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Japan on a Budget – An Insider’s Guide to Saving Like a Boss

by Viola
japan on a budget

Want to know how you can enjoy Japan on a budget? Well you’ve hit gold! Your friendly insider, AKA yours truly, is here today to dish all the best secrets! I want to crack the myth that “Japan is expensive” and teach you all the tricks I’ve gathered in my two years living in Japan. So if you are ready, pop open a Japanese beer and read on!

In case you don’t know me yet, I am a Canadian girl currently living in Japan. An English teacher by day, and hot spring hunter by night, I hustle to bring you all the juicy tips for traveling Asia and the world with grace and style. Learn about me and The Blessing Bucket blog here

 

Oh! Before I forget, if it’s your first time traveling in Japan, I recommend these helpful articles:

Japan Travel Guide book suggestions by Anne from Pretraveller

Blogger’s Favourite Spots in Japan by Aireona from Nightborn Travel

 

Japan on a budget – Food

Who is coming to Japan because of Japanese food? *duh isn’t everyone? Which is why I decided to start with this category. Gimme sushi!

what to eat in sapporoHanamaru Sushi, lunch set, Sapporo Japan

 

Look for the lunch set menu

Many restaurants offer lunch sets that are amazing value for cheap prices. All you got to do is get to the restaurant during the “lunch period” and you won’t be sorry. Lunch period varies from restaurant to restaurant, but typically it goes from 11:00 to 14:00/15:00 ish.

Exhibit A: I got the lunch set above with 10 scrumptious sushi, clam soup and steamed egg from a popular restaurant in Sapporo. It costed 1,160 yen. That’s 12 bucks for one of the best sushi I’ve ever had! If you go at dinner time, this set is guaranteed to be double the price.

 

You may also like:  What to eat in Sapporo, Japan – Foodies Guide

 

Get in on the “tabehoudai” and “nomihoudai”

Ok I’m about the teach you some very important Japanese kanji, so remember them ok?

食べ放題 (tabehoudai): All-you-can-eat

飲み放題 (nomihoudai): All-you-can-drink

食べ飲み放題 (tabenomihoudai): All-you-can-eat-AND-drink

If you really want to eat to your hearts content without burning your wallet, look for these kanji down the street while you are dinner hunting. There are amazing all-you-can-drink/eat deals you can find. One of my favorite restaurants near where I live is called ゆず庵. It’s a restaurant that offers all-you-can-eat Japanese hot pot, with sushi, side dishes, desserts and more, starting at 2,680 yen. I’m talking high quality meat, fresh vegetables, and fricken good caramel pudding!

 

If you have little clue about Japanese food, feast your eyes on Vicki’s post Top 10 Popular Food in Japan

 

Eat at one of the budget chains

Japan being Japan, even their “budget fast food” restaurants are damn good, and quite often healthy. Not to mention, these places usually have English service when you order!

My favorite budget chains

Traditional Japanese meals:

Yoshinoya – Beef bowl recommended 

Sukiya – Another awesome beef bowl spot 

Matsuya – Delicious curry

Ramen:

Kourakuen – If slurptastic miso ramen for less than 5 bucks is your thing… 

Sushi:

Hamazushi – Fresh sushi starting at 100 yen per plate 

japan on a budget

Beef egg and rice bowl with miso soup, 300 yen at Matsuya (My frequent breakfast)

 

Hunt for night sales at supermarkets

People might have told you to buy food from convenient stores, but I’mma go one step further and show you a whole new world! It’s called supermarket night sales! Find your nearest supermarket and pay them a visit when they are almost at closing time. Check out their premade food section. You can find food on sale from colorful bento boxes, to sashimi, to vegetable salads. Just look for little stickers that usually says~円引” which means “~ yen discounted”. Things are often slashed down to half the price! 

 

japan rail pass

 

Japan on a Budget – Shopping

Japan is shopping heaven. When my relatives came to visit from China, they wanted to buy everything from little kawaii stickers, to facial massagers, to Japanese toilet seats! Gosh grandma, don’t embarrass me pleaseee. So how can you get the best deals? Let me show you.

japan on a budgetHello Kitty goods in Tokyo

 

Buy at 100 yen shops

Like dollar stores in North America but soooo much better selection and quality. You’d be surprised at the awesome things you can get in these shops. I am especially a sucker for the adorable stationeries. Once I go in a 100 yen shop, I can be in there for an hour.

