Is Japan Expensive? How to Save on Your Trip!

is japan travel expensive

“Oh, Japan will be great,” a friend said to me. “But it will be expensive!”

As soon as I heard the slight pause and rising inflection in his voice, I knew what was coming. The perception that Japan is an expensive destination is deeply ingrained in the minds of many travelers. It’s one of those places where people rave about the experience but lament the cost.

Of course, context matters. This conversation happened in Southeast Asia, where a small amount of cash can still buy luxury and safety. In comparison, many countries around the world would seem expensive. So, while I understood the concerns, I didn’t want to spend a fortune during my month-long trip to Japan.

As it turned out, Japan was not as expensive as expected. In fact, after multiple trips to the country, I have discovered numerous ways to save money while traveling in Japan. The perception of Japan as an expensive country is often fueled by media reports and cost-of-living surveys that compare countries and cities worldwide. However, these surveys consider factors like household supplies, utilities, and the cost of living for expats, which are irrelevant to short-term tourists.

When it comes to tourism, the biggest expenses in Japan are usually accommodation and transportation. However, sightseeing and food are surprisingly affordable, often cheaper than in other comparable countries. In this article, I will delve into each of these four main expenses and provide insights into how much they’ll cost and how you can save money.

Accommodation

Accommodation can be a significant factor in the overall cost of your trip to Japan. While it is true that Japan tends to be more expensive than most places in Asia, it is not as bad as you might think.

Let’s start with Tokyo to give you a sense of prices in the city. On average, a standard four-star hotel in Tokyo will cost you around $150 per night. For example, Hotel Gracery or Daiwa Roynet Hotel in Shinjuku are good options. If you want to splurge on top-end hotels like The Peninsula or the famous Park Hyatt, be prepared to pay around $1400 per night. However, an average five-star hotel will cost about $400 per night, such as the beautiful Tokyo Station Hotel or Hilton in Shinjuku.

For budget travelers, hostels are a great option. In the main tourist areas of Tokyo, you can find hostels for around $20 per night for a dorm bed. Compared to Europe, Japan has fewer hostels, but places like Hostel Bedgasm or Unplan Shinjuku in Tokyo offer affordable options.

Another unique accommodation experience in Japan is staying in a “capsule hotel.” These hotels have beds enclosed in small capsules instead of traditional rooms. A night in a capsule hotel in major cities like Tokyo will cost around $35. Rembrandt Cabin in Shinjuku or Nine Hours near Tokyo Station are popular choices. Keep in mind that capsule hotels may not allow you to stay during the day, so they are better suited for short stays or when you plan to be out sightseeing all day.

If you prefer a comfortable yet affordable option, consider staying in “business hotels.” These hotels are popular among locals who need a place to stay overnight after working late. The rooms are small but comfortable, clean, and equipped with amenities. Prices vary, but you can expect to pay around $60 per night in Tokyo. APA Hotels are the biggest chain in the city, and they offer reasonably priced options like the one in Shinjuku or near Tokyo Station.

As you travel to other cities in Japan, you’ll find that the prices are generally lower than in Tokyo. Even Osaka, another major city, is about 25% cheaper on average. Kyoto, on the other hand, can be just as pricey as Tokyo due to its popularity among tourists. However, there are still affordable options available. For instance, the cool Millennials capsule hotel in Kyoto costs around $45 per night, while the luxurious Park Hyatt charges around $1800 per night. To save money, consider spending less time in Tokyo and exploring other parts of the country. Prefectural capitals like Matsuyama, Oita, Kanazawa, and even Sapporo offer rooms in business hotels for as little as $50 per night, and you can even find five-star hotels starting from around $150 per night. Additionally, you’ll have the opportunity to discover new and interesting parts of Japan.

Transportation

Getting around Japan can be a bit expensive, especially when traveling long distances between cities. Due to the limited competition, train providers don’t often offer discounts. However, there are still ways to save money on transportation, especially if you take advantage of deals available specifically for foreign tourists.

The most popular and cost-effective option is the Japan Rail Pass, often referred to as the JR Pass. It provides unlimited travel on the JR network for a specified period. The shinkansen (bullet train) is a fantastic way to travel within Japan, but it can be expensive. For example, a three-hour journey between Tokyo and Osaka costs about $105 one-way, while traveling from Tokyo to Kyushu or Hokkaido costs around $170 one-way. If you plan to take multiple train trips, the 7-day JR Pass, priced at around $338, can save you money.

