How to save money traveling in Japan
Get the most bang-for-buck out of your Japan trip
Japan can be a very expensive country to travel to. Especially when you compare it to other countries in Asia (Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia etc.). However, it doesn’t have to be. With a few tips and tricks, you can turn your Japan trip into an affordable, but still memorable experience.
1. Go late-night shopping
Japan is the king of selling marked-down food. I fondly remember going to my local supermarket just before closing hours and looking for the magical 半額 (half price) sticker. Especially convenient while traveling is that many of the items that are marked down are ready-to-eat foods including bento boxes, onigiri, and more. Go for a late-night picnic and save some serious dosh!
2. Skip the Konbini (if possible)
I know, everyone raves about Japanese convenience stores. These magical boxes of concrete with their bright fluorescent lights burning 24/7 attract people like moths with their wide choice of delicious and unique snacks. However, the reality is that this convenience comes with a price. Literally. Convenience stores carry the same items as supermarkets, but usually with a hefty premium of 20% or more. Now, especially in central Tokyo it can sometimes be hard to find a supermarket, but a chain that is widely available is called My Basket. They have all items convenience stores have, but cheaper. But you should totally still check out a convenience store because they are awesome.
3. Use the magical train pass
The Japan Rail Pass is famous for offering unlimited train rides across all of Japan, including the high-speed Shinkansen bullet train, for 7, 14, or 21 days. However, same as with the convenience stores, this comes with a nice price tag. Starting at 44,000 Yen (around $400) for one week, this can eat quite the hole into any travel budget.
But only a few foreigners seem to know about the alternative: a rail pass that costs just 12,000 Yen and allows for 5 days of (non-consecutive) unlimited travel of your choice (as opposed to the rail pass wich only allows for consecutive travel days from the date of activation). I’m talking about the Youth 18 Ticket. But, there is a catch; unlike the Rail Pass, with this ticket, you can only use local trains. This means that journeys that usually take 3–4 hours, can become 13 hours of train rides with multiple transfers. Still, if you have the time, this is one of the best ways to save on transportation.
4. Take the bus
While trains might be the preferred way for long-distance travel for their speed and convenience, but if you want to save money, it might be better to opt to go by bus instead. Willer Express is a company offering many popular bus routes across Japan (e.g. Tokyo, Osaka, Sendai, Fukuoka). Even better: they also have a pass available. The 5-day pass for example costs around 13,000 Yen and offers five (non-consecutive) days of unlimited bus travel on all Willer Express buses across Japan within a 2-month period. Not only can you save on transportation this way, but also on accommodation if you take night buses and sleep while traveling in between cities.
On the last point of transportation, instead of spending money on trains or buses, you can also just do what humans have been doing for 1000s of years: walk. Japanese cities are very walkable, especially in Tokyo where many sights and attractions are within walking distance from each other. And, even better, while walking around randomly, you can find places you never knew existed before.
6. Go for hostels (or capsule hotels)
Besides food and transportation, your most expensive point of spending in Japan will most likely be accommodation. While Japan already has a great choice of relatively affordable hotels (thanks to many business hotels such as the APA chain being available), you can save even more money by staying in hostels and guest houses. These usually feature shared rooms of anywhere between 4 and 10 beds (or even more) as well as shared facilities (toilet/bathroom/kitchen). With hostels and guest houses, one of the main selling points (besides their price) is also the ability to socialize with other travelers from abroad and Japan. If you want a bit more privacy but still want to save some Yen, then you could consider a capsule hotel. Here, you will get your own pod/capsule with a bed and maybe a TV to sleep in while facilities are still shared. Even so, sleeping in a capsule hotel is something definitely you should try at least once.
7. Cut the tax
While the consumption tax in Japan is relatively low (currently at 10%), you can actually completely avoid it on many purchases. Many stores will offer tax-free shopping for visitors, where you can get back 10% of your purchase price. Some stores will have a minimum purchase amount (e.g. Uniqlo at 5000 Yen), but if you are looking to buy electronics (see next point), then 10% off can be a nice amount saved.
8. Finance your trip with reselling
Okay, now this might be a bit extreme, but you could actually finance your entire Japan trip, just by buying things there and re-selling them back home. Things like anime goods, video games, and electronics are usually much cheaper in Japan (especially with a weak yen and tax-free shopping), so bringing them back home to re-sell locally can oftentimes net you a nice profit. Just be aware that certain electronic items such as cameras might only have Japanese as a language available.
I hope that these tips will help you save money on your next Japan trip, and feel free to check out more articles for first-time travelers in Japan, such as a one-week itinerary or the best place to stay in Tokyo.