Are you planning a trip to Japan and wondering how much it will cost you? You’ve come to the right place. In this article, we outline our actual travel costs during our three-month trip to Japan in 2023. Contrary to popular belief, Japan can be an affordable travel destination, with surprisingly reasonable accommodation and dining options. Plus, with the current exchange rate working in your favour, now is the perfect time to explore the Land of the Rising Sun. We also share some useful tips on how to save money during your time in Japan.
Download our 2024 Minimalist Travel Wardrobe and Carry-On Packing List
This list for women and men was created as a result of more than seven years of full-time travel around the world in all seasons with only carry-on luggage. This is the packing list we have used as we embark on our adventures into 2024.
What is the currency of Japan?
The Japanese Yen (JPY) – the word yen meaning circle or round object – has been in existence since 1871. In circulation these days are
- Banknotes in JPY1,000, JPY 2,000, JPY5,000 and JPY10,000 denominations; and
- Coins in JPY1, JPY5, JPY10, JPY50, JPY100 and JPY500 denominations (though the latter two are most commonly used).
Travel Cost Assumptions
When reading this article, please keep the following in mind:
- The costs are based upon a couple travelling together.
- We are independent travellers, researching and organising our own itinerary using curated travel resources.
- Our travel style is reasonably consistent wherever we go, which is great when you want to compare travel costs between countries:
- Accommodation: We usually stay in self-catered accommodation - in our own room and (preferably) our own bathroom, though the kitchen may be shared.
- Dining and Groceries: We have at least two meals a day at home. We like to eat out at cafes or restaurants every few days.
- Transportation: Wherever possible, we travel by public transport.
- Experiences: We pay for some tourist attractions or activities, but are selective as our funds are limited (just like everyone elses).
- In addition to above expense categories, we also include in the overall daily costs (though only for the period we are in the country) our mail scanning and forwarding service, mobile phone plans and travel insurance.
- Not considered are the costs for entry or exit transport into/out of the country.
During our most recent visit, we spent the maximum time we could in Japan (that is, 90 days on a tourist visa), which means we travel slower and see fewer attractions/do fewer activities each day than someone who spends their two or three week vacation in Japan and tries to see and do as much as possible each day.
Japan Travel Cost Summary
Bearing those assumptions in mind, we spent on average JPY9,205 per person per day in Japan (or USD69 using the foreign exchange rate applicable at the time).
Certainly not the cheapest country we’ve visited to date, but surprisingly more affordable than we thought.
How much does accommodation cost in Japan?
As independent travellers, we booked almost all our accommodations ourselves via the various platforms we recommend below. We only used the help of an agent when organising accommodation for our two multi-day hikes – the Kumano Kodo (Kumano Travel) and the Nakasendo (the Tsumago Tourist Information Center). Most accommodations were short-term rentals – studios or one bedroom apartments with a small kitchen (where basic meals could be prepared), bathroom and laundry facilities. During our hikes, we also stayed in family-run guesthouses (minshukus), often with onsen facilities.
During our three months in Japan, our accommodation costs averaged JPY7,720 (USD58) per room per night:
|Destination||Accommodation||Number of nights||Room cost per night (JPY)||Recommended|
|Sapporo||Short-term rental hosted by Habu||7||5296||Yes|
|Naha||Naha Short Term Accommodation||6||5096||No|
|Hiroshima||Short-term rental hosted by Akemi||8||5331||No|
|Asso||Guest Cafe Kuchikumano||1||4500||Yes|
|Yunomine||J-Hoppers Kumano Guesthouse||2||7625||Yes|
|Koyasan||Koyasan Saizenin (temple stay/shukubō)||1||14199||Yes|
|Osaka||Short-term rental hosted by Hiro||10||5380||Yes|
|Takayama||K House Takayama||5||7720||Yes|
|Kanazawa||Short-term rental hosted by Michio||3||6366||No|
|Nagano||Sotetsu Fresa Inn Nagano||5||6250||Yes|
|Nagano||Backpackers Dorms Miwa (on Nagano Marathon weekend)||2||10530||Yes|
|Fujikawaguchiko||Short-term rental hosted by Bivot||4||8039||Yes|
|Total number of nights: 87||Average room cost per night: JPY7720|
Our most expensive accommodation was at Koyasan Saizenin [Google Maps location], a Buddhist Temple in Koyasan – at JPY14,199 per night. While not cheap compared with our other accommodations in Japan, the temple stay (shukubō) was well worth it, as it allowed us to experience a multi-course shōjin ryōri dinner and breakfast (not included in above price), bathe in the traditional onsen and attend the Buddhist early morning prayer.
