There is no place in the world like Japan. It’s a country where ancient traditions are fused with modern life. This is actually my second time visiting this country. I last visited in 2017 and I’m back two years later, this time with Shelly! Here is the breakdown of my budget and hopefully that will give you an insight to the cost of travelling in Japan.
Here is our route in Japan: we started Tokyo and made our way west to Fukuoka as we were heading to South Korea after.
Currency Info: In July/August 2019, the exchange of the Japanese Yen to the Canadian Dollar was around 82.6 JPY to $1 CAD.
I did not include my flights into and out of Japan because this is going to vary significantly based on where you’ll be arriving from. In case you are interested, I paid $1,064.86 CAD for a business class flight on Ethiopian Airlines from Johannesburg to Tokyo.
Aside from my flight in and out of Japan, we did not take any other flights within the country itself.
Food & Drinks
Japanese food doesn’t need any introduction. I’m sure you have had a taste of sushi, ramen or teriyaki wherever you live. But what sets the food apart in Japan is that the quality of food is absolutely amazing. Restaurants here often specialize in just one dish. Generations of chefs have perfected each stage of the cooking process.
I am quite comfortable in saying that food in Japan is not as expensive as people think. You can definitely spend crazy amounts of money (as you will see below) but it is cheaper to eat a meal here in an average restaurant compared to Australia, Canada and most Western European countries.
To save money, I recommend getting ready-made food at the grocery store. Especially if you go in the evenings, they will have sales to clear out the food they made that day. We were able to get sushi, roast pork, salad, katsu with rice, and fruits (see below) for two for just 1800 JPY ($22 CAD)! There are also budget restaurant chains that provide delicious eats for great value. Go to Coco Ichiban for curry rice, and Yoshinoya or Sukiya for gyudon (beef on rice).
Here are some dishes that we ate/drank in Japan:
- Conveyor belt sushi at Genki Sushi 1088 JPY ($13.17 CAD)
- Ramen at famed Ichiran Ramen 890 JPY ($10.77 CAD)
- Ramen at Kyoto’s Ramen street 915 JPY ($11.15 CAD)
- One of the best soft serve I’ve ever had, Cremia 275 JPY ($3.33 CAD)
- Katsu curry rice at Coco Curry 547 JPY ($6.62 CAD)
- Kushikatsu at Kushikatsu Daruma. This is a dish of deep-fried skewered meat and vegetables which originated in Osaka. 1512 JPY ($18.42 CAD) for two
- The less famous but just as good cousin of Kobe beef, Matsusaka beef meal at Matsusakagyu Yakiniku 16,848 JPY ($205.21 CAD) for two. For more detail, click here.
- Hiroshima style okonomiyaki (savoury pancake) 972 JPY ($11.84 CAD) for two
- Five-course seafood meal at Kaikaya by the sea 3800 JPY ($45.98 CAD) per person
- The best yakitori (grilled skewered meat) I’ve had and drinks at Tayutayu Namba-sennichimae for 1430 JPY ($17.30 CAD) per person
- A bottle of beer in one of the many bars in Golden Gai 750 JPY ($9.08 CAD)
Japan has often been considered the best country for public transportation. You can get to pretty much any popular destination without a car. They are efficient, timely, clean, quiet, and comfortable. There is really nothing you can find to complain aside from the costs.
Here are the trains we took:
- Tokyo to Kyoto 13,080 JYP ($158.27 CAD). We took the Shinkansen, the famous Japanese bullet train which can reach speeds of 240–320 km/h (150–200 mph). The train ride was comfortable, quiet, and super fast, but it comes at an expensive cost!
- Kyoto to Osaka on the JR Tokaido line 560 JPY ($6.78 CAD).
Look into getting the JR Rail Pass. It covers travel on all Shinkansen trains except for the fastest ones (the one we took). We decided not to get one as we had not planned to go all the way to Fukuoka. Our original route of Tokyo to Osaka was not enough to justify the cost. Learn from our mistake and carefully plan your trip, if you can. Check out this Japan Rail Pass Calculator to see if your itinerary calls for a JR Rail Pass! Note that buying the pass online ahead of time can be 10-20% cheaper than getting it on arrival.
Buses are a great alternative to the train system in Japan. They are cheaper and also just as comfortable. As Japan is not a huge country, the travel time between cities is not too long. Drivers will often make stops at rest stations for bathroom/snack breaks. I recommend booking with Willer Express. Their rates are pretty competitive and are geared towards foreign tourists with their easy-to-use website and English-speaking staff.
