Is Japan Really That Expensive?

Is Japan Really That Expensive?

Anyone who has ever been to Japan, never has anything bad to say about it–except for the price. But is Japan really all that expensive?

Johnny and I went to Japan a few months ago for a total of seven days. Before our trip even began, we decided we would record every expense we made no matter how small, down to even the offerings we made at shrines.

When we came back from the trip, our notebook filled with the things we bought and their respective prices. On some days, the list of things we bought went on for two pages. So rather than listing it out item by item, we decided to organize our expenses into five categories: accommodation, transportation, food, activities and miscellaneous. 

So here’s a breakdown of what one week in Japan looks like.

Japan Budget Sheet

*Total would have been higher had it not been for our amazing friends (Thanks Karen and Matt!)

Please note, all totals listed above are for two people in USD. Airfare and layover expenses are not included.

About Our Expenses–

Accommodation

Tokyo Disney

Accommodation will be one of your largest expenses, but luckily Japan has plenty of options to choose from.

Picking the right accommodation can really help keep costs down. Due to the high prices, I really recommend booking everything in advanced instead of trying to find accommodation on arrival. Because we booked early, our hotels weren’t anymore expensive than a hotel in the US would be. We were also thankful to stay with a friend one night, cutting costs even further.

Transportation

Tokyo, Japan

Transportation adds up very quickly. The cheapest train ticket is generally ¥140 ($1.50 USD) and will only get you a few stops from your starting location. We tried our best to plan out our routes ahead of time, in order to avoid backtracking or going needlessly back and forth across the city.

This meant, we would explore maybe only eastern Tokyo one day, and western the next. If we knew we would be hopping on and off often, we would purchase day passes where possible. We did not purchase JR Rail Passes, however if we had been going outside of Tokyo, we would have.

Food

Tokyo, Japan  Tokyo, Japan

We ate cheaply for the majority of our trip; each day came down to roughly $30 USD per person– which for three meals is not bad at all. A lot of our meals came from convenient stores or fast food establishments, such as Yoshinoya and First Kitchen.

We did splurge and spend $50 USD per person for one meal, which was at least tabehoudai (all you can eat) and nomihoudai (all you can drink).

Activities

Tokyo Disney

We didn’t have many activity charges, which is good because they are probably the most expensive part of Japan.

The bulk of our activity costs were a 2-day park ticket to Tokyo Disney and DisneySea, which cost almost $110 USD per person. Our other major activity expense was our day trip to Mount Fuji. Luckily most of the other days, our main activities were simply exploring the city and visiting free shrines.

Miscellaneous

Tokyo Disney

The miscellaneous section is just that– anything else that doesn’t fit into the other four categories. So here most of our expenses were from souvenirs, postcards, pressed pennies, temple offerings, purikura photobooth photos, etc.

I also included food that we didn’t need to purchase, like an $8 strawberry, and any alcohol expenses. Obviously these expenses will vary greatly depending upon the traveler; depending on both your budget and how good you are at avoiding temptation from adorable Disney merchandise.

In Conclusion…

Is Japan really that expensive?

Yes! But…

not more than if you were visiting another highly developed country like the US, Western Europe or Australia.

All in all, we could have saved more money if we really wanted to, but we treated this trip more like a vacation. Had we been traveling more slowly or long-term around Japan, we would’ve tried to keep our costs much lower because we wouldn’t have been able to travel much longer at the rate we were spending.

Japan is a truly extraordinary country filled with unique experiences. And while some things may be more expensive there than in your own home country, it is not a place you have to avoid because of your budget!

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Have you been to Japan? How do you feel about the cost of travel in Japan?

20 Comments

  • Akash says:

    I along with my friend travelled to japan this spring, ofcourse on a shoestring budget. Our total cost of japan trip for 10nights in japan (6 days tokyo,3 days kyoto,1 day hiroshima) was USD 900 per person. I thought of sharing some useful tips,apart from what is shared above, for fellow budget travellers:-
    1) The most helpful money saving decision for me was to get a 3 day willer bus pass for around USD 140,tokyo to kyoto,hiroshima and back to tokyo. It helped me skip buying the expensive 7 day JR pass(around usd 300) plus it helped me save accommodation costs for my 3 days (due to night travel through the bus).The bus seats, though slightly narrow, were comfortable enough for a good night sleep and very easy to book/schedule time etc. through their english website.
    http://willerexpress.com/st/3/en/pc/buspass/
    2) Japan has a lot to offer for people for all tastes. That means you have to choose some and skip some and not try to do all. For me, i bought the 1day q-pack for Fuji q highland(usd 70), which boasts of some of the bests roller coasters of the world and ticket to Robot restaurant in Tokyo(usd 60 ).
    3) All cities have very good hostels in japan for around usd 25 to 35. You may also indulge a day or two in a Ryokan for atound double the cost.

