When you say that you’re planning a trip to Japan, you’re likely to meet with the off-putting response: ‘But isn’t it ridiculously expensive?’ It’s true that in the 1980s and ‘90s after decades of record-smashing economic growth, it was a very expensive place to travel to. However, after years of recession and supporting an ageing population, Japan’s economy isn’t nearly as strong as it once was, and exchange rates reflect this. We offer the best-value tour on the market, if you’re looking to travel through this fascinating country on a budget. Here are our money-saving tips to bear in mind when you’re planning your trip.
The most affordable way of travelling to Japan is to take a connecting flight. Turkish Airlines, Air China, Asiana Airlines and Finnair are among the best value airlines to have a look at. We recommend looking at Skyscanner to find the most competitive prices on the market. Your chances of bagging a cheap flight are also down to timing. Arrange your trip out of season and flights are likely to be much less expensive. Peak seasons in Japan run from March-April; July-August; October-November and over the new year period. September and late-May are both great times to visit and are out of season. And if you don’t mind the cold, December in Japan can also be lovely – think crisp air, blue skies and some very unfamiliar Christmas traditions!
Food and drink
There are countless delicious and super affordable options for dining out in Japan. It’s a society that thrives on convenience and many Japanese people will grab food on the go rather than preparing it at home. You’ll find that cheap, high quality food is definitely easier to come by in Japan than it is in Europe or America. Here are a few of our favourite options:
Kaiten (conveyor-belt) and iPad sushi restaurants
Conveyor-belt sushi restaurants can be found pretty much everywhere in Japanese cities. As you can choose what you want to eat from the conveyor-belt, the stress of a language barrier is eliminated and there’s no wait time for your food. That’s not to mention that prices for one plate usually start at 105yen (about £0.70 or $1.00 US). More recently, restaurants that allow customers to order from an iPad have also been introduced. Genki sushi – one such restaurant that has branches across Japan – is a great place to get a delicious, cheap and convenient meal.
Gyudon – 牛丼
All across Japan, you will find gyudon (literally: beef bowl) restaurants offering marinated strips of beef served over rice and with various accompaniments. Popular chains include Matsuya and Yoshinoya. A large gyudon at Matsuya (with free miso soup if you dine in) will set you back a mere 390yen (around £2.60/$3.70 US).
Soba – そば, udon – うどん and ramen – ラメン
Affordable noodle restaurants are another common feature of Japan’s restaurant scene. Soba (pictured) are buckwheat noodles usually served in a broth or with a broth on the side for dipping. Toppings include fried tofu, fish cake and deep-fried tempura batter. Udon are thick, wheat flour noodles served in a similar style to soba. For a heartier option, try ramen – Chinese-style wheat noodles in a meaty broth and usually served with slices of pork. One of these noodle dishes typically costs between 300 and 1000yen (£2.00-£6.70/$2.80-$9.40 USD).
Konbini – convenience stores
You can’t go to Japan without noticing the ubiquity of convenience stores – the country is home to over 50,000 of them! You will find branches of Family Mart, Seven Eleven and Lawson on practically every street of a Japanese city and they are full of cheap (and surprisingly delicious) meal options. Onigiri (rice balls) are popular and are available in a large range of fillings. Tuna mayonnaise – ツナマヨネーズ, grilled beef rib – 牛カルビ and pickled plum – 梅 are among the most common. They cost about 150yen (£1.00/$1.40 USD) and make a great substantial snack. You’ll also find sandwiches, sushi, rice crackers, crisps and a plethora of hot and cold drinks at the konbini.
There’s no better way of escaping the frenetic energy of a Japanese city than by visiting a beautifully landscaped park or garden. Some gardens have a small entrance fee (which contribute to their maintenance costs) but even these remain a low-cost activity. Here are some suggestions (if a price is not shown, entrance is free):
- Tokyo: Shinjuku Gyoen (200yen); Mukojima-Hyakkaen Garden (150yen); Yoyogi Park; Inokashira Park
- Kyoto: Murin-an Villa Gardens (410yen); Ryoan-ji Temple Garden (500yen); Maruyama Koen Park
- Osaka: Kema Sakuranomiya Park; Osaka Castle Park; Tennoji Park
- Hiroshima: Shukkeien Garden (260yen); Momijidani Park (Miyajima)
Shrines and temples
As with gardens, some Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines charge a small entrance fee, while others are free to look around. There are an endless number of these beautiful buildings all over Japan, some of them dating back over a thousand years. If you’re travelling with us, you’ll have the chance to see some of the country’s best known religious sites. If you have some free time outside of the itinerary, here are some others worth exploring:
- Tokyo: Sensoji Temple; Nezu Shrine; Tennoji Temple
- Kyoto: Heian Shrine; Ginkakuji Temple (500yen); Ryoanji Temple (500yen)
- Osaka: Shitennoji Temple; Summiyoshi Taisha Shrine (200yen)
Karaoke – カラオケ
Karaoke is a fun and affordable night out for even the least competent singers! Suites are typically rented out per half an hour, per person and the rates differ depending on whether you go during peak time (evenings and weekends). You can order drinks to your suite and some establishments even offer nomihoudai – all-you-can-drink – opt for this at your peril!
- Typical off-peak price for 30 minutes: 200yen (£1.30/$1.90 US)
- Typical peak price for 30 minutes: 500yen (£3.40/$4.70 US)