Planning to go backpacking in Japan? Many people believe that travel in Japan will cost them loads of money but it’s possible to do it on a budget and Japan will be cheaper to travel to than you might think it is.
I first wrote this post on my first trip to Japan in 2014 and it quickly became my most popular article due to backpackers wanting to visit the country but worried about the cost. I have visited Japan again since that first trip and continue to keep this article up to date and relevant for today.
Visiting Japan in the first place should be because the place is incredible. A total culture shock. I am saying this after seeing around 100 countries in 20+ years of travel.
The Japanese people are friendly and polite and go out of their way to try and help you, even if they don’t speak English.
Japanese food is out of this world.
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.
Then there’s the strangeness and eccentricities of some of the things you will experience, which are way too much to go into detail here.
They are written about in separate posts that you can find in my Japan guide.
There is a lot of fun stuff to do, especially in big cities like Tokyo.
I want to help you as best as I can with backpacking in Japan cheaply, and what to do in Japan.
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.
Note: This post contains affiliate links to help you plan your trip with site seeing tickets etc and are covered in my disclaimer.
When I said I was going to go backpacking in Japan many of the reactions from people were great.
“Have a fun time!”
“Enjoy the food!”
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, especially about Tokyo, were that Japan was very expensive to go backpacking around.
But after spending several months backpacking in Japan I can tell you this:
Japan is not crazy expensive if you do it right and you should definitely visit.
Now let’s be clear, we’re not talking about India, Indonesia, Ethiopia etc levels of cheap travel.
It is very expensive when compared 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 go and decided to bite the bullet and spend on it.
But Japan I found is cheaper, or at least the same to visit as many of those expensive western places. I came out of it with a lot of my budget still intact and had an incredible time.
Costs For Backpacking In Japan
Accommodation 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, and finding places to stay will be no problem on a budget when backpacking in Japan.
I got a private room at a ryokan for around 4000 yen ($40 ) night with a Japanese style room and got a unique experience out of it.
That was a cheap price though as many ryokans 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, but it would also give you more local contact in the area.
However Couchsurfing is not a big thing in Japan, so if you are planning on that it’s harder than say in Europe.
There is some fun sleeping options as well such as staying in a Japanese capsule hotel, where you feel like you’re in a sci-fi movie, podded away in your own little cubicle.
A capsule hotel will set you back around 3000 yen a night on average.
Saving money staying at cheaper hostels and hotels would allow you 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
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 won’t 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 good food options in Japan.
Don’t like fish? Fine. How about a Japanese barbecue (yakiniku) built into your table with all you can eat meat that you cook yourself for around 1500 yen ($15).
A cheap bowl of tasty ramen noodles? 500 yen ($5) is an 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 one of 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’s 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, then you can save lots more, and that really helps with your budget for backpacking in Japan.
In fact, going to Japanese supermarkets is fun in itself. You will most likely discover things you have never seen before, like plenty of interesting Japanese snacks.
There is some weird Japanese ice cream to taste that’s for sure. Beef tongue ice cream anyone?
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 stalls en-route.
Backpacking in Japan tip:
Definitely take travel insurance before going backpacking in Japan as it’s an expensive country for medical treatment if you get sick on your trip.
I’ve been caught out myself in the past medically while travelling and have used World Nomads for my travel insurance and they have been excellent and cater well for backpackers.
Get an insurance quote for your trip:
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 lot of money on train travel and allow you to be able to afford regular rides on the shinkansen bullet trains.
If however, you plan to spend one week in a certain place then one week in another, then it‘s 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).
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 around 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 in 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 While Backpacking 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.
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.
You can even watch sumo training in Tokyo when there.
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 another hyper-modern world.
You could get sucked into the gaming arcades of Akihabara in Tokyo for hours, even if you don’t like gaming. Gaming is very popular in Japan.
There you can pay 100 yen ($1) per game. But if you are good at Tekken you don’t need to pay until you are beaten by another player.
Marathon Tekken session anyone?
The brilliant Japanese pastime of onsen (hot spring) bathing is a must-do and when backpacking in Japan make sure to try it at least once.
Onsens are everywhere as Japan has many volcanoes allowing for natural hot baths that have healing properties.
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.
Go Backpacking in Japan!
There are other things that could be said but this should give a good idea of what to expect backpacking in Japan.
Don”t put off 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 on a bus, report it, and get your phone back an hour later. That’s what happened to me.
Or as an American living in Japan put it: “You can leave your MacBook Pro 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 way of life in some places will leave you happy.
Japan is one of the highlights of all my travels.
Let it be a highlight of yours as well.
Backpacking in Japan Requirements
Now onto the practicalities of backpacking in Japan (or just travelling in general).
It’s actually quite simple.
Most nationalities get a 90-day visa for tourist purposes and may countries can get this on arrival.
Although I visited on a one-way ticket to Japan to start they may ask to see a return ticket. If you’re worried about this as you have no set time for leaving then just book the cheapest budget flight out of the country and try for a refund later.
Check with your countries Japan Embassy though to make sure of your particular requirements.
Useful Links For Backpacking in Japan
Recommended guides for Japan:
Useful things to get for backpacking in Japan:
Get a Japan Rail Pass to save on train travel in Japan if you are planning to use the trains a lot.
There are so many accommodation options in Japan as mentioned in the article and you can book accommodation in Japan here for your backpacking in Japan trip.
Enjoy your travels in Japan!
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