How to Cheaply Travel Japan
Japan is a popular bucket list destination, but the Land of the Rising Sun has the reputation of being a costly adventure. But the truth is that it’s easy to be wowed by Japan without spending a ton of money on your trip. The bright city lights and peaceful countryside lend beautiful views to even the most money-savvy travelers.
Here’s everything you need to know to travel Japan for cheap.
- Exchange Rate
- How to Get Japanese Currency
- When to Travel for the Cheapest Price
- Cheapest Way to Travel to Japan
- How to Travel Cheaply within Japan
- Budget-Friendly Accommodation
- Dining for Cheap
- Activities on a Budget
- Budget Breakdown: One Day in Japan
The Exchange Rate in Japan
Both the Euro and the U.S. dollar are relatively strong to the Japanese yen. Compared to 2010-2012, Japan is a bargain for international travelers. To find the current exchange rate, head to Bloomberg’s currency page.
*Current Exchange Rate in 2019:
- $1 USD = about ¥111 Japanese yen (JPY)
- €1 EUR = about ¥127 Japanese yen (JPY)
How to Get Japanese Currency
For the most part, Japan is a cash-based society which rarely uses cards for payment. However, not all ATMs in Japan work for foreign cards. The most reliable sources of cash in Japan are 7-11 bank ATMs and Japan post office ATMs. Both are wildly available throughout the country, though you’d be wise to locate the nearest ATM when you arrive at your hotel.
If you are staying for a longer period of time, you may opt to purchase a Suica (prepaid public transport smart card) or another Japan rail pass. Note that the money you preload on these cards will act as cash at nearly all convenience stores, grocery stores, and even many vending machines.
When to Travel to Japan for the Cheapest Price
High-traffic times influence the prices of travel to Japan. Japan’s peak travel season is spring, when the cherry blossoms bloom. Late April to early May is particularly busy, as this is when residents and tourists celebrate the holiday known as Golden Week. (In 2019, Golden Week takes place April 29 - May 6.)
Domestic travel is also heavy during this time, so you may find stiff competition for accommodations and transportation arrangements.
The off season in Japan is mid-January to mid-March. While the weather will be colder, this will be the best time to find deals on accommodations and activities.
You should also consider what you want to experience. The best times to see Japan’s splendor are mid-March through May and September through November. If you’re an avid snow-sport fanatic, you can’t beat a winter visit to Hokkaido, Japan’s northern island. This island’s popular ski resorts typically see at least 600 inches of snow each year. Other leisure travelers will enjoy the moderate temperatures big cities like Tokyo offer year-round.
PRO TIP: Use the Japan Meteorological Agency’s information on typical weather patterns to help you decide when to visit.
Finally, take into consideration any special events that may overlap with when you want to visit. This year, Japan is hosting the Rugby World Cup from September 20 until November 2, with stadiums all over Japan hosting matches. Plan ahead to avoid a spike in prices.
The Cheapest Way to Travel to Japan
Be flexible with your travel dates and times to get a good deal on flights into Japan. Midweek flights (Tuesday – Thursday) tend to be cheaper than weekend flights, and you can frequently save money by snagging super early or late departure and arrival times.
The biggest airport isn’t always the cheapest option to fly into. Tokyo has two airports - Haneda and Narita. Haneda is more convenient for traveling into the heart of the city, but a flight into Narita may be significantly cheaper. Travelers to Osaka or Kyoto may find a cheaper flight into Kansai International Airport.
How to Travel Cheaply within Japan
Your transportation options are vast once you’ve touched down in Japan. Trains, planes and buses are readily available throughout the country.
Planes on a Budget
Several low-cost domestic airlines operate within Japan. Sign up for sale-alert emails from airlines like Peach, Vanilla Air, Solaseed Air, AirAsia Japan, and AIRDO if you plan to travel domestically in Japan. Most of these airlines charge extra for bags and seat selection, but they may still offer significant savings. It’s not uncommon to find flights between Tokyo and Osaka for just $20 USD / €17.58 EUR during a sale.
