7 Tips on How to Plan Your Budget-friendly Trip to Japan
Last fall, my boyfriend and I went to Japan for a short trip. We managed to visit three prefectures in 6.5 days. The trip was short but everything was so worth it and it is our most memorable trip to date. Japan is a very beautiful country; if I could pick a place where I can go over and over again, it certainly would be Japan. But of course, this country being beautiful has its costs, literally -- almost everything in Japan is expensive. Don't be discouraged, though. Through planning and budgeting, I tell you, your dreams of visiting Japan will become a reality!
Even before we booked our ticket, we are fully aware that Japan is an expensive country. Therefore, we made an agreement not to splurge so much. When I was planning our itinerary, I made sure everything was carefully budgeted and planned, up to the smallest of details. I think it took me two or three months to build our complete itinerary. It was a hard job, but I had fun. And although not everything went as planned because I got so ambitious of the number of places we wanted to visit, I am glad I did it because it really helped us a lot. No kidding here, but every time we needed to go to this particular place, I already had a picture of the place in my mind. Thanks to my extensive research and planning. Haha.
Anyway, are your passports and visas now ready for your Japan trip? I am no expert but let me share my experience and give you some tips on how you can fully enjoy your trip without breaking the bank. :-)
Watch out for seat sales to book cheap flights
Flying to other Southeast Asian countries are not that expensive, even without fare deals and promotions, you can still buy one for a decent price. But beyond Southeast Asia, flights can be pricier than usual. But thank heavens for budget airlines and their seat sales! My boyfriend was able to purchase a return ticket from Manila to Osaka for just 3.7k PHP through Cebu Pacific Air's Piso Fare Sale!
Plan the attractions you want to visit and buy the passes online
I always do this everywhere we go. As much as possible, I will buy the passes online. Why? Not only because it's sometimes cheaper than buying from the gates, but also because it's a less hassle and it saves you from wasting your time queueing up.
We visited both Universal Studios in Osaka and DisneySea in Tokyo, and I tell you, even if it's a weekday, these theme parks are always crowded. Coming early to buy tickets doesn't help much either because the locals will definitely queue up much earlier than you.
Passes can be bought from their official websites. But most Japanese websites are in Japanese, obviously. Unless you know how to read, then good for you. 😜 Good thing, there are websites like Klook, where you can legitimately buy discounted passes! Almost all our passes, including our DisneySea Tickets, were bought from this website. We just needed to print out the e-tickets, and present them in the gates, and we're in!
Exchange money in your origin country
For this one, exchange rates depend on where you live, so I cannot give you actual tips on how to cop good rates to exchange for yen. Just try to research as much as you can, and compare the rates of different shops.
The reason why I am adding this to this list is because it is important that you exchange money from where you are coming from. In my opinion, it's not a clever idea to do it once you reach Japan because money exchanges are not prevalent, even in the major cities. And also, don't forget that it's very rare to find locals who can speak and understand English, so to save you from the trouble being lost in translation, better exchange money before you arrive in Japan. This saves your time, as well!
JR Pass: to buy or not to buy?
Japan Rail Pass or the JR Pass is an unlimited pass valid for all JR lines (except the Nozomi and the Mizuho Shinkansen) all over Japan. This can be used only by foreigners on a tourist visa, and thus, it is only available outside of Japan. The JR Pass is not cheap; the 7-day pass is already 389 SGD (around 13k PHP). So you need to carefully assess and decide whether to buy one or not.
If you are visiting multiple cities, especially which requires long-distance travel, it is economical to buy a JR Pass. In our case, we needed to travel to Tokyo from Osaka, and back because we will be departing from Kansai Airport in Osaka, so that's around 7 hours worth of travel via the shinkansen (bullet train) to and fro. One way from Osaka to Tokyo is already around 13k yen, so the return fare is already 26k yen. The JR Pass is around 30k yen, so obviously, it's very reasonable for us to opt for a JR Pass.
If you are visiting a single city, or multiple cities but only requires short-distance travel, then it's not wise to buy a JR Pass. Reloadable IC cards suffice (IC card is the term they use for transport prepaid cards, like the EZ-link card in Singapore, or the Beep card in Metro Manila).
But if you still don't know whether to buy one or not, there is a site called Hyperdia, which can actually help you plot your destinations and know the transport fares. Use this to compute and estimate your overall transport fees. I have a massive love for this website. It helped us a lot during our trip.
Accommodation: Airbnb over hotels
I'm not picky at accommodations. For me, as long as it's clean, private, and comfortable, then I have no issue with not staying at hotels. Anyway, you'll be out almost the entire the day touring and will just sleep in at night, so booking an expensive 5-star hotel is not worth it.I have actually written a blog post before of our experience in the Airbnb we stayed in Osaka. It was clean, private, comfortable, and most especially, cheap! The apartment only costed us 147 SGD (5k+ PHP) for 3 nights, which is a steal. Other cheap options available are hostels and capsule hotels, so even in an expensive country, you'll have cheap options for accommodations.
There are lots of cheap food options in Japan! Your frugal heart will rejoice!
Convenience stores. 711, Lawson, and FamilyMart are the three biggest convenience stores in Japan. They are incomparable from their counterparts in the Philippines because the quality of frozen and ready-to-eat food in Japan is of different levels.
During our entire stay, we bought food for our breakfast from convenience stores, and we have never spent more than 500 yen. Talk about being thrifty! 😉
Street foodstalls. Sorry PH street food lovers, but again, I must say street food in Japan is of different levels. It is cheap, delicious, and clean! Haha. Oh my, I miss the hot and flavourful takoyaki!
Hole-in-the-wall restaurants. These restaurants can be found everywhere! And they are high tech, too. Most of the restaurants don't need cashier counters as you will need to order and pay through a machine. Clever, huh?
Food in these kinds of restaurants ranges from 500-1000 yen. For instance, this pork donburi bowl is just 750 yen, and includes soup and hot tea.
Vending machines. These are everywhere! If suddenly you become thirsty while roaming around Shinjuku area or you got hungry and tired by visiting different temples in Kyoto, there's a 99% possibility that a vending machine is near you!
Budget shopping at 100 Yen shops and Tax-free shops
Shop at 100 Yen shops or Tax-free shops to maximise your money, most especially when buying souvenirs. These shops are all over Japan especially in touristy areas like Dotonbori in Osaka, or Shibuya in Tokyo.
When we did our shopping, it was in Daikoku Drug, a tax-free shop in Dotonbori. It is a four-storey high shop and there are different departments in each floor. If you are planning to buy all the green tea-flavoured snacks, instant ramens, drugstore make-ups, and anything Japanese you can think of, this is the best place to buy them from!
I hope these tips would help you in some ways to make your Japan trip budget-friendly!