Japan is really no more expensive than travelling around Australia, USA or part of Mexico. It only gets the ‘expensive’ tag when compared to South East Asian countries such as Thailand or Vietnam. I spent two weeks backpacking Japan, generally in a budget-conscious way however with a few luxury splashes here and there. The average cost per day in Japan was $67 AUD ($50 US). This price-tag included all accommodation, food, travel, sightseeing and personal (shopping) costs during the 15 day stay. Not bad hey…
I kept track of all my expenses in Japan and are happy to share my travel budget with you, so you too can explore Japan without fear of breaking the bank! My trip covered 2 cities, 15 days, dozens of temples and shrines, miles and miles walked, busses taken, trains caught and hostels slept in. In short, my trip was this: I arrived in Tokyo and after spending a few days sightseeing I took the overnight bus to Kyoto for a week of festivities and nature walks. My final few days were spent back in Tokyo playing catch up with everything I wanted to see but had not get gotten to, then I flew back home, tired, fitter and very excited to return to Japan for a longer stint next time.
Before you look over my expenses, there are a few important things to note. The first is that I was travelling during peak season, at the height on the Japanese summer (yes it was very, very, very hot) and during school holidays. The second is that I booked my trip about 2 weeks before departing, so a few of my preferred (cheaper) accommodation options were already booked out, and flights were much more expensive. The third is that I am allergic to shellfish. What does this have to do with my travel budget? Read on to find out.
I stayed in hostel dorm rooms whilst in Japan, the only exceptions were the two overnight bus trips I took from Tokyo to Kyoto and the return trip. I chose these overnight bus trips to save money on accommodation and because I am generally good at sleeping on busses and trains so was not too concerned about loosing a nights sleep o the bus. In the end the busses were more comfortable and quieter than some of the dorm rooms I slept in! The hostels overall were quite good, some were exceptional! Others were average, but you would be hard pushed to find a really BAD hostel in Tokyo or Kyoto. The average cost of a bed in a mixed dorm room was between 2800 Yen and 3600 Yen per night in peak season, you can expect to pay a little less off season for a dorm room.
Inter-city travel $189
As I mentioned above, I chose to travel inter-city via the busses, instead of using the much more expensive, but faster J-Rail system. I took the ‘luxury’ buss option, however you can take a cheaper bus and save even more money. There are certainly pros and cons of each, however for my needs the busses were perfect. I saw many tourists blindly buying the J-Rail pass before they arrived in Japan, not even knowing that the busses were an option. They paid a HUGE amount of money for a pass that they really did not use all that much of. For more on your transport options in Japan, head over to my article ‘Tips for budget travel in Japan’ for a comparison on the Willer Bus system and the J-Rail pass. You might be surprised at just how much you can save by doing a little bit of research first.
Local transport $48
I used the J-Rail primarily in Tokyo, however certainly walked a lot more than I took the train. In Kyoto I used the busses to get to Arashiyama and the train to get to Nara, other that than, I used my very capable and free foot-power to get around the city. This amount also included the rather expensive line to and from Narita airport.
Buying fresh ingredients to cook yourself a meal is generally a cheaper way to travel than eating out all the time. This is not true in Japan. You can buy really great, fresh food in Japanese noodle bars, cafes and restaurants for low prices. Supermarkets and convenience stores also sell many varieties of cheap ready-to-eat meals, however fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and eggs are very expensive to purchase as raw ingredients. As most of the cuisine in Japan is fish or fish sauce-based, added to the fact that Japanese products do not generally carry allergen advise (and those that do are written in Japanese, of which I understand very little), I was not keen to eat these ready-made meals and risk an allergic reaction. A trip to the hospital is guaranteed vacation spoiler.
My allergy also meant that I could not take full advantage of hostels that provided breakfast for free as most included traditional rice with seaweed, nori rolls with ingredients cooked in mysterious sauces, or miso and fish soup. As such, my food expenses were much higher than those of someone who could take full advantage of all that was on offer in Japanese noodle houses and cafes. I also drank a Starbucks iced coffee everyday of my trip to make up for not being able to eat out, and so make use of the air-conditioning and wifi in Starbucks!
