Travel to Japan On A Budget

Though Japan is not generally a go-to destination for budget travellers, it’s totally possible to enjoy the beautiful land of the rising sun without emptying your pockets. What you need is a solid budget plan on how and where to spend your money.

One of the best things about Japan is that there are just so many options. From eating to sleeping, there is not a single thing you want that doesn’t exist! It’s a one-of-a-kind destination where even a vending machine has a menu just as impressive as an actual diner for half the price. 

With just a few cost-effective tuning and tweaking here and there, you can experience the Japan trip of your life to the fullest. We’re going to look at transportation, accommodation, and food, as well as some tips to save money in Japan.

Is It Possible To Do Japan On A Budget?

Japan On A Budget - CabinZero

Make the most out of your yen with these Japan on-budget tips. Photo credit: takafumihosoya

Although it’s not impossible, with a tight budget, it takes a lot more planning and self-discipline to achieve that. And it’s one of the many hard truths about budget travelling one needs to hear before embarking on their journey. The more convenient and “within reach” everything is, the more expensive your trip is going to be.  

To stay within budget, you may have to stick to cheaper options like street food, general restaurants, and convenience stores. The same goes for accommodations. The closer to a tourist attraction or town centre you are, the more costly it is.

Another thing you need to know is that touristy places get tourist prices. Some attractions in Japan have inflated tourist prices, making it difficult to stick to a budget.

So, the bottom line is you must invest a little more time planning your itinerary. You have to be resourceful and adaptable with your options. You also must stay on track with your budget plan most of the time. After all, it’s easy to get distracted in this wonderful country.

But hey, don’t feel so down. There are plenty of ways to work our way around that. Challenging yourself to be resourceful makes your Japan trip even more memorable.

Is $100 A Day Enough For Japan?

As a budget traveller with careful planning, $100 a day is enough for travelling to Japan on a budget. Some day, you will even spend less than that. You can expect to spend around $50 on food (about 3 meals a day) and maybe $15 on transportation. Depending on your preference, you can save a lot more money if you choose free or cheap attractions.

However, keep in mind that travelling is about enjoying yourself and making the most out of what you have. Not having the thought of saving money hanging on top of your head the whole trip! So, plan carefully before you go to avoid stressing yourself out at the last minute.

Japan On A Budget - CabinZero

Japan has many affordable alternatives to transportation and food. Photo by Natee Meepian - stock.adobe.com

A good tip is to ask the locals. Try asking for their advice or reading reviews of locals before booking anything. You can also try booking via a local Japanese website, they are a bit hassle to navigate, but maybe you can score a great deal.

Also, note that your first day is often the most expensive, as you might need to buy a SIM card and other necessities. So, expect to spend a little more money on day 1.

What Is The Cheapest Month To Travel To Japan?

The most affordable time to visit Japan is between January and February, just before Spring, the cherry blossom season. September and October are other cheap months.

  • January and February (except holidays): You can find lower prices on flights and accommodation. However, it's important to note that some businesses may be closed during this time, and the weather can be cold, especially in the northern parts of the country.
  • March (shoulder season): The period between the peak and off-seasons. The cherry blossoms start to bloom in southern Japan, but the crowds haven't arrived yet. This can be a great time to visit if you want to experience the cherry blossoms without the crowds.
  • September and October (shoulder season): The weather is usually pleasant, and the crowds are smaller than they are in the summer. You can also find good deals on flights and accommodation during this time.

Flying To Japan On A Budget

Before we get on to the sights and sounds of Japan, let’s take a look at transportation. A big part of a budget-friendly Japan itinerary relies a lot on how to get to and get around your destination.

Luckily, Japan has one of the most extensive and developed public transport systems in the world. It’s easily accessible everywhere in major cities at any time, and there are many suitable choices for your budget.

Japan On A Budget - CabinZero

Air travel in Japan on a budget is possible. Photo by fongleon356 - stock.adobe.com

Tips For Flying For Cheap

Flying can be scary, and we’re not talking about height. It’s the cost. To fly more for less money, you’ll need to have a few tricks up your sleeve.

