Japan travel costs: a breakdown of our spending

MiyajimaToo often I read about other people’s travels and wonder about the costs involved in their trip. It’s one thing to inspire someone to visit a new country and experience its many attractions, but the information isn’t always available to tell me whether it’s something I have the money to do at a particular time.

In that light I thought I’d share the finances of our recently completed Japan trip with anyone who is interested. Of course the finances of our trip will never be same as someone else’s: different tastes, different route, even different exchange rates. So this might serve as little more than a rough guide, but hopefully it’s enough to give someone thinking of going to Japan a basic idea of costs.

Here’s the background: we’re a forty-something couple, backpacking but staying in reasonable hotels (think typical 3 star or guest house standard), choosing transport with an eye on the budget but first and foremost on comfort and convenience. We travelled for exactly one month. All costs listed are for two people.

Hotels: £1961 for 30 nights – average £65.37 (approx. $100) per night

We stayed mainly in business hotels, most of which were a few minutes from the train station. These are comfortable and clean if a bit on the small side, and all had free wired internet access. During our trip we stayed three times in ryokan (traditional Japanese guesthouses). These tend to cost more than the business hotels and may not have all the amenities expected by the western traveller but do offer a different experience that’s worth trying. Many have an in-house onsen (hot spring bath).

We booked most nights via several online agencies (such as Expedia) – walk-in rates were similar in some places and more than double in others. I don’t think we saved much overall, but by paying in pounds in advance we did enjoy the certainty of knowing that the ever-strengthening yen was not affecting our costs and did not have to pay additional charges to the credit card company.

Travel around Japan: around £1400

Our Japan Rail passes cost £444 each for a 3 week pass (we certainly got our money’s worth out of it). For some reason the Japan Rail folks do not offer a 4 week/month rail pass. This seems like a very poor decision judging by the number of tourists we met who were in Japan for three weeks, the length of their trip governed primarily by the longest rail pass available.

In our final week we paid around £130 each in additional rail fares. Additional costs are made up of subways and buses to get around the cities (most rides were between £1 and £2) and one rental car which cost us £70 for the day.

Food and drink: around £1000 (£33 per day for the two of us)

Most business hotels don’t offer breakfast within their rates and in most cases where it is offered it’s quite expensive. Convenience stores are everywhere and offer great value hot and cold snacks. We often picked up a selection of snacks, sushi rolls and sandwiches (all come with crusts removed) and took them into a park for a picnic lunch. You’re never far from a vending machine and most drinks costs from these are around £1.

Dinner options are plentiful and we frequented many of the Japanese chains for fried rice, noodles, ramen and curry. Sushi was more expensive (the good stuff at least) and most of our most expensive meals were at sushi restaurants. On average we paid £15 for a dinner for two. A beer typically costs £3 to £4. Neither of us are big drinkers; if we had each drunk two beers a night with our dinner the budget would look quite different.

Entrance fees: around £500

Most entrance fees are reasonable, with museums and castles charging £4-£5 entry. There are discount cards available in most cities that can save you small amounts in addition.

Flights to Japan: £1,000 each for Premium Economy flights with Virgin (we were very fortunate to get upgraded in both directions and can only say the nicest things about Virgin’s Upper Class cabin).

The total cost for everything came to £6,982 which for a month away in a country with a reputation as being expensive (and at the worst time for the £/yen exchange rate) was quite a bit less than I had expected.

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Freelance travel writer

15 Responses to “Japan travel costs: a breakdown of our spending”

  1. Hi Andy,
    I think it is important to get the message across that Japan doesn’t have to be expensive at all. It is cheaper than the UK in my opinion even in the current currency climate and the weakness of he pound. Even when you pay your money, you usually get far superior quality for your money than you would any where else in the world.
    Right now, there are some great deals on flights (KLM £480!) and some good hotel deals too. You can book a lot of things on line these days and do things pretty cheap. The business hotels are really good value, in good locations with the bare essentials, but everything you need. It can be a little more complicated with traditional ryokan and minshuku and the different prices for different rooms but so long as you know what you are doing, you will not be disappointed.
    I actually work for a Japan travel specialist but thank the web for opening up a potential Japan experiences for many people that wouldn’t have considered it before. I fell in love with this inspiring country back in 1999 and hopefully your blog will entice people to go.
    Glad you had a good time 501places!

    September 28, 2011 at 2:25 pm
    • Thanks again James. Was surprised to see just how many things in Japan were cheaper than in UK, even with current poor exchange rate (for us). And agree with you 100% on the service quality – going back to UK restaurants and using our trains is going to take some getting used to after a month in Japan. I pity the poor Japanese who come over to the UK and end up on one of our trains!

      September 29, 2011 at 10:37 am
  2. Not bad for a month but urg. I think I might still hold out on Japan a bit. I’ve been wanting to go to Japan for a while & was living in Korea last year. Everyone keeps saying it’s expensive and I wish there were a cheaper way to go about it.

