JAPAN: Budget Impossible?

Since many people often wonder how we pay for our extensive travels and for those who are about to take a RTW trip of their own, we have decided to start talking about how much travelers should expect to spend on certain things in each country so they can plan their own budgets.

We don’t keep an incredibly detailed budget or log of our spending but we know when something is too much money and we have no problem seeking out a better deal. We are actually trying to learn to track our expenses better so as time goes on, this portion of the blog may get more technical. I would say that we fall into a category of “budget travel” but we also didn’t travel halfway around the world to sit in our hostel room, eating bread and cheese. We make some sacrifices here and there, allowing ourselves to enjoy a luxurious meal or an expensive activity that is specific to the area, once in a while.

Japan uses Japanese Yen as their currency.

95 Yen=1 USD
2 Weeks in Japan = 1,085.79 USD for two people/542.50 each
Note: The above figure doesn’t include our transportation to/from Japan, because I thought it was helpful to see how much we actually spent while in Japan and will talk about transportation below.

Accommodation in Japan

Lodging in Japan is massively expensive. I would say that hotel and hostel costs can  safely add up to half of a persons budget in Japan. I think that when people talk about how expensive Japan is, one of the main factors for this opinion is solely how much people pay to lay their heads down at night. Couchsurfing, Hospitality Clubs or just old friends should absolutely be used if you plan to have an affordable trip.

Tokyo: We were lucky enough to stay with Ellie’s high school friend who lives in Tokyo for five nights. When we looked online at hostels, a few dorm beds start at around 2,500 yen (26.00 USD) and quickly rise from there.

Kyoto: Again, we were fortunately saved by a couch surfing miracle named Shoji who generously let us use his entire extra house with a couple other couch surfers. Traditional Japanese housing with an awesome host that didn’t cost us a dime is a pretty lucky situation. Kyoto is the king of crazy expensive lodging. With few youth hostels, many of the rooms cost around 7,000 yen (73USD) per person.

Kobe: The one night we paid for accommodation was out of sheer novelty. I really wanted to try a Japanese capsule hotel, so we stayed the night at the Kobe Kur haus which I highly recommend. It was 3,800 yen (40 USD) per person, but included use of the traditional onsen (Japanese baths) and sauna, hair dryers, mineral water, shuttle bus to the train station, toothbrushes, PJ’s and all the trimmings.

Capsule Hotels are good value, but most cater to men so check before planning your trip. Also, if really in a tight spot, many people use to the manga internet café private cubicles to sleep for the night. These can cost upwards of 2,000 yen (22 USD), but still remain cheaper than most hostel dorms.

Transportation in Japan

As we previously mentioned, we flew from S. Korea to Japan and our flight was a pricy 300 USD.

In Tokyo- We used the confusing subway system to get us around the city. Subway tickets cost between 150 yen and 300 yen depending on the distance of your journey. Cabs normally start around 800 yen and rapidly go up from there so they are best to be avoided.

Getting from Tokyo to Kyoto- Ellie and I bought a Seishun Kippu Under 18 pass which is basically a rail pass that is offered during school holiday times. You don’t have to be a student or under 18 to use it. The only catches are that they must be used during a specific time such as the season was from the end of July to September and you can’t use any fast trains or shinkansen bullet trains. This pass is perfect for people who have a decent amount of time on their hands. It costs only 11,500 yen for 5 rides that can take up to 24 hours. Also, two people can use the same pass. So Ellie and I each used one stamp on the pass to get us from Tokyo to Kyoto. It is brilliant because the pass is cheaper than even one ride on the bullet trains. However, a ride that normally takes 1.5 hours from Tokyo to Kyoto took us nearly 8 hours with about 5 switches so be prepared that saving money means losing time.

In Kyoto: We took the subway or the JR line trains and most rides cost about 200 yen per ride. It is pretty expensive and adds up quickly especially because to switch between JR lines and subway lines, you have to pay again. This system is a money sucker.

Day trip to Nara : We bought a ticket on the JR line that heads to Nara and it costs a little over 600 yen each way.

From Kyoto to Kobe- We used the remaining stamps on our pass to get there, but another really excellent value is the Kansai-through pass which costs only 2000 yen for one day so if you need to get somewhere such as Kobe, Kyoto, or Osaka for less than 20 USD this is the option for you.

Food/Drinks in Japan

In Japan, it’s possible to eat at convenience stores for really cheap. You may be thinking why would you want to do such a thing? Because the sushi and inari are cheap and super fresh. You can get small sushi sets for around 400 yen at the convenience shop. At restaurants, we paid about 1400 to 2000 yen for two people, but this is the cheapest we could eat at fairly cheap local restaurants. Food quickly gets more expensive and we saw many set menus in Kyoto, starting at 8000 yen (over 80 USD!) and included no alcohol. We became gigantic fans of conveyor belt sushi because it’s one of the cheapest ways to try lots of new sushi and normally costs around 130 yen per dish.

Beer at a convenience shop was normally around 300 yen and soda was about 150 yen. Water was similarly priced to soda depending on the bottle size. We had the pleasure of trying absinthe and that was about 1000 yen per shot in Tokyo but it was absinthe after all and at a pretty upmarket bar. Wine was fairly cheaper than other places in Asia. We found a bottle of fairly tolerable red wine for 500 yen, but many better quality imports could be purchased for only a 1000 yen.

Sights/ Activities/ Side Trips

In Japan, we tried to do a lot of things for free. We spent our time walking around Harajuku, people watching and we visited Tskuiji fish market, which of course is another free activity. We went to a bar that had a free art opening and free champagne, luckily enough. We visited the temple in Yoyogi park which costs nothing and to be honest, we walked a LOT, taking it all in, walking from one neighborhood to the next.

In Kyoto and Nara:

We paid to go in a few temples that sounded interesting and most of the time, the admission was 500 yen per temple.

We went to a little neighborhood onsen (a public bath) and it cost 500 yen. You could buy shampoo and conditioner for about 100 yen each and rent towels for the same.

So, Is Japan a budget destination for Americans?

I wouldn’t call Japan a budget destination for Americans, but I certainly wouldn’t agree with the critics who estimate that you will blow your entire mortgage with one trip to Japan. Can you blow a month’s rent? Sure, if you want to shop ‘til you drop in Ginza, eat fugu and Kobe steak, and stay at a 5 star hotel. Japan can be done amazingly with a decent budget though. I would say it’s similar to vacationing in NYC. Accommodation is the only really outrageous cost you will incur on a daily basis. Would I recommend it to backpackers? Maybe. If you’re trips not too long and you can stay on someone’s couch, then it’s doable, if not a little depressing because there are so many experiences you may miss out on due to money. Granted, I would love to go back with more cash and experience a different Japan.


6 Responses to “JAPAN: Budget Impossible?”

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  1. 1 JAPAN: Budget Impossible? | Hotel Confirm Trackback on October 27, 2009 at 9:25 am
  2. 2 JAPAN: Budget Impossible? « Catch Us whether You Can | Hotel Confirm Trackback on October 27, 2009 at 11:34 am

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