  • Fly with low-cost airlines: There are a number of budget airlines that fly to Japan, such as Peach Aviation, Jetstar, and Spring Airlines. These airlines often have lower fares than major airlines, but keep in mind that they may also have fewer amenities, such as free checked bags and meals.
  • Book in advance: to land better deals, don’t wait until the last minute to grab your tickets. However, there can be occasional sales and last-minute deals, so it's always worth checking for those as well.
  • Be flexible with your travel dates: Flights are generally cheaper during the shoulder seasons (spring and fall) and the off-season (winter). Consider flying into a smaller airport in Japan, like Osaka or Fukuoka, which can sometimes be cheaper than flying into Tokyo.
  • Use flight comparison sites such as SkyScanner, Expedia, and Google Flights to find better deals.
  • Try travel hacking: Use credit card rewards and loyalty programs to earn discounted (sometimes free) flights, lounge access, and hotel stays.

Best Budget Airline In Japan 

Budget airlines like Peach Aviation, Zipair and Jetstar Japan have become increasingly popular with budget-conscious travellers in recent years. They are budget-friendly alternatives to the popular Japan Airlines and ANA, with much lower fares and a no-frills approach.

Here’s a little breakdown for your reference:

Airlines

Baggage

Jetstar Japan

1 x free carry-on

1 x free underseat bag

(combined weight less than 7 kg)

Peach Aviation

1 x free carry-on

1 x free underseat bag

(combined weight less than 7 kg)

Zipair

1 x free carry-on

1 x free underseat bag

(combined weight less than 7 kg)

The only downside, which we’re sure won’t be a problem for well-prepared travellers, is that these budget airlines may not offer the luxuries of traditional airlines. This means that your ticket might not cover all the amenities, such as a checked baggage allowance. You might have to purchase these amenities separately.

Pack Light And Use Coin-Operated Laundromats

 

 

To keep your trip truly within budget, one of the smartest things to do is to get away with paying for unnecessary fees like baggage. 

Most airlines, even budget ones, allow 1 free carry-on bag of a certain weight and, sometimes, 1 personal item such as a small purse or a laptop bag. Any other baggage may be subject to additional fees. With that in mind, it’s essential that you don’t exceed the allowance.

To avoid paying extra for baggage, pack light and travel with only a carry-on if you can. You’ll need to put some extra effort into packing and choosing the right backpack. 

A good carry-on backpack should be big enough for all your essentials while still remaining cabin-sized. It should also have a smart compartment layout and comfortable straps that won’t dig into your shoulders painfully. CabinZero’s cabin-sized backpack line is a great start. They fit almost all airlines’ carry-on descriptions. 

Pack enough clothes for a week and wash them regularly; then, you can explore Japan for months on end. Laundromats are not hard to find; they are available at hotels, hostels and business hotels. If not, you are likely to see one next door; there are a lot of them around Japan. Try to put “コインランドリー” in your Google Maps and search for one nearby.

Buses, Trains Or Subways In Japan For Cheaper Travel?

When planning your route, consider these factors: fares, time of day, distance, the area you’re in (countryside or big city?), and how fast you need to get there. 

These three options are relatively some of the most affordable ways to travel within a city or town in Japan without worrying about going over budget. That’s not to mention the tourist passes you can get, which allow you to travel to a lot more places for way less than a taxi or a rental car charge.

How to get around

What’s Great

What to Consider

Best For

Buses

Potentially cheaper for short distances between cities, comfortable seats

Slower than trains, can get stuck in traffic

Short intercity trips (under 200 km) on a tight budget

Subways

Cheapest within cities, frequent departures, convenient

Limited range, can be crowded during peak hours

Getting around major cities

Trains (including Shinkansen bullet trains)

Fastest option, comfortable seating, extensive network

Most expensive, especially bullet trains

Long distances (over 200 km) where speed is a priority

Japan On A Budget - CabinZero

Getting around the country doesn’t need much. Photo by f11photo - stock.adobe.com

Buses

Highway bus service is the cheapest means of transportation to get around Japan. Buses are slower than trains and subways, but they cost way less. There are night buses for longer distances. A bus ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto can cost as low as €15. Willer Express is a good place to start.