At just JPY4,500 per night, our most affordable accommodation was a stay at Guest Cafe Kuchikumano [Google Maps location] on Day 0 of our Kumano Kodo Hike. This was a traditional Japanese guesthouse (minshuku) with a large shared kitchen and bathroom. The host was super nice, and we had a lovely evening around the fire, toasting mochi balls (the Japanese version of marshmallows) and then dipping them in zenzai, delicious sweet red bean soup.
Although most of the accommodations we booked had a washing machine, over the three months in Japan, we did use laundromats eight times, costing us a total of JPY4,600 (or JPY575/USD4 per laundromat use).
How much to budget for experiences in Japan?
You can pack a lot into a three-month trip in Japan, and we did. All our experiences added up to JPY131,583 (USD984) between the two of us – on average, JPY756 (or just under USD6) per person per experience.
Here are some of our favourite things to see and do (including the cost per person when we visited – note that some were FREE):
How much to budget for Dining and Groceries in Japan?
As mentioned above, during our time in Japan, we stayed mostly in accommodation that had a kitchen with basic cooking facilities, enabling us to have at least two meals a day at home. That said, it was sometimes easier and cheaper to buy ready-to-eat meals from convenience stores such as Lawsons, 7-Eleven or Family Mart – though we did try to limit those occasions to avoid adding to Japan’s plastic waste problem.
Our daily dining costs in Japan averaged JPY1,193 (USD9) per person, with our most expensive dining experience costing us JPY2,350 per person at Steakland Kobe [Google Maps location] – a worthwhile luxury to taste the famous beef the city is renowned for.
Our daily groceries expenses in Japan averaged JPY1,043 (USD8) per person. We found Aeon supermarkets offered some of the best value for money, and between the major convenience store brands of 7-Eleven, Lawson and FamilyMart, we found Lawson offered the best range at the most affordable prices.
If you happen to visit Sapporo, make sure to pop into a Bostonbake branch [Google Maps location]. They have delicious pastries and buns daily (which are super affordable) – great to stock up on some items when you’re out and about during the Snow Festival. Sadly, Bostonbake only exists in Hokkaido.
Recommended Personal Cuisine Experiences
As Anthony Bourdain is famously quoted as saying: You learn a lot about someone when you share a meal together. And the best way to do it is with locals, in someone's home or even getting a guided tour of the fresh product markets. The following EatWith curated offers are based on our culinary experiences while exloring Japan. Enjoy.
- Food and Sake Pairings in a Traditional Kyoto House
- Home style Ramen and Gyoza cooking class in a Japanese home
How to save money on dining and groceries?
Dining out all the time can quickly get expensive. We always try and book accommodation where we have access to a kitchen - either our own little kitchenette or the kitchen of our host. That way, we can store food in the fridge and make our own meals. We usually have breakfast and one other meal at our accommodation, and one meal when we're out and about.
Restaurants (even in tourist hotspots) often have special lunch offers (for example, a three-course meal for EUR10). Portion sizes in many parts of the world are usually quite substantial, so we often share a three-course meal. The same applies if you go out for dinner: Order a starter or salad and a main, and that's usually enough for two people. An added benefit: there is less food waste.
As for groceries: every country has more expensive and cheaper supermarkets. Ask your host what the cheaper options are (for example, Aldi or Lidl in many European countries) and avoid convenience stores as much as possible.
Experiencing the local cuisine is one of the reasons why WE travel… Paul and I tend to only eat out once a day (sometimes only once a week), usually at lunchtime. This allows us to try local dishes while taking advantage of awesome lunch deals. It also means we don’t have to roam around unknown parts of town every night in search of a restaurant.
How much to budget for Transportation in Japan?
Our transport costs over the three months we explored Japan averaged at JPY1,569 (just under USD12) per person per day.
Given Japan is an island country, we ended up taking two internal flights: The flight from Sapporo, Hokkaido to Nara, Okinawa cost us JPY16,580 each (with Peach Aviation); while the flight from Nara, Okinawa to Hiroshima on Honshu cost JPY14,460 per person (with ANA). In both cases unfortunately, we had to check in our travel packs as the strict carry-on limit was seven kilograms.
