Japan is one of the best countries to travel to in Asia. It has a reputation for being expensive, but it’s not true.
We’ve been to Japan many times and it’s not as pricey as in the U.S. or Australia if comparing accommodations and food costs.
Currently, the weakened yen to the U.S. dollar (or any foreign currency) makes Japan an affordable place to visit, so don’t delay and plan a trip ASAP.
In this post, we’re sharing our 24 insider tips on how to travel to Japan on a budget. We discuss tips such as the estimated budget to spend in Japan, accommodation, transportation, food and drinks, attractions, and currency.
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How Much to Budget for a Trip to Japan?
After visiting Japan many times, we usually spend between around $50 to $80 USD per person per day. This daily cost excludes the cost of the airfare.
Therefore, we suggest that you budget at least $75 per person per day.
Note: As a caveat, the cost per day will vary for everyone depending on transportation (if there is a JR pass or not), number of attractions, food and drinks, etc.
For a one-week trip to Japan, budget at least $525 per person. A two-week trip through Japan will cost a minimum of $1,050 per person.
Budget-Friendly Accommodations Tips for Japan
Increase your daily budget for places to stay in Japan.
Accommodations in Japan are on the high end and will be the largest expense for your Japan trip.
Whether it’s a hostel, capsule hostel, hotel, or Airbnb, we found it challenging to find cheaper accommodations in Japan for under $50 USD per night for two people.
By increasing the budget to $60-$150+ per night, you can get a private room with an ensuite bathroom or an entire apartment with a bathroom.
One thing to know is that the size of hotel rooms are very small. We’ve seen rooms from 14m2 to 18m2 (150ft 2 to 194ft2), including the bathroom. Most of the time the beds are against the wall and the bathroom is tight with the tub/shower combo and toilet.
If you need more space, then staying overnight at the hotels will be a better option. Expect to pay over $200 per night. Consider getting a room with two twin beds or a family room for more space.
Stay outside of the main city areas.
When you’re closer to the main train station or areas, the cost of accommodations will be more.
For example, if staying in the Shinjuku area of Tokyo and next to Shinjuku Station, the cost of a hotel room is a minimum of $120 USD per night.
To save money, it’s recommended to stay farther out of the main areas. As long as your accommodation is nearby a train station, you can easily travel around.
One example is if you want to stay in Shinjuku, you could stay nearby Shin-Okubo Station. It’s one stop away from Shinjuku Station on the JR Yamanote Line and takes 3 minutes. Or, it’s a 17 to 20-minute walk. This area has smaller boutique hotels which are more budget-friendly than the main Shinjuku Station area.
Stay in hostels or capsule hostels.
The cheaper option is to stay overnight at a hostel or capsule pod. You can use Booking.com, Agoda, or Hostel World to check out pricing.
Hostels and capsule hotels are suitable for solo travelers as guests can rent one capsule pod or bed from a bunk bed. Sometimes the hostels have individual rooms for more privacy.
While the bathrooms and sinks are shared, they’re usually very clean and well-maintained.
TIP: Noise may be a problem with the hostels and capsule hotels. Bring earplugs if you’re sensitive to noise.
We stayed overnight at a hostel-type of place in Tokyo. The location was in Setagaya, about 15 minutes away from Shinjuku Station by train.
Each room had a bunk bed so two people can stay in each room. The room was very narrow. The downside was that large luggages would be a challenge to store and open since the room was narrow.
The cost of the room was cheap at $55 per night, so it was an affordable option. Unfortunately, the hostel closed right around the pandemic time, and we haven’t found another place similar.
Stay at Airbnbs.
Airbnb is another option to save money. When searching for a place by city, you can filter by price, location, and if you want to stay overnight at someone’s place or have an apartment.
All communication is done through the Airbnb app, such as how to check in, things about the place, and more.
We use Airbnb to stay at an apartment and have stayed at Airbnbs in Tokyo and Osaka. The apartment is the way to have the entire place to yourself and includes amenities such as an ensuite bathroom, kitchen, refrigerator, and washing machine.
Tip: The washing machine is one of the best things to have. We found this a necessity after staying in Japan for a week or two. This helped with reducing the number of clothes that we needed to bring since we do carry-on luggages. We never saw a dryer as most places include a clothing line to air dry the clothes.
The cost of the Airbnb apartment is often cheaper compared to a hotel even with the cleaning fee and service fee. But you’ll need to compare pricing.
There are some fun-themed apartments on Airbnb. We stayed at a Hello Kitty-themed apartment in Osaka and had a glamping theme in Tokyo.