My favorite 100 yen shops

Daiso 

Seria 

3 Coins (Under 300 yen hence the name. The next level up!)

 

You may also like:  Why Japan Is The Best Country To Work And Live Abroad

 

Go thrift at a second hand shop

For clothes shopping, there are several famous second hand shops where you can get awesome pieces for cheap. Uniqlo is not unique people! Everyone shops there *yawn. Want a one of a kind look? Check out some of these shops below.

My favorite second hand shops

2nd Steet

Bookoff

 

Come for new years lucky bags

japan on a budgetCredit: Danny Chou

New years is the biggest shopping time during the year in Japan. At this time, many stores will offer what is called “Lucky bags” (fukubukuro). These bags are filled up with lots of goodies from the store and sold for a crazy discounted price. I mean, you can get $100 worth of stuff for $20! You traditionally wouldn’t know what’s inside these bags, but some stores are starting to do transparent bags so you can see. The stuff are usually good though. I have heard rumours that somebody got a Macbook in their luck bag from Apples…No confirmed source so I take these words on the street with a grain of salt.

 

Get special foreigner discounts

Unfortunately, I no longer qualify as a foreigner in Japan *Shakes fist. However, I have helped my relatives plenty with this when they came to visit me. Many big stores for makeup, electronics, and even food, offer special discounts for foreigners. Listen to the announcements over the PA, which is often in different languages. They might tell you to download the store app, or visit the website, where you can get a coupon code or some other sweet deals.

Psst An electronic store that offers a discount like this is Yamada Denki. All you got to do is register here and get a coupon sent to your email.

 

Don’t forget your tax free perks!

Did you know that you are exempt from taxes as a foreigner? In Japan, as long as you show your passport, you can skip paying taxes right in the shop! You’d deserve a smack in the head if you don’t take advantage of this!

Note: You sometimes need to spend over a certain amount to be exempt. Ie. 5000 yen.

For ideas on the best things to buy in Japan, check out this post by Lindsay from Carpediem Our Way.

 

You may also like:  27 Smart Ways to Travel for Cheap (or Free)!

 

Japan on a Budget – Activities

It’s time for fun! Japan can be overwhelming with the amount of stuff you can do. But what are the activities for the cheapos? Read to find out.

japan on a budget

 

Enjoy beautiful parks

It goes without saying that Japan has some stunning sceneries, from cherry blossoms in Spring, to colorful foliage in Autumn, there are sights that’d take your breath away every season. I can almost guarantee that any simple stroll through a city park will land you some Instagram worthy gems!

 

You may also like:  Everything you need to know about Cherry Blossom Season In Japan

 

Visit a shrine

Going to shrines is a big part of traditional Japan culture. The smell of incense and stillness of a shrine’s surrounding are so calming. If you want to make a prayer, you can toss your spare change. Can 100 yen grant me the new iPhone I wished for? Who knows but I’d give it a shot…

 

Join a free walking tour

If you like guided experiences, there are many FREE walking tours that you can join throughout cities in Japan. They are sometimes hosted by students who want to practice their English or just volunteers from tourism companies. Check out this list of free walking tours in Tokyo!

 

Sing Karaoke during cheap hours

A quintessential experience in Japan is singing your heart out at Karaoke! There are special deals like “Womens Nights” or “Mens Nights” where Karaoke is free if you just buy a drink. (This usually happens on a week night). Also, some Karaoke shops give you a discount if you sign up to be a member. You may never visit their store again, but hey they don’t know that!

 

Search up “”外国人モニターツアー”

What does this mean? It basically means “foreigner volunteers”. In a lot of less well-known cities that are trying to develop their tourism sector (so don’t count on Tokyo), they sometimes look for tourists that are down to try some of their experiences for free, in exchange for some feedback and suggestions.

I live in Sendai, the biggest city in the Tohoku region of Japan, yet still not well-known for foreigner tourists. I have gone to some fancy hot spring hotels, got to soak in their hot springs and eat lunch for free, and all I had to do was give the hotel staff some feedback on their English! I also recently got paid 5000 yen to try out a soba noodles making experience. I GOT PAID TO EAT AND CRITIC! You hate me now sorry…

Some photos of me hard at “work”. What did I think about the hot spring? Did I like making noodles hmm..

Mind you, it is easier to get offered these opportunities if you have insider connections like me. 😛 But if you have some Japanese abilities, you can go hunt them down yourself on the internet.

