Japan is an incredible travel destination with a remarkable history, a bounty of immersive cultural experiences, bustling metropolitan nightlife and breathtaking natural attractions. It’s also one of the most expensive travel destinations in the world. So before you plan your trip, you’ll want to be sure that you’ve taken steps to save money at every opportunity.
You may not be able to see Japan on the cheap, but there are plenty of savvy ways to make it more affordable.
If this is your first time leaving the country since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, you’ll want to make sure you’re completely up to date on any travel regulations or restrictions. This is especially true as you travel to the Asian continent, where many public safety rules and practices may be different than what you’re accustomed to in the U.S. With this in mind, we strongly advise checking out these 10 Ways the Pandemic Has Changed Travel.
Otherwise, read on and find out how you can save money on your trip to Japan.
1. Travel Off Season
Japan is actually an amazing destination any time of year. However, from about late March to early May, Japan’s world-famous Cherry Blossoms are in bloom. Japan Travel notes that “the country’s iconic sakura (cherry blossoms) capture the attention of visitors and locals as their beautiful flowers blanket the country in soft pink splendor.”
The entire nation of Japan celebrates this time of year with a Cherry Blossom Festival, marked by food vendors, live performances, and public events. This is, of course, the opportunity for a wonderful experience, but you will be sharing that experience with throngs of other visitors. As a consequence, you’ll also pay more for lodging and flights to just about anywhere in Japan.
If you feel you must see Japan during this highly desirable time of year, be prepared to pay for it. And anticipate crowds. Otherwise, you would likely save money by visiting at any other point in the year.
2. Create a Budget
Know what things cost and what you’re prepared to spend. No matter how you slice it, Japan is expensive. Make sure you have your expenses and finances outlined in advance. Interac Network advises “If you’re visiting Japan for a few weeks, split your budget up into the number of days you will be in the country for. Allocate enough money each day for food, travel and accommodation, plus a bit extra for daily outings or attractions.”
The more organized you are about your daily or weekly budget, the better prepared you’ll be to handle some of the more expensive attractions and experiences on your bucket list.
3. Eat Cheap
While Japan has a reputation for being expensive, food is one thing you can actually enjoy on a budget. In fact, Japan is famous for its many innovative ways of delivering food quickly and efficiently. This also means that there are countless unique ways to enjoy food for a fairly reasonable price.
According to Interac Network, “Japan boasts a huge selection of small restaurants, vending machine cafes and street food stalls. Tokyo in particular is known for its eclectic mix of vending machine restaurants, which keep costs down by eliminating the need for waiters.”
Be open minded about how and where you eat during your travels. You’ll save money and you’ll likely also have a couple of entirely unique and memorable dining experiences.
4. Do the Math Before You Get a JR Pass
The Japan Rail Pass, or JR Pass, can be a valuable commodity, but it depends entirely on how you plan to see the country. The JR Pass may or may not be your best option for saving money on travel throughout your trip. It hinges on where you plan to go and how much domestic travel you’ll plan to do.
According to The Wandering Quinn, “if you plan to visit multiple cities and places in a short amount of time you do need one…The best way to save money on transport in Japan is to purchase a JR Pass, even if they are expensive initially. To ensure that you save money on the JR Pass and save money in Japan you have to be clever in how you use it.”
The travel site notes that you can get a JR Psss for 7 Days, 14 Days or 21 Days. If you will be bouncing around the country during your stay, plan your route strategically, and only get the pass package for the period that you most need it. If you can frontoad your movement to just 7 days over a two or three week stay, for instance, you may be able to save a lot of money by getting the 7-day pass instead of a 14-day package..
That said, the JR Pass can be a costly initial expense. If you only plan on hitting a few major locations during your stay in Japan, there may be several more cost effective ways to travel, including Japan’s “slow trains” and buses.
5. Take the Night Bus
Speaking of buses, if you don’t mind an overnight trek, night buses are a popular and affordable way to go. You can cover longer travel distances over land and at a much lower rate than you would on Japan’s rail system. According to Offbeat Escapades, “It is often cheaper than a local flight or a bullet train and you avoid transiting to and from the airport, which can take hours alone.”
Not only that, but you can consider that journey a night of lodging as well!
6. Take Domestic Flights
Of course, there is only so much ground you can cover by bus. That’s because Japan is actually composed of four main islands and thousands of smaller islands. The distances between major cities and top attractions can be pretty significant, and many are separated by water. Fortunately, there are strategic ways to plan domestic flights to save money.
You simply need to compare costs and target more affordable airports. Offbeat Escapades says, for instance, that “flying into Osaka (KIX) airport is cheaper than the Narita Airport of Tokyo (NRT). It’s definitely one of the best ways to save money while traveling in Japan!”
Be savvy about flying in and out of secondary airports. You could save a couple hundred dollars every time you hop on an airplane.
7. Rent a Bike
Staying local for a day or two? In that case, all you really need to get around are two wheels. Try renting a bike and seeing Tokyo or Osaka at your own speed. According to Tsunagu Japan , “If you’re going to move within a radius of about 5 km in one day, then maybe renting a bicycle would be a good idea. Lately within the big cities, especially Tokyo, bike rental services have been increasing, so if you’re interested, you should definitely look into them.”
Not only is this a more affordable way to get around, but it can be an immersive way to experience the life and culture surrounding you. Move swiftly through the city and stop at your own pace to take in the sights, sounds, and smells.
8. Consider Pod Hotels for Quick Overnights
Just passing through a location for a day or two? The Pod Hotel is a distinctly Japanese innovation that can make for an easy, hassle-free and relatively affordable way to lodge for a single night. According to Wanderlusting K. “Pod hotels in Japan are primarily used by businessmen and businesswomen who work late or go out with colleagues and instead of going home, they stay over at a pod hotel until they can get home the next morning. For this reason, pod hotels are very clean, but they’re also very quiet and professional.”
We wouldn’t necessarily recommend this option for the claustrophobic traveler. But it can be a great way to secure a last-minute spot just to lay your head for a few hours.
9. Stay in a Guest House
If you’re preparing for a longer stay and looking for a little more space, Japan has a robust hostel sector. This is a unique way to lodge and experience Japanese travel. Tsunagu Japan says that “Guesthouses aimed towards backpackers are very reasonably priced. There are many private homes that were renovated to be stylish guesthouses. The best part about this sort of lodging for many people is that you can talk to other travelers from around the country in the shared living areas. There are many places where one night will run you 2000 yen, so it’s definitely worth a try.”
For an experience that is at once more affordable and sociable, check out a booking site like Hostelworld and shop around for an option that fits your taste, budget, and group size.
10. Get an International Travel Credit Card
If you’re planning to use a credit card in Japan, make sure you have the right one. Credit cards are not used as extensively in Japan as in the United States. According to Matcha-JP, “Credit cards can of course be used in Japan. However, the usage rate of credit cards here is low when compared to other developed nations and Western countries.”
Therefore, you will want to be armed with an appropriate amount of cash. But you should know where your credit card will apply. Moreover, you should know which cards are commonly accepted in Japan (i.e. Visa and Mastercard), and which may not be accepted everywhere (i.e. Discover and American Express). Once you know the rules, you’ll want a card that maximizes your potential for rewards on travel spending. Seek an international travel card that offers cash back or points on lodging, transportation, flights and other essential travel costs.
If you are considering a travel credit card, make sure it’s an offer that is designed for an overseas adventure. Start with a look at The Best Credit Cards for International Travel.