However, whether or not the JR Pass is worth it depends on your itinerary and the number of train journeys. It is recommended to evaluate your plans and consider the cost-effectiveness of the pass. It’s essential to note that you need to organize and purchase the JR Pass before arriving in Japan. Many agencies sell the pass, but I recommend using GetYourGuide for their reliable service and worldwide delivery.

If you’re only visiting Japan for a short time and not traveling extensively, the JR Pass may not be necessary. Local trains in Japan are reasonably priced, with an average cost of about $5 per hour of travel. If you plan to explore a specific city and its surrounding areas, using standard local trains can be a cost-effective option.

In Tokyo, subway rides cost around $2 each (depending on the distance). Additionally, you can purchase a 24-hour pass for approximately $6, allowing unlimited subway rides within the designated time frame.

Another great way to save money on transportation is by using specific transport passes available for different cities and regions in Japan. These passes often offer discounted rates for buses and trains, allowing you to explore the area without spending a fortune. For example, in Osaka, you can get the Kansai Thru Pass for about $40 for three days. This pass covers the five main cities in the region and allows you to move around easily and visit multiple sights.

It’s also worth checking if there are any special transport or admission deals for specific towns or attractions you plan to visit. For example, the Hakone Pass and Nikko Pass offer benefits for travelers exploring those areas.

Sightseeing

Sightseeing is an essential part of any trip to Japan. While it’s worth spending money to visit landmarks and experience the country’s unique attractions, there are ways to keep costs down.

One obvious way to save money on sightseeing is to visit places that have no entrance fees. In Tokyo, you can explore sights like the Meiji Shrine or Senso-ji Temple without paying an admission fee. Likewise, in Osaka, places like the Shitenno-ji Temple offer free access.

For attractions in Tokyo that do have entrance fees, costs can vary. The National Museum of Western Art, for instance, charges around $4 per visit, while going up the Tokyo Skytree costs approximately $23 (slightly cheaper if booked in advance).

To save money on major attractions, consider using city passes. There are several options available, such as a Tokyo pass that allows you to choose a set number of attractions over a 30-day period, or a Tokyo pass that provides access to multiple attractions within a specified number of days. These passes can provide significant savings and are worth considering.

In addition to city passes, many regions in Japan offer specific tourist passes that enable you to explore the area without spending a lot. These passes are often not widely promoted, so it’s a good idea to visit the visitor information center and inquire about available deals. For example, there’s the Osaka Pass, the Okinawa Pass for exploring the islands, and the Kinosaki Pass for the beautiful onsen town.

Food

The best news about Japan is that the food is not only delicious but also very affordable. It’s quite amusing when I compare the prices to an average meal in Sydney. In Japan, you’ll never have to go hungry.

If you’re looking for a quick and cheap lunch, convenience stores offer a range of affordable options that are healthy and tasty. A bento box, which includes rice, meat, fish, and vegetables, typically costs around $4. Rice balls with fish fillings are around $1, while trays of sushi can be found for about $4.

If you prefer to dine in, there are many quick-service restaurants where you can get a bowl of rice with fried meat and vegetables for about $5. These options provide a variety of meals that you can enjoy without getting tired of the flavors.

For dinner, there are undoubtedly expensive restaurants available, but there’s no need to visit them unless you want to. Noodle bars offering hot bowls of ramen or soba are excellent alternatives, with prices averaging around $7. If you’re dining with friends, sharing plates of sushi, sashimi, and tempura can cost around $15 per person. For the ultimate value for money, you can try an all-you-can-eat shabu-shabu experience, starting at approximately $20 per person (although it’s essential to be cautious as some establishments can be expensive).

While travel and holidays always involve some expenses, it should not deter you from exploring the world. Japan, with its unique culture, is a destination worth experiencing. Fortunately, it can be quite affordable if you plan and make smart choices. You’ll spend more on a trip to Australia, the UK, Scandinavia, or New York.

With Japan’s affordability and special charm, it’s a destination that shouldn’t be avoided or postponed due to financial concerns. Take advantage of the various ways to save money on accommodation, transportation, sightseeing, and food. By planning wisely, you can enjoy all that Japan has to offer without breaking the bank.

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