Japan On A Budget
Every time we told someone we were going to Japan their immediate response was “oh wow it’s expensive there” but that wasn’t the experience we had at all. On the contrary, it was much more affordable than the US especially given the quality you get for your money and ESPECIALLY coming from Hawaii where your grocery bills can force you to reevaluate your life choices. It is definitely possible to spend a lot of money in Japan, but that is the case anywhere. Below are a few ways you can get the most out of Japan without breaking the bank.
Stay In Hostels:
The hostels in Japan were some of the nicest we’ve ever experienced and were definitely the cleanest. Most of the hostels we stayed in were “pod” style, where you have an almost entirely enclosed bunk with either curtains or a sliding door for privacy. I was a big fan of this style hostel and had more than enough room in each “pod” for moving around, changing clothes, etc however, if you know you get claustrophobic easily, maybe look for a regular style dormitory bunk. We used hostelworld to book all of our rooms and didn’t pay more than $25/night and there were definitely even cheaper options especially in Osaka!
Use Public Transportation:
Many people opt for the JR rail pass when visiting for 7 days or more, but we decided just to buy tickets as we went due to the somewhat inconvenient process of getting a JR rail pass and not all subway lines being covered by it ( but if you plan to take the Shinkansen or “bullet train” more than once on your stay it is definitely worth getting). We paid between $1.5 and $2.5 for subways around town, approximately $10-12 for trains to and from the airport and splurged on one bullet train ride between Kyoto and Tokyo for the experience which was around $130. The train system in Japan is extensive and efficient, while it was somewhat confusing to figure everything out at first without service, if you have wifi you can look up which rail to take and which spots to get off on in Google maps and just take a screenshot before heading out. If you need anything ask the information desk or a local, people are very eager to help here! Also, download the app Map.me immediately if you aren’t planning on having service, it’s a lifesaver.
Eat At Lawson’s or 7/11:
As a health food junkie this is a weird recommendation, but all of the locals get their morning coffee and lunch at these quick and easy pit stops and outside of the US there is less concern about GMOs, additives and non-organic produce. I had fresh spring rolls and coffee from 7/11 for breakfast on two occasions and it was GOOD (and all for around $3). Also, Anthony Bourdain made a spot at Lawson’s with a world renown chef on his show No Reservations, so you know it’s the real deal.
Automatic Sushi and Vending Machine Noodle Shops
Conveyor belt sushi or automatic sushi restaurants (where you order via iPad and a little cart brings you plate right to your table) are actually very affordable. You pay per plate (which are typically between $1-$2 each) and then count up your plates at the end of the meal. We would typically we between 10-12 plates each, it’s like Japanese tapas! We also found that the noodle shops that had what looked like vending machines outside were typically delicious and the best bang for your buck, you pay in cash at the vending machine and it shoots you out a ticket for what you ordered, and you bring it right to the chef. One of the best things about these restaurants, besides the food, was the atmosphere. The noodle shops were typically set up as one long bar in front of the chefs so that you could watch your food being prepared. We recommend Ginki sushi in Shibuya!
Buy Your Alcohol at a Market Rather Than In Restaurants:
While meeting friends for a drink or having a cocktail with dinner is fun, it can really rack up the bill. We chose to buy a relatively cheap bottle of wine and a bottle of sake from a local liquor store and sat by the river in Kyoto where there are often bands playing for tips and enjoyed our pre-dinner drinks for four people for the same price we would have paid for two drinks in a restaurant. If you want to splurge on a drink one night we recommend Ben Fiddich and the bar directly above it in Shinjuku Tokyo, these bars don’t have menus you just tell the super suave bartender what kind of liquor and flavors you like and they come up with a specialized drink just for you (I had the bartenders take on a Bloody Mary).
Find The Attractions With No Entrance Fee:
There are plenty of beautiful Buddhist temples and shrines to visit in Japan that don’t require an entrance fee. We enjoyed exploring the bamboo forest and Fushimi Imari shrine in Kyoto, different districts in Tokyo including Shinjuku, Ginza, Golden Gai,and Nihombashi, and then only paid entrance fees for places that we had heard were worth it including: Tokyo Skytree, the gardens in the Nanzen Ji temple and the Golden Shrine in Kyoto. Disclaimer: we made the mistake of showing up too late in the day for a few of these attractions and they were over-run with tourists, to get the best views we highly recommend waking up early and getting to your temple of choice right when it opens. We also did Tokyo sky tree in time to watch the sun set over Mount Fuji and it was magnificent.
Enjoy and share your budget tips below!