Japan has a reputation of being one of the most expensive countries in the world to travel to, which may put some people off from visiting. However I would argue that it’s not as prohibitively expensive as you may think and your experience can easily be tailored to fit your budget. There are ways to cut costs and save money in Japan, that don’t take away from your enjoyment. In this post, I’d like to shed some light on exactly how much it costs to travel around Japan. I will share specific examples of what we bought and spent, along with some of the ways my boyfriend and I saved money while we were there.
When it comes to calling a country ‘expensive’ or ‘affordable’, it’s all relative. I am from London (England) and live in Hamburg (Germany). Neither of these cities are cheap to live in or visit! I did find Japan to be expensive, especially compared to other Asian countries like Vietnam and Thailand. However, in some ways, it wasn’t that dissimilar to home. For example – coffee! In Tokyo, we went to a very nice coffee shop called Blue Bottle and spent ¥1051/€8.70 on two coffees. Another nice coffee shop charged us ¥809/€6.70 for two. If we wanted a cheap caffeine fix, we’d go to the coffee chain Tully’s or grab a quick ¥144/€1.20 espresso from 7/11. On average we paid around ¥483/€4 for two coffees in most places. So, quite a range and not that different from European prices.
Disclaimer: Exchange rates are constantly fluctuating, so I have written prices in yen and euros as they were at the time.
We spent twelve nights in Japan; five in Tokyo, one in Kanazawa and six in Osaka. We knew we would be using the very efficient train network to move from city to city. We also did day trips from Osaka (by train) to Hiroshima and Kyoto. So the first thing we did, before we’d even arrived in Japan, was organize our JR train passes. These aren’t cheap but if you are going to taking lots of train journeys, they will probably save you money. You can use the JR calculator to work out exactly what you’ll save, as opposed to buying normal tickets as and when you need them. Our 7-day passes were €252 each, but our route would have cost an extra €100 per person without the passes. For example, the seven-day pass is the same price as a round-trip train ticket from Osaka to Tokyo! You can also get passes for 14 or 21 consecutive days. The JR pass is only for foreign visitors and can be used on regional trains, some local buses networks and subway systems and long distance journeys on the Shinkansen ‘bullet’ train.
If you’re visiting Tokyo, buy a 24, 48, or 72-hour Metro pass. These passes give you complete access to the Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway lines. They can be bought at Narita and Haneda airports, Nihonbashi, Ueno, Ginza and Tokyo stations and at BIC camera shops. Tokyo is ENORMOUS and we used the metro lots, so the pass definitely saved us money. A 72-hour pass is ¥1505/€12.46 per person.
In case you’re wondering, we used public transport to get from Tokyo’s Narita airport to the city centre (¥2008/€16.62 – two tickets on the airport shuttle bus) and Osaka city centre to Osaka airport (¥1962/€16.24 – two train tickets).
Food & Drink
We spent the most on our evening meals, but they were generally reasonably priced. Restaurant dinners usually ranged from ¥2778 – ¥4591 (€23 – €38) for two, sometimes including a couple of beers. Our most expensive meal was ¥14,498/€120 for a ‘sushi experience’ at Manten Sushi, which included around thirty individual pieces of sushi, including tuna, monkfish, octopus, oyster, sea urchin and much more. In case you’re wondering, there’s no tipping culture in Japan; it is not required or expected.
We spent around 50% less at lunchtime. If we were travelling by train, we got bento boxes which are basically a variety of meat, fish, rice and vegetables, separated into little compartments in cute wooden boxes. These cost between ¥1329 – ¥1570 (€11 – 13) depending on the ingredients. They’re also a great way to have some vegetables as fresh fruit and vegetables are very expensive in Japan.
When we ate lunch in restaurants, we spent between ¥1449 – ¥2053 (€12 to €17) on things like sushi, donburi, katsu curry, okonomiyaki or ramen. We didn’t drink a lot of alcohol but enjoyed two tasting flights of sake from hana SAKE bar for ¥1809/€14.98. Otherwise we just got cheap beers from the supermarket or more informal restaurants (around ¥144/€1.20). Asahi beers in restaurants were around ¥604/€5 each.
Breakfast was quick and cheap. We usually went to a convenience store, like 7/11, for a pastry or sandwich (we fell in love with Japanese egg mayo sarnies!). These stores also have set meals for ¥100 – 300 (€0.83 – 2.50). We generally spent between ¥302 – ¥604 (€2.50 – €5) on breakfast.
We enjoyed snacks from the numerous food markets, where you can get street food like meat and fish skewers for €1.20 – 2.50 each. We also bought six gyozas for ¥262/€2.17, and takoyaki (fried octopus balls) for ¥797/€6.60. I insisted we queued up for a tiny cheesecake from Pablo (¥471/€3.90 – worth it though) and we both fell in love with melon pan from Melonpan-ice America-mura; sweet brioche bread rolls, warm from the oven and filled with green tea and/or vanilla ice cream. The warmth of the bread melts the ice cream and it becomes a glorious, gooey mess (¥447 / €3.70 for two).
All of these expenses were paid on card, prior to arriving in Japan.
- €348.78 – Five nights in this Airbnb in Tokyo (We ended up cancelling this reservation and getting a partial refund because two of our friends offered to host us instead. Thanks guys!)
- €70 – One overpriced night in this hotel in Kanazawa (It was cheaper when we booked but they hit us with a tourist tax!)
- €312 – Six nights in this Airbnb in Osaka
Sightseeing costs vary; shrines and parks are usually free to enter, but you have to pay to enter the temples. We paid to see Kiyomizu-dera temple (¥803 / €6.65 for 2 tickets) an Nijo Castle (¥2062 / €17.07 for two), both in Kyoto. I love aquariums so had to visit Osaka’s (¥2295/€19 – it’s enormous and so worth it!). We spent hours in Hiroshima’s harrowing museum about the nuclear bomb and its aftermath (¥401/€3.32 for two tickets). We paid ¥645/€5.34 for two tickets to visit Kanazawa Castle Park, which looked spectacular with its autumn leaves.
There are lots of 100-yen shops in Japan, where ready meals, groceries, toiletries an household items only cost ¥100. We didn’t go crazy buying souvenirs as we don’t have much room in our backpacks, but we spent around ¥1812/€15 on fridge magnets and little quirky things like an adorable coin purse with Shiba Inu dogs on it. I also spent around ¥1208/€10 on KitKat bars with interesting flavours (rum and raisin, chestnut, matcha, crème brulee and mixed berries) and have zero regrets.
Is Japan expensive? Yes, it is. Is it worth the money? Definitely!
We can’t wait to return for a longer visit. We spent around ¥313,951/€2,600 for twelve days, including accommodation and flights (in from Taiwan, out to Vietnam). That works out as ¥26082/€216 per day, between the two of us. I’ll be nice and do some conversions; that’s £2184 (£181 per day) or $2,880 ($239 per day).
Is that what you expected or did you think Japan would be more or less expensive? If you’ve been to Japan, what did you think of the costs? If you have any saving tips, please leave them in the comments below!
Ciao for now
The Curious Sparrow