If you plan on travelling to Japan for the first question most people ask is how much does it cost to go to Japan? There’s a big misconception that Japan is expensive, but I didn’t find it to be that much more expensive than other major cities I’ve visited.
There are plenty of ways to do Japan on a budget, but you’re still going to need to pay for airfare and your transportation costs. It’s better to just approach Japan with a realistic budget in mind and then make adjustments depending on your travel habits. Regardless of which country you’re from, make sure you apply for a credit card with no foreign exchange fees before you depart.
Japan budget for 2 weeks
|JR Rail Pass||$435|
|Accommodations||$1,750 ($125 per day)|
|Food||$420 ($30 per day)|
The above estimates are in US dollars for a 14-day trip. Use XE.com to see the exchange of your home currency. Since these are just estimates, there are actually a few ways to save which I’ll detail below.
The 2 most important sites you’ll use when planning a trip to Japan are; Japan Guide which covers everything you need to know about Japan and Hyperdia which details train schedules, routes, and pricing.
$800 is the average cost of airfare from the US direct to Tokyo. It’s possible to save $100-300 if you get a seat sale or you’re willing to take a stopover. Note that Tokyo has 2 major airports; Haneda which is closest to the city and Narita which is 1.5 hours outside of Tokyo. If given the choice, pick Haneda since it is located much closer, but note that many international flights only go to Narita. If you’re flying from other parts of the world, prices will either be more expensive or cheaper than my estimates.
If you’re Canadian, you may want to consider applying for one of the best travel credit cards in Canada to help offset your costs by collecting points. For example, the American Express Platinum card gives you a signup bonus of 60,000 American Express Membership Rewards points which have a minimum value of $600. There’s also the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite card that has a sign up bonus worth $250 and it comes with airport lounge access.
Japan rail pass
JR passes are essential if you plan on travelling across Japan. They allow you unlimited use of Japan Rail trains for 7, 14, or 21 days. The ordinary pass is what most travellers get, but if you want more luxury and service you can get the green pass. The prices of JR passes change depending on the exchange rate so the below prices may be off by a few dollars.
- 7 days – Ordinary $275, Green $365
- 14 days – Ordinary $435, Green $592
- 21 days – Ordinary $560, Green $770
The general rule is that the 7-day pass is only worth it if you make a return trip to Kyoto from Tokyo. For the 14 day pass, you need to go as far as Hiroshima to get your money worth. The passes can be activated at any time so if you’re in Japan for just 10 days, you could purchase a 7-day pass and activate it on day 3. If you’ll be spending your time just in Tokyo, then the pass has no real value to you. Note that JR passes must be ordered from an authorized agent BEFORE you enter Japan.
Related: Japan Rail pass – is it worth it
A JR pass won’t get you everywhere. JR mainly operates on surface lines so if you need to take the subway, you’re actually using a different operator. The good thing is that public transportation isn’t that expensive in Japan and it’s easy to pay for it by using one of the seven prepaid IC card e.g. Suica, Pasmo, ICOCA. They don’t offer you any discounts but they’re compatible with each other so you can use any of them in major areas of Japan. Many shops, vending machines and even restaurants accept IC cards as payment, making them very convenient.
It’s also worth noting that some cities offer their own transportation passes such as Kyoto where you can get to all major tourist attractions by using just the Raku bus.
Day trips – The JR Pass will get you across Japan, and IC cards are useful in major areas but when you take day trips to outer areas you’ll need to pay for the private lines to get there. Most people will use their JR pass to get them as close to the location as possible and then transfer to the private lines. Popular areas such as Hakone, Koysan, and Mt. Fuji will require extra payment but most of these areas have their own day passes which offer good value. My estimate above combines local transportation and day trips.
The estimated budget above is for the typical traveller. Hotels in Japan can be expensive, that being said, I’ve got a list of cheap hotels in Tokyo. There are also some alternative accommodations you can consider.
Hostels – Hostels are usually the cheapest option wherever you stay, but in Tokyo, prices can go as high as $50 a night. They’re a little cheaper in other cities such as Kyoto. Check out my Tokyo hostel guide for the best hostels in Tokyo.
Mid-Range Hotels – Generally speaking, you’re looking at about $125 a night for a 3-4 star hotel. You can easily save quite a bit of money on hotels in Japan by simply staying at smaller hotel chains or in areas just outside of popular districts. The transit in Japan is so good that it really doesn’t matter where you stay.
Luxury Hotels – If you’re looking for something fancier, you’ll have no problem finding name brand hotels in every major city. If you’re going to go this route, you could easily pay double if not more of the cost of a mid-range hotel.
Apartments – Japan recently introduced new laws that limit short-term rentals. Airbnb is still a popular choice, but note that owners need to be licensed to rent out their homes so beware of any listings that tell you not to talk to neighbours. A better choice would be to rent a legal apartment or a hotel that comes with a kitchenette. This option is great for groups or families who need more space. Prices can vary quite a bit so check out my guide to the best apartments in Tokyo.
