Low Budget Japan - Tips and My Budget

Many still think that Japan is an expensive country to travel around. And they are partly right; in comparison to other Asian countries it is one of the most expensive countries. Accommodation is something that will set you back quite a bit and transportation can be costly. But those people also don't know that you can eat lunch or dinner for 400 yen ($3,86) if you want to, explore the gorgeous cities and even some temples for free and that you don't have to take an expensive shinkansen train to travel from city to city. My friend and I didn't really travel budget friendly during our first trip in Japan, so don't be scared when I show you my budget. It is just an indicator of what we spent and I will give you some tips to make your trip even cheaper.

Normally I am not very meticulous with my budget. Yes, I want to travel cheaply and I will stay in hostels and take the cheapest bus, but I usually don't write down everything I spend. But for this trip I wanted to have a clear image of where my hard earned money went (I saved money for a good four years to finance this trip, but as a fourteen year old kid you don't really have a royal salary). So this was the first and last time I wrote down almost everything I spent, not always in exact number but globally. I actually think it was a good habit because it gives me insight in how much I spent that day so that I can slow down when I've spent too much or treat myself the next day when there's money left. And it is great information for my future trips to the same place, or as information for other people, like readers of this blog. Maybe I should start writing down my travel expenses again from now on... :)

So here is a breakdown of my costs day by day, leaving out personal shopping expenses (those added up quickly!). Also, I will put some costs in the color blue, which means that I won't be counting them for the total daily sum and daily average. Those are the activities that were very special and specific things that we did but that most other people probably won't do when they are in Japan. The pink words are urls (links) by the way, you can click on them to get more information about that subject.  To give you a fair look on our normal daily costs of traveling in Japan I will count our expenses for accommodation, food, sightseeing and transportation.
The first day is only half a day because we arrived in Japan in the afternoon. 

Fushimi Inari Taisha and Gion and the cute streets in front of Kiyomizu are free to visit. Osaka Castle and the Golden Pavilion are also cheap sights to see.

Our Budget

  • Three metro rides ¥ 390
  • Airport Express Train ¥ 890
  • 7-11 dinner ¥ 360
  • Boat ride ¥ 1700
  • Hotel ¥ 4725 ------------- + ¥ 8065
  • Four metro/train rides ¥ 980
  • breakfast ¥ 450
  • Kaiyukan Aquarium ¥ 2000
  • Family restaurant curry dinner ¥ 500
  • HEP Five Ferris Wheel ¥ 500
  • Browsing the HEP Five shops - free
  • Hotel ¥ 4725 ------------------ + 9100
  • Four metro/train rides ¥ 790
  • Breakfast ¥ 450
  • Lunch ¥ 120
  • Okonomiyaki dinner ¥ 1850
  • Osaka Castle ¥ 600
  • Museum of history ¥ 600
  • Hotel ¥ 4725 ---------------- + ¥ 9135
  • Train/metro rides ¥ 1000
  • Breakfast ¥ 282
  • Lunch ¥ 600
  • Dinner theme cafe ¥ 1000
  • Takarazuka theatre ¥ 8000
  • Exploring Takarazuka streets - free
  • Hotel ¥ 4725 -------------- + ¥ 7610
Cute streets of Takarazuka - free

