Is Japan as expensive as people say? No! But it certainly isn’t a backpacker destination either. Read on to find out what a trip to Japan really costs.
I’ve been to Japan on extended trips three times now and will continue to return year after year. It is my favorite country to travel around, and Cameron and I have made it a goal to return twice a year – once in the winter and always another time during the year. Yes – Japan really is that good.
I first heard that Japan was notoriously expensive to travel around in 2013 when I was contemplating my first trip there. It was at the top of my destinations list, but I was scared to book a flight knowing how much the whole trip could potentially cost me.
I decided to bite the bullet anyway and figured I would try and stay on budget, but having some money in my savings account for back up pushed me through.
Now it is 2019. I have spent a total of three months traveling Japan and the prices never scare me or will ever scare me from going there. Indeed, Japan is not cheap, but it’s far from the most expensive place in the world.
Japan is entirely doable on a modest budget, and I hope to manage your expectations with the following Japan travel costs so you can enjoy all your trips to Japan as much as I do!
How Much Does a Trip to Japan Cost?
Cost of Transport in Japan
Transportation in Japan could be your number one expense, depending on how much you plan to bop around the country.
Rail travel in Japan is simply expensive. The faster the train, the higher the ticket price, especially if you’re traveling on the famous Shinkansen (bullet train).
You can lower your cost significantly by buying a Japan Rail Pass – only offered to visitors of Japan. The JR Pass is something you will typically want to think about purchasing before your trip, and you can pick it up once you arrive at a JR station. From there (depending on your type of pass) you can travel Japan freely on JR trains. They have different types of passes according to where you’ll be and the length of your trip.
The first time I visited Japan I wanted to see as much as I could so I bought a 14 day JR Pass for less than $400 and traveled every two-three days around Japan.
The second time I visited I was only in Hokkaido doing minimal travel as it was a ski trip so I decided to just pay for my train travel outright.
The third time I visited, I also declined a JR Pass as I was doing minimal travel, but after spending ¥12000 on one round trip train journey from Osaka-Shingu, I think I would have been better off with a designated rail pass.
When planning your trip to Japan you should consider where you are visiting and the distances you’ll cover. Long distances may require high-speed trains and will generally cost more than a short one hour journey.
If you are traveling to one region of Japan, it may or may not be worth it for you to purchase a rail pass before. If you want some spontaneity in your Japan travels a rail pass is the way to go.
We’ve also found that MOST (but not all) buses and subway rides in Japan charge you by distance covered. It is not a flat fare.
Most importantly, always, ALWAYS keep your bus, train, or subway ticket on your throughout your entire journey. You will need it to exit the station.
A few examples of our costs:
- Furano to Niseko Ski Resort Resort Liner Bus: ¥5500
- Kyoto city bus: ¥210
- Kyoto-Nara train: ¥490
- Osaka city subway ticket: ¥200-350
- Osaka-Singu Rapid Rail Service: ¥7000
- 14 day JR Pass: ¥46,432
- Shingu-Yinomine Onsen Bus: ¥1500
Cost of Accommodation in Japan
Accommodation can be another budget breaker in Japan, but it doesn’t have to be. We’ve found decent value in Japan and stayed at some fantastic places. However, it’s very easy to go over your budget by staying at designer hotels, ryokans, or traveling during the high season.
The first thing I want to stress is that if you really really want to score a good deal in Japan you should travel during the offseason. In most places (besides ski resort towns like Niseko and Hakuba), this means between November – March.
June-August is shoulder season in Japan, where you’ll see rains and high temperatures, but lower prices.
Cherry blossom (sakura) and fall are high seasons in Japan and you’ll see accommodation go through the roof. So if you are traveling during this time be prepared to book ahead or pay a bit more.
There are many different styles of accommodation in Japan. Ranging from traditional hostels, capsule hotels, standard guesthouses, hotels, and the creme de la creme – a Japanese Ryokan.
A ryokan is a type of traditional Japanese inn. Typically featuring tatami-matted rooms, an onsen, and other public areas where visitors may wear a yukata is common to wear and an elaborate local kaiseki dinner is usually served. A ryokan is one of those things that one should experience in Japan and can cost anywhere from ¥15,000 and up a night.
A few examples of our costs:
- Hostel Tomar: Our private room in the small city of Furano. We based ourselves out of here for our weeklong ski trip in Furano. ¥8000/night in the high season.
- Niseko Greenleaf: An upscale hotel at the base of Niseko Ski Resort. ¥32,000/night in the high season.
- Ninja House: Our Airbnb in Osaka. Run by a local Japanese woman with traditional Japanese futons and tatami mats. ¥8000/night
- 鴬の間: Our guesthouse near the famous Gion district of Kyoto. Run by two Japanese women. Very clean, comfortable, fast WiFi, and our own bathroom. ¥13,595/night
- Capsule Hotel: Pod hotel that I stayed at in a Japanese city. ¥3,252/pppn
- Art Hotel Kyoto: A splurge on a cool modern room in the center of Kyoto. ¥16,072/night
Cost of Food in Japan
In my opinion, the food in Japan is the best value. One can easily have a fantastic Japanese meal out for under ¥1000. I’m talking sushi, soba noodles, udon, ramen, yakitori – pretty much anyone should be able to fill themselves up on ¥1000.
