We were scared to go to Japan. Not because of the culture, nor the language barrier, and not even the underwear vending machines. We were nervous because we heard it wasn't cheap. Budget travel is hard to do in Japan. Truth be told, it was probably the most expensive country either of us has ever traveled to.
While we were there, we knew we had to keep a budget and follow it. That's where the Trail Wallet app came in handy. We tracked all of our expenses and monitored the budget with this fun and easy app.
Check out our breakdown of our time in Japan below. Budget travel in Japan may be hard, but we were pretty happy with what we did and how much we spent. It's definitely did not break our bank.
But, before you pack your bags and book your flights, don't forget to do this... you'll thank us later.
Transportation is typically the most expensive section in any travel budget, as was the case for our travels in the Philippines. But Japan takes the cake when comes to travel expenses. Not only are the trains and metros ridiculously confusing, they are outrageously pricey.
To avoid the confusion of planning trains given our tight time frame of only 8 days, we opted for the 7-day Japan Rail (JR) pass. It is expensive, but totally worth it. It pays for itself just by doing a round trip from Kyoto to Tokyo. As a nice little bonus, we were also able to ride on the Shinkansen — Japan's famous bullet train.
We dished out another chunk of change for the 2-day Hakone Free Pass. If you are in the Hakone region, it is a must buy. It allows you to hop on and off pretty much any bus in the region, ride the cable car to see the iconic Mt. Fuji, and ride a pirate ship (a complete tourist trap, but hey, it's included in the price). The Free Pass was basically covered just by the number of buses we rode on, so it was a good buy.
Another way to save money on transportation in Japan is to look for all-day bus or metro tickets in big cities like Kyoto and Tokyo. We certainly saved some cash there.
Related: Check out our One Week Japan Itinerary
Japan can be pretty pricey when it comes to accommodation. We usually stay in hostels, but they are not all that popular here, so we thought we would try a couple other types of lodging.
This was our first time renting an apartment from AirBnB, and overall it was pretty successful. It was a bit weird living in a stranger's place, but the apartment was only two stops from Shinjuku Station in Tokyo.
The major downfall of our stay there, was the apartment did not have Wi-Fi. This forced us to do all our planning of where to go in Tokyo at the nearest Starbucks a few metro stops away. Really annoying.
We did splurge a bit on our one night stay in Hakone at Fuji-Hakone Guest House. One major reason we stayed there was so we could use the private outdoor onsen. And it was well worth it. We had a romantic night and got to sleep in a traditional ryokan style room.
Resources for Affordable Accommodation
Food was an area where we were pleasantly surprised. We found that prices were pretty comparable to Korea. We saved money by buying noodle bowls at corner marts, but we also splurged on a fresh sushi at the Tsukiji Fish Market and real ramen bowls in Tokyo — both meals among our Top Foods to Try in Japan. Overall, we kept our daily meals under $14 USD per person.
Japan has it all — a tremendous history, iconic nature, and unbelievable entertainment. This category of our budget included various temple admission fees, snow monkey park entrance, sushi making class in Kyoto, and the infamous robot restaurant.
If you know us, then this portion of the budget is typically on par with entertainment when it comes to cost. However, we knew that Japan is expensive and we wouldn't be finding rum for $2 like we did in the Philippines, so we decided to keep this category minimal.
We did, however, have to try sake while in Japan and filled up on a bit of liquid courage before stepping foot in the robot restaurant.
We purchased some beautiful souvenirs in Japan, such as a ceramic sake bottle and a handmade fan. You can find these souvenir shops all over the cities, but we like the ones in Kyoto the best.
Grand Total for our Budget Travel in Japan
Overall, our trip was quite expensive, but we both agree it was well worth the money. We were able to see so much in a short amount of time. And although we spent more in in one week here than we did on our 15-day trip to the Philippines, we certainly could have done much worse!