Some people get big thrills from budgeting, for others not so much. But whether you enjoy it or not, planning out your budget before you come to Japan is essential! Somehow, Japan has gotten a reputation as being an expensive country to travel and live in. Japan can definitely be an expensive place to live, particularly if you live in Tokyo and have a family. ECA International via Business Insider reported that for 2018, Tokyo was ranked as #7 among the most expensive cities to live in the world. However, for travelers willing to put in the footwork, there are totally affordable ways to spend your time here.
Before you get started, we suggest finding a good budget sheet to easily keep track of your expenses. Microsoft has plenty of free templates available on their website, such as this basic one. There are so many free resources out there, including customized templates for couples and families. Do a quick search and see what’s out there! You’ll thank yourself later.
First, you’ll need to pinpoint your largest expenses. For travelers coming from East and Southeast Asia, the flight might not be your biggest expense, but for those further out, this will be the thing that probably hits your wallet the hardest. Remember, choosing the least expensive flight isn’t necessarily the best choice. If you are going on a week long vacation, you might be able to snag a round trip ticket for 60,000 JPY, but if that means taking 26 hours each way with long layovers, you might end up having a less than quality experience trying to make up for that initial tiredness. Instead, we suggest going the middle of the road. Choose a flight at a moderate price with a layover if necessary.
This will keep you in good shape throughout your trip. In order to give you a ballpark of how much you should expect to pay for the flight, here is a sample of major cities across the world and the average price for a round trip ticket in the first week of March. *Ticket prices were found using test dates, Friday March 1st -Friday March 8th, landing in Tokyo Haneda or Narita Airport with Googleflights.
|Paris||Charles De Gaulle||85,000|
|Singapore||Changi International Airport||60,000|
|Johannesburg||Oliver Tambo International Aiport||110,000|
Transportation Once You’re in Japan
Transportation can be a huge expense. According to the data published by JNTO, most tourists spend between 20%-30% of their in-country expenses on transportation. Of course this varies depending on the length of stay and domestic destinations, but that is a CHUNK! The train systems here are known for their convenience and punctuality. But if you’re a spur of the moment sort of person, and you don’t necessarily know where you’re planning to go each day, the cost can definitely sneak up on you.
For those planning to stay a week or longer, you should consider whether buying the JR Pass is right for your trip. If you haven’t heard of it, the JR Pass is a special unlimited pass that includes access to Japan’s high speed bullet trains, the Shinkansen. The pass is limited to tourists (you must have a valid tourist visa to activate it i Japan), and is an AMAZING value if you plan to do a lot of moving around the country and between islands.. Read our other article, the Ultimate Guide to the Japan Rail Pass to figure out if the pass is a valuable purchase for you.
For those who are not planning to buy the pass, it’s important to nail down the other transportation that be unavailable for reservation or will increase greatly in price the closer you get to the date. This mainly applies to domestic flights to Hokkaido, Okinawa, and places further from Honshu, the main island. Japanese award-winning airline, ANA, runs a special promotion for foreign visitors with stable low fares for domestic flights, called ANA Experience Japan Fare! Qualifying buyers must reserve tickets at least 3 days in advance of the flight date, but make sure to reserve even earlier if you’re planning to travel high traffic seasons like Spring and Fall.
Night buses can be reserved relatively close to your travel dates, but if you are travelling the weekends, particularly during 3 days weekends, or national holidays, seats will fill up and prices will increase. For those who want to make bus reservations online, we have to sites we recommend. Highway-buses.jp is run by Keio Dentetsu Bus Company and can help you book buses to and from Shibuya and Shinjuku. Our second recommendation is Kosoku, which has bookings available for buses all over the country. Note, both of these sites have full English services (Kosoku can also be viewed in Korean, Mandarin and Cantonese, Highway Buses can be viewed in all of those in addition to Thai.)
Create Categories for Your Remaining Expenses, from Budget to Splurge
Now this is one of our tips for not only keeping in budget, but prioritizing and really enjoying your different experiences. You don’t want to jam the cream of the crop into a single day! Space out your more extravagant activities to create peaks in your experience. When planning, it’s helpful to think of your lodging, entertainment, and food options in the following three categories
One of your tips for having an organized budget is to keep a spreadsheet. Lay out all the things you want to possibly do, and organize them based on price. Everyone will have a different range within these three categories, but we’re going to give you an idea of how low you can try and push your budget during your time in Tokyo
Accommodation (Per Person Per Night)
Accommodation is the second most important (and in some cases most inflexible) part of planning your trip, right after the flight. If you’re travelling solo, you have the freedom to choose from a wide range of places to stay, from capsule hotels, hostels, concept hotels, to the more upscale. But for couples, groups of friends and families, the big parties can limit your options. For those with large parties who are struggling to find accommodation that falls in the Budget categories, we have two suggestions. First, consider AirBnB. AirBnb tends to be more lenient and affordable than other accommodations when it comes to adding individuals to your party. While in June 2018, the changes to accommodation laws caused several issues for AirBnbers, since then things have stabilized and more hosts are back up and available! Renting out an entire house for your family can provide the freedom and space to really ease some of the stress of travelling. However, houses tend to be further from the most populous areas. For more central access, check out hostels like Wise Owl Hostels, which have private rooms with bunk beds at great prices (15000 JPY per night, sleeps up to 4).
Per Night Budget (1 Person)
- Budget: 2,500-5,0000 JPY
- Moderate: 5,000-10,000 JPY
- Splurge: 10,000+ JPY
Food is one of the places you can really conserve on in Japan, particularly in Tokyo where the food options are endless and discount places abound! Visitors often rave about the ease of having convenience stores on every corner in the bigger cities, but compared to supermarkets, konbini tend to run on the expensive side as you’re paying for the convenience factor. It’s good to know you can dip into a convenience store in a pinch, but it’s not the best for your budget (or the environment, as they tend to use loads of plastic packaging!). Expect your food allowance to look like the following:
Daily Budget (1 Person)
- Budget: 1,000-2,500 JPY
- Moderate: 2,500-6,000 JPY
- Splurge: 6,000+ JPY
For a few specific tips on how to save on food, see the first couple points on our guide for local money saving tips.
And Everything Else
So we covered the basics, but everything else is basically up to you and your style of travel! To help organize your remaining activities, we recommend creating a Leisure Fund number, and then making a list of all the activities you would like to do. After making your list, separate into four categories:
- MUST Do
- Really Want to Do
- Would be nice…
- Shopping List
Calculate the cost of each activity, and tally up your shopping list. Your feelings might change over time, so we suggest making the list early on so you can sit with the price of each activity. Maybe you feel super excited about making that crazy day trip from Tokyo to Osaka to go to Universal Studios Japan, but once you have the cost before you, the thrill might dissipate tomorrow. Also, if you’re planning to stay wireless, make sure to snag a Pocket WiFi or Sim Card Rental.
Finally…Plan for Extra and Set Aside Your Emergency Fund!
When you’re setting aside your budget, yoyu 余裕, meaning having leeway or wiggle-room, is key. One of the exciting things about travel is that you don’t know what you might find! Which might mean spending unexpected money on great experiences…or on mishaps. Depending on your stay and your number, the amount of money necessary to put away in your emergency fund is going to vary, but if we can make one suggestion about how much to have for your emergency fund: make sure you have enough to get a flight home in the case that you need to. This could mean having the extra cash on hand, purchasing flight insurance or a flex ticket, or it could mean making sure you have a valid credit card with a high enough limit to purchase a brand new flight. This is maybe half budget half overall planning, but we think it’s an essential consideration to make when thinking about the numbers!