Japan has a reputation for being a very expensive country. But actually, it’s on par or slightly cheaper than Western Europe and North America. I’ve learned how to navigate the country on a modest budget. During a recent 16-day trip, I averaged spending $70 a day in Japan. On the same trip, I saved over $1,249. That sounds unbelievable. Here’s how I did it.
If you break down my $70 a day budget, about $25 was spent on transportation, $25 on accommodation, $15 on meals, and about $5 on sightseeing. This is an average over 16 days (with 7 days of JR rail pass use). Shared dorm accommodation isn’t too costly and neither is eating. I usually had at least one nice meal out per day. But at $25 per day for transportation, how does that rank?
Transportation in Japan can be extremely expensive. A 1,027 km round-trip from Tokyo to Kyoto on the shinkansen (bullet train) will set you back $263. That’s way above my average. My average was calculated from the average daily cost of a JR rail pass plus other days when I didn’t travel much. A 7-Day JR pass costs $291 . Divided by 7 days and you get $42 per day – very reasonable considering you can ride the bullet train all day and you nearly pay for the pass with a round trip between Tokyo and Kyoto.
I added all the legs of my 7-day trip up and subtracted the cost of my pass which gave me the savings. Granted, my trip was a little insane. On day 4, I was on the train for more than 13 hours! The trip took me all the way up to Hokkaido in the far north down to Kyushu in the south. I rode scenic trains, slow regional trains, new bullet trains, and the last remaining sleeper train in the country. The days before and after the validity of my pass, I mostly stayed put in Nara, Kyoto, Tokyo, and around Mt. Fuji. These days I spent very little on transport. Then when my pass was valid, I had a fast -paced trip to see as much as I could.
(ticket cost if purchased individual tickets)
Day 1: Kyoto to Hirosaki via Yamadera (34,740 yen)
Day 2: Hirosaki to Sapporo (14,830 yen)
Day 3: Sapporo to Sounkyo Onsen (via Kamikawa) (3,670 yen)
Day 4: Kamikawa to Nagoya (41,570)
Day 5: Nagoya to Takayama via Kiso Valley (5,330 yen)
Day 6: Takayama to Hiroshima (via Himeji and Miyajimaguchi) (10,890 yen)
Day 7: Hiroshima to Atami (via Kagoshima) (39,220 yen)
Total cost without rail pass = 161,560 yen
Subtract 30,601 (cost of pass)
130,959 yen ($1,249) = total savings
* $1 US = 104.8 Japanese yen
Japan-guide.com is an excellent source of information on Japan. They also sell Japan Rail passes and provide more details on using a rail pass to travel around the country. For more info go here.