As we were keen to see the country and had more time to explore Japan than most foreign tourists, we always considered taking slower (and thus cheaper) train options over the Shinkansen. That said, we did want to ride the Shinkansen (and in some cases, there was just no feasible alternative). In the end, we took the bullet train three times: Our Hiroshima to Himeji trip cost JPY8,040 per person; the Kanazawa to Nagano journey JPY8,590 each and the train ride from Odawara to Tokyo JPY3,280 per person.
The Shinkansen was always markedly more expensive than slower train options. As an example, the distance from Hiroshima to Himeji was 239 kilometres, with a per kilometre cost of JPY33.64 on the Shinkansen, whereas the (slower) Rapid Express train from Himeji to Kyoto – a distance of 127 kilometres – cost JPY2,310 per person or JPY18.19 per kilometre. So if you have time, take the slow train and save money.
And speaking of travelling slowly: If you’re in the Hakone area, make sure to ride the Hakone Tozan Train [Google Maps location] between Gora and Odawara. The scenery is stunning, and the train does a number of switchbacks as it journeys down the mountain (or up if you do the trip in reverse) – a very unique experience.
How to save on transport costs in Japan?
Japan boasts an efficient transportation system. But, as we found out, transportation costs add up quickly, especially if you’re travelling a lot around the country.
Japan-wide Rail Pass
The Japan-wide JR Rail Pass is a cost-effective option for visitors who plan to move around a lot during their stay. It’s available for 7, 14 and 21 day periods and valid on consecutive days within the chosen timeframe. The pass allows unlimited travel on JR-operated services, including JR trains – even the Shinkansen (just NOT the Nozomi and Mizuho) – and JR-operated city buses. Seat reservations are included with the JR Rail Pass but need to be obtained (free of charge) prior to travel.
Although the JR (Japan Rail) Pass is a popular option for foreign tourists visiting Japan, it’s not the only way to save, and it may not even be worthwhile pending your itinerary. To determine if the Rail Pass is worthwhile, use an online route calculator to compare the costs of individual ticket purchases against the price of the pass.
Regional Rail Passes
If the Japan-wide JR Rail Pass is of no use to you, one (or several) of the many Regional Rail Passes might be worthwhile. A big difference to the Japan-wide Rail Pass: you can buy these passes while already in Japan (though they are slightly more expensive than if you bought them from overseas). Worthwhile options to check out include:
- JR East: the JR Tokyo Wide Pass
- JR West: the Kintetsu Rail Pass, JR West Kansai Area Pass, JR West Kansai Wide Area Pass or the JR Kansai-Hiroshima Area Pass
- JR Central: the JR Takayama-Hokuriku Area Tourist Pass or JR Alpine-Takayama-Matsumoto Area Pass.
Without Rail Passes
Even without any of the rail passes, there are still ways to save on train travel in Japan:
- Shinkansen – Buy a non-reserved seat ticket (where available): This also offers greater flexibility as you’re not bound to a specific train. Which carriages are non-reserved varies from train to train (most often it’s carriages 1-3 or 1-5). Arrive at the platform early to check out where the non-reserved carriages are located and position yourself/queue at the door marker of one of those carriages to increase your chances of getting a seat as you board.
- Alternatives – Opt for Limited Express trains: You may need to change trains along the way, but the trains in Japan are usually on time, and changing trains in Japan is not really stressful, especially if you travel light. Unless you’re travelling during rush hour, Limited Express trains are often less crowded than the Shinkansen, which also means you can save the seat reservation cost (where possible).
Extra tip: In many areas in Japan, you can use an IC card to tap on/off rather than having to purchase individual paper tickets for each journey. This saves time and makes train travel more convenient.
What are IC cards?
In Japan, you will come across the term IC card a lot (IC stands for Integrated Circuit). IC cards are essentially plastic cards that can be topped up and the amount stored on the card is used for transportation - simply by tapping on/off at the card reader - and more and more at convenience stores and other places.
Each region issues their own version of the IC card, for example
- If you enter via Tokyo Narita or Haneda Airports, you would buy the Suica Card or PASMO card.
- If you enter via Osaka Kansai Airport, you will find the ICOCA card for sale.
Fortunately, 10 of the most common IC cards (including the two above) can be used across regions (and likely more will be added over time). Some regions (including Nagano and Okinawa prefectures) only allow their own IC card (at this stage) or cash.
- Cards (including any stored funds) will expire after 10 years of non-use, which means you can reuse the card if you return to Japan within that timeframe.
- You can return it (and get a refund of the money on the card plus the deposit you paid for the card itself) - as long as it's in the region you bought it.
