Backpacking Japan Is Cheaper Than You Think (Here’s Why)

backpacking in Japan budget travel

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.

Japan will be cheaper 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 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 seperate posts that you can find in my Japan guide.

There is a lot of fun stuff to do, especially in the 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.


BACKPACKING JAPAN KYOTO
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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 India, Indonesia, Ethiopia etc levels of cheap 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 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.

OSAKA BUDGET HOTEL
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Budget places like this one you can get for 1700 yen a night.

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 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 goes 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 your in a sci-fi movie, podded away in your own little cubicle.

A capsule hotel will set you back around 3000 yen a night 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

backpacking Japan
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Taking photos of Japanese food can get addictive!

I love Japanese 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 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.

udon noodles backpacking Japan
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Udon noodles with tempura in Matsuyama.

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.

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.


Backpackers tip for Japan:

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

transport in Japan
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Taking local trains will be much cheaper than taking the shinkansen bullet trains.

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).

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 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

Japan Onsen backpacking Japan
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Relaxing in Dogo Onsen after a soak in the healing waters.

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.

sumo tokyo
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Sumo in Tokyo.

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 your good at Tekken you don’t need to pay until your beaten by another player.

Marathon Tekken session anyone?

tokyo gaming backpacking Japan
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Gaming in Tokyo.

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 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.

Japanese Onsen backpacking Japan
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Just some small random onsen next to the sea that cost only $3 and was empty.

Go to Japan!

There are other things that could be said but this should give a good idea of what to expect backpacking to 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 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.


 

Travelling to 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:

Lonely Planet Japan

Cool Japan Guide

A Geek in Japan

Useful things for Japan travel:

Get a Japan Rail Pass to save on train travel in Japan

Book accommodation in Japan here

Liked this article about backpacking in Japan on a budget? A share would be appreciated! –

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66 thoughts on “Backpacking Japan Is Cheaper Than You Think (Here’s Why)”

  1. Hey Jonny – great post, good info. I’ve wanted to go to Japan for a while…question: any links on finding lodging? How did you find your private rooms? 4000 yen is very reasonable.
    Good job and the post!
    Frank

  2. Thanks Frank. Glad the info can help people out, or give them a rough idea anyway. Hostelworld is quite good to find the cheap rooms, thats how I found the cheap hotels in Osaka for example. Hotels.com also has some last minute bargains available, good for hotels. Also word of mouth from other travellers. Enjoy Japan if you make it there. If you want any more detailed information then send private message through the contact page here and I will help out.

  3. Haahaha. That link cracked me up! Oh Japan… Yeah not cheap cheap, but nowhere near as expensive as I thought. Yes, leave tokyo for Philippines next week. Will be back to Japan though, sooner than later I hope.

  4. Great blog Jonny. Japna is my dreamland. I’m looking to about Japan but you given me that. So much thanks to you ……………………………. Ha ha ha ha

  5. I’m hoping to get to Japan on my next cycling trip, and its a relief that its not as expensive as I had first feared!

  6. Tokyo is a great city, and not so expensive when you know where to go. I lived there for a year on a lowly TEFL teacher salary, but still managed to travel around Japan a little bit as well as visit Micronesia. It is not cheap like other parts of Asia, but it is certainly manageable.

    Many restaurants offer unlimited food/drinks deals which can save a bit of cash on food.

  7. Katie Featherstone (@featherytravels)

    It really doesn’t sound too bad. Not a budget destination for sure, but if you are only couchsurfing it could be very cheap. We actually spent hardly any money in Oz because of hitchhiking and camping- I think it can be done anywhere.

  8. Yes I found it much more manageable than I thought it would be. The thing is you can’t compare it to places like Indonesia etc where things are cheaper, as Japan is much more developed. But as far as western countries it is not so bad. I was expecting really high prices, so was very happy when I found cheap sushi!

  9. Hi! I’m currently in Japan now and I completely agree with this! I repeatly heard about it being expensive so I always postponed going in fear of becoming bankrupt, but whilst I’ve been travelling S E Asia I figured I would take a sidetrip and go for 8 days, because, well, it’s better than not going. But now that I’m here I wish I had booked my return flight later because being here is more affordable than I anticipated, and the great thing about Japan is that even the cheap food is tasty!

    Like you said, it’s not cheap but it also doesn’t live up to it’s purse-breaking reputation. I thought Hong Kong was a lot more expensive when it came to accommodation, in fact, that place shocked the hell out of me!

    P.S. And how nice are the people? Today, I asked a man for directions and because he couldn’t speak English he walked me to where I wanted to go even though it wasn’t even that close. I was so touched by his consideration and helpfulness!

