Dying to visit Japan? Been to Japan but finding it hard to return? Is it because of financial constraints? Finding yourself overspending in Japan? Unsure how to optimise your budget to your advantage? We are here to help you out! We’ve just launched a brand new YouTube series called Surviving in Japan to give you brief pointers to help you strategize for your trips to Japan. Along with the videos, we provide hard information, on our website, to provide more input than in the videos themselves.
To kick off the series, here are 4 ways you can manage your budget and save money while travelling in Japan:
1. Accommodations: AVOID 4 Stars and Above.
The key word is to “avoid,” not “omit.” As mentioned in the pilot episode of Surviving in Japan, service quality in Japan is superb. It is abnormal to find poor quality accommodation in Japan, including Airbnb. However, we do not rule out the possibility of “what ifs”. Recently, a friend did book a place to stay in Japan via Airbnb. Unfortunately, she did encounter what is NOT NORMAL – BED BUGS. Her second attempt at Airbnb was slightly better but still not very clean. It is a sad thing to hear of such cases as Airbnb accommodations in Japan are generally quite clean and hygienic. Based on first-hand experiences by me and other travellers, whom I know, Airbnb seems to work pretty fine in Japan. It is just sad to hear that the “one-in-a-million” actually occurred.
Guesthouses and hostels are great too if you know where to look. I stayed at a guesthouse once, in Tokyo, and it was a great experience. The only trade-offs are: taking turns to use the toilets, sometimes the common area may get a little noisy from the chatter, and you have to share rooms with strangers if you are not booking a private room. Overall, guesthouses are fine. Hostels work similarly but they’re usually dormitory in nature. As in, they do not have private rooms. Some might have but mostly do not.
What about capsule hotels? Capsule hotels often function like hostels but are meant largely for people who just need a place to retire for the night. Guesthouses are better if you are there for a few short days and need some place to camp while you go gallivanting around Japan, which ever parts you are in.
What about hotels? Well, normally if I’m going for less than 3 stars, I’d just go ahead and book a room at a guesthouse or Airbnb. While I trust the standards of Japan’s hospitality, I’d like to try other forms of accommodation equivalent to less than 3 stars. But if I do stay in a hotel in Japan, a 3-star hotel would suffice. While I do appreciate and enjoy the idea and reality of staying in a 5-star palace, I prefer to spend my money on sightseeing and food. So I spend less on accommodations to spend more on food and tourist spots and other miscellaneous stuff like souvenirs (e.g.: Sake, sake, sake, sak…………,e and snacks etc.)
I recommend using booking.com to help you with your accommodations. That website has the best offers I’ve known so far, even better than Airbnb.
2. Transportation: AVOID TRANSPORT. WALK MORE.
Again, the keyword is “avoid” not “omit.” I recommend taking the train or the bus no more than twice in a day. Try to plan your visit to places of interest according to area of proximity – meaning how close the places are to each other. For example, I do not go to Shibuya, Odaiba, and Akihabara all on the same day or the same few days. Why? Because Shibuya is in West of Tokyo, Odaiba in South of Tokyo, and Akihabara is in North of Tokyo. (Picture below) I would have to keep taking the trains.
I would go, maybe, to the north of Tokyo in the first few days of my trip, followed by the east, then the south, west, and finally central Tokyo. Like in the above picture, I highlighted Shinjuku in RED, Harajuku in YELLOW, and Shibuya in GREEN. They are all in the same area, and also within walking distance. It is very convenient and I avoid wasting money on transporting myself.The bonus: BURNING CALORIES! Best chance to exercise. Don’t become fat like me.
PLEASE AVOID TAKING TAXI! IT’S VERY EXPENSIVE!
3. Food: STAY CLOSE to the SUBWAYS.
You would normally be able to find affordable food with reasonable prices at the subway stations. You can find Yoshinoya, Soba shops, Udon shops, burger joints, curry rice, fast food chains etc. These places sell meals as low as 300 Yen, on average. Affordable, filling, and satisfying. In Japan, culinary is an art to the chef. They take cooking very seriously, even in fast food chains. So you can expect quality food anywhere in Japan, except in a garbage dump (DUH!).
My normal breakfast options:
- 1 or 2 onigiri (rice ball) from the convenience store and a packet of strawberry milk.
- Oden strawberry milk
- Just strawberry milk
- Fast food and strawberry milk
- Soba/udon and strawberry milk
- Sometimes I just have sushi and beer…Only once per trip.
- Soba / udon
- Ramen (about once every 2-3 days)
- with water and tea (FREE OF CHARGE!!!)
- water and tea are available in every restaurant in Japan FOR FREEE!!!!
- Whatever is affordable.
- Once every 5 days I eat something a little more expensive (E.g.: Yakiniku, Nabe (hotpot), Tempura, Unajyuu etc.)
Stay close to subway stations and you wouldn’t have to worry. Of course, sometimes they are street food vendors who sell sticks of wagyu beef for 600 Yen per stick (5 thick pieces; really worth the money). Not just wagyu beef. Sometimes they sell fresh crab meat, grilled squid, pork, fish etc.
4. Places of Interest: AVOID going to places that cost more than 600 Yen to enter.
I only have one rule when it comes to spending money on places of interest, in Japan. It is exactly what I have just typed in the subheading – Avoid going to places that require you to pay more than 600 Yen to enter. Based on experience, I have rarely found a place that has been “WOW” at a cost of more than 600 Yen. Only a few places are worth spending that money – theme parks, museums, sports and wrestling matches. These are experience places that you might not find in your home country. For example, in Singapore, we don’t see sumo wrestling at all. Watching a live match in Japan, makes the experience all the more worth it.
A good way to plan your itinerary and budget is to decide on places:
- You don’t get to see often in your hometown
- Have the element of CRAZY to it
- Places that cost 600 Yen or less
- Uniquely Japan