travel and blog full time! Yes, I’m living that dream!
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