Travel Budget Japan

travel budget japan

Stand-up bar in a trendy Tokyo neighborhood

Travel Budget Japan

The expenses below DO NOT include airfare to get there or continue on to our next destination. We cashed in 100,000 airline miles with American Airlines to purchase the major legs. (See Statistics page for details, and look for more planning tips in a future article!)


In the case of Japan, the rumors are true: it can be VERY expensive. If you’ve got hotel reward points or friends/family to crash with, this is the place to use them! In our month in Japan we used some cost-saving methods to make our trip more economical. See below for details.


We spent a total of 16 out of our 31 nights with friends, redeeming hotel nights with points, or CouchSurfing. Here’s the breakdown:  CouchSurfing: 4 nights, With friends: 4 nights, Free Hotel Nights: 8 nights. Japan has got a number of hotels of the major chains (Marriott, Intercontinental, etc.), but they’re mostly high-end, requiring lots and lots of points for a free night. The best bang for your points seemed to be Choice Hotels. They’re in most major cities in Japan, clean and basic, and include free WiFi and free breakfast! We stayed mostly in Comfort Inns, but there are a few in the Quality group as well.


Before we left the United States we purchased two, 3-week Japan Rail Passes.  These made up the bulk of our ground transportation cost.  It’s a pricey initial outlay, but highly recommended if you are planning on traveling to several cities in Japan.  It is good for many local metro lines as well as JR buses and ferries.  The Japan Rail Pass CANNOT be purchased within Japan, so plan ahead and grab one in your home country! It’s available online or at agencies in many major cities. You don’t have to decide the dates in advance, as doesn’t start until you activate it once you arrive in Japan.


There are several ways to keep your meals at a reasonable cost.

  • Eating at a department store food court gives you a wide variety of food for reasonable prices.  Basements are the typical place to find the food hall, while the top two floors of big department stores often have pretty reasonably-priced sit-down restaurants.
  • At ramen houses, some cut cost by using a vending machine system where you buy a ticket and then hand to the chef.  There are often specials, but if you can’t read the characters on the buttons, ask for help, since picking by the lowest price sometimes will just get you a side like a raw egg.
  • Family Mart/7 Eleven has decent ready to eat items, like onigiri, sandwiches and the ubiquitous instant noodle.
  • Kaiten sushi-grab your own small plate from the conveyor belt, just make sure you have the colors on the plates properly priced.

Don’t miss our favorite photos in our Japan Gallery.

About the author

Tamara and Donny have wandered together since 2004, with no cure for their insatiable wanderlust. They write about discovering new destinations including beautiful photography, plus budget travel tips and how to give back through travel.