Here are the buses that we took:
- a 5.5 hour ride from Osaka to Hiroshima 4700 JPY ($56.87 CAD)
- a 4.5 hour ride from Hiroshima to Fukuoka 4150 JPY ($50.22 CAD)
Unfortunately for the Osaka to Hiroshima journey, I originally booked the tickets for the wrong date and could only get 50% back 3700 JPY ($44.77 CAD).
Within the Cities
When you first arrive in the airport, I highly recommend getting an IC card (Suica, PASMO, ICOCA)! IC cards are reloadable cards that can be used to pay fares on public transportation, vending machines, convenience stores, and some restaurants. What’s more important is that all IC cards are made compatible with each other, meaning that paying for the public transportation in most of Japan’s cities is possible with just one card! No need to get one every time you go to another city in the country! There is a 500 JPY deposit which you can get back along with any unused credit at the end of your trip, however most companies will charge a 220 JPY handling fee.
We also rented bikes from our hostels in Kyoto and Hiroshima for 500 JPY ($6.05 CAD) and 700 JPY ($8.47 CAD) respectively. Renting bikes is a great way to get around a city. Most of the bigger cities in Japan are flat and very easy to bike around. You can cover great distances and get to stop anywhere that you think is interesting.
Japan is filled with different kinds of accommodations. From fancy five star hotels to budget hostels to love hotels… there’s something for everyone! Within the hostel category, they are also diverse as there are modern, quirky hostels infused with stylish twists. And then there are the capsule hotels if you fancy sleeping in a stacked bed-sized room.
If you are looking for a more unique experience, consider staying at a ryokan, a traditional Japanese bed and breakfast. While they will be more expensive than a standard hotel, it is definitely a unique and memorable experience as you’ll get to sleep on tatami mats, eat traditional breakfasts, and the like.
For our accommodation in Japan, we decided to stay in combination of dorm beds and private rooms.
bnbplus Toranomon 5 nights 2083 JPY ($25.22 CAD) per night for a dorm bed
Don’t really have much complaints about this place. Everything is clean and well maintained. The dorms are capsule styled so you get some privacy. The location is excellent, as you are walking distance to Roppongi and Ginza. The Tokyo metro and a JR station is also quite close. However with that said, there is not much space in the hostel. The common area is quite small; located in the hallway where it can only fit a maximum of four people. It is a more quiet place, so don’t expect a social atmosphere. But all in all, for the price that you are paying, it is a great place to stay in Tokyo.
OYO 666 Guest House One More Heart Nijojo 1 three nights 2162 JPY ($26.16 CAD) per night for a private room with ensuite
The price is what makes it an amazing place to stay here. The rooms were quite clean and well maintained. The location was not too bad with buses and a JR station not too far from the guesthouse. The only problem was that there is no WiFi in the room. Everybody would converge in the common area at the evenings to get their internet fix.
Osaka Namba Hostel Miyabi 2 night 1469 JPY ($17.77 CAD) per night for a dorm bed
The price and location is enough for you stay here. It is an amazing value for a great stay in Osaka. Not only are the beds are comfy, they have privacy curtains. The rooms are clean and well maintained. There is a rooftop to lounge around. It’s located only in the Namba district, walking distance to the Dotonbori. My only problem with the hostel is that the showers are all on the main floor, meaning that you might have to go down and up three floors of stairs just to take a shower.
K’s House Hiroshima Backpackers Hostel for 3 nights at 4208 JPY ($50.92 CAD) per night for a private room with an ensuite
Probably my favourite hostel I stayed in my trip in Japan! K’s House is actually a chain hostel with locations all over the country. This was recommended by Shelly, who previously stayed at their Kawaguchiko branch. The hostel is close to Hiroshima JR station. There is a also tram stop at the end of the street to head into town. Another option is to rent bikes to get around. Facilities were quite clean and there is also a full kitchen for any cooking.
Fukuoka Backpackers Hostel for 2 nights at 3144 JPY ($38.06 CAD) per night for a private room
This hostel is quite close to Hakata train station (main JR station in Fukuoka) and the airport if you are planning to fly to Korea like us. It has a big kitchen where you can cook. Overall a very good value. Things to note: the showers were rundown and the social atmosphere was lacking.
