Japan is one of those countries that is tricky to travel on a budget. Out of the four countries that I have been to, during my three months of international travel Tokyo, Japan was by far the most expensive. My initial plan was to travel in Japan for an entire month, but after calculating my finance, I decided that ten days was sufficient for my budget.
The conversion rate of USD to JPY at the time in May 2018 was $0.90USD for ¥100, but once I included tax it rounded out to be $1USD for ¥108. I had to be very strategic with my budget and spend money on only necessities; accommodation, food, and transportation. This was going to be quite a challenge.
I will be honest, everything in Japan IS expensive; accommodation food, transportation, merchandise, and etc. The best way to work around this on a budget is to go for things that are cost-effective and can stretch your dollar. Here are some ways on how I traveled on a budget whilst in Tokyo.
Most accommodations are quite expensive if you plan to stay directly in Tokyo. However, staying on the outskirts of Tokyo like Kawasaki, Yokohama, Ota, and etc have some accommodation with a fair price. Most of these accommodations are going to be hostels, Airbnb, and couchsurfing.
Hostels are the best way to go with prices as low as $16USD/night, however, be ready to sleep in a capsule with limited space for you, your stuff, and lack of privacy. There are a few Airbnb around Tokyo, but with the recent laws changes to Airbnb during this past summer, it might be tricky to get an Airbnb. The price range for an Airbnb in Tokyo falls between $18USD – $100USD+ a night where the average price is $44USD/night.
Now if you really do not want to spend money on accommodation, couchsurfing is the only way to go. I initially tried to line up a request with a couchsurfing host outside of Tokyo, but it did not work out for me. Thus, I went with a hostel instead. There are several couchsurfing hosts around Tokyo, but make sure that you send a request ahead of time so that it works for you and your host.
The ¥100 store is going to be your best friend whilst in Japan. These ¥100 store have most of the things that you will need, but I would not solely buy food there all of the time. Go out and treat yourself to some amazing Japanese food that is budget friendly. There are sushi diners all over Tokyo where everything is a la carte so you get to choose how much you want to spend. However, if you want to eat other types of Japanese food like authentic ramen for $9USD, be prepared to pay almost the same amount of what you would pay back in the US.
One great thing about the food in Japan is that it is always made fresh daily, especially packaged meals ready to eat. Near the end of the day when stores are closing, most of these packaged meals are reduced in price since Japanese law requires stores to throw away all packaged meals if they are not sold. Therefore, you might be lucky to snag some great delicious meals at a great price for your budget.
There are various methods to get around Tokyo, but the only budget friendly method is the public train. I love the public train system in Tokyo. They have one of the most efficient and easy to navigate train system that I have ever seen. At first, I was confused because when purchasing a ticket, everything was in Japanese and I had no clue what to do as I was staring at the ticket terminal. Luckily, if you look carefully there is an on-screen button that translates everything into English.
The cost of a train ticket will depend on which train station you are going to. Going to a train station that is far from your location will cost more than going to a train station that is closer to you. Utilizing Google maps on your smartphone can help determine the cost of the train ticket. On average, I spent about $10USD for a day round trip.
Instead of purchasing individual train tickets, go purchase a Suica card at a ticket terminal where there is an initial fee of $4.55USD/¥500. A Suica card is basically a train card that has stored value in it and automatically deduct when you use the public train. It is tremendously convenient; you can always put more money into it, and you no longer have to purchase more individual train tickets. When it is time to leave Japan, make sure that you resell your Suica card at a train station that can do it. Go to a customer representative and get back whatever money is still left on the card.
Expenses in Japan
- Accommodation – $306.21USD
- Food – $165.43USD
- Transportation – $103.32USD
- Miscellaneous – $120.60USD
Total – $695.56USD:$69.56USD/day