Japan: It’s cheaper than you think

Ok, so no one is saying it is the cheapest country in the world – flights to Japan alone make most people shudder – but on arrival and with a few ’in the know’ travel tips, you can get by in Japan on a budget. After all, this trip could turn out to be one of the most compelling experiences of your life as you absorb a country that is both technologically driven yet deeply committed to its historic traditions. So, take your travel essentials; accommodation, transport and food, and let’s see what cut backs we can arrange to make your travel currency go further…

Accommodation

Turn your attention away from the slick high rise hotels, especially in the big cities. Instead, look for cheap Tokyo accommodation in a local hostel, many of which are family-run and which operate on a friendly and more intimate scale. Suddenly, you will find yourself paying more like €15-€25 per person ($22-36 / 1750-2900 JPY), per night in a shared – and sometimes private – room in a hostel, than in excess of €50 in a hotel ($72 / 5800 JPY). You will still have plenty of great facilities to hand including air-conditioning, self-catering facilities, free Internet access and a central location. Geared to budget travelers, you can also quiz hostel staff on the best budget places to eat, drink and where to experience life as a local. You can find cheap accommodation all over Japan including a Kyoto hostel or the family-run ryokans some with traditional tatami sleeping mats if you fancy an authentic experience.

Transport

The efficiency of the Tokyo metro is infamous and late-running trains are almost unheard of. They are also a cost-effective way to get around and a one-day ticket for use on the Tokyo metro costs about €6 ($9 / 700 JPY). A combi ticket which includes unlimited journeys on the metro, Toei lines and buses will set you back €12 a day ($18 / 1400 JPY). If you don’t want to mess around with tickets each day, order yourself a PASMO card. Similar to the London Oyster card, this is a reloadable card which you place on an electronic reader as you go through the gates. You can use it on all Tokyo public transport too so it is very convenient. Purchase at ticket machines and station offices. But the ultimate cheap way to get around Tokyo is…on foot.

Tokyo underground subway sign

To travel further afield, skip Japan domestic flights, these are pricey. Instead, buy a JR Rail Pass before your trip – you cannot buy these within Japan – which permits travel on trains (except the fastest bullet train, ‘shinkansen’), ferries and buses too. You might also want to consider overnight buses which are not only cheap, they will save on a night in a hotel. However, this can be quite a tiring and uncomfortable way to travel.

Food

Hit the supermarkets and pick up some ingredients to cook back at your hostel’s guest kitchen. These might include fresh produce, but you’d be forgiven if you reach for the ultimate cheap food in Japan – instant ramen noodles at about €2 pop! You can also pick-up little containers of pre-prepared sushi and rice balls from the supermarket too which are ideal for a picnic.

The conveyor belt sushi shops in Japan are a world apart from the stuff you are used to back home. As long as you can demonstrate some self-control – the bill starts adding up if you scoff too many dishes – you can expect to pay between €2 and €4 per plate ($3-6 / 233-466 JPY).

convenyor belt moving sushi

Standing will also save you money. You can slurp away at a bowl of hot noodles in low-key noodle shops and curry houses. The cheapest can be found down the backstreets, away from the main roads. It’s a sort of Japanese fast food with business men and locals after a quick bite before heading to the office. The yatai, small mobile food stands serve a similar purpose in the evenings, but while you might have experienced dodgy kebab vans or questionable hot dog stands back home, here, the yatai dish up grilled skewered fish, octopus legs and frozen yogurt.

Madeleine Wilson is a travel writer for HostelBookers, the budget accommodation specialist. She lives and works in London.

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7 Responses to “Japan: It’s cheaper than you think”

  1. Richard says:

    233 JPY for a plate of sushi at Kappa Sushi? (Kappa Sushi is the place on the picture) Are you crazy?! I never payed more than 110 JPY for a plate.

  2. Japan on a budget can definitely be done and is quite an experience. Prices at regular Japanese restaurants are usually USD$8-$15 a meal, but food can cost you about USD$5-8 a meal if you eat at budget Japanese restaurants like Yoshinoya, Sukiya, and CoCo Ichiban Curry House.

    I would say about USD$80-100 a day is possible done on a budget.

  3. Warren says:

    Hello,

    Regarding transportation using the JR pass, the above reads slightly confusing. It does indeed permit travel on the Shinkansen but not the Nozomi or Mizuho class of Shinkansen which travel at same speed but stop less in route.

    A few other tips for people going to Japan are buy the Suica JR smart card and NEX package at Narita and get return travel to Tokyo and free 1500Y on your Suica card to explore Tokyo. Unlike the Subway you will see many interesting parts of Tokyo using the above ground rail.

    If you need to fly there are discount ticket retail shops scattered all over Tokyo and Osaka that sell unused prepaid corporate air (and rail) tickets that are about to expire.

    I’m over hostels and ryokans with curfews but Super Hotel and other Japanese budget hotel chains often have cheap advance booking deals on their web site if you book well in advance and they offer all you can eat breakfast included (as do all Japanese chain hotels)

    Cheap food is in abundance in Japan. Yosinoya, Matsuya, Tenya, Sukiya are all gudon chain restaurants that offer meals 300Y to 400Y. Any convenience store will have fresh made meals that they will heat up for you if you ask (say ‘ting’ the sound of a microwave) and 90% of supermarkets have a jumbo rice cooker and a hot dish that you simply serve yourself for 200-250Y. Watch the workmen entering supermarkets at lunch or dinner to lead you to it.

    Regards.

  4. arameenn says:

    i pay less than 233 yen for a sushi plate! that’s a lot of money!
    BTW, i live in Sapporo.

    cheers!

  5. yasuiyasai says:

    Hey just came back from studying in Japan. Personally what I found cheapest food-wise when I didn’t want to cook was simply to go to the convenience store. Their prepared food was super cheap, and would usually only set me back ~200-300 yen a meal. (Then again I’m a girl so food prices might be different for a man-appetite).

    Also, I know the supermarket near me would have sales every evening of their fresh-cooked food. I’d wait until they went on sale around 6:30 pm and be able to snag dinner with a 30% off sticker on it.

    If you find a good ramen place that isn’t super touristy you can usually get enough food to last your belly two mealtimes. I spent 600 yen and got a huge bowl of ramen and 6 gyoza once in akihabara, and only really needed melon pan the rest of the day.

    Hope this helps ^ ^

  6. Jennie says:

    How do u get to Japan by studying? I’ve been looking for free opportunities or volunteering, I’d teach English as well.

  7. Jonas says:

    Apart from accommodation, Japan is pretty cheap, at least compared to Sweden :)

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