Use your credit card points and hotel points for free rooms.
If you have hotel or credit card points, feel free to redeem them for free hotel rooms in Japan’s major cities. You’ll find larger hotel chains, such as Marriott, Hilton, Intercontinental, etc.
Before redeeming points, please read the hotel’s reward programs’ terms and conditions. Reach out the Customer Service if there are any questions with redemption.
Before using the points, here are some things to think about:
- Where is the hotel located? (Lower point hotels are usually farther out from the main areas.)
- What category/level is the accommodation? (Are they higher-tiered hotels?)
- How many points are needed to redeem?
- What is the value of the room if you use points versus paying cash?
- Can you use both points and cash payment if you run out of points?
We are Marriott members and accumulate points with a U.S. American Express Marriott Bonvoy credit card. We’ve stayed at Marriott properties in Osaka and Tokyo.
In our first 2-week trip to Japan, we splurged and used most of our accumulated points (when the hotels were formerly under the Starwood Hotel brand) to stay at hotels.
Currently, Marriott has a deal for members when redeeming points for hotel stays. If members stay 5 consecutive nights at one hotel and then the lowest point value will be a free stay. Therefore, you’re only paying for 4 nights using points, and 1 night is free.
Japan’s Transportation Budget Tips
Use the train to travel around the country.
Japan’s train system is efficient and convenient to use. It’s probably the best train system that we’ve used in our years of travel.
Take the train to explore locally or take the shinkansen (high-speed bullet train) for long-distance travel across cities (Tokyo to Osaka).
For first-time visitors, figuring out the train system is overwhelming. Signs are in Japanese, and many train lines have different colors on the map.
Therefore, it’s recommended to use Google Maps to get an idea of which trains to take to your destination. You’ll need to know the starting train station and ending location, such as hotel, train station, attraction name, etc. Google Maps also provides the cost of the different train routes, so you can choose one that is the cheapest.
Note: If you plan to travel a longer distance, such as a 2+ hour train ride, or a limited express train (ie: the Haruka train from Kansai airport to Osaka city center), you may need to buy a train ticket instead of paying cash at the ticket machine or using an IC card (which we’ll talk about below). It’s best to inquire with the Ticket Office with questions.
Use an IC card for transportation such as buses and trains.
Similarly to South Korea’s T-money and Hong Kong’s Octopus transit card, Japan has an IC card that can be used for local trains and buses. The IC card is similar to a debit card where you add funds and use the card to pay for the rides.
Having the IC card is convenient since you don’t need to buy tickets and figure out how much the ride costs. Especially if you’re using multiple train lines by different train companies, it takes a lot of time to look at the map and then calculate the cost.
A short ride on the local train cost between 200-300 yen ($1.40-$2.15). Longer rides will cost more.
Just swipe the IC card when you enter and exit the train station, and you’re good to go!
The IC card can be used for transportation throughout Japan. For longer train rides, IC cards may not be used so you’ll need to inquire with the Ticket Office to see if another ticket needs to be purchased.
The IC card can also be used to pay for things at convenience stores, selected restaurants, and more.
To buy an IC card, head to any train station and pick one up at the ticket machine or the Ticket Office.
In the Tokyo area, Suica and Pasmo IC cards are popular. Suica cards are offered by the JR East company. Buy a SUICA card and pick up in Tokyo here. Pasmo IC card is offered by non-JR train lines.
Determine if you need a JR Wide Area Pass.
Japan offers a transportation pass for international travelers to use across Japan.
It’s a fantastic way to save money on long train rides, shinkansen (high-speed trains), local trains, and buses on the JR line only. (All non-JR lines can use an IC card or pay for a separate ticket.) The JR-line special rapid and shinkansen train rides are expensive – $50+ per person, depending on the distance.
Therefore, if you plan to travel from Tokyo to Osaka/Kyoto or head further to Hiroshima, Kyushu Island, or beyond, then you can consider getting the JR Wide Area Pass for 7 days, 14 days, or 21 days.
You can calculate whether the JR Wide Area Pass is worth the price by utilizing this timetable and route finder tool. Add the JR train stations that you’ll visit to see the pricing, and compare with the cost of the JR Wide Area Pass.
As a heads up, the JR Wide Area Pass will increase in pricing in October 2023. Check out the post here on the price change.
If staying in one area, buy regional train passes.
The regional passes are a fantastic way to save money on transportation if you plan to use one train line. Plus, they’re cheaper than the JR Wide Are Pass.
After using the train, walk around everywhere.