- You can load the IC card onto your smartphone - via Apple Pay or Google Pay - but you won't be able to get a refund of your deposit or any funds stored when you leave the country.
Buses can be a good alternative to trains (especially for medium to long-distance travel and on competitive routes). Do note though that while train timetables are (mostly) reliable, buses can be stuck in traffic just like any other road transport (and delays of 30 minutes and more are not unusual).
- Advantages: The days of travel do not need to be consecutive, giving you flexibility in your itinerary. Willer Express has a number of night buses which can save on accommodation costs. Additionally, you can easily book your seats in advance online through the user-friendly Willer Express website.
- Disadvantages: The pass can only be used on Willer Express buses and only on the least comfortable 4 seats per row bus types.
Even without a bus pass, you can save money when travelling by bus in Japan:
- Avoid backtracking and travel point to point instead – For example, stop in Shirakawa-go on the way from Takayama to Kanazawa (or vice versa) rather than visiting the UNESCO World Heritage site on a day trip – this also reduces carbon emissions.
- Make use of specials – Just ask at the local tourist office at your destination or check the websites of the bus companies operating at your destination, for example Alpico and Nohi Bus in the Japanese Alps. Do make sure though they are worthwhile by comparing individual fares (via Google Maps) against the special fare.
Other Expenses you may incur when travelling to Japan
We always buy travel insurance – because medical expenses overseas can add up quickly and because our carry-on backpacks are pretty much everything we own.
Whenever we buy travel insurance, we make sure we thoroughly read the fine print. It’s tedious, we know. But if you’re planning certain activities (for example, hiring a motorbike or hiking above 3000 metres), it’s crucial to know whether your insurance pays if the worst happens. Otherwise, you may have paid all that insurance premium and are still left to foot a (potentially) massive bill.
These past few trips, we have used and recommend Cover-More. For our three months in Japan, our joint Cover-More Travel Insurance Single Trip International Comprehensive+ Policy cost us AUD1,519/USD1,022 (or just under AUD9/USD6 per person per day).
Finance and Bank Fees
To our surprise, cash is still King in Japan, thus ATM withdrawals are a regular occurence. To avoid unnecessary ATM withdrawal fees we always research before our trips to figure out which overseas bank/s offer/s the best exchange rate and charge/s the lowest fees for ATM withdrawals.
In the case of Japan, we had done all our research. We knew our Bankwest Debit Card charged no foreign transaction fees, and that 7Bank ATMs charged no ATM withdrawal fees. What we didn’t know was that you had to press “Credit” when trying to withdraw with the debit card overseas (Bankwest only told us about that small fact when queried afterwards). After our debit card was declined multiple times, we ran out of time and had to use our credit card. While we had topped up the card with some money beforehand (to avoid nasty cash advance fees), the credit card provider still charged us AUD4 (or JPY382) for the ATM withdrawal. You live and learn.
Luggage Transfer and Storage Services
- on our final day on the Kumano Kodo, paying JPY2,500 for the same-day transfer of one travel pack from Koguchi to Nachikatsuura; and
- during our Nakasendo hike, paying JPY1,620 for the standard transfer of one travel pack from Osaka to Matsumoto.
We also used luggage storage facilities on occasion to store our travel packs for a few hours or excess luggage during our Kumano Kodo hike for a whole week. Those storage costs added up to JPY3,640 in total (an average of JPY607 per storage use).
Haircuts and Massages
When you explore a country for three months, you will likely need a hair cut (in that country). I had mine at a barber in Osaka about half-way through our trip for JPY2,200 (a bit over USD16).
We both also took the opportunity to get a 90 and 60 minute massage, respectively, just before the Nagano Marathon at Relaxation Salon Lovina [Official website, Google Maps location] for a total cost of JPY13,200 (or JPY6,600/around USD49 per massage). It was well worth it, and we both would recommend it to anyone visiting Nagano.
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Donations and Gifts
When visiting a Shinto shrine, it is traditional and appropriate to make a donation. It doesn’t have to be a lot, especially when you are throwing loose change into the large container before you bow your head and clap your hands. All our donations added up to JPY1,511.
How much did it cost you to explore Japan?
I wrote this Japan Travel Costs article based on our own unique experience. If you have been to Japan recently as well and you have something to add to the costs for exploring Japan, please feel free to contact us. If you liked my Japan Travel cost tips and found them helpful, I would appreciate it if you could share them with your friends and family via the Share buttons below. Even better, link to the page from your personal blog or social media platforms.