    September 29, 2011 at 10:43 am
  3. Great post Andy… as you say, always useful to know the costs involved. Loved your other posts on Japan too, great country to travel… want to go back!

    Did you try the karaoke?

    It’s also worth noting that you have to order your Japan Rail pass before you leave and you can’t purchase them when you arrive (this was the case for me last year anyway!)


    Paul @

    September 29, 2011 at 10:47 am
  4. Andy, the cost breakdowns of travel may not sound sexy in the blogging world, but to any would be traveller they are like oxygen. I still remember those Holiday programmes on the TV that had Judith Chalmers gushing enthusiastically about a resort. Then at the end of the segment this information consigned it to a piece of entertainment that may as well have been fiction. Most of the holidays showcased didn’t come anywhere near to my available budget. Thankfully I was blessed to discover that budget travel was nowhere near that expensive, but of course TV Celebs and film crew didn’t want to do budget holidays.
    I am currently facing a challenge to my aspirations to keep my carbon footprint low, as my son is in now living in Tokyo. There is the Trans Siberian Express and ferry but there are other family logistical problems holding me back from that option.

    September 29, 2011 at 1:52 pm
    • Ah ok, then you’ll need to get to see your son at some point. Not sure how to best tackle the carbon footprint – is it better to fly and at least only have a 12 hour footprint or to go be land (probably 14 days minimum) and have a longer, slower-burning footprint. But it’s your son and I’m sure he’ll want to see you.
      Agree about the Holiday programmes – same still applies. Virgin showed a destination guide to Tokyo on the flight – lots of 5 star hotels, Michelin restaurants and thousand pound a night treats. Great for the film crew to produce and I’m sure they got it all comped, but completely useless to the normal visitor.

      October 1, 2011 at 10:44 am
  5. Andy, good breakdown of costs on Japan. I knew it was expensive but didn’t realize it was that much more expensive than traveling in Europe. Granted, the business hotels may cost a little more than other hotels because of their convenience. Not sure how they compare with others.

    I appreciate your honesty in this post. Your post was different than others I read because you are honest and humble and state that this is just your experience and that you don’t expect others to be the same as yours due to different tastes, experiences, etc. Really appreciate you stating that.

    October 1, 2011 at 6:55 am
    • Thanks Jeremy – appreciate the kind feedback. Not sure if it is much more than travelling in Europe though – remember my amounts are for two of us. I also kept comparing with Europe as we made our way around – I would say hotels prices were similar to Spain (less than France/Italy but more than Portugal), but with levels of services and attention to detail that you’d never get for the same price in Europe.
      Food was cheaper than in most of western Europe (closer to Poland I would say, although far more options to spend a lot more if you wanted to).
      Overall I would say that our daily spending was very close to that of our trip through Portugal, Spain and France earlier this year, when we travelled with similar frugality.

      October 1, 2011 at 10:48 am
  6. Great post, very helpful info. I lived in Japan ten years ago and hope to go on a holiday there soon with my family – but have been concerned about the expenses as a tourist (it’s totally different to live there!) – and this has reassured me somewhat!

    October 3, 2011 at 8:19 am
  7. Thanks for that! It is good being able to see a breakdown of the cost of your trip and something like this would definitely help in planning a trip to Japan in the future.

    October 4, 2011 at 6:44 am
  8. Andy, this is a really nice breakdown of the costs of your trip to Japan. I’ve only been in Japan for a few days, so I’m not as familiar with costs over an extended period of time. I found this budget very useful.

    October 10, 2011 at 6:59 am
  9. Very interesting and detailed post! I knew Japan was expensive but it’s nice to see the distribution of expenses. That will be very helpful if one day I manage to save enough money to even consider going there 😉

    October 24, 2011 at 2:34 pm
  10. This is probably the most useful Japan article I’ve seen. Yes, I can find lots of “inspirational” articles on Japan, but very few help me decide how much I should pay for this-and-that, hence how much I should budget.

    I am also really surprised to see how this “expensive” country is actually not more expensive than the UK. And the comment about superior service (at the same price) is very valid: the Japanese don’t mind paying high prices but expect (read: demand) service and quality.

    November 21, 2011 at 10:14 am
  11. Vi #

    So your budget for one person was approximately £115 (185US$) per day.
    My spendings were ~120US$ on my 10 day trip.

    March 31, 2012 at 8:40 pm
    • Thanks for sharing the link and I enjoyed reading your list Vi. Of course we could spend half as much or twice as much – it depends on where you want to stay, how you want to eat and what you want to do. The trip we took (and the amount we spent) was in line with the level of comfort we like and the amount of stuff we wanted to see. As the comments above and those on your post have suggested, it’s useful to see how different people travel and budget.

      March 31, 2012 at 11:33 pm