Japan. An incredible country of high rise buildings and neon lights contrasting with ancient shrines and peaceful gardens. From snow-capped mountains and scenic countryside to bustling cities bursting with millions of people, Japan offers something for everyone, no matter what your interests. It’s a place everyone should visit once in their lives.
However a visit to Japan is unfortunately not in everyone’s budget – as one of the most expensive countries in the world to travel, not a lot of people are able to make it to the island nation of sushi and karaoke.
But how much does it really cost to travel Japan? Is it possible to do on a budget? We like to travel on a budget and save money wherever possible, but we also like to spend a little more in some areas to make life more comfortable – and we also splurge on unique, once in a lifetime experiences. We’ve been able to do this in the rest of Asia without it costing us too much, but would we be able to in Japan?
We tracked EVERY SINGLE CENT that we spent in Japan so that we could put together a comprehensive post on what it costs to travel the country. It’s definitely been our most expensive destination yet, but we didn’t break the bank either. Without further ado, this is what we spent on our travels to Japan – a 22 day trip for two people – in detail.
Please note all costs listed are in Australian Dollars.
Expense #1: Cost of Flights to Japan
We chose to fly into Osaka as this was cheaper from Kuala Lumpur (where I was), and out from Tokyo (our final destination).
My total, return flight cost was $561.79 – this was flying with budget carrier Air Asia, from Kuala Lumpur to Osaka, and then Tokyo to Kuala Lumpur. I took a red-eye flight out of Tokyo, which was substantially cheaper than flying during the day.
Mike’s total flight costs were $1094.00. He flew from Perth to Kuala Lumpur and then to Osaka with Air Asia over two days. He then flew home with Qantas, snagging this flight for a bargain price of $640.00 from Tokyo. We saw the low fare a few months prior and locked it in right away.
Total Cost of Flights: $1655.70 AUD
Expense #2: Cost of Accommodation in Japan
We booked accommodation about 6 – 8 weeks before leaving. Unfortunately it was already starting to get busy and a large percentage of accommodation was already booked, and we had to look at options other than hotels, including hostels and Airbnb. Our costs were as follows:
- Osaka x 5 Nights in HOTEL: $261.82
- Hiroshima x 2 Nights in HOSTEL: $143.76
- Matsumoto x 4 Nights in HOTEL: $222.32
- Kyoto x 5 Nights in AIRBNB: $322
- Hakone x 1 Night in HOSTEL: $72.54
- Tokyo x 5 Nights in HOTEL: $504.25
- Tokyo x 1 Night in CAPSULE HOTEL: $53.05
Osaka was the cheapest major city, followed by Kyoto, followed by Tokyo. All of our accommodation was very small, the hostels were with shared bathrooms (but private rooms), but everything was centrally located and walking distance to either sites or transport – except for Kyoto and Tokyo which resulted in a higher spend on transport (as you’ll see in that category).
Total Cost of Accommodation: $1589.74 AUD
Expense #3: Cost of Transport in Japan
Japan’s transport system is world class. It is so reliable that you could set your watch to the train timetable! It will be a large part of your budget but a necessary one to get around the country.
Our transport expenses included the following:
- 2 x Ordinary Japan Rail Pass 14 Days: $1125
Other transport costs outside of the pass included:
- Osaka – 3 days of costs exploring the city, including the train from the airport and one day passes: $73.74
- Koyasan – day trip to Koyasan including local bus ticket: $79.18
- Hiroshima – transport from the station to our accommodation: $7.56
- Kyoto – 5 days of travel on buses and subways not covered by JR Pass: $33.61
- Hakone – connecting train from Odawara station (return): $14.42
- Tokyo – 4 days of travel around the city (including to and from Disney parks): $104.66
As our pass was not activated until day five of our trip, we opted to pay cash for all the Osaka travel as we used a variety of transport, most not on JR lines.
Our trip to Koyasan could not be done via JR lines so the pass would not have covered this cost anyway.
In Kyoto, we were located a little out of town and near a bus stop rather than train or subway, so we paid extra costs to be able to get in and out of the centre before we were able to take JR trains.
In Tokyo, our pass had expired so we paid for every leg of travel. Whilst we saved money staying further away from the city centre, as you can see we spent more on transport to get around – a minimum of three train changes just to get to central Tokyo from our accommodation!
Total cost of Transport: $1438.21
Expense #4: Cost of Food in Japan
Food is one of the expenses you can really keep to a minimum if you try hard. There’s no shortage of culinary delights to try in Japan, but it can add up very quickly.
We saved a lot of money on the cost of food by eating largely from 7/11, Lawson and Family Mart stores. They provide fresh baked goods, sandwiches, meals and a huge range of affordable snacks – and they’re located everywhere! We would try and purchase breakfast, lunch and snacks from these stores, and have a sit down meal only once a day, usually for dinner.