Having visited a lot of the cities in Japan before i.e. Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, I decided to do the things I missed out on the first time and some stuff I think is worth doing again (most of them were free haha). Here are some examples of how we spent our time in each city:
- Tokyo National Museum. Considered the largest museum in Japan, it is filled with thousands of Japanese and Asian artifacts. 410 JPY ($4.96 CAD)
- teamLab Planets. This immersive art museum is all the craze on Instagram. 2400 JPY ($29.04 CAD)
- Batting cages at Asakusa Batting Stadium. Did you know that baseball is Japan’s most popular sport?! 500 JPY ($6.05 CAD)
- Mori Art Museum and Tokyo city view at Roppongi Hills. The Mori Art Museum is Tokyo’s largest museum of contemporary art and is located at the top of the central Mori Tower, with views across the city and has amazing photo ops from the Tokyo City View deck. 1200 JPY ($14.52 CAD) for the student price.
- One of the best views of Tokyo at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building Building. This is a great alternative to the expensive Tokyo Skytree or Tokyo Tower. FREE
- Learn the past, present, and future of Japanese advertising in the Advertising Museum Tokyo. FREE
- Join the scramble at Shibuya Crossing. This crossing is the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world in terms of foot traffic. Head up to the nearby Starbucks for a view from above! FREE
- Window shopping at Akihabara, the epicentre of all things Japanese (think of anime, technology, kawaii stuff). FREE if you can resist buying random things
- Explore the artificial island of Odaiba. The area was created for entertainment purposes and over time has become a playground for the futuristic and unique things in Tokyo. We got to check out the mini Statue of Liberty, 19m Gundam statue and Megaweb TOYOTA City Showcase where you get experience Toyota’s next-generation technologies. FREE
- Take in the Japanese religions at the many temples and shrines such as Sensōji, Meiji Shrine, and Zojoji. FREE
- We wanted to try out the infamous Mario Kart course on the streets. But unfortunately we found out too late that you in fact need an international driver’s license. So get one before you go, if you plan on doing this activity!
- Kinkaku-ji also known as the Golden Pavilion. This Zen Buddhist temple’s top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf making it stand out against the lush green background. 400 JPY ($4.84 CAD)
- Ryoanji. The standout feature in this temple complex is the rock garden. The gravel and sand are carefully raked into patterns that represent rippling water. 500 JPY ($6.05 CAD)
- Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine. This is perhaps the most instagrammable place in Kyoto known for its thousands of red torii gates. The gates wind their way up Mount Inari. Since this place is open 24 hours, I suggest going in the early morning and hike all the way to the top of the mountain to avoid the group tours. FREE
- Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. FREE
- Gion Matsuri. It is considered to be one of the top three festivals in Japan. Huge, elaborate floats are paraded through the streets. FREE
- Shelly rented a yukata, or summer kimono for the day and I reluctantly took on the role of IG boyfriend. She says that it was a fun experience, despite the sweltering heat. 3694 JPY ($45 CAD) for the outfit and hair styling.
- See over 30,000 animals at the Kaiyukan Aquarium, one of the largest aquariums in the world. We got a package with the Osaka Metro which included a 1 day unlimited metro pass for 2600 JPY ($31.26 CAD)
- Learn more about instant noodles and make your own at the Cup Noodles Museum. The museum will let you know how instant noodles came to life and the workshop inside will give you a chance to create and customize your own noodle cup. 300 JPY ($3.63 CAD) for the noodle cup and FREE for the museum.
- Space Station Bar
- Learn more about the history and culture of the city with Osaka Free Walking Tour. Highlights of the tour include the Kuromon market, Nipponbashi DenDen town, and Shinsekai.
- Gaze at the massive neon signs at Dotonbori, the site of Osaka’s entertainment district. FREE
- Day trip to Nara, the ancient capital city of Japan, an even older capital than Kyoto. Nara is famous for its polite bowing deers and the many historical sites such as the Tōdai-ji. There you can find the the largest bronze Buddha statue in the world, housed in the largest wooden building in the world. Entrance is 600 JPY ($7.26 CAD) and there is a free English guided tour that will teach you more about the history of Nara and the temple.
