In pods we trust: Japan on a budget

This is by no means a cheap destination, but there are ways to keep costs down, from vending-machine restaurants to couchsurfing and capsule hotels

Budget hotels and hostels in Tokyo


The Japan Rail Pass is cost-effective for a week or more of long-distance travels, but if you’re visiting only a couple of cities, investigate the country’s low-cost airlines: they offer extremely competitive fares. Major domestic carriers such as ANA also have discount tickets for overseas visitors. Long-distance buses can be up to half the price of the equivalent route by bullet train. Companies such as Willer Express provide multi-day passes from £67 for three days to £100 for seven days. The cheapest option of all is hitchhiking: as long as you don’t look too scruffy, Japanese drivers are very accommodating of hitchhikers though some basic Japanese is recommended.

Eating and drinking

Many izakaya (taverns) offer all-you-can-eat (tabehoudai) and all-you-can-drink (nomihoudai) menus from around £20 a head. Nomi-tabe menus can also be found at large karaoke places such as Big Echo. For cheap sushi, seek out the ¥100 (around 70p) conveyor-belt restaurants such as Sushiro or Genki Sushi. Hole-in-the-wall ramen joints and “vending machine” restaurants such as Yoshinoya are also great, with set meals from around £3-£4. Tips are actively refused in Japan, but many restaurants and bars have a seating charge (usually £3-5pp). This charge presents itself as an otoshi, a small, unordered appetiser. Inquire with staff for details and avoid switching between bars and restaurants too often to avoid racking up multiple charges. If you can read Japanese, restaurant website Hot Pepper has discount coupons for many restaurants.


A capsule bed at the Refre Hotel, Sapporo
A capsule bed at the Refre Hotel, Sapporo Photograph: Rui Vieira/PA

Capsule hotels provide the cheapest stays, but Japan also boasts active Couchsurfing and WWOOFing communities. Airbnb remains a viable option, though stricter regulations have made it more expensive. Airbnb dropped 80% of its listings in Japan in June 2018 after new lodging laws came into effect, leaving many without accommodation. For longer stays, many hostels offer volunteers bed and board in exchange for a number of hours’ light work.


Most temples (Buddhist) and shrines (Shinto) are free of charge except in Kyoto where visitors have to pay to enter many temples. Museums almost always charge. Many day trip locations outside major cities (for example, Hakone or Nikko, both near Tokyo) offer passes that combine transport with free or discounted entry to local attractions. Ask at tourist information centres in major rail stations.

When to travel

plum blossom japan
Plum blossom time (March) is just as pretty but cheaper and less busy than cherry blossom time. Photograph: Alamy

Avoid Golden Week (late April/early May) and cherry blossom season (mid-April) when prices increase drastically, particularly in Kyoto. Instead, visit in mid-March to catch the other spring highlight, plum blossom. The rainy season (mid-June to mid-July) is also cheaper and less crowded.

Sales tax

If you show your passport, many shops will deduct consumption tax (8%) at point of sale – or will have a dedicated tax refund desk. Tax can also be claimed back at your port of departure, so keep your receipts if you haven’t already made a claim. Purchases must be over ¥5,000 (about £35) to qualify.

Looking for a holiday with a difference? Browse Guardian Holidays to find a range of fantastic trips

Oscar Boyd

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
10 of Tokyo's best budget hotels, inns and hostels
The world’s largest city is notoriously expensive, but ryokans, pods and even design hotels can cost less than you think

Oscar Boyd

28, Sep, 2018 @5:30 AM

Article image
Japan on a budget: readers’ travel tips
The perception that Japan is an expensive destination is challenged by our tipsters, who find 70p sushi delivered by robot, cheap internal flights, all-you-can-drink-deals and friendly hostels

Guardian readers

27, Sep, 2018 @9:36 AM

Article image
A new take on old Japan – that's Omori
In a village north of Hiroshima, traditional culture is evolving into a modern idyll, as a talented family revives the fortunes of a quiet backwater

Maggie Jones

15, Sep, 2019 @6:00 AM

Article image
Best places to eat and drink in Japan: readers’ travel tips
It might not be hard to find great sushi in Tokyo, or a gem of a sake bar, but where would you go for the best okonomiyaki pancakes, takoyaki octopus balls, gold ice-cream or udon noodles?

Guardian readers

10, Mar, 2016 @12:31 PM

Article image
How to do the Italian lakes on a budget

With a reputation as a luxury haunt of Hollywood A-listers, the Italian lakes aren't usually the go-to choice for affordable holidays – but they could be, says Donald Strachan

Donald Strachan

12, Jul, 2013 @8:00 PM

Article image
Thailand's top 10 beach hotels and places to stay on a budget: part two

Good-value resorts, chosen by Andrew Spooner, for those who would rather avoid the party hotspots and enjoy some Thai relaxation

Andrew Spooner

15, Oct, 2013 @5:00 AM

Article image
Kyoto on a budget

Nicholas Coldicott hunts down the bargains in Kyoto, Japan's famous – and famously expensive – former imperial capital

Nicholas Coldicott

03, Feb, 2012 @11:25 AM

Article image
Tokyo, a whisky drinkers' paradise
Amid the neon blur of Tokyo, Japan’s whisky culture is flourishing, with dozens of specialist bars offering a head-spinning choice of drams

Stephen Phelan

20, Mar, 2010 @12:05 AM

Article image
Japan’s standing-room-only steak houses
At Ikinari restaurants, in Tokyo and several other cities, low cost but high-quality cuts of beef – including prized wagyu – are eaten at communal standing stations

Elisabeth Rosen

26, Mar, 2017 @10:00 AM

Article image
Conger eel – with deep-fried crunchy bones – in Tokyo
Forget unagi, the overfished freshwater eel, and try the altogether subtler saltwater anago at the only Tokyo restaurant that still serves it – in lots of different ways

Emma John

22, Jan, 2017 @12:30 PM