Ahhh, Japan. A fantasy land of sashimi, kimonos and kawaii, where toilet seats are pleasantly heated and bowls of ramen are ordered from vending machines. Quirky, charming and often out of this world, Japan is a hot choice for those of us with the itch to travel.
But what if you’re running tight on cash? Don’t give up on the dream quite just yet. The experienced folks over at tabinu specialise in planning trips to Japan whatever your budget may be, and they have quite a bit of insider information on the subject.
- Couchsurfing = free accommodation!
- Get cozy with friends or relatives who are in Japan on an exchange programme or working there. Protip: ask to stay with them in exchange for a free meal or two, or try bribing them by bringing over some much-coveted laksa and chicken rice premixes.
- Check out manga and internet cafes for an alternative experience. These are generally good and cheap and charge by 5-12 hour packages – going as cheap as 700 yen per night depending on factors like day, hours, seat type and promotions.
Go crazy with free access to comic books, computers with internet access, drinks, and sometimes even shower facilities and light snacks. No booking is required (or allowed, really), but you usually have to fill in a membership form when you check in – even if you’re just staying for the night. For prime cubicles (mats or sofas), head down before 9-10pm to beat the crowd.
- Book hotels through websites like Rakuten or Jalan. Only the Japanese versions of the websites are cheap, so get someone who speaks Japanese to book the rooms for you if you can’t. As a bonus, you can earn points to redeem during your next trip and even nab a stay for as cheap as 1 yen if it’s your birthday.
There are ‘dodgier’ areas in big cities like Tokyo and Osaka where accommodation is cheaper, so look out for those. These are still pretty safe – think about as dodgy as Geylang. Just don’t stay out too late and find one that’s close to a train station to be extra safe! These usually cost less than 1500 yen.
If you’re male, capsule hotels can be very cheap as well and usually cost less than 1500 yen.
- Another option to try is Hostelworld if you don’t want to deal with Japanese content. Prices tend to hover around 2000 yen.
- Buy dinners (and even the following day’s breakfast, if you have access to a fridge) after 7-8pm at supermarkets for 50%+ off their food. Note: you might have to head down early to challenge the local supermarket aunties. Just remind yourself – rice balls at 50 yen? Worth it.
- Soba, udon, beef bowls and fast food (Hanamaru, Yoshinoya, Matsuya, etc) are pretty cheap at around 250 yen, depending on the size and type of food you’re looking for. This just about equates to our local hawker centre prices. Take note: 7-11, Family Mart and other conbinis are convenient but NOT the cheapest place to shop for food.
- Family restaurants like Saizeriya and Café Gasuto are wallet-friendly if you’re longing for a somewhat fancier meal out. A dish here will cost you around 300 yen.
- Stay in the dormitory rooms at a hostel and cook your own food in the kitchen provided.
- If all else fails, you can get food at 100-yen shops. Needless to say, these are pretty cheap.
- As a general rule of thumb, try to buy X-day bus or train passes within the prefecture or region you’re exploring. While prices differ, you’ll be saving a good chunk of cash using these, especially if you’re planning on moving around a lot.
- Find hostels that provide free bicycles during your stay so you don’t have to pay for public transport. Also, opt for overnight bus trips across prefectures to save on both accommodation and time. These can be as cheap as 1990 yen between Tokyo and Osaka.
- Try the Seishun 18 kippu (only available during certain periods) for cross-regional travel. It costs 11,850 yen for 5 days, or 2370 yen a day.
- This kind of goes without saying, but get used to walking. In fact, learn to love it – lots.
- Free activities are your friends, so do some research on the area you’ll be visiting. For starters, try browsing fish markets (in Wakayama, Hokkaido etc. Tokyo isn’t the only place with a fish market!), parks, most shrines and waterfalls or other nature-related attractions…or, as a painful alternative, do lots of window shopping.
- As a general rule of thumb, regular paid attractions will usually cost you between 200-500 yen.
- Bring out the kiasu Singaporean in you and head to a local food fair or even mall to try all the free food samples available. These are really common in Japan.
Putting all this together, a sample day in Japan might consist of:
- Hostel: 1500 yen
- Food: 800 yen inclusive of breakfast, lunch and dinner
- Activities: 1 free attraction, 1 costing 500 yen, walk all day
- Total: 2800 yen, or around $34.
It’s nice to know that exploring Japan doesn’t have to break the bank. Thanks, tabinu!