Many people believe that travelling in Japan will cost them loads of money, but backpacking in Japan on a budget is very possible, and Japan might be more cheap to travel than you think it is.
Visiting Japan in the first place should be because the place is incredible. A total culture shock.
I am saying this after seeing many different places over 20 years of travel.
The people are friendly and polite and go out of their way to try and help you, even if they don’t speak english.
The food is out of this world. All that food you thought of trying you can find it there. Well maybe not human flesh, but then you should be locked up somewhere if that is what takes your fancy for a food treat.
Onsen (hot springs) are everywhere and are a distinct part of the culture. Any country where taking soothing baths in hot springs as a national pastime is a place I want to be.
The sheer strangeness and eccentricities of some of the things you will experience, which are way to much to go into detail here. There is a lot of fun stuff to do, especially in the big cities like Tokyo.
Anyway I have digressed, back to the subject at hand.
I want to help you as best as I can with backpacking in Japan cheaply and what to do in Japan.
So I have added links in the article to other articles I have done relative to the topics, and also links to other websites with useful information.
Backpacking in Japan is not as Expensive as You May think.
When I said I was going to Japan, many of the reactions from people were great. Have a fun time! Enjoy the food! Find out if they really do have used pantie machines! OK, well we can forget about that last one. It’s true in case you did happen to be wondering.
But there was always that other reaction. It’s going to be so expensive!
To be honest I also thought the same. All the things I had heard before, especially about Tokyo, were that it was very expensive to travel around.
But after spending several months there I can tell you this:
Japan is not crazy expensive if you do it right and you should definitely visit.
Now lets be clear, we’re not talking India, Indonesia, Ethiopia etc levels of travel. It is very expensive when comparing to the cheap budget countries that backpackers love to visit where you could get by on $10 a day if you wanted to.
But Tokyo was always put on a price level with London, New York and other big cities in Europe. That’s what I expected, and fully budgeted for that outcome.
I always wanted to visit and decided to bite the bullet and spend. But Japan is cheaper to visit than many of those expensive western places. I came out of it with a lot of my budget still intact and had an incredible time.
A Lowdown on Some Costs Backpacking in Japan
Sleeping in Japan
The average cost of a dorm bed in a hostel is around 2000 yen. That’s around $20. For that you will get a decent hostel and often in a good location.
Having said that I have gotten Japanese style private rooms for 1700 yen in the big cities, specifically Osaka.
Staying in ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) would add up to be quite expensive. But again comparing what you get to what you could pay elsewhere for the same level of comfort, it’s not that bad. I got a private room at a ryokan for 4000 yen ($40 ) a night with Japanese style room, and got a unique experience.
That was a cheap price though, many ryokan go for 8000 yen a night upwards.
You could try couchsurfing as well. Meeting up with locals or foreigners living there would not only save on sleeping, it would also give you a more local contact in the area.
There are some fun sleeping options as well such as staying in a capsule hotel, where you feel like your in a sci-fi movie, podded away in your own little cubicle. They will set you back around 3000 yen a night average.
Saving money staying at cheaper hostels and hotels you could save enough to treat yourself to a ryokan now and then. After all one of the reasons to travel is to experience new things.
Food in Japan
Oh Japan, I love you so much for your food! Really it’s some of the best food I have had anywhere.
The great thing is that you can eat some really good food and it wont cost that much.
To give you an idea, a small pack of 6 sushi pieces in a supermarket in Amsterdam, that aren’t that good and fresh, will set you back around 4-5 euros.
I have been to sushi train restaurants all over Japan where you can get 6 pieces of delicious fresh sushi for 2 euros. Yes, 2 euros! That’s 105 yen a plate. That’s the entry level sushi. The more expensive the fish the more the price, obviously.
There is so many food options in Japan.
Don’t like fish? Fine. How about a barbecue built into your table with all you can eat meat that you cook yourself for 1500 yen ($15).
A cheap bowl of tasty ramen noodles? 500 yen ($5) average price.
Almost every area of Japan has its own regional specialities and is one of the joys of travelling to different locations.
You can save money by eating at the cheaper places but when you get to a new region it’s worth it to at least try once the local dishes. They may cost a little more, but not a lot. You’re talking sometimes only a $5-10 price difference. Most hotels and hostels can recommend good local eateries.