Of course, if you go to upscale restaurants or notable sushi restaurants with world-class chefs, your dining will cost you more. But if you want traditional and delicious Japanese cuisine, it can be done affordably.
It’s also possible to go into any convenience store and pick yourself up a pastry for breakfast with coffee or lunch set for under ¥500.
The only exception to this is fruits and western specialty items that you will find at grocery stores. Most fruit that I see in Japan is insanely expensive compared to North America. Bananas and apples, and frozen blueberries are among some of the cheapest fruits I can find.
The great thing about Japan is the service is impeccable, but it’s considered rude to leave a tip. So the cost of your meal is the cost of your meal – no other additional charges!
A few examples of our costs:
- Conyevor Belt Sushi: ¥100-250 per plate. A plate usually has two pieces of nigiri. I love sushi and typically want between 7-10 plates to feel stuffed.
- Ramen: ¥600-800. Ramen is the every mans meal in Japan. You can find a ramen spot just about anywhere.
- Japanese Curry: ¥900. Try a Japanese curry house at least once while in Japan.
- Izakaya: ¥2000-3000 a person. An Izakaya is a typical Japanese pub and restaurant where many go after work for good food and drink. Izakaya restaurants can typically be found in every city and open very late. It’s common to order small dish after small dish than all at once.
- Ghengis Khan: ¥2500. Ghengis Khan is a Japanese grilled mutton dish prepared on a metal skillet that is popular in Hokkaido.
- Kobe Beef: ¥10000-15000. The creme de la creme of beef in the entire world. Kobe beef is from the Tajima strain of Japanese Black cattle and the real stuff can get very expensive. Expect to pay at least one ¥8000 for Kobe Beef, anything less and it’s likely not the real deal. Do your research if you want the real Kobe beef, there will be many imitators claiming to serve you Kobe beef around Japan.
Cost of Coffee in Japan
I absolutely love having coffee when I travel so this has to be included in this post. If you don’t drink coffee feel free to skip over this!
A cup of coffee from a coffee shop in Japan will run you the about the same that it does in the states. For a medium latte or cappuccino, you can expect to pay ¥400-500.
Hot matcha tea is usually provided for free at many restaurants in Japan.
If you don’t want to spend that much on coffee all convenience stores have coffee to take away. This cost between 150-300 and is surprisingly good quality for a push button machine.
A few examples of our costs:
- Starbucks Latte: ¥450
- Iced cappuccino in a local hip coffee shop: ¥400-500
- Matcha Latte: ¥400-500
- Coffee from 7-11: ¥200
- Green tea from a vending machine: ¥110
Cost of Alcohol in Japan
When dining out a glass of beer, sake, or plum wine will cost between ¥300-500. The Japanese like to drink and you’ll often find groups of men ordering beer after beer.
However, where I find the value and what I like to do is pick up alcohol at the grocery store and bring it back to my accommodation to enjoy.
A bottle of sake ranges anywhere from ¥600-1500 (or more for the really good stuff) and is perfect to have after a long day out in the snow. Beer and Japanese plum wine are similar in pricing as well!
A few examples of our costs:
- Fancy Sake from a local distillery in Nara: ¥1500
- Rice sake from the grocery store: ¥700
- Plum wine that we took home: ¥1000
- Beer from Izakaya: ¥500
Cost of Activities in Japan
Our activities in Japan have always been reasonably priced.
Japan is one of the most forested countries on earth, and the result is there are so many things to do outside that are free!
Many temples and shrines are beautiful and free to enter, while some of the more touristy ones in the cities will cost no more than ¥500.
We found significant value in lift ticket prices at the ski resort last winter with one-day lift tickets costing between ¥5000-7000 (much cheaper than the United States). In the offseason in Furano, we even scored full-day lift tickets for ¥3500!
Smaller experiences like cat cafes, short ferris wheel rides, and theatre shows cost less than ¥1000.
If you want a specialty experience, you can expect to pay more. We’ve spent between ¥8000-20,000 per person before for Kendo classes and Maiko dinners in Kyoto.
A few examples of our costs:
- Entrance to Tōdai-ji Temple: ¥500
- Entrance to Fushimi Inari Taisha: Free
- Lift ticket to Furano: ¥5,200
- Lift Ticket to Niseko: ¥7,400
- Dinner with Maiko Experience: ¥19,000
- Sushi making class: ¥5,000
- Kendo Class: ¥9,000
- Entrance to Onsen: ¥600
- Hiking the Kumano Kodo: Free
Miscellaneous Expenses While in Japan
Flight to Japan
Like with most travel, your flight to Japan will be your number one expense. It’s best to book in advance if you know your travel dates. If you have flexibility with your schedule you stand a greater chance at scoring a deal. We like to use Google Flights and Skyscanner’s open search feature to find good deals to Japan. From North America to Japan we’ve paid anywhere from $700-$1500.
