Japan on a Shoe-shi-string

This post will examine how Katie and I managed to spend less than £500 each in a 10 day, action-packed adventure, during which we explored 6 different areas of the country. Hopefully this give you some tips and ideas for budgeting so you can afford to visit this amazing country as well.

We saved money by first getting a ferry from Busan, which (after taxes, port charges, etc) cost us about £100 each for a return ticket – a true bargain. We used this company. The website is all in Korean so I suggest calling them [Korean dialling code] (051-466-7799) where they have someone who can speak English. Of course this initial saving will only apply to people travelling to Japan from Korea, so anyone back home reading this, we are sorry but you'll have to fork out for the plane ticket.

The two main expenses once you're in Japan are accommodation and travelling around the country. These can both be greatly reduced with decent planning. Choose where you want to go and decide on a route.

Our route
Fukuoka - Kyoto - Tokyo - Fuji Five Lakes (Kawaguchiko) - Tokyo - Osaka - Hiroshima - Fukuoka

We decided to use the Willer Bus Pass, which is fantastic for budget travellers. We spent £103 for a four-day pass that covered the major routes between cities. It also meant that by getting 4 night buses we would save significant money on accommodation those nights – bargain! A more thorough explanation of the pass is here, and you can buy it and reserve buses here. All reservations are made online and in English but you must purchase the bus pass outside of Japan. I also recommend printing off your tickets (obviously) but more importantly information and maps regarding WHERE the meeting points are. It can get very confusing.

Willer did not have a route from Hiroshima to Fukuoka so we had to use a different bus company to book it. It cost us 4000 Yen (£33) each but if you book a week in advance, you can get it for 2000 Yen. Book at Fukuoka or Hiroshima or find a travel company like we did. All the info I got was from this Lonely Planet forum post. Again, print off where the bus station is, although this one was fairly easy to find.

The only reservation I have about using night buses is the lack of sleep. If you need 8 hours a night then maybe it isn’t for you. We took sleeping masks, ear plugs and blow-up pillows for comfort as well but a few mornings we both still felt a little irritable.

Once all our main buses were booked and our route known, we started contacting couchsurfers, and this is where the real money was saved. We took an overnight ferry to get to Japan, which meant we arrived at 7am and giving us an entire first day. We then couchsurfed for 3 nights, night bussed for 5 nights, and so only actually paid for 1 night in a hostel (£22 each) - bargain! If you don’t know what couchsurfing is, check out their website.

What about food and drink?
Well, the cheapest place to buy coffee is in a fast food restaurant (McDonalds, Burger King, etc) and this was always a good place to sit down and rest for half an hour or so before continuing the adventure.

We soon noticed that most restaurants had lunch time sets that were significantly cheaper than their evening menus. So we ate big, trying the fancier foods at lunch time and then ate a smaller dinner.

The cheapest way to eat is from a convenience store (Lawsons, 7/11, etc) and we often had noodles or a quick sandwich as a snack or light evening meal when we had gone over budget. Oh yeah, keep and stick to a budget.

The best tip though is to hunt around for cheaper restaurants. We would see maybe 5 or 6 restaurants all selling similar food, charging from 600 to 2000 Yen. Guess which one we ate in?

As for booze - buy it in a supermarket if you come across one because convenience stores charge 240 Yen (£2) a can and bars are VERY expensive. Katie and I barely drank anything this trip. Perhaps considering Japan as a detox holiday may be a good idea!

How about Sightseeing?
Well it’s almost impossible to get away without paying entrance fees unless you have ninja skills. However trying to get a student ticket for half price is a valid option, especially if you have a young person’s card or something that resembles student ID. Do your research and only pay for sights you really want to see!

City bus passes are often the cheapest and best way to get around a large city while consuming tourist attractions. They range from 500 Yen (£4.20) to 800 Yen (£6.70) a day. But maybe they aren’t necessary every day – try walking around the city and just getting lost. We stumbled upon many wonderful temples this way.

What did we do with our bags while sightseeing all day?
We put them in a coin locker at any major station, costing around 500 Yen (£4.20) a day.

Here’s a top tip: Shrines are normally free to enter whilst temples will charge from 100 to 600 Yen.

We didn’t buy any souvenirs either. Our photos and memories will be good enough!

Last thing: Do not get too carried away and focussed on saving money. You are on holiday in Japan so have some fun. You’d rather be £10 down than living with regret about not eating that awesome plate of sushi!

I hope this has been helpful. Please ask questions in the comments and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.