It took me six years to get to Japan.
I didn’t think I could afford it.
Every time I seriously looked into visiting, I would wince at the high cost of the train passes, read about how the hotels were super-expensive, and then fly to Vietnam instead. Or Taiwan. Or even the United States. Japan was simply too expensive for a budget traveller, so I decided to save it for when I was rich.
With that not happening any time soon, I decided to blow my money anyway, because I wanted to go and the gushing blog posts from travel blogger friends had convinced me it would be worth the splurge.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered that it really wasn’t that expensive.
I arrived fully expected it to be the priciest country I’ve ever been to, but I discovered it’s more on a par with Western Europe or North America, and cheaper than Australia. It was way more affordable than Namibia, where my daily expenses came to $132, and way, way, way more affordable than the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where I averaged, um, $550 a day.
Anyway! This is about Japan rather than my poor financial decisions, so let’s get started!
My 16-Day Japan Itinerary
Here’s a brief rundown of where I visited over my 16 days in the country — I think I managed to put together the perfect itinerary for first-time travellers to Japan.
Tokyo: 4 nights
Hakone: 1 night
Yudanaka: 1 night
Kanazawa: 2 nights
Takayama: 1 night
Kyoto: 3 nights
Hiroshima: 1 night
Osaka: 3 nights
What’s Included in this Post
This budget breakdown covers how much I spent on accommodation, transportation, activities, food, and whichever miscellaneous items popped up while I was in country.
I’ve not included my flights into and out of Japan because this is going to vary significantly based on where you’ll be arriving from. In case you’re interested, though, I paid $320 for a return flight from Rome to Tokyo, which I scored through browsing my favourite site for flight bargains, Secret Flying. At the moment, the site shows flights for 566 AUD return from Australia, from Switzerland for €330 return, and from New York for $450 return. Not bad!
The amounts in this guide are listed in Japanese Yen and U.S. dollars, simply because the vast majority of my readers are from the U.S. And, as always, I do not accept comps or press trips, so everything listed in this post is something I personally paid for with my own money.
And finally, these are the expenses I paid while travelling with my boyfriend. That means that accommodation prices (with the exception of the dorm bed in Hiroshima) have been halved to indicate my share.
Okay — let’s get started with my expenses.
The Cost of Accommodation in Japan
There are so many different types of accommodation in Japan! I attempted to experience as many as possible while I was in the country.
I stayed in a capsule hotel, spent a night in a ryokan, slept on a tatami mat floor, stayed in family-run guesthouses, and checked out some pretty cool hostels. Accommodation in Japan was on a par with Western European prices, and not incredibly expensive. While I did attempt to save money by staying in some cheaper places, I was also happy to splurge on extremely well-rated rooms, too.
If you’re on a tight budget, beds in a hostel dorm room will be around $15-25 a night, private double rooms in hostels and guesthouses are around $60-$80 a night, and staying in a ryokan will typically be over $120 a night, with most coming in at around $250 a night.
A note on Airbnb here: It used to be that in major Japanese cities, Airbnb was one of the cheapest options for accommodation, but several days ago, a new law was brought in that wiped out 80% of listings in the country. That’s almost 50,000 listings removed overnight! Unsurprisingly, the two Airbnb rooms I stayed in are no longer listed.
The law requires Japanese apartment owners to register their rooms with the government in order to receive permission to operate. Owners can now only rent out apartments for 180 days of the year and must keep a guest registry else they’ll face enormous fines. A large number of visitors with upcoming trips to Japan have therefore had their bookings cancelled on Airbnb (some reports say it’s as many as 30,000 bookings), leaving them without accommodation, sometimes with less than a week’s notice. It’s because of this nightmare that I recommend avoiding using Airbnb in Japan for the time being.
Tokyo: $33 per night/3,600 Yen per night
The Airbnb apartment I stayed at in Tokyo has since stopped accepting guests. As I mentioned above, I do not recommend using Airbnb in Japan, and would instead suggest looking for hotels in the Shibuya or Shinjuku districts.
Hakone: $61 per night/6,750 Yen per night
In Hakone, we opted for a private room in a lovely guesthouse, with a tatami mat floor to sleep on, and a private onsen on-site. It ended up being one of our favourite stays in Japan! The staff were lovely, and there was a restaurant/bar with fantastic pizzas. It had a cosy and chill atmosphere, with great food and wine, and lots of blankets to snuggle up with as we ate.