  10. Great you got there! I really miss Japan, like you said the people are some of the friendliest you could meet, and the food is out of this world.

    Well like myself I am sure you will be planning a return trip again someday 🙂

  11. Hi Jonny,
    I am planning for two weeks in Japan. Can you suggest what cities/places I should go for two weeks. Obviously, Tokyo, and I want to go Hokkaido as well. But that is far away from Tokyo. Also, did you book the hotels after you arrived Japan or did you book them ahead?
    Any other tips would be appreciated!

    Mark

  12. Hey Mark,

    I didn’t make it to Hokkaido when I was there but would love to visit. It may seem far away but with a bullet train or cheap internal flight you would be there in half a day so is still be a good option.

    I would highly suggest Kyoto as another must see city. Maybe you could see Tokyo, head down to Kyoto for a few days, and then fly to Hokkaido for the rest? It all depends what you wanted to do in Hokkaido as well.

    I booked the hostels as I went along, but also stayed with friends in some places. It’s easy to do things as you go.

    I wrote on my website some tips on things to do in Tokyo ( go to the Japan section under Asia in the menu), as well as some other stuff.

    Hope that helps a bit!

    Enjoy Japan, it is one of my favourite countries.

  13. Yvon ~ TripBitten

    Thanks for this post! I have been reading a lot about Japan as we’re planning a trip for 2 weeks in July.

    Any ideas on the choice between trains and buses? Night buses would be okay, but not sure if they would run between all the cities would like to visit.
    Thank you for the answers.

  14. Happy to help! If going at night I would take night buses between cities, if you are going between big cities then there should always be plenty of them. As for daytime trips it’s a mix up between local buses and trains. It only gets really expensive if you start taking the bullet trains.

    My new post I’m putting up in a few hours is 40 of some of my favourite photos from Japan, if you are curious to take a look.

    Happy travels!

    Jonny

  15. Hello Jonny! Im George from The Philippines, i’ll be visiting Japan on Sept.24-29. 1st stop is Osaka. Will arrive in Kansai airport @ 8pm. Just wanna know if i could still catch up an airport bus or any public bus going to downtown Osaka? Im on a backpack mode! any cheap accomodation u wanna recommend? Hoping to hear from u! Thanks!

  16. Hey George! Good that you are going to Japan, such a cool country to visit. I took the train in when I arrived at Osaka Airport but I’m assuming there are buses as well but I don’t know the timetable for them. As for somewhere to stay you could check on Hostelworld.com to see what hostels are available. If you are travelling as a backpacker then is best to stay at hostel to meet other travellers. I stayed at a place called Hotel Toyo as they have basic single private rooms for $15 a night! Bargain. The photo of Hotel Toyo is in this post when I talk about where to stay.

    Have fun! Hope that helped a bit.

  17. Hi Jonny. I’m Ummi from Malaysia. Btw, nice blog. I’ve got a lot of information since I’m planning to visit Japan soon. It’s been my lifetime wish since long time ago but kept postpone because I thought it would be too expensive. So, I’m planning to go there for a month. I will arrive at Sapporo airport and then depart home at Osaka Airport. I wish to travel around Japan from Sapporo to Osaka. Do you think it will be enough of time? What will be your recommended itinerary? My budget is 320000 yen, do u think it’s enough for a month stay? I’m a backpackers and a girl but I hear it’s very safe there so I think it will be ok. Hope to hear your opinion. Thank you so much

  18. Hi Ummi! Yes 320,000 yen should be plenty as long as you stay at cheap hostels,take the cheaper transport options I mentioned in the post and eat at the cheap eateries, you could actually do it cheaper but better to over-budget I guess so you will be more the happier if you have money at the end 🙂 Japan is super safe! Although there are assholes everywhere so can’t guarantee complete saftey but I have been to over 80 countries and Japan was the one I felt the most safe in… As far as itinerary goes I didn’t actually make it to Sapporo and the north I was mostly down south. However I may be going back to Japan soon and will maybe have some new advice. As for the south Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka are obvious musts. I have a post about what to do in Tokyo on this site. Hope that helps a bit. Happy travels! Btw I love your country Malaysia 🙂

  19. Japan is alright, not any more expensive than… let’s say, Singapore. Accommodations in Kyoto are quite expensive though, but we decided to shell out the extra bucks anyway, ’cause we knew Kyoto would impress the heck out of us! Worth every penny. And yes, the shinkanshen is a tad bit expensive, but for the time it saves I suppose the price is acceptable.