Japan has plenty of sidewalks so it’s easy to walk around the main cities. Also, many of the attractions are within walking distance from a train station, so walking is an integral part of your Japan trip. Plus, walking is an excellent form of exercise and a fantastic way to explore smaller streets and neighborhoods.
Tips for Cheap & Affordable Food in Japan
Eat street food.
Japan has affordable street foods to try. Find popular snack foods such as takoyaki (octopus balls), taiyaki (fish-shaped pastry with red bean filling or other fillings), grilled octopus on a stick, grilled mochi, and more.
You can find these snacks in the touristy areas of cities, in front of train stations, or along a hiking trail on a mountain. Expect to spend anywhere from 300 to 800 yen ($2.15 to $5.70) for a snack.
Read more about yummy foods to try in Japan here.
Stop at a convenience store for breakfast.
Many of the places that we stay in Japan do not have breakfast included, so we’re on our own. The convenience store has onigiri (rice balls), packaged pastries, and boxed juice for a continental breakfast.
We love eating onigiri as they’re portable and come in a variety of flavors. We like anything with salmon, salmon eggs (ikura), or natto (fermented soybeans). They’re affordable at 200 yen ($1.40) each.
Eat at budget-friendly chain restaurants.
While many chain restaurants tend to have a bad reputation for poor service and poor quality food, the chain restaurants in Japan are consistent and have delicious food. Plus, many of the chain restaurants are budget-friendly for under 1000 yen ($7.10) per person.
We tend to eat at many chain restaurants when we’re in Japan, and always go back to our favorites!
Note: Some of the chain restaurants require using a ticket machine to place an order.
Here are popular chain restaurants to check out:
Coco Curry Ichibanya is one of our favorite curry shops. You can create your own curry or choose one from the menu. There are tons of vegetarian curry options too.
Ringer Hut originated in Nagasaki and specializes in champon ramen and sara udon. Both of these noodle dishes are inspired by Chinese cuisine.
Gyoza no Ohsho is the perfect place if you want to eat gyozas and Japanese Chinese fusion food. Unfortunately, the gyozas have pork and there aren’t any vegetarian ones.
Sushiro or Kura Sushi is a popular spot for conveyor belt sushi. Yes, you can get affordable sushi! Order specific sushi from a tablet (English is available) or pick up sushi from the conveyer belt. Each plate is color coded and the colors have various prices. You can easily get cheap sushi for 150 yen ($1.10) a plate.
We prefer Sushiro compared to Kura Sushi as the fish quality is better. Although, Kura Sushi’s gamification and the chance of winning prizes is a fun aspect of eating there.
Nagi Ramen (only in Tokyo) is our favorite place to eat fish-based ramen. The soup is made with dried sardines so the flavor is intense and oh so delicious. Unfortunately, this ramen place is only located in Tokyo. A few of the locations are open 24 hours!
Sukiya is known for its beef rice bowls. They also have a cheap breakfast that is vegetarian-friendly for $2 at Sukiya. Read more here.
You’ll find plenty of low-cost restaurants that offer simple meals such as soba, udon, and more.
Related: Read about cheap places to eat in Osaka here.
Buy meals from the supermarket.
Short on time and don’t want to eat at a restaurant? Check out the local supermarket.
The refrigerated section or counters have packaged cooked foods at affordable prices. Whether you want a tonkatsu with rice plate, curry, or 10 pieces of sushi, you can buy a meal, and enjoy it. The supermarkets have microwaves to heat the food too.
If you visit the supermarket in the late evening, the packaged cooked foods are at a discount. It’s a win-win situation when food is discounted!
Note: Supermarkets and convenience stores will charge a small fee (10 yen) for a plastic bag. Bring your own reusable bag if you don’t want to pay for a bag.
Make food at your accommodation.
If you’re staying at an apartment, there will be a small kitchen with a small stovetop, sink, and refrigerator. The kitchen may have cooking utensils, pots, pans, and seasoning for you to utilize. Therefore, you can save money by cooking meals at the apartment.
Stop by a supermarket or convenience store to pick up ingredients. You may be surprised that convenience stores in Japan sell vegetables, fruits, and meats in smaller quantities. Afterward, make your favorite foods and enjoy.
Learn how to make Japanese food by taking a cooking class.
If you want to learn how to make your favorite Japanese meals or improve your Japanese cooking skills, then take a cooking class.
It’s an opportunity to learn about ingredients and processes from a local. Plus, you get to eat your creation so this experience can satisfy one of your meals for the day.
Here are some cooking classes for you to consider:
How to Visit Attractions in Japan on a Budget
Many of Japan’s attractions are free or have a small fee to enter.