- Peace Memorial Park. There are a number of memorials in this park, such as the infamous Atomic Bomb Dome, one of the few surviving buildings from the Atomic bomb blast. It has been the symbol for Hiroshima. Another highlight is the Flame of Peace, which has been lit since August 1964 until the abolishment of all nuclear weapons. FREE
- From there we visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, where we learned more about the devastating effects of the bomb on the people of Hiroshima. Entrance was 200 JPY ($2.42 CAD)
- Hiroshima Castle grounds. Although you have to pay to enter the castle, we biked around the grounds in the evening after the castle was closed. You get spectacular views of the castle and the surrounding greenery in the golden sun with no crowds! FREE
- Visit Miyajima Island. This island is located less than an hour away from Hiroshima. It is home to the Itsukushima Shrine, famous for its floating torii gate in the middle of the sea. There are two different views depending on the tides. Low tides means that you can walk up right beside it. During high tide, it will look like the gate is floating on the water. Unfortunately, when we visited, the gate was under renovations (what can you do 🙁 ). However the rest of the shrine was still beautiful with large bright red pathways on stilts. Entrance was 300 JPY ($3.63 CAD)
- Karaoke for 2 hours 800 JPY ($9.68 CAD) per person. We did our karaoke during the day as it tends to be cheaper than going in the evenings and nights.
- Lookout and Urban Forest Climb. Head to the rooftop of the ACROS Building for a view of the city. It does require climbing a lot of floors (over 800 steps). However, the staircase is almost entirely covered in greenery, making the climb pretty nice one. FREE
- ATM Fee 216 JPY ($2.63 CAD). Make sure you use a debit card that doesn’t charge you for any foreign transaction fees. If you are from Canada, I recommend getting STACK!
- I had a water blockage in one of my ears and basically couldn’t hear from one side of my ear. I went to a clinic to get referred to an ENT clinic where I got it taken cared of. Together it was 10,750 JPY ($129.71 CAD)
- Purikura, or Japanese photo booth. 400 JPY ($4.84 CAD)
- Japanese Football team jersey 2912 JPY ($35.24 CAD)
- We got a pocket wifi with Wifi Rental Store for 20GB per month 8370 JPY ($101.33 CAD). We researched and found that this was the cheapest for the duration of our travels.
The Sum of the Cost of Travelling in Japan
I am not going to sugar coat it; I am sure you know that Japan is not cheap. This country is one of the more expensive countries to travel in the world but it is also unlike any other country in the world. In total, I spent 173,500 JPY or $2,099.35 CAD for the three weeks we were there. That equates to 8,262 JPY or $99.97 CAD per day.
Our food budget was the highest category. It wasn’t that food in Japan was expensive (aside from the Matsusaka beef), it was that we both loved Japanese food and wanted to try as much Japanese food as possible. You can easily spent less on food than we did, but as we were big foodies, we did not want to cheap out.
Transportation can get quite expensive. If you are stretched for money, skip out on the Shinkansen and take buses to get between cities. A great alternative is flying. There are special fares and air passes for foreign visitors with JAL (Japan Explorer Pass) and ANA (Experience Japan Fare). There are also budget carriers such as Peach Aviation and Jetstar Japan that have reduced the prices of domestic flights.
Most of Japan’s cultural attractions are either free or really cheap (couple hundred yens). However, if you are planning on going to Tokyo Disney or Universal Studios in Osaka, or some of the paid observation decks (Tokyo Skytree), you will see your activities budget skyrocket. We didn’t go to any of these type of attractions which helped keep our costs down.
Keep in mind that my costs of travelling Japan included a 10,750 JPY ($129.71 CAD) ear clinic expense that hopefully that you will not have to pay.
Ways to Save ¥¥¥
- If your accommodation doesn’t include breakfasts, get your breakfast at the convenience stores (7-Eleven, Family Mart, Lawson). Not only do they have quality foods, they are also relatively cheap.
- Eat your biggest meal at lunch. This is when restaurants have their promotions or “lunch sets”.
- If you want to drink and party, consider pre-drinking on the way to the bar/club by buying drinks at the convenience stores. It is 100% legal to drink on the streets.
- As most people will be coming in through Narita International Airport just outside of Tokyo (like I did), I suggest taking the slower train to and from the airport. An extra 30 minutes will save you around 1500 JPY ($18 CAD)!
- Skip out on getting a SIM card or a pocket WiFi as they are quite expensive. I was able to get by without one last time I was travelling in Japan. The availability of public WiFi is getting better due to the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Most convenience stores will have free public WiFi.