*Article has been updated to reflect 2019 exchange rates and prices.
Answer: Not as much as everyone keeps telling you.
Whether you’re a student, part-time worker or a general penny pincher, the dream of travelling to Japan is not a farfetched one. Take it from someone who recently travelled Japan for three-weeks while paying for rent, school and bearing the cost of other stressful adult responsibilities.
Want to finally experience the land of the rising sun in all of its ramen and anime-filled glory?
Your time is 2019!
Below, I break down the cost of travel in Japan based off of research in comparison to my own personal experience being in the country. I include cost at a budget, average and above average level.
Keep in mind; the key to successful budget planning is advanced research, price tracking and managing personal expectations.
The flight is going to be your biggest hurdle but book it as soon as you find the right deal. The sooner you book your flight, the sooner you’ll be motivated to put every loonie towards your trip. My return flight to Narita Airport (Tokyo) from Toronto’s Pearson International Airport cost $1254 CAD ($1010 USD) on Expedia.ca. I flew out in late July 2017 on United Airlines operated by All Nippon Airways with one short stopover in Chicago (I highly recommend this airline.) Try planning your flight around a low travel period in Japan (late January to early March or early June to late July) and you may find a price as low as $765 CAD ($616 USD). Opt-in for more stops and longer layovers for a cheaper ticket as well. If you are more of solo traveller, it is common to score a direct/round-trip flight for $1145 CAD ($922 USD) on Air Canada — this is a steal! I always add medical and cancellation insurance because anything can happen.
(I’m going to avoid business-class and first-class breakdowns as I have no experience with them and they will always drive the cost through the roof. After all, this blog is for people who can relate to my situation.)
While in Japan, I was able to experience all sorts of levels of accommodation, from capsule hotels to traditional Japanese Ryokans. Below, I’ll break down your staying options and what you can expect in terms of cost for your desired budget.
If you are looking to see Japan on a shoestring budget, I recommend hostels or capsule hotels for your stay. Japan is considered one of the safest countries in the world and is known for its cleanliness and great service. Read reviews and choose one that fits your style. Dorm beds and capsule hotels normally average around ¥3000 ($32 CAD / $25 USD) per night. The closer you are to the city centre, the more your bed might cost.
To see Japan at a more average cost, stay in a budget business hotel or guesthouse. Single bed room’s start at ¥6000 ($65 CAD / $55 USD) further out from the city and can be as high as ¥10,000 ($110 CAD / $88 USD) a night. Paying the extra cost generally will bring you further into the city, near key areas and give you more privacy.
If you are willing to splurge a little more on your stay, there are many modern hotels and traditional Japanese styled inns (Ryokans) that will make a great trip highlight. Nicer hotels can range from ¥25,000 ($275 CAD / $245 USD) a night to as high as ¥100,000 ($1100 CAD / 885 USD) a night — though this is not needed at all or even recommended.
- Japan is known for its impeccable service, no matter what type of accommodation you choose, you will get the best hospitality service on the continent.
- Basing your stay in Tokyo will naturally incur a higher cost than staying in any non-capital city, per say. If you want to favour lower cost accommodations, yet still want the city vibe, try Osaka, Nagoya, Kobe, Sapporo or Kyoto.
- Stay further out from Shibuya, Shinjuku and Harajuku to find lower priced places to stay.
- Sites like Expedia or Kayak offer lower prices when booking hotel and flight together.
- Book on Airbnb for cheap, private and authentic Japanese accommodations. I stayed a 10-minute walk from Ikebukuro Station for $35 a night and had my own kitchen, bathroom and bed!
The subway and JR will be your bread and butter when visiting Japan. Whether it is intercity or across-country, Japan does it the best!
If you are on a shoestring budget, plan to stay in one city and use the subway and JR to explore the outskirts. A single ride in a big city like Tokyo averages around ¥250 ($2.75 CAD or $2.20 USD) per ride on subway and ¥650 ($7.15 CAD / $5.75 USD) on JR Trains. New this year, Tokyo has introduced a ¥800 ($8.75 CAD / $7.05 USD) unlimited day-pass on their expansive subway system — this is no doubt a steal!
If you are planning on travelling a greater distance from your base city for adventurous day trips or simply want to see a nearby city, I would recommend JR Trains and coach buses as your main tool of travel. JR Trains average around ¥650 ($7.15 CAD / $5.75 USD) and cover entire cities or multiple at a time. Coach buses average from ¥1500 ($17 CAD / $13.75 USD) to ¥4500 ($50 CAD / $40 USD). Travel Hack: Buses run well into the night, so choose a night bus to your desired city and save a night’s stay at a hotel!
Like myself, you may be tempted to explore multiple big cities while adventuring across Japan’s many unique landscapes. While you can get the Japanese experience by visiting any one city, it is always nice to see many different facets while in the land of the rising sun. Luckily, Japan offers a service for foreigners which grants you unlimited travel on their JR lines throughout the entire country. The JR pass costs about $315 CAD ($250 USD) for 7 Days, $508 CAD ($410 USD) for 14 Days and $651 CAD for 21 Days ($525 USD). It must be purchased online before you visit the country. Keep in mind the pass is not valid on subways and non-JR lines. As a JR Pass cost-saving example: It costs on average ¥14,500 ($160 CAD / $130 USD) one way from Tokyo to Kyoto on the Shinkansen (Bullet Train). By purchasing the 7-day JR pass, you are already covering the cost of your return trip between Japan’s two biggest cities.
- Avoid Taxies and Ubers like the plague.
- Only choose the JR Pass if you plan to travel to multiple big cities while in Japan.
- Choose coach buses instead to save money on long distance travel or choose the Shinkansen to save time.