Yudanaka: $67 per night/7,400 Yen per night
In Yudanaka, we splurged on a stay in a cosy ryokan, which is something you have to experience at least once in Japan. With prices often reaching as high as $300 a night for the experience, I was thrilled when I stumbled across a more budget option in Yudanaka. It was run by an adorable Japanese couple, and their house came with a private onsen, return transport to the snow monkeys, and one of the most extravagant meals of my life. A kaiseki is a multi-course meal that will see you eating roughly a week’s worth of food (maybe an exaggeration) in a single night, sampling fresh, local Japanese cuisine. It was delicious, and I adored having no idea what anything was. I highly recommend the experience, although being presented with a seven course meal for breakfast had me on the verge of tears the morning after.
Kanazawa: $40 per night/¥4,450 per night
In Kanazawa, we stayed at one of the coolest hostels ever. It was clean and modern, and warm in winter, which was greatly appreciated. As a bonus, we were a 50-metre walk from some of the best ramen I had in Japan, so it’s worth staying there for that alone! I could have spent a week just in that private room. I highly recommend staying here.
Takayama: $35 per night/¥3,800 per night
In Takayama, we stayed in a small, locally-run guesthouse in the centre of town. It was fine, although nothing stood out as being amazing, aside from the price, which was pretty low for Japan. The staff were helpful, the shared bathroom situation was annoying, and the bed was a tatami mat set-up. No major complaints and I’d stay there again!
Kyoto: $35 per night/¥3,833 per night
In Kyoto, we stayed in an impossible-to-find hotel, that had no signs outside to even indicate you could stay there. I definitely loved walking up and down a hill in search of it for half an hour. Anyway! Again, nothing super special about this place. Once you’ve stayed in one tatami mat room, you’ve stayed in them all. It was in a good location for Kyoto and the bathrooms were on the nicer end of anywhere we stayed. No complaints! It’s one of the top-rated guesthouses in the city.
Hiroshima: $22 per night/¥2,450 per night
In Hiroshima, we opted for a capsule-style hostel because I didn’t want to leave the country without trying one. Fortunately, we found ourselves in a room with only two other people staying there, so our capsule room with 20-odd beds was light on snorers. The owner of this place was ridiculously lovely, and it was in walking distance of all of the attractions. Really great bathrooms, a fun common area, and a cheap price. I would have stayed another night!
Osaka: $33 per night/¥3,600 per night
The Airbnb room I stayed at in Osaka has since stopped accepting guests. As I mentioned above, I do not recommend using Airbnb in Japan, and would instead suggest looking for hotels in the Namba and Umeda neighbourhoods.
My total cost of accommodation in Japan came to an average of $37 per day.
The Cost of Transportation in Japan
When it comes to travel in Japan, your biggest expense is most likely to be a JR pass. The best way to explore this country is by train, and by buying this pass, you’ll be saving a significant amount of money on your trip.
I’ll confess I was skeptical it was a necessity like every travel blogger claims, so picked one up then made a note of the cost of every train we took in the country. It turned out that my 14-day JR pass saved me ¥19,000/$175! That’s a huge amount of money, so I’m firmly of the belief that this is an investment you’ll want to make. You can also buy a Japanese SIM card in advance through the Japanese rail pass site, which I did, and would recommend doing.
Other than the rail pass, we spent a little bit of money here and there on transportation, mostly on the metro in Tokyo and Osaka (tickets are around ¥100-¥200 for a single ride), a few local trains our pass didn’t cover, and a bus in a more rural part of the country.
A reasonably big expense was our Hakone Free Pass (spoiler: not free), although this was more of a combined transportation and activity cost. It provides you with unlimited transport around Hakone (home to Mount Fuji), and discounted entrance to the attractions in town. If you’re going to Hakone, this will save you money because it covers everything you’ll want to do there.
Here’s how my transportation costs broke down:
14-day JR Pass: $420/¥46,000
Use of the metro in Tokyo: $6/¥680
Freedom transport pass in Hakone: $36/¥4,000
Train from Nagano to Yudanaka: $11/¥1260
Bus from the snow monkeys to Nagano: $13/¥1,400
Metro in Kyoto: $2/¥210
Metro in Osaka: $7/¥780
My total cost of transportation in Japan came to a total of $495 for a two-week trip. That’s an average of $31 a day.
