These are my top tips to help you travel Japan on a tight budget.
Japan is a country that has a reputation for being expensive. A trip to Japan may seem like a pipe dream. Although Japan isn’t as affordable as Thailand and Cambodia, it is possible to visit Japan on a tight budget. All you have to do is plan ahead.
In fact, the Japanese prices are comparable to many other destinations in the United States. Although it may not be cheap, you can customize your trip to fit your budget.
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Transport: Saving Money
- Japan Regional Travel
- Bullet trains, buses and planes are the best options for regional travel.
The bullet trains are expensive, but well worth it if you have limited time. They travel through the countryside at speeds of up to 200 mph. A single-ride pass will work best if you are only planning to visit a few places in Japan. However, a Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) can be a great option if you’re looking for more extensive travel. It has multiple-day options and a fixed price, which could save you a lot.
The JR pass was not cost-effective for our 6-day trip. However, it may be worth the extra for longer stays. In some cases, bullet trains can be used within cities and serve local areas.
Keep in mind, however, that purchasing the JR Pass online can often help you save significant money. You can purchase it at the airport, but expect to pay around 20% more.
If money is your main concern, it’s possible to save lots of money by taking the bus instead of the bullet trains. Japan’s buses are amazing. They run on time, are clean, and look great. They take longer than bullet trains but they are cheaper.
Finally, it is possible to fly regionally within Japan. You can find a few budget airlines operating in Japan. It’s worth doing a quick search to see the prices.
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Japan: Local Travel
Walking is the best option for local travel in Japan. Taxis and Uber in Japan are costly. We found that walking in Tokyo for 20-30 minutes was more cost-effective than using the metro. Wear comfortable shoes.
If you are planning to take the Tokyo metro, keep in mind that the average local ticket costs between 100 and 200 JPY for one-way travel. You can purchase a day pass for around 800 JPY, which gives you unlimited travel for a full day. The ticket prices vary depending on where you are traveling.
- Save Money on Japan Accommodation
Japan’s housing and living costs are generally very high. Unfortunately, this can lead to higher accommodation prices. It will be difficult to find a place to stay that is affordable, but it is possible.
Hostels, Airbnb’s and ryokans are the best options for cheap stays. Ryokans is a traditional Japanese lodge with matted floors and shared bathrooms.
Important to remember that Airbnb was once banned in Japan. However, a 2018 ruling has allowed the service to be used. So you will most likely find a great place for your stay.
You might also consider a capsule hotel. As the name suggests, capsule hotels are basically pods you sleep in. While you share the common areas and bathrooms with other guests, you will have your own private area to rest at night. Although they are similar to hostels in their function, they have a more luxurious and sophisticated clientele than hotels.
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Japan: Save Money on Food
- Convenience Stores
Convenience Store food isn’t the same as American greasy fare. I was surprised at how many delicious pre-packaged meals 7-11 had. Although the Japanese food isn’t expensive, it is an easy way to reduce your budget.
- Supermarkets and Family Mart are both similarly priced.
- Food Courts
The mall is the best place to find a quick, reliable, and affordable place to grab a bite to eat while in Japan. Many Japanese malls are the same layout, so it shouldn’t be difficult to find the food court inside.
You will be able to choose from a wide variety of food options when you reach the food court. You will find Western fast food staples and a variety of street food options in most food courts. Traditional Japanese food is also available.
- Train Stations
You should definitely visit the station’s food kiosks if you are catching a train, or just passing by. Japanese ekiben is the Japanese term for station. Ben is short for bento box. You can find boxed meals at almost every major railway station in Japan. And they are absolutely delicious. You can find a variety of meals in an ekiben such as tempura and fried chicken, as well as rice balls, dumplings and even stuffed shrimp. There are many other options.
Keep in mind, however, that eating out in public places, such as commuter trains, is no longer a good idea in Japan. You should pay attention to any signs saying that eating in public is not allowed. However, if you see others doing it, you should be okay.
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Ramen in Japan is considered casual food and its prices reflect this. A standard bowl of ramen cost 700 JPN. However, this can vary depending on whether you add toppings or choose side dishes.