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!
Hanamaru Sushi, lunch set, Sapporo Japan
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.
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
Kourakuen – If slurptastic miso ramen for less than 5 bucks is your thing…
Hamazushi – Fresh sushi starting at 100 yen per plate
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 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? Lemme show you!
Hello 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
3 Coins (Under 300 yen hence the name. The next level up!)
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
Come for new years lucky bags
Credit: 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.
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.
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!
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 mwuhahah. But if you have some Japanese abilities, you can go hunt them down yourself on the internet.
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.
Credit: 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.
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 milk shake 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 you 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 by your biggest expense (Or will it?). Here are my tips for finding lodging like a pro.
Airbnb 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!
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
Capsule hotels in Osaka
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!
Grids Tokyo Nihombashi East Hostel&Hotel. Starting at $34 per night. Sexy ain’t it? (Credit: Booking.com)
Guesthouses in Tokyo
Guesthouses in Osaka
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!
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! Now go out there and make me proud!
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