Yep. In 15 days across 2 major Japanese cities I spent only $16 AUD in sightseeing. That’s not to say that I did not see much, I was just smart about how I spent my sightseeing money. If you’re not careful temple hopping can make your Yen disappear before your very eyes, but with a little planning and willingness to veer off the well-worn tourist trail, you can see more, have temples and shrines all to yourself and save some dollars too! For more about temple hopping and how to have a more unique experience in Kyoto, see ‘Temple Hopping in Kyoto: hidden gems and escaping the crowds’. My sightseeing money was spent on the following:
- 550 Yen: entrance fee to the extremely special monkey park in Arashiyama
- 500 Yen: entrance fee to the Ginkakuji temple – see my story about this here
- 200: entrance fee for the beautiful and tranquil Shibuya garden – most certainly worth the fee!
Everything else I visited was free. I consciously sought out free alternatives to activities I wanted to do. For example, I walked to the “BUYINA Civic Centre’ and took in the view from their free observation deck, as well as the Tokyo Metropolitan Building’s free observation deck, in lieu of the paid observation deck at the Sky Tree. I spent days wandering in the hills of Kyoto looking for a finding hidden shrines and smaller temples, most of which are free to enter and explore, as well as being also deserted and tranquil even in the busy season of Gion Matsuri, instead of paying the entrance fees to the great halls of the main temples, and being bustled shoulder to shoulder with the masses of tourists visiting these amazing buildings. In Nara Park I opted out of paying the entre fee to visit Daibutsuden (Big Buddha Hall) which was jam packed with people and instead climbed the hill to Nigatsudo Hall which had a magnificent view, as well as being much, much, much less crowded.
There are also the small things that kept costs down, like setting out on foot most of the time, and stopping at smaller attractions along the way, instead of taking the tourist busses. I did not take any tours but did my research and lead myself of self-guided city tour itineraries. I went sightseeing every day I was in Japan, and I did not feel like I missed out on anything.
Personal and unexpected expenses $48
Because I knew that I would be cooking most of my own meals, I travelled with a compact pot and pan, as well as some plates and cutlery. I thought I was prepared. What I did not count on was the fact that technology-driven Japanese hostels would have induction stovetops, instead of gas or eclectic burners. My lightweight travel pots and pans simply did not work on their cooktops. I may as well have been carrying around two rocks with googly-eyes in my backpack. As they were the pots and pans that we use here in Australian on our travels, I did not want to get rid of them, so I had to purchase another pan and carry it along with the original set. This made my pack somewhat fuller than I had intended, but it was a necessary evil. The pan cost me 1541 Yen and lead to an interesting interpretive dance with me in Don Quiote trying to ask if the pan worked on induction stovetops (the salesgirls did not speak much English and I speak very, very little Japanese). The other unexpected purchased I made, also from the wonderland that is Don Quiote, was a pair of bike shorts to wear under my dresses for long walks in the humidity. Any girl with a penchant for wearing dresses who has tree-truck thighs like mine will tell you the horrors of walking for long durations in the tropics. The thigh rash was real people. So to conquer it I invested in a couple of pairs of bike shorts, and all was well in the world again. The shorts cost me 680 Yen and were the best investment, alongside the pan, that I have made in a long time!
The rest of my personal expenses were made up of shopping for souvenirs for myself and gifts for Anai. Overall I spent about 900 Yen on sweet treats, trinkets and whatever else caught my eye as I wandered through Harajuku and Shibuya.
All this equated to an on the ground expense of $1,002 for 15 days in Japan.
Other expenses that will differ from person to person, included:
- Flights, $1,180. This is certainly the more expensive end of what a trip from Australia to Japan could cost you. The price was so high because I booked it almost last-minute as well as flying during peak season.
- Travel insurance $105. This was via World Nomads and a very reasonable price. I never travel without health insurance.
- Long-term car parking at airport $136. Because Anai was also already In Chile and we were house-sitting in Cabarita Beach at the time, I had nowhere to leave car while I was away. Long-term car parks are a great way to have the convenience of having your own car waiting for you at the airport when you get back, as well as most of the time costing about the same as what a taxi would!
Overall, including all flights, accommodation, car-parking in Brisbane, travel and health insurance, food, sightseeing and ground transport, I spent $2,375 across 15 days exploring a country that is so spiritual, tranquil, busy, modern and generally contradictory that I can’t wait to see more of it… next time!