Budgeting for Japan

A small island adrift in the far easterly reaches of our globe, Japan may seem like an impossible destination. Rich as it is in its juxtaposition of tradition, culture and technical innovation, Japan is surprisingly a ‘road less travelled’ in comparison to Asia’s favourites like Thailand and Vietnam… It has a culture so unique from our own that it often means little English is written or spoken, creating massive challenges for foreigners; and with a reputation for being one of the world’s most expensive travel destinations, the Land of the Rising Sun will remain a mystery to many of us… Or so we thought…

Since the announcement that Tokyo will host the 2020 Olympic Games, Japan is opening its doors to the predicted influx of tourists; this means more competitive accommodation rates and better discounts. It is not a budget traveller’s destination by any stretch of the imagination, but a few hours of google search proved that it is possible to see Japan on a ‘structured’ budget.

Take advantage of the current favourable foreign exchange rates and help keep your expenditure down by following these tips –

Getting There –

  • If you plan well in advance and have some flexibility, good deals can be found on websites such as skyscanner.com or zuji.com. Don’t turn your nose up at flights with stopovers… OK, so you’re prolonging your journey, but a stopover can be that welcome break to stretch out those stiff legs. Finnair for example are offering return flights from London to Tokyo for £550 with a one hour stopover in Helsinki.

Accommodation –

  • Accommodation is the biggest expenditure you’re likely to incur, especially in big cities such as Tokyo. Below is a guideline of approximate daily rates to help you allocate your budget:

$15USD – Dorm bed / Shared room

$25USD – Economy Hotel (single room)

$45USD – Mid-range Hotel (single room)

$85USD – Mid-range Hotel (double room)

  • Do note that rates depend on what part of the city you’re staying in. Hostels are generally located further from the city centre but pick one that can be easily accessible by bus or train.
  • This may seem obvious but if you can travel with a friend this will half the brunt of accommodation costs. If you are travelling solo though, there are internet sites such as Air BNB that give you the option of shared rooms airbnb.com  
  • Always be on the lookout for great deals on websites such as booking.com, agoda.com or roomarama.com. With an expected figure of 10 million tourists and a growing competition amongst hotels, tourists can now reap the benefits of discounted offers.

Getting Around –

  • Now that Japan is preparing itself for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, maps and train guides are offered in both Japanese and English making it easier to travel free and independently. Add to that – English speaking travel agents at major bus / train terminals, and it makes traveling around Japan almost idiot-proof. There’s no harm in doing your homework first though – research thoroughly, print out timetables, have a clear idea of times and destinations.
  • Train travel is still an expense that will quickly drain your wallet if you don’t plan well. If you’re planning on travelling around the country extensively, purchase the Japan Rail pass – this offers unlimited rides on the Japan Railways for 1-3 weeks. Remember to purchase this in advance of your trip though as this is only available to people on a tourist visa and MUST be purchased before your arrival in to Japan. A 7 day pass for example costs $322USD or $516USD for 14 days  com
  • If rail travel is too exorbitant, opt to take the overnight bus instead of a bullet train. You’ll also be saving on the extra night’s accommodation cost.
  • The urge of jumping straight into a taxi in a comatose state after a long haul flight is no doubt a big temptation… As the world’s most expensive city for getting a cab though, this is best left for the profligate. Avoid taxis at all costs if you’re able. While traffic congestion in Tokyo will have that meter rolling on to the $300 mark, trains and buses are affordable, efficient and easy to use. The Narita Limousine bus from the airport stops at major hotels in the city and will get you in to Tokyo central within an hour. Adult fare for one way ticket is ¥3000 ($25USD).

 Food –

Japan is simply a food heaven that arguably leaves other nations in the dust. From fresh sushi, crispy tempura, udon, ramen and delicate slices of Japanese beef, sampling these national dishes are a must, budget permitting of course. However, even if you’re low on yen, there are many ways to eat inexpensively without compromising your culinary experience. Below are some suggestions to get you started –

  • Eat local food at the local noodle bars and Yatai (street stalls).
  • The basement level at major train stations and department stores are great for cheap eats and have a range of cuisines from Japanese, Italian, Chinese and Korean.
  • As a rule of thumb, follow the locals and you will generally find both lower prices and more authentic Japanese cuisine. The danger is ending up with Japanese only menus but look out for places with pictorial menus. It’s also helpful to research and remember a few food names beforehand.
  • Water is drinkable from the tap so avoid the expenditure of buying bottled drinks. Fill up before you go exploring!

What To See –

  • Last but not least opt to visit sites that don’t require entrance fees. This is Japan! There are a plethora of temples and shrines to visit as well as beautiful Japanese gardens. Refer to my Japan travel blogs for my suggested list of places to visit.
  • Take advantage of the various discounts / passes for the museums and temples. Visit http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/arrange/essential/welcome.html to apply/ claim for coupons and welcomes cards.

Do you have other tips you can add to the list? Please feel free to comment with your suggestions.

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