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5 Reasons Japan is a Budget Traveler’s Dream Destination

Forget full moon parties in Koh Phangan or rickshawing through the streets of Hanoi, there’s a new budget paradise in town.

By 5 min read 7

Gone are the days when travel to Japan was exclusive to hedge fund managers and Nintendo geeks, and with it the assumption that it’s expensive, boring and difficult to travel here. From January to September of this year, the country has welcomed more than 24 million tourists, and expects at least another 6 million more by the end of December.

As the government carries out measures to make Japan more accessible to international travelers, we’re seeing transport get cheaper, hearing more foreign languages being spoken, watching new facilities being built and cheering as visa restrictions are relaxed.

What does this mean for thrifty travelers seeking the best in budget adventure? Here are five reasons why you should choose Japan for your next bargain trip.

1. The food is cheap

Japan has the highest density of restaurants in the world, amounting to nearly half a million places to find grub on the go. Best of all, it can be really cheap. From ¥100 sushi-go-round (that still tastes better than any sushi you’ll find at home) to Michelin-starred ramen for under ¥1000, it’s extremely easy to feed yourself on a budget while traveling around.

Tip: Look out for chain restaurants that are popular with your everyday salaryman. Places like Matsuya and Yoshinoya serve protein-packed gyudon (rice topped with beef) for under ¥500 while izakaya franchise Kinno-Kura has a menu where everything—including alcohol—costs just ¥270.

5 Reasons Japan is a Budget Traveler’s Dream Destination

2. There are discount passes galore

The JR Pass, which offers discount rail travel on pretty much the entire Japan Railway network is a steal from $277 for a 7-day pass. Jump on the shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Kyoto then down to Hiroshima and loop back up north to Hokkaido simply flashing your pass to the station attendants along the way. The pass also covers the monorail to/from Tokyo Haneda airport, the ferry from Hiroshima to Miyajima, local JR buses and discounts at JR-affiliated hotels.

Private rail networks across the country also offer a big range of special train pass packages that include meals, souvenirs, and other freebies to encourage tourists to visit lesser-known areas. For day trips from Tokyo, for example, the Hakone Freepass and the Misaki Maguro Pass are two of the most popular.

Don’t want to take the train? There’s now also a similar pass for planes instead. The JAL Explorer Pass offers travel on Japan Airlines domestic routes for a flat fare of ¥10,800. This often works out cheaper than taking a train or highway bus, and you can reach faraway destinations that aren’t served by these networks. Travel in bargain luxury to places like Okinawa, Kochi, Fukuoka, and Hakodate.

Tip: On top of this, a lot of major Japanese stores like Uniqlo and Bic Camera offer tax-free shopping for those with temporary visa status. Show your passport and you’ll also be able to get discounts for different activities like cultural workshops, outdoor activities, and tours with some travel agencies.

5 Reasons Japan is a Budget Traveler’s Dream Destination

3. Options for cheap accommodation are increasing

With Tokyo’s hotels reaching 83% occupancy, Japan is getting creative with its accommodation. As Airbnb’s fastest-growing market, more and more competitively-priced options are springing up across the country in the run-up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Traditional options are also getting a boost as demand rises; capsule hotels are getting more popular as a quintessential city experience; manga cafes, love hotels, and minpaku (guesthouses) are getting in on the action too, advertising on online booking platforms like Booking.com and Agoda.

Tip: Campsites in Japan tend to be dirt cheap. Popular outdoor spots in places like Toyama, Gunma, and Daisetsuzan in Hokkaido are full of low-cost sites. Or why not travel in a camper van? Even wild camping, known locally as “urban camping” (nojuku), though technically requiring the landowner’s permission, is generally acceptable as long as you choose a spot out of the way and tidy up after yourself.

5 Reasons Japan is a Budget Traveler’s Dream Destination

4. It’s safe

Japan’s well-worn reputation as one of the safest countries in the world (apparently the safest in 2014) still holds true and you’re generally much less likely to encounter scam artists, thievery or attacks than you would in other countries in Asia. Dodgy deals and tourist traps are pretty much non-existent so you generally don’t need to worry about being tricked into giving away your money at gems stores, being overcharged by taxi drivers, or getting a crappy deal for a tour or accommodation. Plus it’s always nice to see a drunk businessman adorably napping on the street using their wallet as a pillow.

Tip: If you lose something you have a very high chance of getting it back—just go to your nearest koban or police box to file a lost property claim. Read this article for what to do in an emergency in Japan.

5 Reasons Japan is a Budget Traveler’s Dream Destination

5. It’s incredibly, majestically, awesomely diverse

From Hokkaido to Okinawa, Japan soars in fragrant misty mountains through ancient cedar-forests, sweeping along roaring rivers above which mysterious temples precariously dangle. It’s neon and noise, the sound of a distant gong and the smell of incense in the rain. One minute you’re in a bullet train slicing from one city to another, the next you’re kayaking through tropical mangroves and sinking into a natural hot spring (with beer). All along the journey are super friendly people there to help you make the most of it.

Tip: The GaijinPot Travel site aims to give a comprehensive insight into travel in Japan, especially to lesser-known destinations that don’t get much love from guidebooks and other media. Right now we are selecting our Top 10 Japan Travel Destinations for 2020 and we need your vote. Hit the upvote arrows and help us decide the best places to visit in Japan next year.

This article was updated from the original on 11/27/2019.

