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Japan Budget Travel Guide: Exploring Japan on a Shoestring

A Budget Travel Guide to Japan

Japan is a beautiful country, full of exciting cultural phenomena and natural beauty. Bursting with elegance and charm, anyone and everyone should jump at the chance to explore this wonderful island. However, the cost of living is high, and many people are deterred from visiting the stunning temples and exciting cities of Japan for fear that they will spend their entire travel budget in one country.

The good news is that Japan’s expensive economy is, in part, an illusion, and it is definitely possible to travel to Japan at a cheaper rate.

Architecture in Kiyomizu-dera Temple Kyoto, Japan
Beautiful Architecture in Kiyomizu-dera Temple Kyoto, Japan

Listed below are the measures one can take to explore Japan when on a tight budget:

  1. Travel during off-peak seasons
  2. Get Cheaper Tours and Flights during Travel Expos and Online Seat Sales.
  3. For short-distance trips, board buses instead of trains because they are much cheaper.
  4. Eat at a Japanese fast food joint.
  5. Get a Grutt pass for sightseeing.
  6. Search broadly for accommodation as this gives you various choices at a lesser price. Search via Agoda
  7. Get takeaway meals from groceries and convenience stores.
  8. Shop in 100 yen shops (also try Daiso and Don Quixote)

And there you have it, 8 simple tips to make traveling to Japan more affordable.

Japan Budget Travel Guide: How to get to Japan?

Traveling to and from Japan is an expense that can’t be avoided; the best flight deals can be found on, so check out the Skyscanner website before booking a trip. Budget airlines often list low-cost flights that include a stopover.

If you are coming from Europe, North America, or South America, select a flight that stops in South East Asia, as opposed to Europe or the USA, as the costs of accommodation and travel during the stopover will be minimal.

Fushimi Inari Taisha
Fushimi Inari Taisha

If you are coming from Asia, most Asian Cities have direct flights to major cities in Japan. Cebu Pacific offers flights from the Philippines to Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, and Fukuoka. Be sure to check for current seat sales and promotions before you book your flight.

Traveling around Japan

Traveling within Japan can be exceptionally pricey. Hitchhiking is not common in Japan, especially for women, and most drivers will not pick up pedestrians. The organized hitchhiking site, ‘Blah Blah Car,’ does not operate in Japan, as locals do not choose to use the service. Train and bus travel are the only real options for travelers, and these can prove very expensive. To get the best deal for trains, arrange for the longest and dearest journeys to occur within three weeks, and purchase a three-week train ticket for approximately £100, or $150. Any intercity travel will cost a third or even half of this price.

Traveling Japan by Bus
Traveling Japan by Bus

Japanese rail services are among the best on the planet: quick, frequent, clean, and comfortable. The “national” railroad is Japan Railways, normally known as ‘JR’, a separate private rail system that gives one service.

JR West Passengers in train from Kyoto station and going to inari station
JR West Passengers in train from Kyoto station and going to inari station

The JR system covers the nation from one end to the other and provides local services around urban areas, such as Tokyo and Osaka. Notwithstanding JR services, there is a huge network of private railroads.

The Japan Rail Pass is a must for anyone planning extensive train travel within Japan. Not only will it save you a lot of money, but it will also save you from having to fish for change each time you board a train.

Shinkansen Railway Bullet Train
Shinkansen Railway Bullet Train

The Japan Rail Pass must be purchased outside Japan. It is available to foreign tourists and Japanese overseas residents.

You must first purchase an ‘exchange order’ outside Japan to get a pass at a JAL or ANA office or a major accredited travel agency. Once you arrive in Japan, you must bring this order to a JR Travel Service Centre. You’ll have to show your passport in addition to the exchange order when you validate your pass.

Tourists visiting Shinsaibashi Shopping Street in Dotonbori area of Osaka Japan
Tourists visiting Shinsaibashi Shopping Street in Dotonbori area of Osaka Japan

What Are The Advantages of Buying a Japan Rail Pass?

Obviously, saving money is the main reason to buy a Japan Rail Pass, but the advantages don’t stop there. The pass is very easy to use: it’s valid on all JR lines and covers the shinkansen (bullet train). With the pass, you don’t have to worry about buying tickets and fishing for change in your pocket/wallet each time you take a trip: you just show the pass to the attendant at the turnstiles, and you board the next available train.

How much does a Japan Rail Pass Cost?

7- day37,800 YEN18,900 YEN28,300 YEN14,150 YEN
14- day61,200 YEN30,600 YEN45,100 YEN22,550 YEN
21-day79,600 YEN39,800 YEN57,700 YEN28,850 YEN

*Prices shown are accurate as of March 2016. Prices may change depending on where you buy your Japan Rail Pass.

Domestic flights often work out cheaper than trains and bus travel, even when booked last minute. The two main providers are Blue Star and Peach, both of which offer cheap, direct domestic flights between major Japanese cities.

Osaka Train Station
Osaka Train Station also sells JR Passes (click here). Visit Klook to avail the current JR Pass Promotion for the Philippines.

Where to Stay in Japan?

Accommodation in Japan varies immensely, and budget accommodation can be found even in Tokyo. Youth hostel prices are equivalent to those in Western Europe, but check out local capsule hotels, as these can sometimes work out cheaper than a dormitory bed in a hostel. A capsule hotel is more private than a youth hostel, although the sleeping pod can trigger mild claustrophobia. ‘Airbnb’ also operates across Japan, especially in tourist cities such as Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto. Be aware that many Airbnb hosts in Japan offer a room in their private homes instead of an entire property, and travelers are essentially short-term lodgers in this situation.

Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavilion in Kyoto - Japan Budget Travel Guide
Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavilion in Kyoto – Japan Budget Travel Guide

[Click here to Search for affordable Hotels in Japan]

Budget accommodation in Japan can also serve as a cultural experience. Spending the night in a twenty-four-hour manga café is not the most comfortable experience, but it is certainly a cheap and interesting experience. Pop-Eye Manga is a chain café that can be found in most Japanese cities, offering 5-hour and 10-hour overnight packages. The sleeping arrangements vary; the cheapest option is a reclining chair in a public space. A slightly more expensive package consists of a private booth with a foamy mat floor and cushion. Be sure to wear warm clothes, as blankets are not provided.

Japanese House
Japanese House

Another option is to rent a private karaoke booth for a night. This is usually a cheap option for small groups and is not the most comfortable sleeping arrangement. Karaoke booths can be rented by the hour, and it is common for locals to sleep over, as most trains stop running at midnight.

AirBNB in Japan
AirBNB in Japan

Going to Japan might seem impossible if you think you need to stay at a Hilton, but there are tons of cheap ways to stay in Japan.

Hostels are always inexpensive and should be a familiar concept to anybody who’s traveled on the cheap before.

There are also tons of online resources to help you connect with people who want to give you a place to stay. And if you’re comfortable enough, you can look at what the homeless do in Japan.

Eat in Japan

Eating in Japan does not have to be expensive. Foreign food, for example, American or European dishes, can be expensive. Local food, however, is usually very reasonable, with a bowl of pork ramen costing approximately 600 Yen, equivalent to £3 or $5. Look for small restaurants away from tourist areas; many local restaurants will not have English menus, so researching the names of typical Japanese dishes before venturing out is worth researching. To experience an array of Japanese food, try buying snacks from the deli counter at a supermarket. Checkout assistants often offer to microwave food behind the counter and provide napkins and chopsticks.

Vending Machines In Kyoto Japan
Vending Machines In Kyoto Japan

Finally, yes, many vending machines in Japan dispense what you might call grown-up items – and we will leave most of them to your imagination.  Yet if you are into dressing up as a doctor or nurse (among other things), there is a vending machine for you too.

FamilyMart convenience store - Japan on a Shoestring
FamilyMart convenience store – Japan on a Shoestring
Marutoku Ramen in Osaka
Marutoku Ramen in Osaka

Alcohol in Japan is expensive, except for beer and lager. Finding a bar that serves wine or spirits can be a challenge, even in big cities, although Japanese rice wine, sake, is usually available in tourist areas. Travelers who enjoy getting drunk might consider pre-drinking before enjoying a night out.

Yakitori- Japan Budget Travel Guide
Yakitori- Japan Budget Travel Guide

[Click here to Search for affordable Hotels in Japan]

Volunteer exchange programs are always a good way of exploring a new country. ‘Woofing’ and ‘HelpEx’ have a lot of opportunities across Japan, while ‘Workaway’ provides a small number of work placements. These sites provide the opportunity to work roughly 25 hours per week in exchange for food and lodging. Voluntary work in Japan is often service-based, with opportunities in Guest Houses and Language Cafes being the most prevalent.

Cat Cafe in Japan
Cat Cafe in Japan

Tourist attractions in Japan range from famous temples to cat cafes and are not typically expensive outside of Tokyo. It is worth remembering that small, local temples are free to visit and are just as fascinating and beautiful as the large, famous ones. Exploring fashionable districts such as Harajuku, Tokyo, and Amerikura, Osaka, is akin to watching a street fashion parade and can be enjoyed for free. Equally, Japan’s natural wonders, magnificent mountains, beautiful beaches, and animal habitats are free for anyone to explore.

Two local tourists wearing Kimono along red wooden Tori Gate at Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, Japan.
Two local tourists wearing Kimono along red wooden Tori Gate at Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, Japan.

Japan is a wonderful place to travel; the people are kind and hospitable. The culture is both elegantly antiquated and technologically advanced, causing a striking and memorable balance that renders any trip to Japan a fantastic experience.

Cebu Pacific Manila to Nagoya Flight
Cebu Pacific Manila to Nagoya Flight

[Click here to Search for affordable Hotels in Japan]

Flights from Manila to Osaka, Japan

Cebu Pacific, the largest airline in the Philippines, flies between Manila and Osaka five times weekly, with the lowest year-round fares starting from PHP6,399. Cebu Pacific also flies from Manila to Tokyo (Narita), Nagoya, and Fukuoka, as well as from Cebu to Tokyo (Narita). Book its trademark lowest fares now through or (+632)7020888, or follow its Facebook or Twitter pages for the latest seat sales.

Care to share your own Japan Budget Travel Tips? Just post your tips and suggestions in the comments section below 🙂 

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Written by Melo Villareal

Melo Villareal is the Online Publisher of He is an Accountant by profession who left the corporate world at the age of 23 to explore his beautiful country and the rest of the world. Today, Melo works as a part-time Social Media Manager for local and international clients. His full-time work focuses on discovering interesting culture, explore different cuisines and take memorable photos from local and international destinations he's visiting.

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