  • zoomingjapan says:

    I guess it depends.
    Compared to some European countries (I’m originally from Germany), Japan isn’t that expensive.
    Yes, certain fruits and imported food as well as clothes can be expensive, but travelling is cheaper than in many Western European countries.

    And there are many ways to save some money, you just need to know how.

    I’ve been living in Japan for the past 6 years and I don’t find it expensive at all.
    Oh, and taxes are very low, so it’s easy to save money and travel! :D

    • Beth Williams says:

      Compared to the US as well, Japan is not that expensive. I think people who visit there coming from the rest of Asia are just shocked when they see that Japan has Western prices rather than Asian! ^^;;

  • traveladdict says:

    Japan is definitely terribly expensive, but an awesome dream destination!
    Been there once a long time ago and I will keep your post on file, because you have so many great tips. I will take account of your information when planning my next trip to Japan.

    • Beth Williams says:

      Japan is only terribly expensive when comparing it to other Asian countries. Otherwise, it’s no more expensive than other developed western countries.

  • The cost of travelling in Japan is definitely affordable. For example, food wise I was more than happy to eat the bento boxes out of 7Eleven which were, cheap, filling and actually good quality unlike you would find in convenience stores in the west.

    And like you say, the JR Pass really is a lifesaver if you’re intending cross country travel (but look into buses as well, if you can navigate Japanese only websites, some of the regional bus companies are dirt cheap!).

    • Beth Williams says:

      Yeah, when I lived in Japan I would often find myself picking up lunch from the 7Eleven or other fast-food bento places. If someone else had been buying my meals, I never would have guessed they were from a 7Eleven!

      I’ve never used a JR Pass, although I think they’re great for tourists. Since I was living in Japan, I never had the option of purchasing one. I actually used bus companies (Willer is great) for all of my cross-country travel, and as you said, they were dirt cheap!

      Thanks for your comment!

  • Christine says:

    Great article! I was just telling my boyfriend that I’d love to go to Japan but have always heard its super expensive! Thanks for the breakdown. Still a bit out of our budget at the moment, but a girl can dream! If you’re interested, we just did a budget breakdown for living in the south of Mexico for a month.

    • Beth Williams says:

      Japan is an amazing country, and like I said, it’s not much more than any western country like the US or UK. We spent a lot of money while we were there, and we definitely could’ve cut back a few more hundred dollars easily!

      Staying a month in Mexico seems really great (and affordable from the looks of your budget)! I’ve never been, but I hope to visit once I’m settled back in the US. :)

  • I’ve been to Japan a number of times, first as an exchange student when I was in high school. I lived there for a year, attending a public HS, and have been back to visit a number of times since. I have the advantage of friends and pseudo-family, but yes, Japan can certainly be expensive. On our last visit, we had the Japan Rail Pass, which really made a big difference in transportation costs. We spent a lot on the front end, but we really used the heck out of it, and visited places we never would have if we hadn’t had the pass. Food is worth splurging on a bit too, though cheaper meals are fairly easy to find. Thanks for sharing your experience. It’s always helpful to see others’ actual spending!

  • Monica says:

    It definitely sounds like Japan is the kind of country that’s worth spending a little more to visit. And I think it’s a great idea to treat it like a vacation and just have fun. There’s a time to budget and sometimes it’s worth spending a little more!

  • emma says:

    Hey! I really enjoyed reading this since we just booked our tickets to Japan today! We’ll be traveling a good two weeks there, and from what we’ve seen- if you book early like you said, it’s not that bad. Actually we’ve been surprised to find pretty good deals on hotels etc. in Tokyo!

    Cant wait to read your other posts, too :)

    Cheers,
    Emma

    • Beth Williams says:

      Tokyo can be affordable if you plan ahead for sure! I’m super excited to hear that you’ll be visiting Japan soon, it’s tied for my favorite country. :)

      Will you be visiting other cities besides Tokyo?

  • Nicole says:

    That’s a really good idea to write all that down. I figured Tokyo would be expensive. I wonder about the other cities.

    • Beth Williams says:

      Other cities in Japan? Basically, prices are consistent. I lived in Osaka and went to school in Kobe, and found that the prices for things there were no different from Tokyo.

  • Brandy says:

    Thanks for this breakdown of costs! I’m planning a trip to Japan for next spring, and I’ve been curious about how much I’ll truly need to save, since it’ll be a 10-day vacation kind of thing, and I know I’ll want to splurge a little.

    • Beth Williams says:

      Japan is expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Just make sure to book everything early and make a list of things you REALLY want to see, and don’t mind spending extra money for. Especially for temples, because after about 5 or so, they all somewhat start to look the same– but often they’ll each cost about 500-800 Yen for entry! It adds up quickly!

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