 

You may also like:  Awesome Things to do in Sendai Japan – The Ultimate List

 

Japan on a Budget – Transportation

Want to trot all over Japan? There are many ways to do so. From trains, to buses, to planes, these are my favorite budget tools.

japan on a budgetCredit: JR Rail Pass

 

Take advantage of the JR rail pass

Another perk I don’t get because I am not a tourist here *cry. When my family came to Japan, I got them the Japan 7 Day Rail Pass and they were able to enjoy unlimited rides on the high speed shinkansen trains and JR trains around Tokyo and Sendai. They used the passes to death and got 2.5x the money worth. Meanwhile, I had to pay regular tickets every time with my shoulders slumped in envy. It’s not fair! Please take advantage of the JR rail pass for me you guys.

 

japan jr pass 

Save major bucks with night buses

Shinkansen is the best way to travel around Japan IMO since the JR rail pass makes it so worth it. But if you got time on your hands and REALLY want to save money, you can travel cheaply with night buses. My favorite company is Willer Express. You can get from Tokyo to Osaka for 4,320 yen! Their seats are comfortable, with little hoods for you to nap in peace. Get the last row seats for extra room!

 

Fly with Vanilla/Peach Air

For longer distance travel, check out two of Japan’s beloved budget airlines: Vanilla and Peach. I know right, sounds like a delicious milkshake to me. For the real A+ students, sign up for the airlines’ email newsletters. They often send out flash deals! Fly from Tokyo to Sapporo for 4,500 yen? Yes please!

 

Buy city day passes

For daily transportation within cities, check out the available day passes. If your itinerary requires a lot of travel between sites, it might be worth it to go for an all-you-can-ride ticket for the day. You can purchase these tickets at the machines or booths with staffs. A word of warning though that in cities like Tokyo, an all-you-can-ride subway ticket will not cover JR trains, though they look similar. For JR trains, again consider the JR Rail Pass.

 

Japan on a Budget – Accommodation

Of course, I cannot talk about Japan on a budget without addressing accommodation, what will likely be your biggest expense (Or will it?). Here are my tips for finding lodging like a pro.

japan on a budgetAirbnb in Shinjuku. An entire apartment for 6 people cost $22! Bonkers! (Credit: Airbnb)

 

Live like a boss in Airbnbs

Airbnb is pretty much my go to these days for finding awesome accommodations, not only in Japan but in all countries. You can find clean modern apartments, traditional Japanese rooms, shared hostel vibe housing and everything in between, for a fraction of hotel prices. Whether you are traveling alone, as a couple, or in a group, there is something for you on Airbnb.

If it’s your first time on Airbnb, use my link here to receive $35 off your first booking! Score!

*Important: Look for a Licence number in the listing that indicates the apartment is properly registered and in compliance with Japan laws. Like this listing for example.  

 

Try a capsule hotel

If you are looking at a really short stay, a capsule hotel is a very unique option in Japan. These are little pod-like rooms that are quite basic. There is just enough room for a person to crawl inside, lie down or sit up. There is typically just a light and power outlet, although I have been inside one with a TV! If you are not claustrophobic, a capsule hotel is a fun and affordable option! I actually quite enjoy enclosed spaces like these pods. It feels cozy like a little nook in the wall. Am I weird? Tell me if it’s not just me in the comments.

Capsule hotels in Tokyo

Hotel Owl

ENAKA Asakusa Central Hostel

Oak Hostel Cabin 

Capsule hotels in Osaka

Capsule Hostel Astil Dotonbori

B&S Eco Cube Shinsaibashi

 

Check out a guesthouse

If you love meeting other travelers in hostels, a guesthouse might be a good choice. These are sometimes private homes that have been renovated to accommodate guests. The dormitory style is sort of like a hostel but much more fashionable. You can feel right at home with cooking your own meals and spend the money you saved on doing activities yahoo!

japan on a budgetGrids Tokyo Nihombashi East Hostel&Hotel. Starting at $34 per night. Sexy ain’t it? (Credit: Booking.com)

Guesthouses in Tokyo

Hostel East57 Asakusabashi

Japanize Guest Houuse & Bar

Grids Tokyo Nihombashi East Hostel&Hotel

Guesthouses in Osaka

Gate 80

Senba Hostel

 

Japan on a Budget – General tips

Last useful tip: Bring CASH! – Cash is the way to go in Japan. Many places do not accept credit cards. And withdrawing at convenience store ATMs will charge you double transaction fees: a fee from the Japanese ATM and a fee from your home bank for foreign transaction. You’d be shaking the machine and crying. Come to Japan with money already exchanged!

