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Budget travel in Japan - possible/tips?

Budget travel in Japan - possible/tips?

Old Feb 26, 18, 11:57 pm
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Budget travel in Japan - possible/tips?

Hello folks,

If you have an experience several weeks of budget travel (not including airfare) in Japan, would you share tips/suggestions how to do it right?

I have a newlyweds who want to travel to Japan (never been there) for their honeymoon trip - they want to travel from Nagasaki to Sapporo (stops at Hiroshima, Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, Sendai and several other places) and then back to Tokyo to fly out.
I was asked about related expenses and I said that $250/per day is minimum which would include lodging, food, travel and sightseeing. For them it is high - they have $2500-$3000 for 20-22 days (again, not including flights to Japan). I doubt that they can fit into that budget with above plan.

Any thoughts? Dates are not issue - they can go there either in Sep/Oct or Apr/May.
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Old Feb 27, 18, 2:07 am
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If you want truely budget travel, like just a step up beyond hitchhiking, you can do everything for under $100/per day/per person.

First travel in September, it's the only time this will be possible. Buy the Seishun 18 Tickets, these are designed for high school and college kids on school vacation (and August to September is Summer Vacation in Japan). These tickets give you 5 days of unlimited travel on non-limited express trains (no Shinkansen or special Intercity Trains) for about $100 per ticket (So $20/day/person). This can actually be useful if they are interested in making many stops along the way, since you will naturally be forced to basically stop around every big (and some small) cities along the way and the tickets are time based not route based, so you can cross the ticket barriers unlimited times per day. Time wise, I've done part of this trip before and by my estimates, it'll take just a bit over 2 days if you don't stop at all, which gives plenty of time to basically stop wherever you want along the way. The tickets themselves have absolutely no range limitations so you don't even need to take a direct route, they also give access to a few ferries (like the one to Miyajima near Hiroshima) as part of their package and some overnight trains (so you can save on hotel fees for a portion of the trip too). For the remaining travel, you should be able to get close enough by train to either walk to tourist sites or take a bus for a few hundred yen round trip.

With that covered, let's get into hotels. If you stay in small business hotels and hostels, it will run you about $30-40/day/person (Japanese Hotels charge per person), nicer places are only about $60 or so, there are even a few hidden gems like cheap Ryokans around Japan that I've been too ($50/person/night for an actual Japanese-style Inn with Hot Springs? Doable depending on the place and the time).

For food, once again if you stick with small restaurants, convinence stores and chain stores (though the quality on these are far better than in other places), you can get away with $15/day/person.

Sightseeing can actually be free because many attractions are free.

Combining all of that, 20 days for two people traveling all across Japan will cost $3000, any money saved (for example saving on using a hotel by using an overnight train, or say only using 15 days of seishun 18 ticket travel, because they don't need to be consecutive days) can then be put towards upgrading the experience.

Downsides are basically as follows. First everything here is not designed for western tourists, everything will be in Japanese basically. The seishun 18 ticket has to be bought by walking into a Japanese Ticket Counter and asking to buy it (from the clerk who may not speak English well). The cheaper restaurants are also the restaurants that don't have any English menus or English speaking staff. Same goes with some of the cheaper hotels (though hostels will typically have English staff).
Second is the obvious lack of any kind of luxury one might expect on a traditional honeymoon. But if the couple's idea of a perfect honeymoon is backpacking across a foreign country and experiencing it in more authentic less touristy way, then it can be great.
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Old Feb 27, 18, 4:02 am
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Here's some examples I gave a few years ago. 100USD is roughly 10,000JPY and prices haven't changed a huge amount since this thread was written:
Japan on A budget.

I agree with nar0 and think that the rough figure you gave to the honeymooners is too high.

Highest expense will be the travel but this can be managed using a combination of trains and buses and making sensible use of rail and bus passes. Your friends have a lot of time on their hands so there is no need to use the bullet train for every part of the journey. There are some very economical air passes that can be used also. Even if they don't take a lot of care, there's no reason why their daily travel allowance should be over 30USD each a day.

