24 July 2013

Backpacking Japan on a Budget

Japan is labelled as one of the most expensive countries in the world, and having lived here for the past eight months I can certainly say it isn't cheap, however this country still can be done cheaply. Not Eastern Europe, South East Asia cheap, but a bit cheaper than you first might think. As a local I now know some of the tricks to travelling this wonderful country on a budget, and I feel it’s only right that I pass on my thoughts.


Firstly, your main cost no doubt, is accommodation. This can be avoided by any traveller who is familiar with couchsurfing. There are a million and one foreigners in Japan, so if you're worried about the Japanese language barrier, then worry no more! Couchsurfing is worth exploring, and although it can limit your travel due to location and timings, it’s still a great way to explore a country. However, if couchsurfing isn’t for you then I’d recommend these cheap but good quality hostels in the main cities of Japan:

Tokyothere are plenty of hostels in Tokyo, and all can be found pretty cheaply considering they are in one of the most expensive cities in the world. For the best price/rated hostels in Tokyo look for Asakusa hostels and Khaosan. You may also want to check out capsule hotels, where you basically get a capsule to sleep in. These seem fairly claustrophobic to me, so I’ve avoided them, however they sometimes can be cheap and maybe worth the effort for a night or two. 

Kyoto if you want to stay in Kyoto for 30 days or more than you can do for free at Khaosan Hostel. They offer a scheme where you clean for three hours a day (washing sheets, bleaching the showers etc.), then you work 21 days out of the 30 days you stay, all for free. So you get free accommodation for one month for a slight bit of cleaning on some of the days you stay. You don’t need to speak a word of Japanese or have a certain type of working visa, and you probably won’t be the only one cleaning, therefore a great chance to meet other backpackers.

Osaka I stayed in Hotel Toyo for three weeks whilst I was job and apartment searching in Osaka. I also have a few good friends who have ‘lived’ there for over six months. Hotel Toyo is in Southern Osaka with great access to the city centre. In Hotel Toyo you get your own room and basically share the bathrooms, kitchen and common room just like any hostel. The rooms cost around £11 a night, and are even cheaper if you book a slot of ten nights, and even cheaper for a slot of thirty nights. The rooms are basic but comfortable and the common room is decent. I’d recommend staying here just for the price alone, but the hostel has fellow backpackers who chill in the common room, so a great way to meet people.


Subway - you can’t really avoid the subway prices in each city, and there isn't a day or travel pass that I know of to make it any cheaper. However, Japan offers a lot of bike rentals for the day. Most hostels will offer this service which can save a great deal on city transport.

Wider travel – if you want to cover a lot of in Japan in a short period of time then buy a JR Japan pass before you leave your country. These can only be delivered to your home address, which can work if you buy it then have a friend or parent ship it over to you. These passes allow you to travel on any train in Japan for five days. Not a great deal of time but useful if you want to explore a large space in a few days.

Travel between cities – the shinkansen certainly is a quick way to travel but it is by no means cheap. If you have the time then I recommend using Willer Express which is a bus company that travels between big cities. It does take a long time but it’s the cheapest way to travel, and they also offer night buses. 

Food and Drink

Food and drink is a big cost in Japan, especially if you’re making your own meals. Fruit and veg is crazy expensive, and even the national food of sushi is ridiculously priced. If you want to make your own food then try and find a big supermarket, which are usually around the outskirts of the city. If you want quick food then you can find pot-noodle style sets in any convenience store. However, if you’d rather eat out, but cheaply, then find udon and ramen huts. Some great udon noodle restaurants offer huge bowls of noodles for around £3, which can often come with extras such as tempura and rice balls. Also, head to the chains of Yoshinoya, Matsuya, Coco Ichiban and First Kitchen, which can be found all over the main cities, and offer quick and cheap dishes of curry, ramen and local favourites.

Drink-wise you’ll want to find an izakaya. They are usually in the side streets and not hard to miss as they boast their 280yen drinks with huge signs. If you want a big night drinking then find a nomihodai. They are very popular in the cities so head to any drinking area and you won’t be shy of finding one. Basically, they are all you can drink bars for a limited time. A typical scenario is 90 minutes drinking for 2000yen (about £15) so you can really take advantage. Some bars also offer food and drink deals with nomihodais.


A lot of the museums and sights in Japan aren't free, which may make sense, but if you’re used to all the free museums in London then Japan might burn a hole in your purse. However, there are a number of different websites which reveal ‘the top 25 free things to do in Tokyo’ for example. However, many of these include libraries, and generally boring things, so here are my recommendations for the capital city.

Tokyo – Ueon Park, ADMT Advertising Museum, Imperial Palace Gardens, Meiji Shrine, Senso-ji Temple, Tsukiji Fish Market, Sony Showroom, Sumo Museum and Sumo Stable, Parasite Museum and Yebisu Beer Museum. The great thing about Tokyo is that this city can be enjoyed just by watching what goes on every day. For example, walking around Harajuku to gaze at the weird and wonderful fashion, or explore the red light district in Shinjuku. All free of charge and all can offer great insights to Japanese culture.

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