Japan is famous for being an expensive country to travel, and yes, it can be. However, there are ways to travel the country with a smaller budget if you know where to look to save a dollar here and there.
Here are some of the best tips to save money in Japan while still being able to enjoy the best the country has to offer.
1. Check if You Need a Visa
Not necessarily money-saving related, but important to know for every traveler. Do you need a visa? That depends on your nationality.
If you are from the United States, the United Kingdom, some parts of Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, you won’t need one.
As for the other nationalities, you should check if you need one and apply for the new Japan Visa online. iVisa is an excellent resource for getting your Japan Visa.
2. Travel Off-Peak
Plan your trip based on seasons and try to travel during Japan’s off-peak season.
Cherry blossom and autumn foliage are among the most popular dates to visit Japan (around early April and mid-November, respectively).
At the same time, these are peak seasons, so expect to pay more for accommodation and other travel-related expenses.
Other peak holidays include Golden Week from April 29 to May 5, Obon in mid-August, and New Year’s.
On the other hand, traveling off-peak (anywhere between late autumn through March) can prove to be a money saver since accommodation becomes much cheaper.
Another thing that helps a lot, especially during the off-peak season is traveling in groups and with family. There’s plenty of Tokyo accommodation for families you can find on a budget.
Also, you can check out this two-week Japan winter itinerary if you need some inspiration for off-peak travel.
3. Travel by Bus Instead of Long-Distance Trains
Japan has an excellent bus network. You can reach any major city in the country with their day and night buses.
Buses are often cheaper than trains since the travel time might be longer, but if you have no rush, this might be your best option to travel the country cheaply.
Bus companies like Willer Express offer bus passes for short-term travelers looking to visit most major cities on a budget.
Bookaway is also a great site to find cheap buses in Japan.
4. Get a Rail Pass
Alternatively, if you’re planning on taking frequent, long-distance trips, then a Rail Pass might be better for you in the long run.
The benefit here is traveling faster than with the bus. Much faster in certain routes. You can get a one or two weeks Japan Rail Pass to cover all your intercity trips.
They are not cheap, but if you calculate how many trains you expect to take and compare it to the pass’ price, you might see it is worth purchasing.
Also, if you’re planning in staying in one region of Japan, a regional pass might be much more convenient for you.
5. Walk and Use Local Buses and Trains
Japanese cities are easily navigable by rail, bus, and tram. Their rates are relatively cheap compared to US public transportation networks. Day passes are also available to save money if you plan on moving around a lot.
In addition, most Japanese cities are easily walkable, so why not enjoy the city from the sidewalk and at a slower pace, instead of on a train or bus?
6. Try a Capsule Hotel
Not only are capsule hotels a unique curiosity in Japan, but they are also convenient for saving a bit of money now and then. Capsule hotels are recommended for a night or two due to their small size, reduced privacy, and lack of decent storage space.
These hotels are often found near major transit hubs (since many locals use them after work), so they are great if you need to catch an early train or want to be in a convenient location to move around the city.
7. Use Airbnb or Couchsurfing
For roomier accommodation, you can try using Vrbo, which allows you to rent a room or apartment from a local – usually at a lower rate than a hotel room.
In addition, in many cases, you get to interact with your host, which could probably show you around the city if they have time.
The same concept applies to Couchsurfing, but the main difference is that with Couchsurfing, you stay for free on someone’s couch or extra bed.
8. Eat at the local Gyūdon restaurants
Gyūdon, which literally means beef bowl, is a delicious Japanese dish consisting of a simple bowl of rice topped with beef and onion simmered in a mildly sweet sauce.
There are several local “fast food” chains serving Gyūdon all across the country. Among them are Matsuya, Yoshinoya, and Sukiya. A plate of Gyūdon can go from 300 Yen up.
There are other Japanese chain restaurants that are worth trying and are also cheap. Don’t miss trying Fujisoba for noodles, Wako for tonkatsu (pork cutlet), Osho for gyoza (dumplings), and Mos Burger for some delicious burgers, to name a few.
9. Sightsee for Free
One of the best things Japan offers is that most of its interesting and popular sights don’t cost anything to enter. You can visit Shinto shrines, markets, parks, contemporary buildings, and historical towns without spending a dime.
Other sights might have an entrance fee, but often they are cheap or worth the price of admission.
10. Buy Cheap
If you want to buy things for daily use or cheap souvenirs, go to a “100 Yen shop.” As the name suggests, most items in the store are sold for 100 Yens (the equivalent of an American Dollar store).
Ready to see Japan on a small budget?
Essential Info: Logistical Tips and Tricks to Book your Trip to Japan
BOOK YOUR FLIGHT
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Kayak. These are two of the sites I use the most due to their exhaustive search on several websites and airlines around the world. They usually bring the cheapest fares.
BOOK YOUR ACCOMMODATION
If you’re looking to save money by staying at a hostel, HostelWorld has the largest inventory of hostels. On the other hand, Vrbo offers a wide variety of rooms and apartments at affordable prices.
DON’T FORGET YOUR TRAVEL INSURANCE
Travel insurance with comprehensive coverage will protect you against unexpected events like theft, cancellations, injury, and illness. I’ve used HeyMondo many times throughout my travels.
If you’re a nomad and travel often or long-term, then SafetyWing could help you save a lot of money on travel insurance.
FIND THE BEST TOURS AT THE BEST PRICES
If you’re looking for the best day tours and cheapest ticket entrances to local attractions, I recommend checking Viator, as they have the largest selection of attractions, passes, and activities all around the world.
BOOK YOUR LOCAL TRANSPORTATION AHEAD OF TIME
Bookaway offers the easiest and most accessible way to book overland transportation with local operators, be it by bus, train, ferry, plane, mini-van, or even private transfers.
OTHER TRAVEL AND MONEY-SAVING TIPS?
Lastly, check out my resources page for some of the best products and companies to use for your trip. If you like saving money (like I do!), then this page will help.
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