I am currently arranging a budget trip to Okinawa for myself, my daughter and my father-in-law.
Here's an example of how I'm cutting costs is in Naha:
Rather than get a room at the Senagajima (hot spring) Hotel (saw a discounted rate of about 16,000yen per adult when two share a room with dinner and breakfast), I've booked us ocean view rooms with breakfast at the Beachside Hotel (about 5,500yen per adult - father in law gets a smoking room to himself, would have been cheaper if we shared) and after breakfast we're heading off to the Senagajima Hotel to spend the morning in the Hot Springs (weekend rate is 1,500yen per adult), then the buffet lunch, reserved for 1pm - 2,200yen (week days it's 2,000yen) and then off to the airport for the flight back to Haneda.
For us, bathing and having a leisurely lunch was more important than having an upscale room, so it wasn't worth paying the premium for.

Just keep focused on what is important to the newly married travellers and then compromise on what they don't care so much about.

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Old Feb 27, 18, 4:17 am
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Another way to save money is to take a highway night bus between large cities. In addition to the savings as compared to shinkansen, there is no hotel fee that night. Not the most comfortable way to travel, but a good way to save money maybe one of the nights and the seats are designed (somewhat) for sleeping.
Bus, Night Bus, Booking in Japan / Willer
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Old Feb 27, 18, 5:16 am
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While its true that night buses are cheaper than trains and eliminate a hotel night, I always found (even in my youth) that a night on a bus left me like a zombie for the next day.
Transportation is one of the main costs with the itinerary that they have described - long distance travel almost all the way up the length of the country. My tip to the honeymoon couple is to focus on a couple of regions rather than trying to cover the whole length of the country. For example, spend one half of the trip in Kyushu and Western Honshu, using Seishun 18 tickets or a regional rail pass (https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2357.html), then spend the second half of the trip around Kyoto and Osaka, leaving Tokyo for another day.
As LapLap said, it's important to work out "what is important to the newly married travellers," so it might be helpful to price up the rail + bus fares for reduced itinerary like that and compare it to the fares they would have to cover for the whole Nagasaki to Sapporo and back to Tokyo trip. Perhaps they'll decide that they really must see Tokyo ... and perhaps they'll figure that they will have other chances in the future to do that.
For airfares to and from Japan, it's worth looking at flights via Korea, since that may allow them to fly into and out of regional airports quite economically (e.g. fly into Nagasaki and out of Sapporo) instead of routing through Tokyo at the start and end of the trip.
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Old Feb 27, 18, 7:22 am
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From my trip a few months ago:
Originally Posted by CrazyInteg View Post
Ended up doing 4 nights Kyoto, 2 nights Kobe and 6 nights Osaka. If I could do it all over again, I would have took a day off Osaka and added it to Kyoto.
The leaves changing colors ended up being a highlight of the trip.