Car Rental in Japan
If you want to explore Japan on your own terms sometimes a car rental can be a good option. Car rentals can be had for as little as $40 a day.
Keep in mind that to rent a car in Japan you need an International Drivers Permit. Unlike many other countries who let you rent a car off just your license (as long as it uses the Latin language), in Japan, you need to go the extra mile.
An IDP is different than your regular license and must be certified in your home country beforehand. For Americans, this can easily be done at AAA for $20.
No car rental company will rent to you in Japan unless you have one, so make sure it’s done before you attempt to pick up your rental.
Luggage for Japan
You’ll need to decide if you want a backpack or suitcase for your Japan trip. I personally like to travel with a hardshell suitcase for my clothes, and use a carry on backpack for my important electronics. See a few of our posts here for recommendations:
Travel Insurance for Japan
Healthcare is expensive in Japan, so make sure you have travel insurance in case anything goes wrong.
We never travel without travel insurance with World Nomads. World Nomads offers incredible flexible and great plans for Japan!
Money Saving Tips for Japan
Take public transport
You may think that the trains in Japan are expensive, but they are nothing compared to the price of taxis in Japan. If you step into a taxi, you should be prepared for a costly fare.
No – the Japanese are not trying to rip you off, that’s just the fare for traveling via taxi in Japan. It’s also important to note that in most cities public transport stops around midnight even in Tokyo, so if your flight lands late have a plan for how you are getting to your accommodation.
Stay in Guesthouses
If you don’t want to stay in hostel the next best thing is a Japanese run guesthouse. I found them to be extremely better value than hotels in Japan and almost always busy. Yes, most hotels in Japan have crazy small rooms. We book a lot of our accommodation on Airbnb. You can see our top Airbnb tips if it’s your first time booking.
Cook Your Own Food
If your accommodation has a kitchen then it’s best to make use of it. We saved a ton of money this way in the expensive resort town of Niseko and made our own meals every night.
The grocery store provides great value especially on Japanese food like noodles, rice, and vegetables. You can even find food to cook with at the convenience stores.
Check out the ¥100 shops
A ¥100 shop is equivalent to an American dollar store. You can find almost anything at them so it’s always worth it to scope some out!
Eat your fresh fruits and vegetable before you get to Japan
Fresh fruits like strawberries, blueberries, and even oranges are pretty expensive in Japan, so try to avoid them if you’re on a budget. I found a lot of vegetables besides mushrooms and a few leafy greens to be higher than average as well.
Frequent Convenience Stores
You can get almost anything you want at Lawsons, 7-11, and Family Mart. They are open around the clock and have things like pastries, coffee, pre-made meals, toiletries, and sake.
How Much Does it Cost to Travel in Japan?
So how much Japan spending money per day should you have? Besides the pre-trip expenses like airfare, luggage, and any Japan packing list items you’ll want to buy I believe you can get by in Japan for ¥7000-10,000 a day.
Actually, to prove this I tracked all our expenses for one day out in Osaka. We were not frugal, but not lavish in our spending either. We ate what we wanted to eat and did what we wanted to do and had a fantastic time!
- Breakfast Pastry: ¥230
- Train to city: ¥210
- Coffee: ¥420
- Okonomiyaki lunch: ¥1030
- Pinball: ¥200
- New Clothes: ¥2600
- Soft Ice cream: ¥440
- Coffee: ¥550
- Train to Osaka Castle: ¥230
- Osaka Castle: Free
- Train to dinner: ¥180
- Ramen with beer: ¥1235
- Accommodation: ¥4000/pppn
- TOTAL: ¥11,325
Now you definitely could do it a lot cheaper than this or for much more. Many things on the above list are superfluous, but I like coffee, ice cream, a beer with my meal, and the occasional shopping spree.
When I first traveled to Japan for the first time, I was on a backpacker budget. I visited there in February (off season), spent my nights in hostels, ate basic meals from 7-11, and only indulged in a few cheap excursions – but for the most part, stuck to the free temples and just walked around and enjoyed the view. I had a fantastic time on less than the ¥6000 a day.
You can travel cheaply through Japan if you are determined. At the same time, if it’s your one big trip to Japan, I don’t think you should be afraid to spend money on food and experiences you can’t get back home.
Travel in Japan
- All You Need to Know About Hiking the Kumano Kodo
- Delicious Japanese Foods You Have to Try
- Things to do in Osaka
- Things to do in Kyoto
- Read These Japan Travel Tips Before You Go!
- What to Wear in Japan
- AMAZING Things to do in Japan!
- FURANO – The Best Place to Find JAPOW
- 25 Things to Know Before You Visit Niseko Ski Resort
- The Real Reason Japan is My Favorite Country to Travel To