Kyoto Day 5
  • Osaka-Kyoto train ¥ 590
  • Kyoto-Fushimi return ticket ¥ 510
  • Breakfast ¥ 350
  • Fushimi Inari Taisha - free
  • Matsuya Dinner ¥ 400
  • Hotel ¥ 4000  ----------------- + ¥ 5850
  • Breakfast & Lunch ¥ 890
  • Nijo castle ¥ 350
  • Baskin Robbins (dinner) ¥ 446
  • Train ¥ 1080
  • Metro ¥ 520
  • Mika Nakashima Concert ¥ 6800
  • Hotel ¥ 4000 ------------------ + ¥ 6700
  • Geisha makeover ¥ 9975
  • Breakfast ¥ 300
  • Transportation ¥ 2000
  • McDonalds dinner ¥ 600
  • Hotel ¥ 4000 ------------------ + ¥ 6900
  • Breakfast ¥  400
  • Silver pavilion ¥ 500
  • Kiyomizu ¥ 300
  • Lunch and drinks ¥ 730
  • 7-11 Dinner ¥ 300
  • Kpop Concert ¥ 9500
  • Rented Bicycle¥  1000
  • Hotel ¥ 4000 ----------------- + ¥ 7230
  • Breakfast ¥ 290
  • Lunch ¥ 300
  • Dinner Lotteria ¥ 600
  • Golden Pavilion ¥ 400
  • Ryoanji ¥ 500 
  • Ninna-ji (Goten) ¥ 500
  • Rented bicycle ¥ 1000
  • Ryokan stay ¥ 12000 ---------------- + 15590
Day 10
  • Bullet train ¥ 9800
  • Breakfast ¥ 450
  • Harajuku crepe ¥ 470
  • Walking around Harajuku and Shibuya - free
  • Family restaurant dinner ¥ 860
  • Metro ¥ 800
  • Hotel ¥ 4416 --------------- + ¥ 16796
Busiest intersection in the World - Shibuya - free

Day 11
  • Breakfast ¥ 300
  • Metro ¥ 1240 
  • Hello Kitty Land ¥ 4000
  • Lunch ¥ 110
  • Dinner Yoshinoya ¥ 330
  • Hotel ¥ 4416 -------------- + 10396
Day 12
  • Breakfast ¥ 400
  • Transportation ¥ 1000
  • Exploring Yokohama - free
  • Hotel Party Entrance ¥ 1000
  • Dinner MOS burger ¥ 750
  • Hotel ¥ 4416 ----------------- + ¥ 7566
Day 13
  • Breakfast ¥ 340
  • Lunch mister donut ¥ 320
  • Dinner Princess Cafe ¥ 2500
  • Walking Through Akihabara and Ginza - free 
  • Metro/train ¥ 800
  • Hotel ¥ 4416 ------------------ + ¥ 8375
Day 14
  • Breakfast ¥ 360
  • Lunch ¥ 445
  • Hawaiian Tonkatsu Dinner ¥ 900
  • Transportation ¥ 1000
  • A day in Shibuya and Korea Town - free
  • Hotel ¥ 4416 ---------------- + ¥ 7121
Day 15
  • Breakfast ¥ 440
  • Disney entrance ticket ¥ 5300
  • Churro ¥ 300
  • Dinner ¥ 1100
  • Transportation ¥ 780
  • Hotel ¥ 4416 ----------------- + ¥ 12336

Asakusa - free

Day 16
  • Breakfast ¥ 380
  • Streetstall Manju ¥ 80
  • Visiting Asakusa - free
  • Harajuku crepe ¥ 460
  • Dinner MOS burger ¥ 750
  • Transportation ¥ 1100 ----------- + ¥ 2270
Which is a total of ¥ 141040 for 16 days.
That means an average of ¥ 8815 per day, or $84,71.

That is quite a lot of money, double or even triple the budget of the average backpacker in Asia.
Do take in consideration that no expenses were spared for this trip as I had saved for this for many years I wanted to make a dream trip out if it by doing everything I wanted to do, no matter how expensive. Trips to amusement parks are expensive. We stayed in private ensuite rooms (but some of the cheapest available) and even treated ourself to an expensive stay at a traditional ryokan. Together with bullet train, a lot of metro rides and renting bicycles the expenses packed on quickly. That also means that this budget has some potential of getting better!