Taxis on a Budget
Taxis in Japan are insanely expensive so it’s generally best to avoid them. Taxi fare starts at ¥400 - ¥730 JPY ($3.59 - $6.55 USD / €3.15 – €5.76 EUR) for the first two kilometers and increases ¥80 - ¥90 JPY ($0.72 - $0.81 USD / €0.63 – €0.71 EUR) for every 270 - 400 meters. From about 10 p.m. until 5 a.m. the rates rise by about 20%. Ubers usually end up being a similar price to taxis.
Trains on a Budget
Trains are the standard mode of transportation in Tokyo. Trains in Japan are quick, efficient, famously on-time, and reasonably priced.
You can find great deals on day passes for trains in almost every major city. Travelers to Tokyo should research the Tokyo Metro 24-Hour Pass. If you’re visiting Osaka or Kyoto, one affordable option is the Kyoto-Osaka Rail Sightseeing Pass.
The map of train lines can seem overwhelming at first, but Google Maps and Hyperdia make train transportation in Japan simple. Both are free on Android and iOS and will tell you exactly what train you need to get from point “a” to point “b.”
Rail staff are also plentiful and more than willing to point you in the right direction if you have any questions about your location or travel details.
NOTE: Most trains stop running around midnight, but there are some exceptions. Check in advance when the last train departs so you can avoid a pricey taxi ride home.
Japan Rail Pass
Every traveler to Japan needs to know about the Japan Rail Pass. The Japan Rail Pass provides unlimited rides on all Japan Rail trains for 7, 14, or 21 consecutive days. It’s best to consider how many places you’ll be visiting before you commit to the pass.
Flying or taking the bus will be cheaper if you’re only traveling to Tokyo, Osaka, or Kyoto. If you’re traveling to four locations over ten days, it might be cheaper to fly or take buses than buy the 14-Day Japan Rail Pass.
Seishun-18 is a great alternative pass that offers five days of non-consecutive travel for about $100 USD / €87.85 EUR.
Busses on a Budget
Busses are another budget-conscious way of traveling around Japan. Willer Express offers both day and night busses leaving from a variety of stations around the country. Book in advance to get the best price and selection of seats.
Finding Budget-Friendly Accommodation in Japan
Japan offers various accommodation types to suit all travelers, from lavish resorts to simple capsule hotels. The further away from a train station you go in Japan, the cheaper the accommodation will generally be.
Capsule hotels are accommodations unique to Japan. A capsule hotel is a great option for budget travelers, both for novelty and affordability. They typically run between $30 - $50 USD / €26.36 - €43.93 EUR per person, per night.
Airbnb is a great budget-friendly housing option. Budget travelers can save extra money in Airbnb’s by cooking their own food instead of dining out for every meal. Most properties also offer a free portable Wi-Fi device to help you save on sim cards or roaming data for your phone.
Dining Cheaply in Japan
Dining out in Japan can be expensive, but if you eat like a local, meals can be as low as $5 - $10 USD / €4.39 - €8.79 EUR. Be sure to try the Japanese version of fast food. It’s inexpensive, authentic, and uniquely efficient (most ordering is done at a vending machine).
Additional Tips for Eating in Japan on a Budget
- Drink tap water instead of buying bottled water. It’s safe everywhere in Japan.
- Shop at the grocery store after normal dinner hours. You’ll find massive discounts on prepared meals and sushi that will allow you to try a variety of new Japanese foods for a low price.
- Visit that restaurant you’re dying to try at lunchtime. Many restaurants offer deals on their lunch menus.
- Don’t be afraid of Japanese convenience stores. Unlike convenience stores in the U.S., they are a staple of Japanese life. The food is fresh and they are on nearly every street corner in Japan. A cup of coffee or a latte is around ¥100 JPY (about $0.90 USD / €0.79 EUR). Plus, onigiri (rice triangles with various fillings) are about ¥200 JPY ($1.80 USD / €1.58 EUR) and make a great breakfast or snack in between meals.