  20. Really helpful infos there Johnny..I’m going for a trip to Osaka this December and i am wondering will 100000 yen cover a 6 day trips,including accomodation,food and transportation..i’ll only be in osaka for the whole trip.

  21. Backpacking Panda

    Great post. Japan is definitely on my travel list and I hope to go there soon, it really helps to read about costs and realize prices aren’t that bad.

  22. Hey! Yeah Japan is great and not crazy pricey as long as you do certain things like I mentioned. I’m currently travelling around Japan again now 🙂

  23. Hi, we’re going to Japan next week, starting at Fukuoka. The most budget accomodation I can find there for 2 people is $30 USD/night it hurts a little after paying $7/night for 2 people in Cambodia. But it will be worth it.
    Any tips on ways to find cheaper places to stay. I’m trying couch surfing and Airbnb but so far no luck.
    We’re planning on spending 5 or 6 weeks in Japan with a week in each place we go to. Tokyo is definitely on the plan but haven’t really decided anywhere else. We also decided to not go with the JR pass because it would cost too much to buy 2 21 day passes each, and we would only use them once a week.

  24. Hey! 🙂 Yeah airbnb and couch surfing are not the best options in Japan. Couch surfing is not so big here, although in bigger cities there should be some people doing it. If looking for hotels booking.com is the best I’ve found. Places are different. For example I’m in Osaka now for 2 weeks and staying at budget backpackers hotel for $16 a night private room! Yeah screw the rain pass,that’s only good if your travelling around a lot. Much better to do it the way you are. Chill in one place and get to know it better. Try hitch-hiking or take buses, a lot cheaper.
    Osaka is my favourite city in Japan for hanging out in. It’s got a youthful fun vibe and people are friendly. Also great food and nightlife scene. Fukuoka is known for its ramen so make sure to try, is yummy. I also love it up in Sapporo and Hokkaido and will be good time to visit there now. There’s lots of cheap budget flights, for example I flew Sapporo to Osaka for $40. The south and centre of Japan are going into rainy season now 🙁 Tokyo naturally is awesome. If you ever get to Osaka drop me a line would be fun to meet up for a drink if I’m still around. jonny@backpackingman.com 🙂

  25. Read your posts and would like to visit Japan. I am a British citizen therefore I am told that I do not need a visa to travel to Japan, is this true? Also is there a time limit that needs to be adhered to if visiting Japan as a tourist, as I would like to for go six weeks (end of July to first week of September.) Planning to backpack with my two siblings, approximately how much money should we take for our stay if working on a budget. I am seventeen and my siblings are twenty-two and twenty-three, would there be any age restrictions that we may need to contend with. Also I am greatly interested in the history of the Samurai, where in Japan would I venture to learn more on them. Lastly would also like to see some Sumo wrestling – and tips on how to go about it.
    Thank you
    Kiran

  26. Great job on this article! Japan can actually be one of the most expensive countries to go to, but there’s definitely a way around it! People shouldn’t miss out on Japan just because of the cost, it’s a really unique place, with great people! Food can be especially expensive especially in restaurants, but their street food are all so good, and cheaper too!

  27. I visited Japan last year myself and was really taken back by how cheap it was! Minus the transport costs it can be an incredibly budget friendly destination, that is much cheaper than London!

  28. Hey Jonny great share. I have been thinking about travel to Japan. I knew it is a costly place to go but you shared a lot of information. As per your point of view what is the right time to go there?

  29. Each season is different things but the most popular time is during the cherry blossom season from mid-end of March to end of April depending on what part of the country you are in. Also weather then is not to hot or cold so nice for travel.

  30. I have checked your page and i have found some duplicate content, that’s why you don’t rank high in google’s search
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  31. Japan has been my dream destination since I was a kid. I love their tradition and culture. The respect that they have for each other and nature is amazing and that is why I want to visit Japan. I have been trying to save up for it but after reading your blog, I think I have saved enough to get a wonderful experience with the locality of Japan. Thank you for this!

  32. First time will be travelling to Japan w my husband. Will be arriving June 29 2230h evening. Till what tym is the train if ever sincr we will be coming from Haneda airport. Hope u can help. Tnx

  33. Terrific review, I have been literally captivated, thank you so much for details, but rachal is right: http://funtrip.review has great contents such as video reviews on fun trip japan … but your style is definitely better! No comparison, thanks for sharing, again great job!

  34. Planning on a 2020 visit after the Olympics. My family are big anime fans, which is the main reason for the trip. We’d like to stay with a national (family or single) to learn their customs. Other than Airbnb, can you make suggestions? Maybe this is frowned upon?

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