From shrines, castles, to parks to hiking trails, Japan has many famous things to see.
Luckily, there are plenty of free and low-cost places to visit in Japan. While spending $5 on a place doesn’t seem much, it can add up if you visit 2-3 places per day.
We recommend that you create a list of places that you want to visit and find the admission cost online. Then you can budget how much you want to spend on attractions.
Related: Unique Things to See in Tokyo
Theme parks are more expensive.
Japan has its fair share of theme parks around the country. The theme parks are great for children and people who want to experience thrill rides and to experience a specific theme.
They’re on the higher end – over $30 per person. Multiple-day passes will cost more.
If you’re going to one or more of these amusement parks in Japan, it’s recommended to buy tickets ahead of time to save money and time. We like to use Klook or GetYourGuide to buy tickets as they accept payment in multiple currencies, such as USD.
Buy a Tokyo Pass or Have Fun in Kansai Pass.
If you plan to visit many attractions, consider buying a Tokyo Pass. You’ll get unlimited entry to 40+ attractions such as gardens, museums, and more. You can choose to have the pass come with or without a train pass. You’ll save money with this pass. Buy the Tokyo Pass here.
The Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe area has a Have Fun in Kansai Pass. Choose 3 or 6 spots to use your pass and save money. Buy the Have Fun in Kansai Pass here.
Japan is a cash-based country. The currency is the Japanese yen. The current exchange rate as of June 2023 is $1 USD = 140 yen (JPY).
Use an ATM card with no bank transaction fees.
Japan has ATMs everywhere. They’re located in train stations, shopping malls, convenience stores (7-Eleven), and more.
The ATMs are generous with the withdrawal limit. Depending on the machine, you could withdraw a maximum of 50,000 JPY to 100,000 JPY ($354 to $708) per transaction.
It’s recommended that you have an ATM card that does not charge additional bank fees.
Since we travel internationally, we use the ATM card offered through Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking Account. This is only available to those who live in the United States. Charles Schwab automatically refunds you the ATM bank fees at the end of every month. It’s a fantastic way to save money since you don’t feel as bad doing many ATM withdrawals.
Find money exchange for cash.
We suggest that you exchange money at the airport. You will need cash if you get an IC card at the airport and need to add funds to it. You can also find money exchange in touristy areas or shopping malls.
Read more about money exchange places at the bottom of this post.
Check out XE.com or Google for the current exchange rate, and compare it with the money exchange rate.
Some currency exchange places may be picky with the bills. Please bring clean bills that do not have any markings, tears, or folds to get the best exchange rate.
Use a credit card with no foreign transaction fees.
We use credit cards as much as possible at restaurants, grocery stores, convenience stores, etc. It’s easier to track transactions online and we don’t need to carry as much cash.
It’s recommended to have a credit card that doesn’t charge an additional 3% for a foreign transaction fee. Many travel credit cards where you have to pay an annual fee waive the foreign transaction fees.
Note: If you’re in the smaller towels and rural areas, credit cards will not be accepted. So, it’s best to have some cash on hand.
If you’re from the U.S., we recommend Chase Preferred Sapphire Card or Chase Preferred Reserve Card for traveling. Both cards do not have foreign transaction fees, earn points for every expense, and also have other perks. There is an annual fee (Preferred is $95, Reserve is $550). Read more about the Chase Preferred Sapphire Card here.
Other Things to Consider for a Japan Trip
WiFi & Internet
Free wifi is available in certain areas of the major cities. Selected train stations, specific trains, and shopping centers provide free wifi. We noticed that the majority of restaurants do not provide free wifi. You’ll need to check for guest wifi wherever you’re at.
We suggest that you have a SIM card, a portable wifi device, or an international phone plan with data access. It’s an added expense, but you’ll need to have data connection if you’re using Google Maps to check train schedules.
Looking for an international phone plan?
If you’re from the U.S. consider switching to Google Fi (formerly known as Google Project Fi). We’ve had this phone plan since 2016 and get data and calls to 200+ countries. You don’t need to pay extra for data, so it’s a reasonable phone plan. Click here to learn more about Google Fi.
Japan is a fabulous country to explore. Whether you’re visiting for a week, 2 weeks, or longer, you’ll love the culture, food, transportation, and hospitality of the Japanese people.
After reading the budget tips above, we hope you feel more comfortable traveling to Japan and exploring sights and attractions. You won’t need to break the bank.
If you have any questions about Japan and traveling to Japan in general, please ask a question in the comment section below.
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