12 nights, 2 people, we spent about $1700 excluding long haul flights. I was surprised at how affordable everything was.
We never spent more than $55 per night on accommodations. Food was usually around $6-$9 per meal per person. Obviously don't take bullet trains.
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Old Feb 27, 18, 12:02 pm
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toyoko inn should fit the bill ok as a chain. be a member and you get 1 night free for every 10. if you time it right you can probably off set one of the nights in tokyo! and you get 5% off every night except on sundays when it is 20% off.
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Old Mar 1, 18, 10:23 am
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A few things:
1) For cheap, great eats, conbini food is a great choice. If they are not adventurous eaters or have dietary restrictions, they should google "conbini onigiri" and keep a list of what the kanji mean on the labels. On my Japan trips, even with a more flexible budget I usually eat at least one meal a day at conbini, where you can get by on 500-800 yen (or less) for that meal.
2) I second jib71's advice to focus on a region or two- for example Tokyo + south (Mid/Southern Honshu and Kyushu) from my personal experience could easily fill a 20-22 day itinerary, plus the bonus of less time "wasted" traveling from place to place, though there are beautiful sights to see from trains. However, I understand some people have a "one and done" mindset with countries or that they'd rather "check the boxes/hit all the sights" then spend more time getting to know a place, but I echo LapLap to ultimately focus on their priorities.
3) They should understand that if they stick purely to local trains they don't get the essential (IMO) shinkansen experience, though using different modalities of travel in Japan is an important cumulative experience in and of itself. If I were to choose things to "splurge" on it would be at least one shinkansen trip, at least one night in a non-minshuku (so something closer to mid-range) ryokan, and some good (doesn't have to be high end) culinary experiences, especially local specialties.
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Old Mar 1, 18, 11:05 am
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For a first trip to Japan, and especially with a tight budget, I would strongly agree with the advice to cut down on the number of areas. In particular, I would drop Nagasaki and Sapporo first, and maybe Nagoya. It's not that they aren't great places to go, but that they add much more cost in terms of time and $ than the other areas. There is _plenty_ to see from Hiroshima to Sendai to keep first timers busy for 3 weeks.

As others above have indicated, it should be possible with fairly aggressive frugality.

A friend of mine hitchhiked from Tokyo to northern Hokkaido, so theoretically transportation could be free, if they are sufficiently motivated and patient.
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Old Mar 1, 18, 12:01 pm
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Let me get this straight. You are talking about a honeymoon trip! And options being tossed about include night buses, hitchhiking and hostels?

I'd suggest doing as many others have mentioned and limiting this trip to fewer areas and cutting out longer distance travel. I loved Nagasaki and spent almost a week exploring the area. Likewise, I spent almost 2 weeks roaming around Hokkaido. But those were separate trips. I think trying to do too much will end up ruining an otherwise great trip.

Stay in up-scale business hotels for under $75.00/night/person. Dine at little mom-n-pop diners - typically found in side alleys off the main streets. Konbini sandwiches and other foods are fresh and good for a quick lunch or picnic. DO use the shinkansen for longer trips like Tokyo-Kyoto or Kyoto-Hiroshima. Local trains can be fun for shorter trips but a rattling, lurching nightmare for hours-long trips. I would make use of regional rail passes where possible to avoid hassles with tickets.

Try to make this a fun trip, not a penny-pinching death march through Japan.


Accommodation in Japan - JapanHotel.net

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Old Mar 1, 18, 1:00 pm
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Originally Posted by angra View Post
I would drop Nagasaki and Sapporo first, and maybe Nagoya. It's not that they aren't great places to go, but that they add much more cost in terms of time and $ than the other areas. There is _plenty_ to see from Hiroshima to Sendai to keep first timers busy for 3 weeks.
Who knows which places are top priority for this couple? I like the fact that they expressed an interest in places further afield than the typical Kanto + Kansai itinerary. If they want to include some of the more remote places I don't think that it need put this trip out of budget for them - but trying to see all of the places that they listed will be a tall order.
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Old Mar 1, 18, 3:41 pm
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Unless these people think that they will never, ever return to Japan, I agree with cutting down the number of places they go to. I would also recommend a Japan Rail Pass, which will let them ride the Shinkansen (the Hikari and its counterparts on other lines are fast enough for the majority of visitors). I cannot imagine traveling any distance on the lowest class of train. It was bad enough when I had to take one a few years ago, one of those old trains with four seats facing each other, the seats less comfortable than church pews and so close together that you have to figure out where to put everyone's knees. No thanks! I also second the recommendation for business hotels, which start at around US$50 per person in the smaller cities, always have some double rooms, and sometimes include breakfast. The idea of spending a honeymoon in hostels--I have trouble wrapping my head around that idea.