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  • I misconstrue the title as “budget travelers can only dream of visiting Japan…”

    Anyway, I’m not convinced that the more recent surge in visitors mostly consists of budget-oriented visitors.

    That said, I reckon Japanese cities are much better price-wise for backpackers/hostellers than cities in the US/Canada/Western Europe/Australia. As a New Yorker, I can’t imagine spending US$70 on a hotel in NY/SF/London, but that actually fetches you a decent – if pint-sized – room at a business hotel in Tokyo/Osaka.

  • Adélaïde says:

    Frank, you seem quite negative in your comment.

    1. Sure, the food isn’t cheaper than anywhere elsse in Asia, but it IS cheaperthan in Europe. And maybe a bowl of rice from Yoshinoya is a snack for the locals, but it was WAY enough for all the foreigners I met during my year in Japan.
    I don’t know how much you pay in your country for sushi, but in France we pay around 30 euros for 10/15 sushis. in Japan, I never paid over 15 euros for over 30 sushis.

    2. I can’t argue with that, except that you can have a longer Japan Rail Pass but of course it’s more expensive but still worth it if you compare to the regular price of the Shinkansen (Tokyo-Kyoto still hurts to this day)

    3. I don’t know where you looked for hostel, woofing, couchsurfing or else, because I never ever had any problem finding a cheap accomodation. Yes, Tokyo is expensive, but you are in Tokyo, and you know what it means when you are there, so you know that you will pay way more than what it’s worth. If you don’t want to pay that much, just don’t go to Tokyo, or accept the fact that it’s one of the most expensive cities in the world. I totally disagree on the fact that you can only find cheap and great accomodations in Osaka. I went to Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, Kobe, Okinawa, Yokohama and I found very cheap yet amazing guesthouses. My friends who went to other cities like Hiroshima, Nagoya and else aso found cheap guesthouses and were very happy with it.

    4. Maybe “most of the world” is safe but I still think Japan is one of the safest country in the world. I could go home by foot at 4 am, tipsy, and no one came to talk to me or anything, even if there were a lot of people on the streets. I felt safe for a whole year whereas I never felt safe in my own country. I find it sad that you are trying to break one of the most important plus about Japan.

    5. I agree about everything you said in that part, especially the people. They are not friendly, they are curious and polite, but unless they are old or drunk they won’t talk to you on the streets like tourists thought they would.

  • frank says:

    1. The food is not cheap compared to just about anywhere else in Asia. And for the average western male, a 500yen bowl from Yoshinoya is a snack, not a meal. And at 12-15 plates of 100yen sushi to fill my belly, the sushirois of the world aren’t cheap by any means.

    2. 7 days for 27k is a deal if you plan on spending a fleeting moment everywhere; but most people want to spend at least 2-3 days in Kyoto/Tokyo and at least 2 days in places like Osaka, Sapporro, etc. So if you were to take 3 shinkansen rides in 7 days, its actually quite expensive.

    3. Well stated; options are growing, but the current choice is absurdly low. Good luck finding anything not a 6ft capsule in Kyoto or Tokyo for less than 70$ a night. Even then its a tiny business hotel in a less than desirable area.Osaka is the only place where one can find anything even remotely reasonable. Airbnb is a great idea here, but I can say from experience most savvy landlords are cracking down and outlawing it, I’m sure it’ll only get worse in the next couple years once the barely alive landlords catch up to that new wave called the “internet” and realise whats happening under their noses.

    4. Yes, it’s safe. So is most of the world. In fact, with the # of people traveling now, the world has never been safer.

    5. The landscape may be diverse; the people, stores, food, and just about everything else isn’t. Also, Japanese people aren’t friendly, they are polite. I had more people in Shanghai say hello and try to strike up a chat with me in a week than 3 years in Japan. There’s a big difference.

    • terezib says:

      you must be a *large* guy. My adult daughter and I probably ate 7 or 9 sushi plates each. Or a regular size ramen full of stuff for $8, or one set of 6 takoyaki each. For breakfast, we got canned coffee and an onigiri or two each at Lawsons or 7/11.
      And I’m not THAT small. 155 lbs. Neither of us drink either.

    • kazuko13 says:

      1. If you aren’t too high class, you can purchase food from convenience stores all over Japan and get a really decent meal, like onigiri, oden, sandwiches, salads, and other pre-made meals.There are many other 1000Y restaurants to be found.
      2. The Japan Rail Pass is the best way to go for foreigners. For less than $300.00 per person you can buy a one week pass for unlimited transport on a Shinkansen.
      3. Places like the Toyoko Inns have very nice rooms with all the amenities, plus free wifi, free computers downstairs in the lobby, free local phone calls, washer/dryer, free breakfast each morning, etc. There is no high end place that gives you a free breakfast every morning that I know off unless you’re with a tour company. Rates start as low as $50 per night.
      4. Japan is one of the safest places for single women to travel on their own.
      5. You must have had some bad experiences because yes, the Japanese are friendly and very helpful to foreigners who seem lost. Of course we all have different experiences depending on what country we’re in. As a Japanese-American with a Japanese face, I’ve encountered the most unfriendly people in many parts of Europe, especially in Italy, and France. So, it depends on what we look like, because there is some prejudice and unfriendliness everywhere.

      • terezib says:

        we almost never had a dinner over $10 US. The sumonabe (we shared a small!) was filling at $18.



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