The Cost of Activities and Entrance Fees in Japan
Activities and entrance fees in Japan were very reasonably priced, and I never found myself outraged over the cost of anything. You’ll typically pay less than $5 to enter most temples, museums, and gardens. Here’s how I spread my cash around:
Entrance fee for the hedgehog cafe: $13/1400¥
Entrance to the Snow Monkey Park: $7/800¥
Entrance to Kenroku-en gardens in Kanazawa: $3/310¥
Entry to the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto: $3/300¥
Entry to Ryoan-ji zen garden in Kyoto: $5/500¥
Ticket for the Hiroshima Peace Memorial: $2/200¥
My total cost of activities in Japan averaged out to $2 a day.
The Cost of Food in Japan
Oh, Japanese food — I love you so freaking much. And in Japan, I ate.
The good news is that as long as you’re not going out to fancy restaurants, meals in this country can be great value. I rarely paid more than ¥1000 ($9) for a bowl of ramen, and street snacks like takoyaki were ¥500 ($4.50). We splurged on our kaiseki experience at our guesthouse in Yudanaka and paid ¥4000 ($36) for our food extravaganza. It’s a budget option compared to many other kaisekis, but still our most expensive meal. Another splurge was on sushi in Kanazawa, which I paid ¥2000 ($18) for.
Whether you’re on a budget or ready to splurge, it’s essentially impossible to eat badly in Japan. If you’re on a really tight budget, you can even get surprisingly decent food from 7-Eleven!
My total cost of food in Japan averaged out to $23.20 per day.
Miscellaneous Expenses in Japan
Insight Guides guidebook to Japan: $25
My sister bought me this guidebook as a gift before I left for Japan and at first I was like, Insight Guides? Meh. I wish she’d got me the Lonely Planet instead. Then when I opened it up and started reading, I decided Insight Guides are my new favourite guidebook company. It was so freaking useful!
What I love about Insight is that their books focus heavily on the history and culture of Japan, with big, beautiful pictures, tons of information about local customs, food, and how to travel responsibly and respectfully. I recommend picking up a copy before your trip to Japan, but not taking it to the country with you — they’re big, heavy, and low on practical information, so this is one for inspiration, planning, and education.
Luggage storage at Snow Monkey Park near Yudanaka: ¥500 ($4.50)
We had our backpacks with us when we visited the snow monkeys, so utilised the on-site storage facility while we hiked up the mountain in the snow. You can also hire snow shoes and winter gear if you’re unprepared for the climb, but I was fine in my totally impractical sneakers.
Travel insurance for 16 days in Japan: $60
If you’ve read any other posts on Never Ending Footsteps, you’ll know I’m a great believer in travelling with travel insurance. I’ve seen far too many Go Fund Me campaigns from destitute tourists that are unexpectedly stranded in a foreign country after a scooter accident/being attacked/breaking a leg with no way of getting home or paying for their healthcare. In short, if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.
Travel insurance will cover you if your flight is cancelled and you need to book a new one, if your luggage gets lost and you need to replace your belongings, if you suddenly get struck down by appendicitis and have to be hospitalised, have your camera stolen and need to buy a replacement, or discover a family member has died while you’re overseas and now you need to get home immediately. If you fall seriously ill, your insurance will cover the costs to fly you home to receive medical treatment.
I’ve used World Nomads as my travel insurance provider since 2012 and recommend using them in Japan.
How I Track My Expenses While I Travel
Every time I share my expenses, you guys always want to know how on earth I manage to keep track of so many details from my travels!
Because Never Ending Footsteps is my company, the vast majority of my travel expenses are business expenses. I therefore studiously record everything I spend everywhere I go. I take photos of every receipt I receive and use Xero accounting software to record these expenses. In cases where I can’t get a receipt, I’ll take a photo of the price list and my ticket or food, or something as evidence.
Once a week, I then sit down and spend an hour or so uploading my receipts to Xero and making note of every penny I spent in each country I visit. It makes writing these posts super easy!
How Much Does it Cost to Travel in Japan?
It’s time to tally all of my expenses to see my total travel costs!
Accommodation: $37 per day
Transportation: $31 per day
Food: $23 per day
Activities/Entrance Fees: $2 per day
Miscellaneous: $2 per day
Average amount spent in Japan: $95 a day!
I don’t know about you, but given Japan’s pricey reputation, I’m fairly impressed with the amount I spent in the country, especially as I included quite a few splurges in there.
How about you? How expensive were you expecting a trip to Japan to be?