Train

The Shinkansen is a feat of engineering and the fastest way to get around the country. However, the fare is north of hundreds of euro - up there with air fare. So you should skip them for their hefty price tag, but if you can, you should experince it once to see what it’s like.

Local trains, on other hand, is more reasonable in terms of pricing. They, along with buses, are the best options for travel around the cities. However, avoid morning and afternoon rush hours as they will be jam-packed with people leaving work and school.

Subways

If you are looking for a cheap alternative to the train, something like the Tokyo Subway Day Pass is great. For just 1,500 yen (~€9), you get unlimited access to all subway stations across the city. There are many regional day passes like this if you stick to one region at a time.

Is It Cheaper To Use JR Japan Rail Pass In Japan?

The Rail Pass is undoubtedly the most well-known. It is available for 7, 14, or 21 days. Depending on your destination, you may need to travel two round trips a day or more to pay off the pass. 

However, paying for individual tickets is better, especially after a recent price hike - up to 77% for a 7-day pass. You will still get charged the same amount for a ride, but you won’t waste the amount already paid for but couldn’t get the chance to use. 

For example, a one-way ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto costs around 16,000 JPY/reserved seat. A 7-day Tokyo-Kyoto rail pass costs 50,000 JPY (ordinary cards). If you make a round trip with an individual ticket, the total is ~32,000 JPY, which is cheaper than a JRP. 

If you still want to buy a Japan Rail Pass, keep in mind that it’s only available online at https://www.jrpass.com/ and must be purchased before going to Japan.

Japan On A Budget - CabinZero

Individual tickets and Japan rail pass suit different travel needs. Photo by Richie Chan - stock.adobe.com

Find Accommodations For Japan On a Budget

After transportation, accommodation is the second aspect you need to plan strategically. Why? Because if you just aim at the lowest-priced option, you may have to sacrifice your comfort and convenience. 

Most rooms in Japan are on a smaller side (and are pricey, especially if you are in big cities like Tokyo). But the hygiene standard is very high. Expect to find age-old furniture, but things will be very clean.

Here’s a comparison of price for 1 night between a Ryokan, hostel’s dormitory, and capsule hotel for your reference (according to Booking.com listing).

Hostels

Hostels offer the cheapest option, with dorm beds starting around ¥2,000-¥4,000 per night (€12-€30). Ideal for very budget-conscious travelers who don't mind shared spaces and a social atmosphere. Many hostels offer amenities like common areas, laundry facilities, and sometimes even free breakfast.

Business Hotels

If you want to enjoy the amenities of hotel without stressing out your pocket, try “business hotels”. Business hotels typically range from ¥4,000 to ¥8,000 per night (€30 to €60) for a single room

They focus more on travelling for business purposes rather than leisure, so they are often located near business centres and airports rather touristy spots. They are more of a place for travelling business people to crash for a night. Room rates are also lower for that reason.

They may be lacking in terms of aesthetics, but you still get a private room, breakfast, and even onsen access on a budget. Budget hotel chains in Japan include Dormy Inn, Toyoko, and more.

Capsule Hotel

Capsule hotels are generally cheaper than traditional hotels, with prices ranging from ¥2,000 to ¥5,000 per night (approximately €12-€30). If you arrive at Terminal 2 of Narita airport (one of the best airports in the world), 9h hours Narita is worth a stay to recharger after a long flight, especially a red eye one.

Most capsule hotels offer shared facilities, including bathrooms, showers, and sometimes saunas or public baths. Some also provide lounge areas, vending machines, and laundry services. Remember to bring earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones to block out noise.

Ryokan and Minshuku

Japan On A Budget - CabinZero

Some Ryokan, while excellent to experience, can be quite costly for budget travellers. Photo by Paolo Marzio - stock.adobe.com

If you’re looking to stay in a Ryokan for your Japan on-budget trip, the answer is that they’re not cheaper than regular hotels. They are typically in the same price range. Some high-end options can be as expensive as big chain hotels, sometimes more. 

