Japan is known as one of the most expensive places in the world, constantly topping lists when it comes to cost, but in fact it’s not as expensive as it seems. There are cheap accommodations popping up everywhere, especially with the advent of Airbnb and capsule hotels, as well as discounted rail passes and overnight buses to help with the cost of traveling around the country. Backpacking in Japan can easily become a great and meaningful experience if you come at it with knowledge on your side.
Packing for Japan
Although you may be tempted to bring all the essentials with you, just remember that Japan has what are called ‘100 yen shops’ that will have everything you need for just 100 yen each or less than a dollar., So unless you are attached to your special razor or toothbrush, all your grooming needs can be easily purchased in Japan and may actually be cheaper than in your home country. Do, however, pack yourself some deodorant as Japan doesn’t have the type which is commonly used in Western countries.
Also try to remember to bring shoes that are easy to take off as Japan has many places where shoes are not allowed. Despite having an extensive railway and bus system, most of Japan is accessible only by foot, so it is essential that your shoes also be comfortable.
Pack an extra coat if you’re thinking of going up to Hokkaido during the winter, but don’t bother bringing anything but thin clothing if you’re coming in the summer as the weather in Japan can be quite humid during this time.
Transportation is where a lot of your money will be going. The train system, while extensive, is extremely expensive. You can look at spending hundreds of dollars just going from one city to the next. The cheapest way to get around this expense is looking into getting a JR Rail pass which will allow you to travel on shinkansen, the bullet train, and is the fastest way to travel in Japan. It also will cover your day-to-day train passes, although you may have to spend some money on tickets here and there for trains that are not served by JR. However, there are also some one-day tickets offered by railway companies that are not JR or serve the greater area you are traveling to that can also be purchased so it might be worth looking into them before coming..
Another alternative is using the night bus system. There are numerous night buses that will take you to and from each prefecture for half or even one third of the cost of a shinkansen and it might be a better way to travel as you can board a bus in the evening and get to your next destination in the morning without having to spend any money on accommodation.
Japan has numerous hostels, capsule hotels, and Airbnbs you can choose from. The cheapest option would probably be hostels which you can find online or even through the Airbnb website. There is also the option of 24-hour manga or internet cafes which dot the cities where you can stay for a few hours up to a full night and there are showers you can use for a price. There is also the option of throwing yourself at the mercy of a Karaoke box where you can stay the entire night for a fee and a drink.
Many people will site food as one of the higher expenses of your trip, but it might be the cheapest. Meals for 500 yen or less can be found throughout the many convenience stores around Japan and if fast food isn’t your forte, there’s also a string of family restaurants that offer decent meals at reasonable prices, such as Yoshinoya and Matsuya. A good idea is to visit the smaller supermarkets as most of them will have lunch boxes and local fried foods that will be offered at a fraction of the cost of the convenience store options and they are typically of better quality as well.
Things to See and Do
There’s always something to do in Japan. Festivals and most shrines are free to enter. Hiking in Japan is rewarding in and of itself with its extensive alps and the beauty of Mount Fuji. Instead of spending money on an omamori (good luck charm) spend your money on a ‘goshuincho’, or a book of temple stamps that you can get stamped at every shrine you go to and keep it as a souvenir. It’s usually cheaper and very unique. With all the money you’ve saved, try splurging on an onsen for a luxurious hot spring experience or save your money for a stay at a proper Ryokan, or a traditional Japanese Inn, where the service is great and sometimes they even have their own dedicated onsen at your disposal.
Traveling on a tight budget in Japan is not at all impossible as Japan offers you so many different ways to explore the country.
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