Visiting Japan can mean different things to different people, but the kind of trip you will have depends to a large extent on what kind of budget you have and what you are willing, or not willing, to do in order to save money. Luckily, Japan has a lot of different options for a flexible traveler, regardless of whether they want to spend a little money, or a lot.
Reality check: How much does the average American tourist actually spend in Japan?
As in all things, the cheapest options mean you need to be pretty open minded, to be willing to walk rather than take a bus or to stay somewhere quite out of the way rather than by a major station. For the traveler with money to burn it is very easy to get the absolute best of everything, from travelling in comfort to staying in stunning hotels!
The Shoestring Budget
For accommodation the cheapest option will usually be hostels and guesthouses, though you can sometimes find a very good deal with business hotels. If you can find a cheap hotel stay with breakfast, as hotel breakfast in Japan tends to be really good, then you can also offset the cost of breakfast. Another money saver is to try a capsule hotel, but sometimes these can be a bit hit and miss in regards to cost.
For breakfast your best option, will requires a bit of forethought, is to check out a supermarket the night before, bento prices and bread products tend to be fairly cheap here and also in the evening before they can get quite heavily discounted. In particular a cut price bento is perfect for lunch the next day.
Other lunch options include ramen or Japanese fast food like at the Yoshinoya or Matsuya chain. You can also find some good lunch deals at some cafes. For dinner an izakaya (Japanese style pub) is fairly cheap and will allow you to try quite a wide variety of dishes, while family restaurants are also quite inexpensive.
It may seem hard to visit places on a small budget, but actually it is possible to visit many spots for no or little money, including observation floors on tall buildings like the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building or walking around the Asakusa area.
You are only limited by your imagination, and not your wallet, in regards to what you can see. For wherever you plan to visit check out information on parks, temples, neighborhoods, etc., for places you can visit absolutely free of charge. You can certainly enjoy areas like Ginza without spending a penny, sometimes just window shopping can be fun in itself.
It can be hard to walk around Tokyo, or Japan, as stations and bus stops can be quite far apart, but to a certain extent you can walk and then use a train or bus just to travel the minimum amount of time that you need to. Travelling a small distance costs less than 200yen.
Alternatively, you can get a metro pass or train pass and then just make sure you make the maximum use of it that you can do, you will be surprised at how many places you can visit in one day if you are strict with yourself! If you really want to visit other cities then your cheapest options will be either an overnight highway busy, or a very, very long journey by regular train.
・GRIDS Hostel + Lounge Nihonbashi East: JPY3,300/day per person
・Khaosan World Ryogoku: JPY2,300/day per person
・IRORI Hostel & Kitchen: JPY2,800/day per person
・Breakfast (supermarket reduced price bento): under JPY500/per person
・Lunch (bento/ramen): JPY500-600/per person
・Dinner (izakaya): under JPY2,000/ per person
- Gyoro Gyoro
・ Sensoji Temple/ Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building/walking: FREE
■ Transportation costs (train/subway):
・Used for a minimum distance: from JPY140 per ride
The Mid-Budget Stay
With a bigger budget a lot more accommodation options become available. You can find many great deals at business hotels, and even four star hotels. The best ones include breakfast, even a business hotel breakfast will be delicious with a great spread! In addition this will save you any costs for breakfast.
For lunch you can try brilliant lunchtime deals at restaurants, cafes and family restaurants, or even slightly pricier yakiniku or tempura deals. While in the evening you can try any of the above, including izakayas and specialist restaurants which offer up amazing dishes using a variety of ingredients including tofu, wagyu beef or soba noodles.
You can enjoy many sightseeing spots, including the free ones recommended above, and also entry paying venues such as museums. For a small fee you can go to the top of Tokyo Skytree, or buy a train pass like the 3-day Tokyo Wide Pass to visit famous sightseeing spots near Tokyo like Mt. Fuji and Nikko. With a bigger budget all kinds of different metro passes and train passes can be bought and utilized for different day trips and longer journeys.
You can also experience the shinkansen for perhaps a week with a train pass and see as much of Japan as you want for seven days. There are also more and more budget flights becoming available, these are certainly no-thrill rides but as they fly between the same major airports they are a good option for travelling.