ranging from 200 yen to 500 yen


Tips for lowering the budget:
  • Stay in hostels. You should be able to find something decent for around ¥2500. In Tokyo it will be a bit more. Another way to save on accommodation is by reserving a room on airbnb. This website lists rentals, like rooms or whole houses, put up by private people. These are aimed at the travel community and are rated by people who stayed there in their reviews. It is possible to find some gems for cheap on airbnb. You could also try couch surfing, which is free and a great experience. I did this in South Korea and made some awesome friends and had unique experiences this way, and all for free !
  • Buy breakfast at a convenience store. We did this everyday and this is why our costs for breakfast are quite low. Two nice sandwiches are about ¥220 and a drink ¥120. Even cheaper would be to go to a real supermarket and bulk buy your breakfast for a few days.
  • Lunch for us ranged from ice-cream to street food to convenience store food or even nothing. These things are all quite cheap and were good enough for us because we are not big eaters. Lunching at a restaurant will be more expensive.
  • Dinner can be costly at some restaurants. Family restaurants are your best bet for a proper but quite cheap meal around ¥800. A meal at a fast food restaurant like McDonalds or MOS Burger is ¥600-700. But for the real cheapskates there is Matsuya, Yoshinoya and Sukiya where you can eat simple rice with beef or curry meals for as low as ¥300. That means dinner for only $2.90! Avoid expensive theme restaurants, foreign cuisine or other fancy restaurants.
  • Transportation is very costly. Try to walk as much as you can within a city so you don't have to buy expensive metro- and train tickets or have to rent a bicycle. This will save you a lot of money. Moving from city to city will be the cheapest with buses or slow trains. The famous bullet train will set you back a few thousand yen, so avoid it if you can. If you want or have to take the bullet train, try to buy a special discount ticket, like the Puratto Kodama Economy Plan. You can find some more information here.
  • When in Japan you want to see some tempels and museums of course. These are not super expensive, but not free either (like in London). Tickets will range from ¥300 to ¥600. You can make it a cheap trip if you balance this well with free things like exploring different cities, neighborhoods or even some temple grounds like Fushimi Inari Taisha and Myoshin-ji. Amusement parks, concerts, a geisha makeover, tea ceremonies and other fun but unusual things are very expensive and are best avoided if you are on a small budget.
  • Shopping is rather expensive in Japan. You can find some great things and I really enjoyed shopping in Japan but after the trip I was broke because of it. If you have a weak spot for cute things, pretty clothes, cool gadgets or traditional Japanese stuff, you'd better avoid the shops unless you have got a big budget ;) And if you really want to shop after all, try a 100 yen shop.

Low Budget Calculation

Based on the above tips your low budget day can look like this:
  • Walking and two metro rides +- ¥ 400
  • Breakfast +- ¥ 320
  • Lunch +- ¥ 200
  • Dinner +- ¥ 400
  • Hostel +- ¥ 2500
  • Temple visit +- ¥ 400
  • Souvenir/Other ¥ 500  -------------- + ¥ 4720
That is only $34,50 a day! It is slightly more than the average day in South East Asia, but still very doable I think. It just takes a bit more effort in Japan to stay on budget, but it is worth all the effort because Japan is one of those countries you will never forget! And if you only just want to eat and visit temples, you can even scrap the Souvenir/Other part and go on a budget of $31 a day! And by couch surfing and not taking the metro, you can get an even lower budget. It's all about creativity and sacrifice ;) If you need some tips on (free) things to do in Japan, read my 101 Japan list. I will make a post about free activities in Japan in the future, see keep an eye out for that!

Now go and plan your trip to Japan !
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  1. This is really interesting. Japan has always been very high on my list of places I want to visit, but keep pushing it down the list of places I'm actually going as I've been told it's very expensive. Very good to know it can be affordable though! Thanks for sharing :) I can imagine I would be easily amused just people watching and wandering around the streets, so would definitely not need to spend a lot on activities and attractions!

  2. I am glad that to hear that!
    I also really like people watching and wandering around the streets :)
    If you want it to, Japan can be affordable and you should definitely try going there !

  3. This is fantastic. I'm actually planning on going to Japan towards the end of this year and you're right one of the things that concerned me most was the cost of living there! Now suddenly Japan doesn't seem completely out of reach! It was great to see a real life breakdown of the costs, it's interesting that you can get the cost that low, I'm currently travelling through South America and I'm spending roughly $30-40 a day. $35 a day definitely seems affordable!

    Thank you for sharing...I can't wait to visit :)

    1. Hello Phillip,

      I had the same worries as you before going to Japan. I realized that you can make Japan as expensive or cheap as you want it to be, just like any other country. For Japan you just need to be a little bit more conscious and dedicated to keep your costs down :) But if you really want it is definitely possible! There are so many interesting things to do for free so that helps :)
      I am very happy to hear that this post helped you and I hope you will enjoy Japan as much as I do!