How to Travel Cheap in Japan | Budget Trip Guide
Eyebrows instantly spiked when I told my friends that I would travel to Japan on a budget. It wasn’t easy to convince them because they are not budget travelers & clueless on how to travel cheap in Japan (or anywhere else).
Like what many other travel guides say, it’s ridiculously expensive to travel to Japan! My friends laughed at my P60,000 budget for 2 weeks, saying it will not go too far than the usual Tokyo or Osaka-Kyoto routes.
I have to admit that I was bit scared. But my travel warrior heart was also saying it can be done. We made a bet on how far my budget would take me. If I make it to more than 3 major destinations, I’ll get a glitzy welcome dinner.
Day-by-day they took a close watch of my posts on Facebook. I could imagine their faces as I hopped from temples to palaces. I could feel their envy as I drowned myself on ramens, udons & sushis.
On my way home to Manila, I sent them a video message of my most resting bitch face — “have you already made the dinner reservation, ladies?”.
How to travel cheap in Japan? Use all your travel lifelines!
With my P60,000 budget, I was able to visit Tokyo, Kawaguchiko, Yokohama, Fukuoka, Dazaifu, Hiroshima, Miyajima, Matsuyama, Osaka & Kyoto.
How did I do it? Careful planning, creative on-ground strategies & common sense! Here are some travel hacks that answers the usual question on how to travel cheap in Japan.
Fly on Promo Fare or Use Frequent Flyer Perks
Seat sales are a travel phenomenon these days as airline competition become really tight. Spending online vigils to grab promo fares are surely worth the effort. No one really cares if you end up with Kero-Keroppi eyebags!
If you are a member of any airline loyalty programs, check your miles because those might just give you free flights!
Plan Your Trip Well
You can’t just arrive without a good plan. Plot the places you’d like to visit especially if it involves multi-regional destinations. This will determine how to travel cheap in Japan & how to do it with ease.
My journey covered 10 popular destinations from Tokyo down to Fukuoka. I took the train-bus-boat-airplane combo. I stayed in cheap hostels close to a subway or bus stations. I sedated myself from impulsive buying.
Don’t Buy the JR Pass
Japan Railway Pass is a train pass that allows you to get unlimited rides on all JR train lines, bus lines & the JR Ferry. It costs a whooping P24,237 for 14 days!
Getting the JR Pass is only good if you plan to do cross-country trips on a train. But if you’re just exploring Tokyo or Osaka, it is not really economically helpful. Also, not all destinations are served by JR line & not everything on this railway are the bullet trains called Shinkansen. Most of the time, you will just be riding the regular ones like most commuters do.
Make Wise Decisions
Plan out the sights you’d like to visit. Cluster them according to contiguous locations. If you think you’ll be riding the city trains more than 3 times in a day, buy the 1-day unlimited pass. Just walk around if you can.
In Tokyo, it is recommended that you get the Suica or Pasmo card. It’s a reloadable card that allows you swift access in metros. Other cities like Osaka & Fukuoka have their own city cards. Unused credits are refundable.
Consider other transpo options like taking overnight buses or flying on domestic airlines. If you’re going to coastal cities, check out if there are boats sailing on these routes.
Fly on Low Cost Airlines
Shhh, I am telling you now my smartest tip on how to travel cheap in Japan —- fly on Peach! Yes, Japan has a domestic low-cost airline & it flies to many major destinations. I flew for nearly 2 hours from Tokyo to Fukuoka for only P1,500! This would have cost me P8,800 on a 7-hour train ride. I was so happy with it that I flew again from Matsuyama Island to Osaka. Guess what, it was only P950!
Another great steal in flying on Peach is that they offer huge discounts on train & bus fares in your airport transfer to the city. Just make sure you buy the tickets before you land.
Be Resourceful on Where to Eat
Surprisingly, for its impeccable taste & expressive culinary traditions, authentic Japanese food is cheap! No one goes hungry in Japan!
Because it’s cheap & good, you get the tendency to splurge. What I did was to spend only on food that is famous in that city. Example, Udon in Dazaifu, Okonomiyaki in Hiroshima, Naniwa Black Ramen in Osaka. The rest of the meals, I bought it from cheap street stalls & convenience stores like 7-11 & Lawson. Packed meals there only cost P100-P125, at night it becomes P50!
Call me cheap, I don’t care. But I also went to big grocery stores that give out free taste samples! Wait—their free samples come in generous portions & after a few hops, you are surely filled to the brim! But play the part—look posh, not trashy.
Choose a Good Hostel
Accommodations in Japan are quite steep. What’s more, the price is quoted on per person and not per room. So be mindful when you make reservations.
I never asked to be hosted by friends in Japan because I know they live in tiny spaces (especially in Tokyo). Couch surfing is also not a big thing there. And capsule rooms are weirdly expensive! So I stayed in cheap hostels & vacation room rentals outside the main happening streets. I always consider those that are near subways for easy mobility.
Ask For Help
Getting lost in the subways is common. Even Japanese people get confused. Tokyo has the most complex metro connections I have ever been to in the world. So don’t be afraid to ask for help because getting lost can be time consuming & costly.
Friendly English-speaking staff mans their metro stations. There are also Visitor Information counters in some railways hubs. Get a map & analyze your routes before boarding anything.
Avoid Traveling on the Golden Week
The Golden Week is Japan’s longest holiday & runs between April 29-May 5. Usually, Cherry Blossom Festival and local celebrations also fall on this week. Hotel rates & tour packages are expected to hit the highest in this season.
I timed my trip in Japan shortly after the Golden Week when most hostels were back to its promo rates. At this time, I was still able to catch local Matsuri (festivals), the flowers of spring & the maddening end-season sale.
Live on Free WIFI
Unlike Taiwan, Japan doesn’t have too many free public WIFI hotspots. There are pocket WIFI for rent but it’s very expensive. So I settled with free WIFI access. Just visit their Visitor Information Centers (in airports & select train stations), present your passport & you’re connected! All hostels also have free super fast WIFI.
Temper Your Shopping
Japan is a shopping wonderland. From fashion to electronics, they have it all here. Many travelers, like Filipinos find Japan an expensive travel destination because they always factor-in shopping in the budget. I did not go on a shopping spree, except for small personal souvenir items.
But if you really can’t help it, look for Don Quijote. It’s a huge store chain selling amazingly cheap Japanese stuff from your macha-flavored Kitkat and mochi balls to edible underwears & dildos! And the best part, it’s tax free!
Use Your Charm. Be Creative.
Not everyone is blessed to be charming & creative. It’s something mastered over time. But just in case you’ll find yourself in situations that would require it, use these powers to your advantage. And oh, please don’t forget to powder your face, because oiliness is next to death!
Spend your money on where it matters. If you can live on free stuff or a little compromise, go for it. Japan, to some extent like transportation & accommodation is really expensive. But if you exhaust all cheaper options, you’ll surely save a lot. Now you know how to travel cheap in Japan, just remember everything in Japan is value for money.
Do you have any other tips on how to travel cheap in Japan? Share it in the comment box below.