- Keep your eyes open for a one-coin bar. One-coin bars offer a variety of drinks for a single 500-yen coin (about $4.50 USD / €3.95 EUR).
Budget-Friendly Activities in Japan
Save some money on transportation, get some exercise, and fight off jet lag by walking around one of Japan’s main cities. Larger Japanese cities like Tokyo and Kyoto are easily walkable, and you’ll see more than you would from a train, bus, or plane.
Below are some free or nearly-free attractions in Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto that will keep your travel in Japan as cheap and rewarding as possible:
Low-Cost Attractions in Tokyo
- Take in an impressive view of the city from the Tokyo Skytree. Tickets range from ¥1,030 - ¥4,000 JPY (about $9.27 - $36 USD / €8.14 - €31.63 EUR). The base of the Skytree houses Tokyo Solamachi, a massive mall made up of specialty shops. Feel free to window shop or pick up some cheap souvenirs!
- Visit the Meiji Jingu Shrine and Yoyogi Park to reflect on the history of Japan. Both offer free admission.
- Stroll along the streets of Harajuku for a great slice-of-life view of Tokyo.
- Soak in the essence of Japanese culture at Shibuya crossing. Here you can people watch, visit the Hachiko statue, and catch a glimpse of one of the busiest intersections in the world.
- Take a Sunday picnic to Inokashira Park for an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
- Enjoy a sunset view of Tokyo for free from the Shinjuku Government Building observation deck. On a clear day you’ll be able to spot Mt. Fuji!
- Enjoy unsurpassed serenity in Kiyosumi Garden. This quintessential, traditional Japanese garden is located in the heart of Tokyo. Admission is only about ¥150 JPY (about $1.35 USD / €1.19 EUR).
- Visit the Edo-Tokyo Museum for a spectacular look at Tokyo’s history. The museum includes a reconstructed life-size Edo-style town. Tickets to the museum are ¥600 JPY (about $5.40 USD / €4.74 EUR).
Get the Tokyo City Guide and discover more things to do, where to stay, and how to get around in Tokyo!
Worth-It Splurges in Tokyo
- Grutto Pass – With free or discounted entrance to 92 of Tokyo’s most impressive museums, this pass easily pays for itself. It only costs ¥2,200 JPY (about $19.67 USD / €17.27 EUR).
- Tokyo Disney Resort – Disney park fans will not want to miss the parks in Tokyo. At just ¥7,400 JPY (about $66.60 USD / €58.48), a one-day pass to Tokyo Disney Resort is almost half the price of a one-day pass to the Disney parks in the United States. Plus, Tokyo DisneySea features a handful of attractions only available in Japan.
Bargain Activities in Osaka and Kyoto
- Dotonbori shopping area in Osaka gives visitors a truly Japanese experience with a plethora of neon city lights. Walk through the streets at night to see the famous Glico Man sign in all its neon glory.
- Take in an impressive view of Osaka Castle from its outer gardens – without paying an entrance fee. The gardens showcase the seasonality of Japan with colorful displays of Japanese flora.
- Go to the Asahi Beer Suita Factory to discover the inside scoop on one of Japan’s most famous beer companies (for free!).
- Get lost in the sights of the Gion neighborhood in Kyoto. Stroll through the traditional wooden merchant houses and see the geishas walk the through the town.
- Catch a glimpse of the iconic Fushimi Inari Shrine and pray for a bountiful harvest, business prosperity, or safety under the orange torii gates. The Fushimi Inari Shrine is the head Inari shrine in Japan.
- Sample exquisite food at Nishiki Market in Kyoto. Try tofu, Japanese pickles, tea, traditional sweets, and dried fish at this historic market.
Explore the Osaka City Guide for more must-see sites and activities!
A Typical Day in Tokyo on a Budget
Here’s a breakdown of how to eat like a king, travel around Tokyo, and stay in an Airbnb for $40 a day.
Coffee (from a combini)
Onigiri and pastry
Large beef and rice bowl (comes with miso soup and tea)
Sushi plate (from the grocery store)
|Airbnb in Tokyo