However, since budget travel is booming, many more affordable options are popping up. If you want to stay in a Ryokan and stick to your budget, consider:

  • Ryokan with fewer amenities such as meals or a private hot spring.
  • Ryokan with shared facilities like a dining room and bathroom.
  • Ryokan far away from city centre or attractions.

Manga Cafés and Internet Cafés

These are opens 24/7 and range from ¥200 to ¥600 per hour. However, most require a one-time membership fee (around ¥100-¥300); keep this in mind when budgeting. That said, we only recommend these places for 1-2 nights (less than 6 hours each) as they are not very comfortable and quiet compared to capsule hotels or hostels.

How Much Should I Budget For Food Per Day In Japan?

If you have a tight budget, it is recommended to spend around 3,000 to 6,000 yen, with some adjustment according to your preferences and the region you’re in. Food in big cities cost more than in rural areas. Generally, unless you visit some fancy places, each meal costs around ¥500-1,500 (€3-9).

If breakfast is not included in your accommodation, you can budget for food per day like this:

  • Breakfast: 500 to 1,000 yen
  • Lunch: 800 to 1,500 yen
  • Dinner: 1,000 to 2,500 yen
  • Snacks and drinks: 500 to 1,000 yen.

What Is The Cheapest Food To Eat In Japan?

Japan On A Budget - CabinZero

Japanese cuisine offers a lot of options for budget globetrotters. Photo by Hihitetlin - stock.adobe.com

Japanese cuisine is fantastic and diverse. For Japan on budget travellers, even without the money to enjoy the kaisaki and omakase, there are plenty of options to choose from. And they are decent to boot. The cheapest food to eat in Japan can be found in:

  • Kaitenzushi (conveyor belt sushi): you can pick and choose your favourite sushi dishes which are presented on a conveyor belt. 
  • Ramen shops: the popular noodle soup dish is often served at affordable eateries.
  • Izakaya: pub-like establishment that serves small plates and drinks 
  • Fast-food chains such as Yoshinoya, Marugame, and Coco Ichibanya serve Japanese comfort food dishes, such as Gyodon (beef rice bowl).
  • Kare raisu (curry rice) shops: this warm, savoury dish is filling and inexpensive.
  • Famiresu (family restaurants): these types of restaurant serve a wide range of dishes, from traditional to Western - perfect for group travelling. 
  • Konbini (convenience stores): they have ready-to-eat options such as onigiri (rice balls), bento, sandwiches, oden (hot pot), and desserts.
  • Vending machines: can be found at every corner. They are convenient for grabbing drinks or snacks at any time of the day. 

Other Ways To Find Cheap Eat In Japan

At around 8pm, you’ll find 40-50% discounted bentos and ready-made foods at the supermarkets. It’s a great chance to stock up food for mid-night snacks or breakfast for the next day.

Some restaurants have both English and Japanese menus. The Japanese menu may have more affordable prices. Ask for the Japanese menu and use Google Lens to translate it for potential savings.

Eating at an department store may not sounds appealing, but the food kiosks at the basement of those stores may surprise you. The variety ranges from Japanese to Western.

Hunting for some fruits and vegetables is recommended. When you are travelling in Japan, most foods will have only cabbage, spinach, or boiled carrot. An apple or two may provide you the fiber you need for your digestive system.

Last but not least, try to spend a bit more from time to time. Japan is a haven for foodies, and you are robbing yourself of delish dishes if you try to budget all the time. We are not saying you should spend lavioursy on a meal, but a reasonable meal is worth it for soaking up the culture and atmosphere.

Cheap Activities And Attractions In Japan For Budget Travellers

Japan On A Budget - CabinZero

Nara Deer Park is an excellent spot for your Japan on-budget trip. Photo by Ukey - stock.adobe.com

When planning your Japan on-budget itinerary, don’t forget to estimate how much you need for visiting attractions. Some grand attractions may cost a lot, but luckily, there are plenty that are affordable and free. Before adding them to your list, consider:

  • Purchasing travel packages: travel sites often sell packages that include attraction tickets as well as flights for a discounted price.
  • Buy attraction tickets online: some sites like Klook or Rakuten offer exclusive deals for attractions.
  • Research before you visit: Some places offer early bird or student discounts. Look them up before you go so you know to book in advance or bring the necessary ID to qualify for discounts.

