Your 2-Week Trip to Japan for Under $2200
Real talk: Japan doesn’t have to be expensive. So many people say that Japan is one of the most expensive places to visit, even locals and experienced travellers. I’ve had more than one person say to me, “I heard you can’t go to Japan for under $5000, so how are you affording it?” And that’s so confusing to me. Yes, like anything, it can be expensive with the more add-ons you opt for. However, my brother and I were in Japan for almost a month, splurged quite a bit on certain things, and still managed to keep our costs down to way under $5k.
So let me break it down for you, because visiting Japan isn’t and doesn’t have to be super expensive.
This guide includes:
- Round-trip flights from the US to Tokyo
- Hostel (shared) accommodation
- Tourist activities (museums, etc)
- Transportation fees
This guide does not include:
- Passport and visa fees
- Travel insurance
- Souvenir money
- Upgrades (single room accommodation, escorted day trips, etc)
As you read this guide, please note that it’s for small budgets and overestimates certain prices (because it’s always good to overestimate rather than underestimate). However it also doesn’t cut everything down so you should still be able to make the most out of your trip.
If you read my guide to saving money, you’ll learn about how to save on flights and get a good deal. Just now, I went to Google Flights and looked at the round-trip prices, including baggage, from 5 different cities in America to Tokyo. The flights chosen were within the next two months though prices are very similar for several months onward. The total prices were $870 (DC), $807 (NYC), $426 (LA), $705 (St. Louis), and $870 (Dallas). For the sake of this guide, let’s get rid of the outlier, LA. The average flight is then $813, which sounds like a fair price for what I’ve seen. If you see anything cheaper, definitely grab it; otherwise, prices are often around $800 and I wouldn’t recommend going north of $1000 for airfare.
Accommodation can actually be really cheap. I always book through Booking.com, which makes finding hotels super easy. For this guide, I selected cheap rooms in Tokyo for the next few months, and they averaged $19/night. These hotels are shared rooms but are in Taito and Chiyoda, which are great areas of Tokyo even if they aren’t downtown (and it’s cheap to get around the city, which I’ll talk about later). For Kyoto, I found more cheap rooms which averaged $13/night. They are all in areas of the city by restaurants and shopping, and some were even in the Geisha district.
Let’s say you’ll do what most tourists do and spend a week in Tokyo and a week in Kyoto. You’d spend about $224 on accommodation for the entire time you’re there – an absolute steal.
Even Cheaper Option: If you don’t mind staying with strangers, you can try Couchsurfing. You will stay in a stranger’s home for free, which cuts down costs and is also great for socialising. There are also exchanges where you can work short-term for free accommodation, but I wouldn’t recommend this for a vacation since you’d be working.
Japanese meals seem to be very cheap but if you want to fill yourself up, it actually can get quite expensive. It’s not like in western culture where you pay and are given a chef-selected array of food (like in America, a main and two sides). It’s kind of like family style there, and you pay for different smaller dishes. Expect to get at least two dishes for each meal per person. Many restaurants have dishes that are between 500-1000 yen, so it’s about 1500 yen per meal. If you want a drink as well, add another 500 yen, so 2000 yen per meal, which comes to $18 – let’s round up and say $20 per meal.
Now this is an average; my brother and I had a few meals under 1000 yen total for each person. We also splurged and went up to 3000 yen per person. Of course, it’s all dependent on where you go and what you want to try, and the drinks will really do you in at the end. But you’re travelling, right? So for the sake of this guide, let’s just say you went ahead and treated yourself to $20 meals twice a day, and then maybe a $10 breakfast or dessert. That comes to $50/day or $700 for the two weeks.
The important thing to know is that inexpensive food is everywhere so you should have no issue finding something to eat on a budget.
Insider Tip: “Otoshi” is like a table charge in Japan, and it’s not uncommon to see at places that sell alcohol. Usually it’s around 200-500 yen per person, but if you want to avoid the charge, always ask beforehand if there’s an otoshi.
Let’s talk tourist attractions! Though many activities are free, several others do have entrance fees. The fees are usually between 200-600 yen, though there are a few that will be steeper. I averaged the fees of top attractions (not including free ones), and got a little less than 560 yen/attraction. Let’s take that average and say you do one free thing a day and one paid thing – that amounts to 7840 yen, or roughly $70. That’s a good average price for seeing museums and shrines.
Plan ahead: Visiting official websites or even Japan Guide (an excellent, holistic resource), you can calculate ahead of time how much money you’ll need to see what you want to.
Now this is where it can get really expensive. Trains in Japan are super pricey so you’ll probably wind up getting a Japan Rail Pass. To find out, simply crunch the numbers you find on Google; however, often a round-trip ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto can be super expensive, so the JR Pass is often worth it. Let’s say you need it for the second half of your trip. A seven-day pass is about $256. Now this pass gets you to Kyoto and back and also allows for day trips to Hiroshima, Miyajima, Nara, Osaka, Himeji, Nikko, and so many more – included in the price! That’s all to be done in 7 consecutive days.
Now for the other seven days, you’ll probably be getting around Tokyo. Great news: it’s super cheap! A round-trip ticket from Narita is about $24, so let’s add that amount as well. It takes about 350 yen to get from one side of the city to another, so let’s say that the average round-trip fare to another section of the city is 500 yen. If you go to one section of the city per day, thus riding the metro twice, that’s about 500 yen/day or $4.50/day. For 7 days, plus the $24 airport transfer, that’s $55.50 for that week.
Adding all the transportation up, that’s $311.50.
Beware: Several JR Pass salesmen will add fees for processing and shipping, so make sure you choose a company that doesn’t charge extra. I picked up my JR Pass in person from IACE Travel and was not met with any additional fees.
Even Cheaper Option: Did you know you can take a bus in Japan? Willer and other sites sell what are called highway express buses, which are much cheaper options. Of course, it does take a lot more time for you to reach your destination, so the choice of time vs price will be up to you.
Adding everything up, the total comes to as follows:
That’s way under $5000, right?
The way you conduct your trip will have a lot to do with your budget; would you rather stay in one area and use cheaper transport? Do you prefer buses? Are you going to limit yourself to 1000 yen per meal? Everything helps contribute to how much or how little you want and have to spend, but this rough guide makes sure that you eat well, see a bunch of great sights, and get the most out of this beautiful and popular country.
As always, you are welcome to contact me with questions about how to budget your trip. I really hope this post has given you good insight into how to visit one of Asia’s most popular destinations on a budget.
Posted on Monday, December 24, 2018 in Ramblings & Advice
Tags: asia, japan