 

You may also like:  27 Smart Ways to Travel for Cheap (or Free)!

 

Going to Japan soon? Plan your trip in 4 easy steps

Book A Flight: Find the cheapest flights on Skyscanner, my go-to search engine. 
Find A Hotel: Score affordable accommodation on Booking.comReceive $16 off your first booking with my link here
Buy insurance: You never know what may happen on the road. Protect your trip & gear with World Nomad, the best travel insurance company ever. Get a quote here.

Read up on the best advice: Love a good old fashion guide book. Suggested reading: Lonely Planet: Japan Travel Guide

 

Comparing to a lot of other expensive countries that I’ve been to (Australia I’m looking at you), Japan is not so bad at all. And now that you are equipped with all my tips, you can be Queens and Kings of traveling Japan on a budget. If you want more Japan travel inspiration, make sure to check out my Japan Instagram Story Highlights.

Bon voyage!

 

 

 

*This post contains affiliate links. Which means at no extra cost to you, I may earn a commission for purchases made. *

 

Travel for cheap or free resources

 

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14 comments

Josy A March 3, 2018 - 12:10 am

These are all brilliant tips. I lived in japan as a student (and then again as a JET) so I have used almost all of these to save money! I even stayed at an internet cafe (one of the ones with the private booths/showers) to save money a couple of times. Accommodation for less than 2000Y is a bargain! 😉

It’s good to hear things didn’t change too much!!

Reply
Viola March 3, 2018 - 1:14 pm

Oh wow! I’m a current JET! So excited to hear that Josy! I have yet to stay in an internet cafe. I want to try it out sometime haha. Can’t believe the one you stayed at had private showers though! That’s very fancy :O

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Kristi March 3, 2018 - 12:44 am

Thanks for this article! I am leaving for Japan in 10 days! Sooo excited. These tips will come in handy. Checking out our other Japan posts too!

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Annemarie March 3, 2018 - 2:15 am

I second sukiya. I love this chain. And I really need to keep an eye open for all-you-can-eat buffets now. Sounds like a great deal.

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Louise March 3, 2018 - 6:55 am

Oh, this is so helpful! Pinning this for our next trip to Japan 🙂

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Delphine March 3, 2018 - 7:50 am

Japan is on my bucket list… I think if I could just go to the store where they sell the Hello Kitty stationary, I’d be happy! A bit sad I know but I absolutely adored that stuff as a little girl!

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Viola March 3, 2018 - 1:13 pm

I love Hello Kitty too Delphine haha it’s not sad at all! 😀 Japan will be heaven when you do come I’m sure. There are many Hello Kitty shops in Tokyo.

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Nicky March 3, 2018 - 10:13 am

These are brilliant tips!! I sooo want to visit Japan, and I’ll definitely be keeping these handy (so useful that you’ve included the kanji to look out for!). I’ve also always quite wanted to stay in a capsule hotel, so good to know that they fit into my budget plans! 😀

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Viola March 3, 2018 - 1:12 pm

Thank you Nicky! Just some of the most important kanji in my Japanese vocabulary haha. Yes definitely give capsule hotels a try! Not everyone loves them but I do 🙂

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leanne March 3, 2018 - 11:22 am

Great article especially as japan is notriously pricey! Its somewheree id definitely like to see soon! Id like to try a capsule hotel but i am slightly claustophobic. hmmmm

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Viola March 3, 2018 - 1:10 pm

Haha a capsule hotel is a bucket list experience in Japan I’d say. Some of them are quite pricey but some of them are very affordable!

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Nicky March 3, 2018 - 1:25 pm

Awesome post filled with loads of super helpful tips. The nose on that bullet train is impressive 😉 Thanks for sharing

Reply
Trudy March 5, 2018 - 2:11 am

Hello, Viola! I am so happy that I found your blog today. My dream is to go to Japan and visit as many cities as possible on a budget. And you’ve given me hope that the kind of trip I want to accomplish can be done!

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Viola March 5, 2018 - 2:13 am

Hi Trudy! I’m so glad to be of help! Japan is definitely doable on a budget. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me!

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