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Ten Tips for Travelling to Japan on a Budget

Japan is a destination that strikes fear in the hearts of frugal travellers. But fear not! Use these practical tips to balance the holiday books in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Tips for travelling to Japan on a budget
Ten tips for travelling to Japan on a budget

It’s a rumour that’s been doing the rounds for decades: Japan is an expensive place to visit.

Well, we’re here to quash it (largely!). Yes, you’ll have to dig deep if you plan to stay in fancy five-star hotels, dine on gold-plated sushi at Sukiyabashi Jiro, and get around on luxury trains like the Saphir Odoriko. But the reality is that Japan is an accommodating country for every type of traveller — including those with finite fiscal means!

Here are ten tried and tested tips for travelling to Japan on a budget.

1. Choose the cheapest time to travel

Everyone wants to jet into Japan during sakura (cherry blossom season), which runs from late March to mid-April. Bundles of pink joy break out on cherry trees across the country’s main islands — but during this short period, flight and hotel prices increase significantly. Winter (January to March) is regarded as low season and is arguably the best time of year for budget conscious travellers to visit. You may also get good deals on the travel essentials mid-year, but prepare yourself for higher-than-average rainfall and relatively taxing humidity.

Tips for travelling to Japan on a budget
Tips for travelling to Japan on a budget: Prices hike during sakura (cherry blossom season).

2. Do a tour

For those who want to drive their holiday dollar as far as possible in Japan, multi-day travel tours are a great way to do it. Not only does doing an organised tour take away the stress of trying to navigate a country where English is not the first language, but you’ll generally find that quality accommodation, breakfasts, transfers, and basic sightseeing are included in the tour price. And that makes it a breeze to keep your overall spend in check. There’s the added bonus of travelling with a Japanese-speaking guide, and you’ll meet like-minded travellers as part of the deal.

3. Sleep for less

If you prefer to explore independently and want to stay in a step-up from hostels, there are some other good value accommodation options available. Firstly, Japan is home to a booming business hotel sector. Aimed at journeying ‘salarymen’ (white collar workers), these aren’t luxury properties; rather, they’re clean, functional, and offer the basic facilities a business traveller needs (including, generally, a shared laundry). And they work a treat for the traveller who wants to stay in a hotel setting, while keeping their budget in the black. A double room will set you back around $70 to $130 AUD per night, and breakfast is often included in the room rate. Score!

Tips for travelling to Japan on a budget
Tips for travelling to Japan on a budget: Stay in a traditional guesthouse.

In regional areas, opt to rest your holiday head in traditional guesthouses. They’re usually keenly priced and packed with character. In traditional ryokan-style properties, you’ll find yourself sleeping on tatami mats (which are folded and out away during the day) and sharing bathroom facilities. But just remember, it’s all part of the experience!

And you can’t come to Japan without staying in at least one capsule hotel. They offer a bed-sized pod for you to sleep in, and come with a built-in TV, Wi-Fi, and a charging port for your phone. You’ll find capsule hotels in most major cities — and for the price and privacy, they’re hard to beat!

Tips for travelling to Japan on a budget
Tips for travelling to Japan on a budget: Sleep in a capsule.

4. Invest in a rail pass

Train travel is where it’s at for getting around Japan quickly, comfortably, and cheaply — and the JR Pass has long been a boon for cost-conscious wanderers. It gives you unlimited travel on the country’s national rail network, including the famous Shinkansen (bullet trains). You should also check out the Seishun 18 hop-on hop-off pass. It’s a seasonal bundle of five one-day Japan Rail tickets for ¥12,050 at the time of writing. You can’t catch express, bullet, or sleeper trains with this one, but if you’re happy to travel at a standard pace and drink in the scenery as you go — it’s ideal. Compare the price of purchasing individual tickets for shorter journeys to make sure you’re getting the best value for money.

Tips for travelling to Japan on a budget
Tips for travelling to Japan on a budget: Ride shinkansen trains for less with a JR Pass.

5. Travel on overnight buses

Cheaper still — and more time-efficient in some ways — is Japan’s network of overnight buses. Not only will they save you the cost of a hotel, but you’ll have your day free for sightseeing on arrival. The level of comfort on board varies, depending on what you want to spend. Rows with four adjacent seats on each side of the aisle are usually the cheapest option. The overnight bus network is made up of many different bus lines; use a booking site like Japan Bus Lines or Japan Expressway Bus Net to find the best and most affordable services. Some buses are designated women-only.

6. Save on Tokyo museums and attractions

Unsurprisingly, Japan’s 24/7 capital is packed with attractions and things to do, and the cost of ticketed entry will add up fast. The Tokyo Museum Grutto Pass offers a combination of free and discounted entry to 100+ museums, galleries, and attractions across the city. It’s valid for two months from the date of first use and allows you to visit each included facility once.

7. See more of the capital for free

Alongside making good use of your Grutto Pass, seek out the many free activities on offer in Tokyo. For example, the Imperial Household Agency offers free guided walking tours of the Tokyo Imperial Palace grounds in English from Tuesday through to Saturday. For great views of the city, head up to the free-to-access Observation Deck of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building’s South Tower. If you’re keen to get a handle on how Japan’s famous Sumo sport works, entry to the Sumo Museum is free of charge. Plane spotters will love Japan Airlines’ free maintenance hangar tour at Haneda Airport.

Tips for travelling to Japan on a budget
Do a free tour of the Tokyo Imperial Palace grounds.

8. Think inside the box for cheap eats

Japan has more than its fair share of Michelin-starred dining experiences, but it’s not necessary to shell out a fortune to eat well here. Rice bowls and fresh sushi can be picked up for a song in convenience stores across the country, or opt for onigiri on the go from any corner store. And special mention to the tourist bounty that is bento — Japanese boxed meals, which are divided into various sections (such as rice, salad, and something sweet) and can be purchased at most supermarkets for around AUD $10.

Tips for travelling to Japan on a budget
Tips for travelling to Japan on a budget: Dive into a bento box.

9. Get ‘appy

We all spend far too much time looking at our phones as it is. However, there are a few apps that you should have on hand when travelling in Japan — all of which will save you time, money, and a good portion of your sanity. Skyscanner is obviously a must-have for finding the cheapest domestic flights. To stay connected, have the Travel Japan Wi-Fi app installed on your device. It will find free Wi-Fi nearby and connect you automatically. Ramen Beast will point you in the direction of good and affordable noodle restaurants, Ecbo will find you a cheap spot to store your luggage when needed, Google Maps will get you from A to B, and Google Translate will fast become your bestie. Sorted!

Tips for travelling to Japan on a budget
Tips for travelling to Japan on a budget: Ine

10. Go where the tourists aren’t

This might seem like an obvious one when you think about it, but few of us really consider it when planning our travel. Go where the majority of tourists aren’t and you’re guaranteed to save money. Regional destinations in Japan are always cheaper to travel to than major city centres like Tokyo and Kyoto — and are far less daunting to explore than you may think. So, reduce the number of nights you plan to stay in the big smoke and venture further afield. From Tokyo, head to hot springs and hiking heaven Nasu, or bliss out in beautiful Hayakawa — a mountain village in the Southern Alps. Following your stay in Kyoto, visit the charming and very laid-back fishing village of Ine, or travel to tranquil Tamba-Sasayama — a castle town that time and tourists forgot.

This post was published thanks to Qantas Tours.

Do you have any tips for travelling to Japan on a budget? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

Additional images: Bigstock

Adam Ford

About the writer

Adam Ford is editor of Top Oz Tours & Travel Ideas, and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger, and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa, and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.

 

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