My favourite and no-doubt the most important part of any trip…FOOD! Japan has an extensive array of cuisines that range from savoury ramen and fresh sashimi to sweet matcha treats or refreshing shaved ice.
You are going to want to stick to street vendors, conveyor-belt sushi and convenience stores. Don’t be fooled by the convenience stores. Family Mart, 7-11 and Lawson offer shelves full of fresh-made Japanese delights. From sushi roles to cold soba noodles, they literally have it all. I got so addicted to the 7-11 chicken cutlet sandwiches for ¥200 ($2.20 CAD / $1.77 USD) that it became my go-to breakfast item. Most food items cost between ¥100-¥700 ($1.13 CAD – $7.80 CAD / 0.90 USD – $6 USD), giving an undeniably good value for good food while seeing the country. Street vendors offer the same price range but will provide a more authentic experience — try out Takoyaki, Okonomiyaki and Dongo! Last but not least…conveyer belt sushi. You can’t go to Japan without eating good sushi from the source. Luckily, no matter where you get it, it is going to taste legit. My personal favourite spot was Genki Sushi in the heart of Shibuya. They offer fresh-to-order sashimi, sushi and hot foods for as little as ¥180 ($2 CAD / 1.60 USD) a plate.
Contrary to what you may have heard, sit-in meals can actually be quite affordable in Japan. Without trying, most lunch meals or dinner sets will run you ¥1000 ($12 CAD / $9.70 USD) or less. The more you veer away from the inner city and from tourist attractions, the cheaper eats you’ll find. You without a doubt have come to Japan to try Ramen, Donburi and Omu Rice. With just a little searching, you’ll find these hot meals for ¥1000 ($12 CAD / $9.70 USD) or less — I did it!
Don’t be afraid to splurge on a meal or two. Try a traditional Omakase sushi experience or a multi-course yakitori dinner. There are a plethora of restaurants all over Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and beyond that offer the most pristine dining experience imaginable. As a matter of fact, Japan is the country with the most Michelin rated restaurants in the entire world. After going days eating Family Mart soba noodles and ¥600 donburi bowls, it will be nice to treat yourself to a luxury meal. Higher priced meals can cover a wide range of costs, so it is best to do plenty of research to see what is hot and trending at the time.
- If you see a long queue outside a restaurant, odds are it is a hit with the locals — go try it out!
- Japan does not require you to tip your servers. Don’t even try, odds are you’ll have them chasing you down the street thinking you left money on the table by mistake. This is a HUGE cost saver.
- Most restaurants have a complimentary jug of cold water or a hot water tap with green tea powder at each seat — saving you from purchasing a drink.
Fun is very subjective, especially in Japan. Below, I’ll list the average cost of activities based on budget tier. Personally, most of my fun came from wandering quant alleyways, going Ga-Ga over neon lights and engaging in quirky street shenanigans — all which are 100% free!
- Walking – Free
- Engaging with locals – Free
- Park Entry: Free – ¥200
- Bike Rental: ¥1000
- One temple or museum entry: Free – ¥500
- Shopping at souvenir and 100 YEN shops: ¥100-¥1000
- Multiple Temple and museum entries: ¥1500
- Sake or Beer tasting: ¥1000 – ¥2500
- Shopping at mid-tier shops: ¥1000 – ¥5000
- Day Excursions to Famous Sights: ¥5000 – ¥45,000
- Bus Tours: ¥2500
- Observation Deck Ticket: ¥2500
- Half-day cycling tour or cooking class: ¥5000
- Shopping at high-tier shops and boutiques: ¥5000 – ¥∞
- Go with the flow and play it by ear, you never know what kind of free things you will come across.
- Window-shopping is free, and there is a lot of it!
- Browse multiple shops before you commit to buying any kind of souvenir.
- Although street performers don’t require a fee, it is always nice to give them a few hundred YEN as a courtesy.
- Don’t focus heavily on filling your itinerary with “must-see” places, you can’t see everything, and it is always an excuse to go back!
Total Cost of Travel to Japan with Flight (Per Person)
- 1-Week: ¥150,000 ($1645 CAD / $1325 USD)
- 2-Week: ¥190,000 ($2085 CAD / $1680 USD)
- 3-Week: ¥230,000 ($2525 CAD / $2035 USD)
- 1-Week: ¥190,000 ($2085 CAD / $1680 USD)
- 2-Week: ¥230,000 ($2525 CAD / $2035 USD)
- 3-Week: ¥300,000 ($3295 CAD / $2655 USD)
- 1-Week: ¥230,000 ($2525 CAD / $2035 USD)
- 2-Week: ¥475,000 ($5215 CAD / $4200 USD
- 3-Week: ¥640,000 ($7025 CAD / $5660 USD)
One of the things I hate hearing is, “It’s too expensive to go there, so it’s not worth it!” A saying that is overused and overrated in my humble opinion — especially in Japan’s case! Seeing Japan can be done on a variety of budget levels. Regardless of how much money you have on hand, being in Japan is still being in Japan no matter which way you cut it. I recommend sitting down, figuring out what you want to see, how long you want to go for and then go in with a generous and comfortable budget that suits you. From there, add and takeaway based off of your means. Always remember; there is no single way to “do” Japan. Your trip will be how you make it! Stay dedicated to saving up and always bring a little extra cash as a cushion.
What are you waiting for? Get out there and start planning — and when you come back, let me know what your favourite part was!
Sources: Numbeo, Lonely Planet, Google, Flight Hub, Expedia and my own personal experience. Photos from: Pexels, Wikipedia Commons.
Learn more about how to track the best flight deals to Japan straight from your iPhone or Android by reading, “Top 5 Smart Phone Apps to Track Cheap Flight Deals in 2019”.