・HOTEL GRAPHY NEZU: JPY8,000/day per person
・Ibis Tokyo Shinjuku: JPY7,375/day per person
・Capsule Hotel Anshin Oyado Shinjuku: JPY4,180/day per person
・Breakfast (at hotel): FREE
・Lunch (lunch set menu): JPY1,000-2,000/person
・Dinner : JPY2,500-4,000/person
・Entrance fees to Edo Tokyo Museum: JPY 600/person
・Tokyo Skytree: JPY 1,030/person
・Ueno Zoo: JPY 600/person
■ Transportation costs (train/subway):
・Tokyo Wide Pass: JPY 3,333/day
・Tokyo Subway 24-hour Ticket: JPY 800
7-10-5, Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 160-0023
Shinjuku Station （JR Shonan Shinjuku Line / JR Yamanote Line / JR Chuo Main Line / JR Saikyo Line / Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line / Toei Shinjuku Line / Toei Oedo Line / Keio Line / Keio New Line / Odakyu Odawara Line）
5 minutes on foot
- Phone Number 03-3361-1111
- Address 7-10-5, Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 160-0023
1-2-12, Sotokanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, 101-0021
Akihabara Station （JR Keihin-Tohoku Line / JR Yamanote Line / Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line / Tsukuba Express / JR Sobu Line）
3 minutes on foot
- Phone Number 0120-083-489
- Address 1-2-12, Sotokanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, 101-0021
*Reference prices are as of May 2018 and may not include tax.
The Vacation Splurger
With a large budget you can enjoy superb ryokan stays, or 4-5 star hotels, either or both of which may include onsens and gyms. By staying somewhere like here the whole experience becomes less about just having a place to sleep and more of an experience within itself, customer service being what it is in Japan you will find your every need satisfied. In addition they tend to be situated in really convenient places and are easy to find.
Furthermore, breakfast at a ryokan or high-class hotel seems to have been raised to a whole new level, and will probably leave you full past lunchtime! If somehow you are hungry at lunch then you can consider having something delicious like sushi. For dinner, it is safe to say that the more expensive restaurants tend to be high up, so for example in Roppongi you will end up fairly high off the ground. Other options include Blue Note Tokyo, an extremely classy jazz venue in Aoyama, as well as dinner at the hotel restaurant.
For sightseeing you can experience travelling by express trains and taxis, however most places you can visit are either free or can be entered for a low fee, in this way Japan is quite an equal society! You can’t miss shopping in Ginza or Roppongi, and you must experience department store shopping at somewhere like Takashimaya in Nihonbashi.
The most convenient mode of travel is to hire a sightseeing taxi; the driver will show you around town and tell you about the different spots, and can accommodate your own personal schedule. In addition with a higher budget you may want to get a two or three week JR train pass and really explore Japan from the comfort of a fast bullet train. You can also enjoy fast flights between all the major cities of Japan.
・Royal Park Hotel: JPY 37,000/day per person https://livejapan.com/en/in-ningyocho_monzen-nakacho_kasai/spot-lj0005632/
・GRAND NIKKO TOKYO DAIBA: JPY 47,000/day per person https://livejapan.com/en/in-odaiba/spot-lj0001042/
・The Tokyo Station Hotel: JPY 25,000/day per person https://livejapan.com/en/in-tokyo_train_station/spot-lj0001037/
・Breakfast (hotel): included in accommodation price
・Lunch (sushi): JPY8,000+/person
- Tsukiji Itadori Bekkan
・Dinner (best to make reservations in advance)
- Blue Note Tokyo
- Hotel Restaurant
・Tokyo Prince Hotel bar overlooking Tokyo Tower
■ Transportation costs (train/subway):
・Japan Rail Pass (Green car): JPY 5,500/day
・Sightseeing Taxi: from 14,950 for three hours.
1-9-1, Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, 100-0005
Tokyo Station （Tokaido Shinkansen Line / Hokkaido Shinkansen Line / Tohoku Shinkansen Line / Akita Shinkansen Line / Yamagata Shinkansen Line / Joetsu Shinkansen Line / Hokuriku Shinkansen Line / JR Tokaido Main Line / JR Yokosuka Line / JR Sobu Main Line / JR Sobu Main Line (Rapid) / JR Keihin-Tohoku Line / JR Yamanote Line / JR Chuo Main Line / JR Keiyo Line / JR Ueno Tokyo Line / Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line）
- Phone Number 03-5220-1111
- Address 1-9-1, Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, 100-0005
Top image credit: Windyboy / Shutterstock.com
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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