We’d dreamed of visiting Japan for what seemed like forever, but never thought it would be possible on our frugal backpacker budget. However, when we were in China we just couldn’t resist the temptation of being so close to this fascinating country. To our surprise we managed to find plenty of ways to save money in Japan and ended up travelling the country for nearly 6 weeks on a budget of just over £50 per day!
Budget Backpacker Guide to Japan
Length of Trip: 41 days
Destinations: Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Osaka, Tokyo
Travel Period: June - July 2016
Traveller Profile: Married couple in 30’s
Accommodation: Airbnb's and hostels
Transportation: Overnight buses
Food: Budget ramen restaurants, fast food chains, homecooking
Total Spend: £2,143.17*
Average Spend Per Day Per Couple: £52.27
Average Spend Per Day Per Individual: £26.14
*amount is per couple
*amount includes all transport, accommodation, food, drinks, entrance fees etc
*amount excludes international flights
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Budget For Your Japan Trip
How To Save Money in Japan
There’s no getting away from the fact that accommodation will be your biggest travel expense whilst you are backpacking in Japan. The best things that you can do to keep costs down is to shop around widely and book well in advance. Space is at a premium in Japanese cities so when you find a good price get it booked, you don’t want to be forced to pay over the odds because you're disorganised.
Outside of Tokyo we found exclusively that the cheapest form of accommodation for us travelling as a couple was to rent apartments via AirBnB. Although relatively modest we found some really nice open apartments in great locations. Apartments also often included money saving extras like a washing machine, bicycles and a pocket wifi which you could take out with you to create a hotspot! Ooh, and a bath! I was so excited when I saw this - if you've been backpacking for any length of time you'll understand my excitement.
We paid £24 per night in Fukuoka, £17 per night in Hiroshima and a super saving £13 per night in Osaka. We found that with AirBnB, staying longer in places meant that we were often entitled to discount - we got 50% off in Osaka for staying 7 nights. I mean £6.50 per person per night, in Japan? Come on! Bargain. Of course if you are not travelling as couple the savings might not be quite so big, but you can always try looking for single rooms in shared houses instead.
Tokyo budget travel is a whole different ball game and we ended up staying in the strangest place. With hostels averaging around £30 per person per night for a bed in a dorm room, we hit the jackpot when we found one for £14 per person per night. There was a catch though. The ‘hostel’ was a camping shop by day which hired its showroom tents out overnight as a kind of try before you buy thing. It was right in the centre of the popular area of Asakusa and was actually a really fun experience - just not the most comfortable.
There are lots of other accommodation options in Tokyo from cubicle hotels to manga cafes so be flexible when you are searching for a place to stay in the capital. There is also of course coachsurfing which will definitely save you some dollar. We were keen to give this a go, because as well as being free, it would also have given us the opportunity to get to know the country with someone who lived there. But alas, we didn’t start looking early enough and because of the high demand we couldn’t find anyone to take us in.
By far our favourite budget meal in Japan was Ramen. My mouth is watering just writing the word. This national dish is seriously delicious and when you can have your fill for £2 per meal you are onto a winner here. We ate Ramen everyday while we were travelling in Japan.
Another great option for saving money in Japan is eating at fast food chains. By this I don’t mean McDonalds and KFC. Throughout the country there are budget restaurants serving gorgeous, healthy and cheap meals. Hotto Motto, Yoshinoya and Matsuya were our favourites and meals ranged between a budget friendly £1 to £5 per meal. The budget conveyor belt sushi places are awesome too, slightly more expensive but for £15 total we would both be stuffed.
Bakeries are also really cheap in Japan, you can pick up a fresh pastry for breakfast or lunch, or a cheese stuffed bread for around 50p a pop. We also saved money whilst travelling in Japan by making full use of the AirBnB apartments and cooking for ourselves. Ingredients are well priced at 7 Eleven convenience stores and local supermarkets - particularly around 7pm when fresh products are discounted.
Most people that have travelled in Japan will tell you that you HAVE to get a JR Pass. These 7/14/21 day passes entitle you to unlimited travel across virtually every train connection in Japan, which sounds amazing right? That is until you get to the price. At £427 (2016/17 prices) for the maximum 21 day pass, however convenient, this method of transport was out of the question for us.
So we searched around for other options and that’s when we came across the ‘Willer Express’ buses. The company offers 3, 5 or 7 non-consecutive journeys taken within 2 months and has a great network across most of the country. The prices are very budget backpacker friendly at £75 for 3 days, £95 for 5 days and £115 for 7 days (2016/17 prices). Willer Express buses are really spacious and comfortable - we saved on accommodation by travelling overnight and slept like babies.
Because time spent physically travelling wasn’t so much of a concern for us, catching overnight buses in Japan was perfect for us and our pockets. But if you are limited on time and want to nip around to quite a few places the JR Pass might still be your best option.
By far our biggest tip for keeping transport costs down however, is to use your feet and walk. Get your trainers on and walk everywhere. Aside from Tokyo, we didn’t take any public transport during the rest of our time in budget backpacking in Japan. This vastly kept our costs down in this category.
We really didn’t spend a lot at all on entertainment whilst travelling in Japan, mainly because most things are free. We were amazed at the amount of things that we didn’t have to pay for in Japan. It takes a bit of research and planning but we found free walking tours, free incredible observation decks and even a free earthquake training course at a disaster prevention centre.
There are lots of gorgeous outdoor green spaces in Japan and the majority of shrines are free to enter and wander around. One of our favourite experiences was in Fukuoka where we went to see our first Japanese Baseball game. It was awesome! And at £21.25 per ticket not too badly priced either.
Alcoholic drinks are expensive in Japan, there is no getting away from this. So if you like a bevvie your best option to keep costs down is limit the beers. When we first arrived in Japan we were caught out by thinking beers were cheap, only to be stung by a hefty table service charge.
If you are staying in an AirBnB apartment and fancy a tipple you can pick up a bottle of wine for around £4-6. We did this a few times over a home cooked dinner after a day of exploring. Another option which we did a few times is to find a free outside viewpoint and pick up a couple of cans from 7 Eleven. Cheers!
The miscellaneous costs we’ve included here are for luggage storage. Because we were staying in AirBnB’s and travelling on overnight buses, after we checked out or before we checked in where we arrived early, we used lockers in bus stations rather than haul our backpacks around with us. These were pretty cheap at around £5 for 12 hours.
In order to keep track of your costs whilst budget backpacking in Japan we recommended using the ‘Trail Wallet’ app. We use it everyday so that we can set a spending limit and categorise everything we spend to ensure we are on track with our budget. It’s super easy to use as it calculates daily averages and graphs automatically.
So if you thought you couldn’t afford to travel in Japan, forget that mindset, follow this budget backpacker guide and get yourself out there. If you have any questions or want any further advice, please get in touch and we’ll do our best to help!