Also, the selections for food above are spot on. Mom and pop hole-in-the-wall restaurants, combini box lunches, and take-out from department store basements are the way to go. They might even try some Japanese-style fast food or coffee shop food.
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Old Mar 1, 18, 4:17 pm
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Originally Posted by jib71 View Post
Who knows which places are top priority for this couple? I like the fact that they expressed an interest in places further afield than the typical Kanto + Kansai itinerary.
Absolutely agreed. That's just what I would do if it was me, or if I was advising a friend based on no additional information. Speaking even further, none of us know what the couple enjoys in life, in travel, etc. Maybe the hitchhiking, hostels, and combini honeymoon really is right for them! We are giving thoughts based on very little information and only indirect hints about what their priorities might be.
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Old Mar 1, 18, 4:33 pm
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Since Tokyo is so expensive, minimizing the time spent there can save money, but of course this means foregoing some things to see and do in Tokyo.
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Old Mar 1, 18, 5:30 pm
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Transportation: They may want to hop from KIX via LCC flights if they can travel light or combine their check-in to 1 piece to reduce checked baggage costs. Peach regularly offers sales & notifies of upcoming sales via e-mail. Combine that with Seishun 18 or various bus passes, regional train passes. I like train passes which don't require consecutive days of travel so I can use my "travel pass days" for long hauls and go shorter distances/local areas via IC card/cash.

Lodging: Stick to smaller rooms in cities where space is more expensive. Instead, put the money towards nicer lodgings in more remote areas where a bit more money will make more of a difference. Some ryokan will offer a free or inexpensive shuttle to/from the train station. This can be a nice cost saver for two instead of taking the local bus or account for the price difference between a slightly more expensive ryokan with shuttle vs. cheaper ryokan without shuttle. They might be tempted to stay in a ryokan without half board meals to save money... I wouldn't encourage this for ryokans in villages or more remote areas as most restaurants will probably be closed for dinner. However, if there is a ramen/izakaya/conbini in town, it might be a decent savings if they want to stay in a resort town (no business hotels). Some mega-onsen ryokan also have a small ramen shop inside. It usually makes sense to include the ryokan breakfast as it is less expensive than dinner and often has a wide variety of food at buffet or larger portioned Japanese/Western breakfast. There's also a kind of onsen lodging which offers self-catering with a communal kitchen and usually shared bathrooms. I think these are geared more towards seniors and would probably be found on jalan & rakuten in Japanese?

AirBnB in urban areas with decent public transit might also come out cheaper, especially if they cook and eat in a few times and use the washer to pack light & save on LCC bag fees/takkyubin. Beware booking AirBnBs where they can only get to it via car or inconvenient/expensive public transit.

Food: Lunch sets will probably be a better deal than dinner, especially if they want to splurge on a nicer meal. Discounted bento near closing time from the supermarket for dinner would supplement the larger lunch. Probably stay away from vending machines and combini smaller bottled drinks as those can add up for two people. Buy the larger bottle drinks or from the supermarket.

They can lower some food costs if they stay in a place with a kitchenette and go grocery shopping https://www.reddit.com/r/japanlife/c...food_in_japan/ https://tokyocheapo.com/living/house...kets-in-tokyo/ If they visit the countryside and pass one of those cheap veggie stands (it might be an un-manned stand or tray with a collection box for payment), they should definitely stop in. Produce is more expensive in Tokyo compared to most US cities and unless the conbini's have improved, "salad" is usually iceberg lettuce. If they stay in business hotels, they can still buy a few things like a microwave steamer/tupperware from 100 yen store to make rice/steamed veg and split up larger portions from grocery store. Buy larger bento with mostly "the good stuff" (aka, not a lot of rice filler or cheap veg) to split & buy/make the cheaper sides a la carte. I believe supermarkets usually offer a la carte mains like cooked fish which they could re-heat in a microwave.
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Last edited by freecia; Mar 1, 18 at 7:23 pm
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