Japan is on the must-see list of thousands, if not millions, of people worldwide. It’s a country that’s beautiful year-round with an eclectic selection of sights, sounds and tastes sure to pique anyone’s interest – even those on a budget. Follow these 10 budget tips to make the most of your money and time during your trip to Japan!
1. Explore Japan in the off-season
The seasons to avoid are also the most beautiful, but travelling during off-peak season will certainly save your wallet. One should generally avoid travelling to Japan during Christmas and New Year, Hanami season during the first week of April, and Obon during the second week of August. Just using your standard cheap, coach airline fare as an example, travelling during the off-peak season might cost you 800 USD, while the same flight during the holiday frenzy might be as much as 1400 USD!
2. Delete cookies for cheaper reservations
Nowadays, travel websites track and base their quotes on the information stored in your cookies folder, almost like you have an unwanted spy in your system. If you delete your cookies, you will often find cheaper, more competitive rates. Do this every time you shop at a new website.
3. Rent a Japan travel SIM card or WiFi router
If you’re reading this article, you’re probably somewhat addicted to the internet. It’s best not to go cold turkey during your trip to Japan (even if you’re on a budget), so be sure to get your Internet fix by booking a Japan travel SIM card or WiFi router before you travel. Knowing which option to choose can be difficult, so if you’re not sure whether a SIM card or WiFi router is right for your needs, check out our guide to choosing between the two.
4. Make IC Cards your best friend
When travelling in Tokyo, use JR (Japan Rail) IC cards or Pasmo cards, which both allow you to store your money for quick payments through train and bus ticket gates or at convenient stores and kiosks. If navigating the city sounds daunting, don’t worry: As long as you remember your Japan travel SIM card, you’ll never get lost!
5. Fly to Narita even when there are other options
On many accounts, Narita is much cheaper than Haneda for Tokyo flights; you can save anywhere between 50 to 200 USD simply by switching airports. Even with the train into the city-2000 yen, or about 20 USD from Narita to Tokyo-the savings are undeniable.
6. Exchange your money before traveling
Don’t count on airports and banks in Japan to give you the best exchange rates-your personal bank is the better bet. If you are coming from America, another option is to open a Citibank account. There is a Citibank in Tokyo where you can withdraw money and use your debit/credit card just like in America, and the exchange rates are usually better there as well.
7. Skip the shinkansen, take the bus
The Shinkansen is Japan’s premier travel service, fast and efficient. However, it comes with a price. For example, from Tokyo to Kyoto is approximately 14,000 yen. A bus between the same two locations can be found for about 4,000 yen, whereas a local train will be about 8,000 yen. Your best bet is to find a bus. They may take longer than the Shinkansen, but the savings are significant. It will be extremely helpful to have your smartphone-outfitted with a handy Japan travel SIM-on hand when you need to look up something on the fly.
8. Feed your soul (and stomach) with Japanese fast-food & local markets
Japan’s big three fast-food restaurants (Sukiya, Matsuya, and Yoshinoya ) provide authentic Japanese flavor with their hearty rice bowls with meat and fish, as well as soup combos to keep you warm on your treks or cold noodles to chill you out. Often, you can find gyudon (grilled meat over rice) for about 380 yen, definitely enough to get through an early morning, lunch, or dinner. Also, avoid convenience stores and head to a local market instead. You can buy enough bread, vegetables and other sandwich-worthy ingredients to last an entire week, with the advantage of it being cheaper and more nutritious than the alternative. And if you do want to splurge at a more “upscale” restaurant, do it during lunch. This is when most Japanese restaurants slash their prices to around 1,000 yen for a complete set lunch.
9. Give your friends souvenirs from the world’s cutest vending machines
Japan is full of vending machines, but not all are created equal-people who want the best in wacky souvenirs should look no further than Gachapon machines. Just insert the proper change and turn the dial, clickity-click, and out pops a mysterious plastic egg-inside which can be everything from an anime action figure to a fake sushi keychain or even a hot dog-that is, a little dog positioned cutely between two hot dog buns! These cornucopias of Japanese pop culture don’t break the bank and their wares are light and hassle-free. Perfect for friends and family who have a silly sense of humor.
10. Enter 100-yen heaven
If an endless line of overly adorable or completely strange capsule toys doesn’t interest you, then it’s time to head to the local 100-yen shop. These shops may sound just like America’s dollar stores (i.e., cheap stuff for cheap prices) but the sheer variety and quality of goods are mind-blowing. Most items are actually 108 yen with tax, so keep some change handy. More “high-end” products like dress shirts and ties, although much less expensive than in department stores, will still probably run you about 300 yen! Speaking of 300 yen, there are also many so-called “3 coin” shops where you can buy goods of even more amazing quality for about 300 yen. Between these two types of shops, wayward tourists in Japan should be able to cope with anything.
Don’t Forget Your Japan SIM Card Rental!
Of all the tips, Japan SIM card rental may actually be the most important one to remember. Stretching your yen to the limit, exploring Japan without losing your way, and having enough dough to bring the ever-coveted mochi balls back for your friends ultimately all require Internet access, especially when you can’t speak the language. If this whole Internet-in-Japan thing is completely confusing to you, take 10 minutes to read our essential guide to Japan WiFi rentals.