You can even enjoy a Japanese travel experience to the fullest without paying. There are many free attractions around Japan.

Explore Temples and Shrines

You are free to admire the architecture and peaceful atmosphere of most temples without paying a dime (Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine, Senso-ji Temple, etc.). Some temples and shrines might have inner gardens or specific buildings requiring a small admission fee (usually under ¥500/€3). They are also a good place to refill your reusable water bottle with free to use water fountains.

Visit Parks and Gardens

There are many wonderful adminssion-free options, from western to Japanese style. Ueno Zoo, Tokyo National Museum and the beautiful gardens of Ueno Park, to name just a few. Feeding and pet the lovely deer of Nara Park is one thing our team love to do.

Even for paid gardens, they are worth it and won’t break the bank. For instance, the serene Shinjuku Gyoen costs just about ¥500 (€3) for entry fee.

Japan On A Budget - CabinZero

Ueno Park - a must visit for every Japan traveller on a budget. Photo by show999 - stock.adobe.com

People-Watching on the street

Soak in the vibrance of the country by walking the bustling streets of Akihabara or Harajuku. You can also people-watch and soak up the atmosphere. While not an official attraction, Shibuya Crossing - one of the busiest intersections in the world - is a sight to behold.

Browse Bookstores and Department Stores

A trip to Loft, Tokyu Hands and Don Quijote is amazing. These stationary and departments are on another level, you’ll have to experience to understand it. And if you are a book and/or architecture lovers, there are many places that is well worth a visit such as Daikanyama T-Site.

Catch a Festival

Visit a local festival to celebrate Japanese traditions, from cherry blossoms to arts and crafts. You can go to Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO)’s website for some inspirations.

Take A Day Hike

Japan has various day hiking trails like Mount Fuji and the Japanese Alps. The vast majority of them are free to access. However, remember to budget the transportation fares and national park entrance fees.

Sing Your Heart Out In A Karaoke Room

Renting a private karaoke room is common as it is a beloved pastime in Japan. Big franchises like Karaoke Kan or Big Echo are a safe bet. You can easily find English songs, too. Expect to pay around ¥300/€1,8 per hour if you visit on weekend afternoons.

Are You Ready For Your Japan On Budget Trip?

Japan on a budget is totally possible and can be a wonderful experience, though there will be some certain challenges. 

Japan is a beautiful and vibrant country, with the perfect harmony between modernity and vintage charms. It’s easy to get distracted by all the wonderful options available. But with some careful planning, we’re sure you can bid farewell to expensive travel and say “konichiwa” to budget-friendly getaway.

If you find this article useful, don’t forget to leave us a comment or reach out to us via social media. 

Nguyen Tran Gia Khanh


3 comments


  • Sherie

    This was so informative, thank you! I have a spur if the moment graduation trip planned in June, so wasnt able to take advantage of cheaper flights, but will definitely take your advice on other things. If you do an update, tell us a bit more about the weather there.


  • Chan Kelly

    Hi, thank you so much for sharing all above information. It’s been very encouraging, insightful and informative.
    I just wish to share some observations.
    1) It appears to be more suitable for small group of budget travellers, perhaps up to 4 pax.
    2) Good to emphasise more on : Last but not least, try to spend a bit more from time to time. A thrifty friend of mine was hesitant over a JPY8,000 melon for his family but went ahead because they had travelled far. After the first bite, they spent another JPY20,000 on other fruits at the same stall. He told me he will do it again if given the chance. It was that good an experience if spending an extra JPY30,000 is not going to kill you.
    Again I thank you for the efforts to put up these much information for our benefits.
    God bless.


  • Vivian

    Although my plane ride was 15 hours from Chicago to Tokyo, the trip was well worth it!


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