Japan On A Budget: 25 Tips For The Budget Traveler
Planning a trip to Japan, and don’t have a lot of money to burn? Here’s how you can experience all the charm, beauty and craziness the “Land of the Rising Sun” holds, without going bankrupt and maxing out your credit cards.
For years, we’ve heard rumors suggesting that Japan is a budget-busting place to visit in Asia. From travel junkies to expats, a lot of different people have been saying that a trip to Japan costs a fortune, making frugal wanderers and uninitiated travelers hesitant to go this majestic Asian destination. But honestly, Japan, as a tourist destination, isn’t as expensive as most people have pegged it to be.
Of course, a trip to Japan may still cost you a tremendous amount of Yen. After all, it is a country known for its flourishing economy, imperial attractions as well as high standards in services and goods. But with a little know-how and careful travel planning, it is possible to enjoy a memorable trip to Japan when you are on a budget.
Value of USD in Japan
Before we get things started, first you need to get a quick insight on how much your money is worth in Japan. Last time I’ve checked, 1 USD was equivalent to 111.12 JPY (Japanese Yen). For more information regarding the latest USD-JPY exchange rate, make sure to visit Bloomberg.
1. Off season travel in Japan
Unless you have loads of money to spare, it is best that you avoid visiting Japan during New Year, Obon (happens on August) and the Golden Week (late April to May’s first week). Rooms fill up really fast during these times, and rates for accommodations are pretty steep. What’s more, the cities and towns of the country will be filled with tourists during these festive times.
For frugal travelers like me, one of the best and cheapest times of the year to visit this country is during Tsuyu, Japan’s rainy season, which happens in the month of June in most parts of Japan. While the weather is quite unstable during this season, it doesn’t rain that much.
2. Work to enjoy free hostel accommodations
Willing to work for a night’s stay during your Japan trip? In Japan, hotels offer free accommodations, for guests are willing to clean and work for a few hours per day.
3. Couchsurfing in Japan
Couchsurfing not just gives you a free place to stay, but it also lets you delve into the fascinating Japanese culture as well as get up close and personal with the country’s friendly locals.
4. Sleep outside in Japan
As ridiculous as it may sound, sleeping outside is a reasonable option for budget-conscious travelers in Japan. Nojuku, a Japanese term for “sleeping outside”, is quite common among younger Japanese travelers. For the most part, Japanese travelers do this strange practice during summertime in train stations and other places where there is a public toilet and shelter nearby.
5. Sleep in an internet café
Spending a night in an internet café isn’t as bad and uncomfortable as you think it would be. Most internet cafes in Japan are lined with columns of private cubicles, each equipped with a DVD player, TV, computer and a super comfortable reclining chair. Did I mention that it is much cheaper than staying in a hotel?
6. Stay in a capsule hotel
On average, a night in a capsule hotel would cost you around 2,700 JPY (approximately 23 USD). It’s a bit tight, but it is a decent and clean place to stay. Plus, it comes with an outlet, light, and oftentimes a cute television.
7. Fly cheap
A lot of budget airlines have been popping up lately in this part of the world, such as AirAsia, Skymark, Jetstar and Peach. And, thanks to the emergence of these airlines, travelers can now fly all over Japan without breaking the bank. Peach, for instance, sometimes offer one-way flight tickets from Nagasaki to the city of Osaka, for a very affordable price of 5,000 JPY or even less.
8. Invest in a Japan Rail Pass
Transportation is by far one of the most costly aspects of traveling in the Land of the Rising Sun. Japan’s world famous bullet train, although it is supremely fast, cozy and incredible, isn’t cheap, by any means. In fact, individual tickets for this mode of transportation can cost you hundreds of US dollars. Still, train travel is, in my opinion, the best way of seeing Japan.
Fortunately, you can save a fortune from your train travel in Japan by investing in a Japan Rail Pass. Initially, the costs for the passes may shock you, but trust me, it can help you save money in the long run, specifically if you are planning on visiting a number of Japanese cities.