- Breakfast Meals – usually sandwiches, pastries, coffee: $135.60
- Lunch Meals – usually sandwiches, noodles, baked goods: $172.31
- Dinner Meals – usually ramen, curries, beef or chicken dishes: $303.81
- Snacks – usually fruit, popcorn, biscuits: $79.42
- Alcohol – we’re not big drinkers and didn’t spend a lot: $25.02
Total cost of Food: $716.16
Expense #5: Cost of Entertainment in Japan
We had a list of experiences and things we wanted to do in Japan that cost us quite a bit of money, however they were activities that were on our must do list, so we budgeted for them.
- Geisha Makeover in Kyoto: $244.89
- Tokyo Disney Tickets: $148.84
- Tokyo DisneySea Ticket: $80.23
- Rowboat Hire in Tokyo: $18.60
- Photo Booth in Tokyo: $4.65
Total cost of Entertainment: $497.21
Expense #6: Cost of Sightseeing in Japan
We were able to keep our sightseeing expenses to a minimum by balancing out paid entry sites with those that were free – and you’d be surprised by how many things are free to do in Japan. We spent the following on sightseeing costs:
- Todaijo Nara Entry Fee: $11.82
- Himeji Castle Entry Fee: $24.58
- Hiroshima Museum: $4.73
- Matsumoto Castle Entry Fee: $14.42
- Hakuba Onsen Entry Fee: $20.93
- Golden Pavillion Entry Fee: $9.30
- Hakone Sightseeing Pass: $93.02
- Roppongi Tower Entrance Fee: $23.60
Total cost of Sightseeing: $202.40
There are lots of other costs that can come up. We didn’t have too many, but this is what you can come across:
- Purchase of Sim Card with 2GB Data: $35.49
- Towel Hire (Common Extra Cost in Hostels): $1.77
- Washing Costs: $3.55
- Adaptor: $3.83
Total cost of Miscellaneous Expenses: $44.64
Expense #8: Cost of Shopping in Japan
Shopping… Japan is shopping heaven. Departments stores selling everything you could possibly imagine, as well as all those kooky little boutiques selling the weird and wonderful. Many people come to Japan to shop and this is one expense that can very easily get out of hand…. not for us. Being long term travellers, we aren’t shoppers and don’t make it a habit to buy anything other than a significant souvenir or two.
- Tori Gate Souvenir: $9.88
Total cost of Shopping: $9.88
Expenses Grand Total: $6153.94 or $139.86 AUD Per Person, Per Day
So there you have it. What it really costs to travel Japan, down to the very last cent. We travelled on a budget, but spent a little bit more on rooms as we were travelling as couple and wanted our own private space, and spent quite a bit on entertainment – experiences that were unique to Japan that we wouldn’t be able to do elsewhere.
When you consider that most budget travel is based on around $50 USD per person per day, Japan is just a little more than double that cost. Travelling the country on a budget is certainly doable – it just requires lots of forward planning to make your dollar stretch. These are our tips for saving money on the above areas.
Flexibility is key. If you’re open with you dates, be sure to check what flights cost on different days and times – you’d be surprised at how different the costs can be. Flying from within Asia is obviously cheaper than flying long haul – from Australia/Europe/US, so it’s worth experimenting with stopovers in major Asian cities to see if you can save more money travelling this way.
Depending on the time of year you’re travelling, getting in early is key. Dorms are your cheapest form of accommodation, as well as capsule hotels. Small business hotels are good for couples. The key is to be walking distance to transport or to the centre of where you wish to explore. Spending just $10.00 more on a hotel more centrally located could save you $20.00 on commuting each day from cheaper accommodation located further away.
Depending on your travel plans, purchasing a JR pass to get around the country could be a way to save money – you can read more about JR Passes here. Outside of the validity of your pass, try and plan your sightseeing in a logical way – seeing all the sights in one area on the one day, so you don’t have to commute across different modes of transport to get around. If you have a JR Pass and there are JR lines that take you to your location, take them – even if it takes longer. Every cent counts!
Eat from 7/11’s, Lawson and Family Mart’s – don’t be put off at the thought of ‘convenience store’ food – it’s all freshly made each day and is incredibly tasty and affordable. Opt for smaller restaurants (the ones where you pay by vending machine are always pretty cheap!), and street food to save money on other meals.
The entertainment we participated in were absolute must-do’s for us, but this is definitely a category that’s not for everyone. If you wish to attend theme parks or shows, check online for discounts or see if there are certain days of the week that are cheaper, or package deals to save money.
A large amount of Japan’s sites are actually free or fairly inexpensive to visit. We balanced out paid sites with free sites – the Lonely Planet is a really good guide for prices of attractions. We always found the Tourist Information Centre to be helpful too, as they can recommend local sights and provide pricing information.
What do you think – is Japan cheaper than you thought? How did you save money on your visit to Japan? We’d love to hear your money-saving tips – please share in the comments below!