5 budget travel tips to Japan
Budgeting on a trip is tough and might seem like you are compromising on certain luxuries. However, my trip to Japan certainly beat that myth.
If you ever thought a trip to Japan is expensive, then U-don (you don’t) know Japan as we do! Read on for 5 tips to spare your wallet and have a budget-friendly trip to the land of the Rising Sun.
Our party of 6 first travelled to Osaka before taking the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Tokyo. Japan is a beautiful country all year round and we managed to catch their New Year holiday during our 1 week trip from 28 December - 3 January.
1. JR Pass
The one thing that most budget-friendly trips in Japan have in common - say hello to the Japan Rail (JR) Pass. The subway is Japan’s primary mode of public transport hence, getting a subway pass that allows you to travel both within and between major cities is a must-have. For those of us on a budget, it is best to get a JR Pass that is most worthwhile our money, in order to ensure we do not end up paying more than necessary.
Most tourists might go for the Whole JR Pass which covers the whole of Japan’s railway network. However, with its hefty starting price of £216 (¥29, 100), this pass will only be worth its purchase if you intend to travel to different cities in different regions (eg. Tokyo in Kanto region and Osaka in Kansai region). Therefore, it’s definitely recommended to plan ahead which cities or areas of Japan you wish to visit before purchasing the different JR Passes.
For us, it was an easy decision. We had a planned itinerary on where to travel to whilst in Osaka and so we decided to buy the Regional JR Kansai Pass which gave us unlimited travels onboard trains in the Kansai region only (which included major cities like Osaka, Nara, Kyoto, Hiroshima and Himeji). Plus, we wanted to experience the Nozoki Shinkansen travel experience from Osaka to Tokyo, and hence the regional pass was the pass for us.
Tip 1: The JR Passes are actually cheaper when purchased online or outside of Japa, so do make sure to buy them before your trip!
Tip 2: The regional JR Kansai Pass allows you to board the train to and from Kansai International Airport as well, so you will be able to save on airport taxi transfers too.
Tip 3: Make use of Japan Guide’s JR Pass Calculator to compare your regular ticket costs with the Whole JR Pass.
2. Munching on a budget
Hands down, one of the best memories I have of Japan will be its convenience stores (7/11, Family Mart, Lawson, etc). Scattered all over the city, you will expect nothing like cold and soggy buns, but instead piping hot oden, a variety of sushi platters and fried chicken cutlets - all at a reasonably cheap price.
While it does not exactly seem appetizing to buy your meals from a 7/11, the food sold in Japan’s convenience stores truly belonged to another scale on the spectrum alone - our accomodation in Osaka had a Family Mart just around the corner and it was our go-to breakfast stop throughout the entire trip.
Another alternative would be the restaurant outlets found in Japan’s train stations. Filled with outlets that required you to order via vending machines, these casual restaurants provided a budget-friendly solution to us hungry tourists. There, a steamy bowl of ramen costs as little as $6 (¥500), way cheaper than what we would usually find in Singapore.
The many conveyor sushi belt outlets found in most of Japan’s major tourist districts are yet another cosy place for you to munch on a budget. With sushi plates typically priced between £0.8-1.5 (¥125 - ¥200) each, you can finally fill up your stomach with a whole variety of delicious sushi without guilt! Plus, Japanese chefs pride themselves on the freshness of their ingredients used so even these chain outlets keep to their promise of serving up quality sushi to their customers. Hence, do not worry about ‘paying less and getting less’ as it will just be the opposite in this case.
Tip 4: Genrokuzushi is Osaka’s most popular conveyor belt sushi restaurant. They have around 9 outlets in Osaka, so be sure to dine there before you leave the city.
3. Don Don Donki
The sight of this familiar blue penguin will set you humming the tune to its theme song - welcome to Japan’s biggest discount chain. We actually stumbled upon the largest Don Don Donki store in Osaka by mistake and it was a lucky one indeed.
Packed with snacks, household items, cosmetics, toys, branded watches and bags, it was mind boggling as to how they were able to fit it all in this 6 leveled store. Hence, with the wide variety and cheap options available, it is definitely recommended to start your souvenir shopping here. Plus, items sold here are tailored for the Japanese domestic crowd so time to get your hands on that rare sake Kit Kat or limited facial mask treatments.
Tip 5: Click for the address to Dotonbori Don Quijote, the largest Don Don Donki store in Osaka.
4. Exploring on foot
If you aren’t pressed for time, it is actually recommended to walk from one location to another within the cities. It might sound tiring but you will truly be able to appreciate the beauty of Japan’s streets as cars and bicycles whisk by you.
In Tokyo, we decided to take a walk from our accommodation (located in Ryogoku) to a train station probably 3 stops away and we were thoroughly amazed by the serenity and tranquility of Tokyo’s residential neighborhoods. Away from the hustle and bustle of the city’s central, these residential areas painted a nostalgic picture of what living in Tokyo used to be. Saving money on transport while enjoying Tokyo’s scenic views - see, not all budget-friendly trips have to be dreary!
Inspired to visit Japan? Find your ticket with Budgetair.co.uk