Rates for Japan Rail Passes
- 59,350 JPY – 21 days
- 46,390 JPY – 14 days
- 29,110 JPY – 7 days
For more information about the JRP’s rates, visit their website.
9. Don’t buy a Japan Rail Pass
Confused? Sounds contradicting to the tip mentioned above, right? The Japan Rail Pass is a terrific deal that is so hard to pass, for foreign travelers who plan to visit a multitude of cities and destination in Japan. But, if you are planning on exploring one city or destination only, I suggest that you don’t buy it.
10. Hop on a bus
Buses, though they aren’t as fast as the trains in Japan, are a great option for frugal travelers.
11. Local trains over bullet trains
Sure, local trains are slower, when compared to their bullet counterparts, but they are nonetheless faster than the buses. Moreover, riding a local bus offers you an opportunity to see Japan’s landscapes and beauty at a more leisurely tempo.
12. Ditch the taxi cabs
Taxi rides are extremely expensive in Japan, especially in larger cities like Tokyo.
13. Walk often in Japan
Have you ever wondered how most elderly Japanese managed to stay trim and healthy even in their advanced age? Unlike most people in the Western world, Japanese love to walk. And, aside from making you healthier, taking the slower route will also unveil the facets of Japan that can’t see from a bullet train or a car. In addition, walking in Japan lets you bump into interesting people dressed in quirky costumes.
14. Don’t buy fresh fruits
Fresh fruits and vegetables are ridiculously expensive in Japan.
15. Cook your own food
Hostels in Japan have kitchens, in which you can cook and prepare your own food.
16. Eat at a convenience store
Family Mart, 711 and other convenience stores have an array of pre-set dishes and meals that would cost around 100 to 250 JPY each.
17. Eat at a sushi train
Do you love sushi? Dine at a Sushi train, and spend just 100 JPY per plate.
18. Enjoy a big and hearty lunch
In Japan, lunch meals are usually cheaper than the ones served during dinner. That why’s you should enjoy a bigger lunch, and eat a smaller dinner.
19. Buy your stuff at a 100-yen shop
Japan has a plethora of 100-yen shops, where you can buy households, toiletries, water, groceries and meals at a very affordable price. By the way, the names for these shops vary by cities and regions. Thus, make sure to ask your hostel’s front desk where the closest 100-yen shops are located.
20. Buy your souvenirs at Daiso
Daiso, one the biggest franchises of 100-yen shops in the country, offers a wide selection of great and affordable Japanese souvenirs.
21. Free guides
In Nara, Tokyo and other Japanese cities, there are volunteers who provide free guided tours. Basically, these guides are friendly locals who are looking to meet new friends and hone their English.
22. Free things to do in Japan
Some of the most spellbinding sights in Japan won’t cost you a buck. As you visit this Asian country, you get to feast your eyes on striking contemporary architectures, sprawling parks, buzzing public markets, and timeless Shinto shrines for free.
23. Window shopping
Japanese stores and shops selling anime, toys, fashion, manga, electronics and crafts let you experience their culture, without the need to shell out a single yen.
24. Shopping with no taxes
Lavish shoppers can also experience a blissful shopping spree in this country. For purchases worth more than 10,000 JPY, many high-end retailers and department stores will waive the five percent sales tax, as a courtesy to their foreign visitors. Electronic gadgets, alcoholic beverages and food are also tax-free in the duty free zones of Japan’s airports.
25. Rent a pocket Wi-Fi
Rent a pocket Wi-Fi (a small wireless router), and connect it to your tablet or smartphone, so you can use the internet, and communicate with your loved ones back home. To me, it is a lot cheaper option than making long distance calls. You can rent this gadget at the counters of telecom companies in airports.
I hope these pointers can help you experience an unforgettable and budget-friendly trip to Japan. Just don’t forget to plan your trip to Japan meticulously, to make it even more affordable and memorable. Sayonara!
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