That gives you a rough idea of what’s possible and that is all eating out at noodle bars, sushi trains, restaurants, etc. If you were to go to the supermarket and cook in the hostel, or just walk around snacking on random stuff, you can save lots more.
In fact many places leading up to major tourist sites and inside big shopping malls sometimes give out food samples from the eateries. I have been on the way to a ramen place hungry, only to find so many free snacks on the way that by the time I arrived, I was full.
That’s especially true in places like Kyoto when going to certain temple areas with all the snack stall en-routre.
Transport in Japan
This is where it can get a little nasty, but only if you let it.
If you know for sure you are coming for a few weeks and plan to move around a lot, then get a JR rail pass before coming. This will save you a tonne of money on train travel, and afford you to ride on the lovely shinkansen bullet trains.
If however you plan to spend 1 week in a certain place, then 1 week in another, then it is not worth it. This is where buses and local trains come in. Or hitch-hiking if you feel like it (Japan is a very safe country).
So the expensive part is if you don’t have a JR rail pass and want to try a shinkansen train. The fare from Kyoto to Tokyo will set you back around 12500 yen ($120). Expensive right!
Buses and local trains are good value however. In comparison with the shinkansen fare above you can take a bus from Osaka to Tokyo for 6000 yen ($60). And if you do the night bus that will save you a nights accommodation.
Getting around the cities will set you back around 320 yen ($3) for 30 minutes on the subway.
This post about day trips from Osaka will give you more of an idea of what local train transport costs are like.
You can also try hitch-hiking in Japan if away from the big cities (big cities are a nightmare to hitch out of). Hitch-Hiking is not a big thing in Japan so you will most likely get picked up because of the novelty factor of giving a ride to a foreigner.
One tip for hitch-hiking in Japan is to write in Japanese kanji the name of the place you are trying to get to, so people will understand.
It doesn’t hurt to add a few pink smiley faces to the sign either. After all Japan loves the kawaii (cute) things.
Things to do in Japan
There are so many things to do in Japan that I can’t list them all here. I have been writing individual articles in my ever-expanding guide to Japan where you can find out more.
You can get a whole load of ideas on things to do in Tokyo and Kyoto (the two most popular cities) with the links below:
This will give you an idea though.
Museum entry fees vary from 1500 yen ($15) for popular art galleries, to as little as 100 yen ($1) for other museums. A visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum for example is only 50 yen ($0.50).
Activities in the big cities can start to drain your money if you’re not careful. Having said that they are on par with most other cities.
An average nightclub ticket is around 200 yen ($20).
If you are lucky or plan ahead you can see traditional events like sumo. This is a big cultural experience and one of those times where spending a little extra money is worth it.
After all you are saving money on accommodation, transport, and sometimes food, in order to experience more of Japan, right?
The bright neon lights of the cities lead you into a world of wonder. You could get sucked into a gaming arcade in Akihabara in Tokyo for hours, even if you don’t like gaming.
There you can pay 100 yen ($1) per game. But if your good at Tekken you don’t need to pay until your beaten by another player. Marathon Tekken session anyone?
The brilliant Japanese pastime of onsen (hot spring) bathing is a must do. Onsens are everywhere as Japan has many volcanoes, allowing for natural hot baths.
A cheap onsen is only around 300 yen ($3), while a more expensive ryokan (traditional inn) onsen will still cost a reasonable 1000 yen ($10) on average.
Budget Travel in Japan
There are other things that could be said but this should give a good idea of what to expect.
Don”t put of travelling to Japan because you’re worried about the price.
Just go ahead and be happily surprised.
This is the kind of place where you can leave your phone on a seat in a bus, report it, and get your phone back an hour later.
Or as an American living there put it: “You can leave your Macbook on a table in Starbucks, come back several hours later, and it will still be there.”
The people are the most polite you could meet anywhere. The food will blow your mind. The entertainment and bright neon lights will leave you dazed. The traditional will leave you happy.
Japan is one of the highlights of all my travels.
Let it be a highlight of yours as well.
If you are going to the Kansai region of Japan have a read of my post on why I think Osaka is a better city to stay than Kyoto.
Also have a look at my guide to Japan:
I use Agoda for booking places to stay in Asia. Check for accommodation in Japan –
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