How Expensive is Japan?

Two of the most common questions for backpackers to Japan are:

  1. Is it expensive to travel around Japan?
  2. Can you travel around cheaply?

The answer to the first question may be “yes” but, luckily, so is the second.

We won’t lie—transportation costs in Japan might make you think twice. Food is relatively inexpensive but where Japan hits you in the pocket is transportation and accommodation. But as any thrifty backpacker knows—if there’s a will, there’s a way.

If you can afford to travel around Australia, American, or any European country, you can definitely afford traveling in Japan—those other places are still more expensive.

Here’s how to do it!

Transport

On the cheap:

The biggest expense of your Japanese excursion will be the transportation—the best way to save here is the Japan Rail Pass. This wonderful ticket will get you “free” access on as many bullet trains as you like and makes traveling around Japan unbelievably easy. With the Japan Rail Pass the country opens up to you in a way that other modes of transportation can’t offer. For two weeks of travel, the pass costs about $600—it sounds like a lot but comes to about $40 a day. Consider that the train from Kyoto to Tokyo costs about $140 one way and you can see what a great lifesaver the pass can be.

How to really save:

Hitchhike.

For many, hitchhiking can be a scary thing—but Japan is one of the safest places to do it. Some backpackers have even traveled from the top of Honshu to the bottom in just two days! That’s an adventure to remember.

Accommodation

On the cheap:

Japan Rail Pass or hitchhiking, whichever you choose, your transportation is safely out of the way. Time to focus on the next most expensive thing: accommodation.

A bed in a dorm hostel will run you about $20 a night. This is a pretty typical price in western countries as well. If you’re looking to check-in late and checkout early, why not try a love hotel? They charge by the hour and sometimes end up even cheaper than a hostel.

If you’re traveling with a group of four or more people, it might even make more sense to stay in love hotels all the time. The spacious rooms can easily sleep four people and they’re set up to look fancy. It’s worth looking into for many thrifty travelers.

How to really save:

Camp.

It can actually be one of the best options for ease and for savings.

If you’re looking for a campsite then The Japan National Tourism Organization can really help you out.

Camping can be a great solution, especially if you opted to get a Japan Rail Pass. A local train can take you to the campsite in most cases, and usually in 20-30 minutes.

Food

On the cheap:

The good news is that eating out in Japan is very affordable. If you want to eat well it’s actually cheaper to eat out than to eat at home—especially if it’s for one person.

For about $5, you can get a rice bowl topped with meat and vegetables. There are a variety of quick and cheap restaurants that you could easily eat something different every day.

Even for the heavier dishes like soba, ramen, tempura you’d be hard pressed to find something for more than $15 that won’t fill you up. Compared to many European countries this is a great deal.

How to really save:

Japanese restaurants too pricey still? Try a convenience store, or conbini. A bento box—rice, meat, fish, and vegetables— will run you about $4. And a fish-filled rice ball will cost maybe $1.

It’s cheap, it’s good, it’s perfect!

And if you’re traveling alone but feel a bit awkward eating alone—don’t worry! Many establishments and the culture overall cater to solo eaters.

Conclusion

When you add it all up, it won’t cost you an arm and a leg to have the holiday of a lifetime. Of course, traveling and spending money go hand in hand.

So, don’t be put off by the rumor of Japan being the “most expensive country to travel in.'' Overall, it’ll cost you about the same as any other western country— it’s maybe even a little cheaper. And let’s face it—backpacking in Japan earns you some serious traveler kudos.

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