Our Big Guide To Japan

Without a doubt one of the highlights of our trip, Japan amazed and surprised us at every turn. Here’s how much it cost us and what we found out about the country.

Our Route

Tokyo – 4 nights
Matsumoto – 2 nights
Osaka – 3 nights
Fukui – 2 nights
Kanazawa – 2 nights
Hiroshima – 3 nights
Onomichi – 1 night
Tokyo – 4 nights

Our Costs

All over 23 days for 2 people

Accomodation – £655.97
Eating Out – £322.11
Transport – £105.76
Groceries – £84.29
Attractions – £71.30
Shopping – £54.06
Alcohol – £19.12
Coffee/Drinks/Snacks – £66.15
Misc – £1.68
Laundry – £7.30

Subtotal – £1,387.74

JR Rail Pass – £520 (for 2 people)

Total – £1,907.74
Per Day – £82.94

It doesn’t really need stating that this is far more than we usually spend, we knew it would be and it was totally worth it to see such an amazing country. We set a budget of £60 a day excluding the rail pass and averaged around £63 which wasn’t bad.

The accommodation is a massive cost but the most amazing thing is that food for 3 weeks only cost us £322! In Japan! And if you follow our Instagram you’ll know we don’t tend to skimp on eating.

Quick mention on laundry (yawn), Japan is self service laundry heaven, every hostel and hotel has it, and it’s cheap which means we could do it whenever we needed.

Average Costs

£1 = ¥180 approx

Room in a business hotel – £30 – £60
Hostel bed – £12 – £20
Bowl of ramen – ¥300 – ¥800
Bowl of udon with tempura – ¥600 – ¥1200
Donburi (rice bowl with meat) – ¥300 – ¥600
Sushi set meal – 1000 – 4000 yen or more
Sushi per plate of 2 at conveyer sushi – ¥100 – ¥300
Bottle of water from convenience store – around ¥100
Bottle of Coke from convenience store – ¥150 – ¥180
Large can of beer from convenience store – ¥130 – ¥300
‘One Cup’ Sake cup from convenience store – ¥100 – ¥200
Single ride on Tokyo Metro – ¥160 – ¥300
Average entry cost to an attraction or garden – ¥200 – ¥600
Anything at a 100 yen shop – ¥108 (including tax)

The standard opinion of Japan is that it is expensive. I won’t argue with that in some areas, and if you don’t pay much attention to what you’re ordering in restaurants or take taxis you will find it very expensive. But overall we were amazed at what we could get for our money in Japan. It is still tough on a backpacker budget but compared to London or most cities in the US, a lot of things are quite a bit cheaper. Food is discussed in more detail below but general day to day costs such as snacks and entrance fees are quite reasonable.

Transport costs are fairly high, and we went into details about the JR Rail Pass here.

Visas

Residents of an EU country or the US & Canada, as well as plenty more countries, get 90 days visa exemption. No fuss, no hassle.

Food & Drink

I could write for hours about the food in Japan, but this post is going to be long enough as it is. The main point is that Japan doesn’t have the cheapest food in the world by a long shot but it does, in my eyes, have the best value food. It doesn’t matter what you pay, your food is going to be made with quality ingredients and come out beautifully presented, even if it is a 300 yen bowl of ramen. Cheap 100 yen sushi doesn’t taste like supermarket sushi at home like you’d expect, yes it might use cheaper fish but that fish is still going to be incredibly fresh.

Ramen

In 3 weeks I think we only had 1 or 2 bad meals in Japan. And they weren’t even bad, just average. It’s just that most meals blow you away, even the very cheapest.

For cheap food the places to look are for Japanese chains such as Yoshinoya and Matsuya (which is a bit harder to spot) for beef bowls, and Tenya for super cheap and tasty tendon (tempura on rice). The 100 yen (or close) sushi places are also great – the one in Tokyo we visited was called Uobei.

A lot of restaurants do business lunch deals so lunch is usually cheaper than dinner to eat out. The thing that makes eating out in Japan affordable the most though is the lack of tips. You do not have to tip at all. In fact you shouldn’t, as it is offensive. It makes the cost a lot more obvious than eating out in most countries (especially the US). You also get free tea 90% of the time, so you rarely need to buy a drink.

Plastic food makes it easy to choose

Plastic food makes it easy to choose

One final point – we both felt so healthy when we left the country. While some dishes (ramen, katsudon) arn’t all that healthy, most are, and along with the masses of green tea you can see why they’re such a healthy nation.