Airbnb prices can range anywhere from $50-$300 a night depending on your requirements. I used Airbnb almost exclusively for my Japan trip and have found apartments in good areas for $100-150 a night. That saved me about $800 compared to the average estimated budget. One thing to note about Airbnb, Japan recently introduced laws regulating short term accommodations; I would avoid any listing that says “do not talk to neighbours” or “say you are my friend visiting.” If you haven’t used Airbnb before, use my invite and get a $45 credit towards your first stay.
Ryokans – Ryokans are popular since they can give you a traditional Japanese experience. There are different types of ryokans so prices can range from $80-$400 a night. Ryokans usually have shared washrooms and some charge per person so double check what is offered before paying.
Capsule hotels – This seems to be a novelty thing but they are still quite popular. Capsule hotels offer decent amenities, they just happen to cram everything into your capsule. A one night stay will cost you about $30-$75 per person. Note that quite often a 2-3 Star hotel may actually be cheaper than a capsule hotel. Check out my guide to the best capsule hotels in Tokyo for some inspiration.
My preferred booking site is booking.com since it lists hotels, apartments, B&B’s, vacation homes and inns. In addition, they price match and you’re not required to pay until after your stay for almost all accommodations. After five bookings, you become a member of their Genius program which gets you an extra 10% off on selected properties. If you haven’t tried booking.com, use my affiliate link now to get $25 CAD off your first stay (this applies after you complete your stay).
Food and drink
Food is relatively inexpensive in Japan, but it can also certainly add up if you’re constantly treating yourself or you’re looking to try the best food in the city. As a rough budget, consider the following costs for each meal.
- Breakfast – $5
- Lunch – $10
- Dinner – $15
Realistically speaking you could easily eat for less than I listed a day, but with fresh sushi, Kobe beef, takoyaki, okonomiyaki and so many other yummy things to eat, I prefer to have a decent food budget.
Breakfast is often included with many hotels. It’ll be a simple breakfast, but it should last you until lunch. Alternatively, bakeries sell fresh buns for less than $2 which makes a good breakfast or snack. Also keep in mind that convenience stores in Japan have decent food at really low prices. Seriously, you could get a bento box or a sandwich for less than $5. Heck, a good bowl of authentic ramen will set you back less than $10 a bowl at some of the most popular chains.
Tasting local cuisines is a life experience and it’s something you shouldn’t cheap out on. $30 a day is a good estimate, but depending on the type of traveller you are, you may spend more or less.
One other thing that I should mention is that depending on what region you’re in, there are usually local delicacies such as matcha in Kyoto and Okonomiyaki in Hiroshima.
You may want to consider picking up a portable WiFi while in Japan since it makes travelling more convenient when you have access to Google Maps live. Prices vary depending on how many days you need the WiFi for and how much data you need, but overall, prices are quite reasonable at $4.65 USD to $7.80 USD per day. Sakura Mobile offers both a SIM card and portable WiFi which allows you to have up to 15 devices connected. Their service is reliable and it’s rather convenient to pick up or have the WiFi delivered to you. Drop off is also easy. See below for the different plans and prices.
Although Japan has many free attractions, you’ll eventually have to pay for some things. Temples only charge a few hundred yen, and museums cost just a touch more, but if you decide to go see a sumo match or visit a theme park, the costs do add up fast. My estimate of $120 assumes that you’re just paying the admission to the major temples, parks, and museums.
If you plan on doing Tokyo Disney, Universal Studios in Osaka, or some of the paid observation decks in various cities, you could easily spend a few hundred dollars on attractions. To be honest, theme parks in Japan are reasonably priced compared to other theme parks around the world, but I find paying for some observation decks to be a bit expensive. Why pay $25 to go up the Tokyo Skytree when you can go up the Metropolitan building for free?
This is the one area people that people tend to underestimate or rather not budget for at all. You will shop when travelling; it could be for souvenirs, gifts for family, or things for yourself, so you might as well put some money aside. Also, most people who go to Japan will spend on random things they don’t normally spend on e.g. arcade games, Buddhist charms, karaoke. If you’re the type who likes to shop, you may want to budget a little more.
Language – Okay, this isn’t an expense, but many people wonder how much Japanese you need to speak before visiting? None really, but obviously it’s best that you learn some basic phrases just to be a polite traveller. I personally use Lingualift since I like it teaches you Japanese in a conversational way. Use my referral link to get the first lesson free and check out my review of LinguaLift to get a better feel for what they offer.
Japan can be done on the cheap, but if you’re going to travel all the way to Japan, it’s best to have a proper budget in place. The last thing you want is to miss out on experiences because you didn’t budget properly. For more tips on how to save in Japan, check out my Tokyo on a budget guide.
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