Language

We had real worries before arriving in Japan that it would be hard to deal with the language and that no-one would speak English.

The reality is that it really isn’t too difficult. There are times when we struggled, usually in non touristy places, for example ordering in local restaurants, as we could barely speak any Japanese and staff couldn’t speak any English but we always found a way round it (usually via pointing)

A surprising amount of Japanese people do speak some English, and 80% of the time we had no problems at all. All signage on stations or street signs is bi lingual with English below the Japanese, so it’s never hard to get around. Furthermore English is used for many shop names, even if it doesn’t always make total sense, so you can get an idea of what a store is selling.

Money

Contrary to what you would expect, cash is always king in Japan. Most small stores and restaurants won’t even have a credit card reader.

Most ATM’s will not accept foreign cards, with the exception of those at 7-Eleven stores and Japan Post Office. The only bank I found that worked was CitiBank.

Very large notes (5000 or 10,000 yen) are usually dispensed, but breaking bills isn’t as big a problem as elsewhere in Asia. However a small store probably won’t appreciate you giving a 10,000 yen note for a 200 yen purchase so it’s wise to save 1000 yen notes (the smallest available)

One thing we noticed was that banknotes were always in pristine condition in Japan, so we tried to keep them like that to avoid problems (or perhaps it is disrespectful to crease them?).

There are lots of coins, including the highest value coin in the world, the 500 yen coin, so don’t assume your change is worth nothing!

Internet

Wi-Fi speed in hostels and hotels is usually fairly good, though if you are expecting the fastest speeds on the planet you’re likely to be disappointed (it’s a bit of a myth that Japan is totally high tech, in some areas yes but in others not so much at all).

Free Wi-Fi in Japan is virtually non existent outside of your hotel, although it is available at Narita airport, and probably McDonalds (though I didn’t try). Another area where Japan is a bit behind the times when you’d expect the opposite.

I toyed with the idea of getting a SIM card but decided not to in the end. A tourist SIM from B-Mobile is available for just under 4000 yen with 1GB data but only lasts for 2 weeks. As it wouldn’t cover our whole trip and was fairly pricey I didn’t bother. There is another SIM which lasts for a month and is cheaper, but is designed for locals and needs a Japanese phone to call and activate it. I read online that Yodobashi Camera stores might help and do the activation if you buy it there.

Shopping

Convenience stores dominate in Japan. It’s home to the most 7-Eleven stores in the world, yet strangely they aren’t as prevalent as you’d expect. You’re far more likely to see FamilyMart, Circle K or Lawson. The latter is a useful one to know, as they have machines to buy tickets for some attractions and events. We used one to purchase Ghibli Museum tickets.

All stores sell a huge variety of food and drinks. They’re the best place to pick up a budget lunch which can be heated up for you in store. There are also various varieties of Onigiri (triangles of rice with a filling) which make for a cheap snack.

Vending machines for drinks are absolutely everywhere, on every single corner in every town. The logistics of filling so many up is mind boggling. They are usually only slightly more expensive than stores, and sometimes cheaper since everything you buy in stores has 8% tax added on top.

We were a bit disappointed though as weird vending machines were few and far between, despite what you might hear. There were some for snacks and noodles, one for bananas but that was about it.

Arcades are everywhere and deserve a special mention due to how much of a ripoff they are. Video games feature on the upper floors but lower are always dominated by claw games or some variation of them. We all know they are rigged to only allow a winner every so often but they are so harsh in Japan – I never saw anyone win ANYTHING at one! The claws barely even grab at the prize. Yet I saw many businessmen pumping money in (100 yen a pop) hoping to win the latest skimpily dressed anime doll…and failing.

You won't win one

You won’t win one

We did love the thousands of toy machines though, these were a much better use of 100 yen. I especially love my cat inside a biscuit.

CatBiscuit

Smoking

This isn’t something we’d usually mention but it’s quite an unusual situation in Japan (as are so many things). Essentially smoking is banned on most main public streets, but strangely actually allowed in a lot of restaurants, both local and chain – even a lot of KFC’s have a smoking floor! Usually they are segregated but not always – we went into a coffee shop in Hiroshima and nothing separated the areas – the air was thick with smoke.

It is also allowed in most arcades and all bars – a night in an Izakaya is a fun experience but also quite a smoky one.

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