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Japan is very, very expensive…Or so we like to think. If you’ve lived or travelled in Japan before, you learn how to travel and live comfortable on a conservative budget. Doot has put together a great budget outline for your 10 day Japan vacation.

If you read this guide slowly and apply all the base rules, this will be the only guide you need to read to have a budget trip in Japan. Using just this guide will get you a 10 day vacation in Japan for under $610.

Okay, first things first: some rules

Maybe this will surprise you, maybe it won’t: To do Japan on a budget, you’re going to have to skip out on the Kobe Beef and extensive use of the bullet train system. If you include those, especially both, any budget trip gets pushed into the category of “this is not a budget trip”. So that’s tip number one! No expensive beef or super fast trains. If you’re okay with that, and want to experience the rest of Japan, then let’s get into it.

*If you want us to send you the exact itinerary, accommodation and transport used to cost this, pop us an email at contact@doot.co.za and we’ll be happy to send it to you.

Tokyo-Kanazawa-Kyoto-Osaka Trip

For this itinerary, we’ll do the Golden Triangle with a 1 night, 2 day stopover in Kanazawa. You’ll fly into Narita and out of Kansai International Airport.

First, let’s give some base rules for what kind of trip this is going to be. And then we’ll cost everything out for you day-by-day.

Base Rule #1: Use hostels and night buses

Hostels are the most fun form of accommodation, and they’re not only for young travellers. Hostels also have private rooms that can accommodate two or three people for an extra $20, or female-only dorms for about an extra $3. Hostels in Japan are also super comfortable – often equipped with curtains for privacy, super clean bathrooms, and free lockers to use.

Night buses are a double whammy. You get transport and a night of accommodation. These have a bad reputation for being uncomfortable and long. We agree…Depending on the company used and the bus you book. As experts on Japan travel, we know a company that is mostly unknown to travellers and travel agencies, but extensively used by locals. It’s the equivalent of business class travel on a bus, and get this…It’s cheaper than the bad bus options. It’s infuriating. We won’t name names, but this luxury bus group does not have a Western name, if you get what we’re saying. These buses we recommend have WiFi, single seats (no neighbours!), a curtain for privacy, charging ports, and seats that recline to about 40 degrees. They stop every 50 minutes for 15 minutes at a time so you can buy some snacks or go to the toilet, if you aren’t comfortable using the on-board toilet.

Base Rule #2: Eating cheap in Japan can be done if you follow the right formula

You don’t need to “make a cheese sandwich with ingredients from the supermarket” for lunch. You don’t need to eat at McDonald’s every day – in fact, we recommend against this if you want to keep your budget down. You don’t need to eat junk food, cup noodles or skip meals to save money either.

We’ll work on a system of rice balls and smoothies for breakfast, cheap Japanese restaurants for lunch, and regional cuisines for dinner. Yes, including the famous ones. And we’ll get this all for under 1800 yen ($16.35) per day. Details to follow later. Spoiler alert: You won’t be drinking much alcohol.

Base Rule #3: To do great Japanese activities, you need to go local – not touristy

Want to do karaoke? You’re not going to go to a chain where you pay per person by the hour, plus drinks. Want a food tour? You’re not going to do an AirBnB Experience for $90 per person. Want to talk to the locals? You’re not going to go into the HUB or any other “English-speaking pub” where locals wanting to practice English hang out. Our advice on how to do all this is in the itinerary below. That’s what’s up next!

The 10 Day Japan Itinerary

Day 1: Tokyo

Okay, so you’ve just landed in Narita. Are you going to take the Narita Express? No. Are you going to use a JR Pass? No.

You’re going to use a bus which will drop you off at Tokyo Station. It takes 1 hour, which is the same amount of time as the train and you never need to get out of your seat. It’ll cost 1000 yen ($9.10), which is 1/3 of the price of the train, and it also has WiFi, which the train system doesn’t. You can book this bus online or at the counter in the airport. They have buses every 20 minutes during the day and every 35 , 24/7. You’ll definitely get a seat. It’s called Keisei Bus. Use it, and be proud of it. It’s luxury for a lower cost.

Great, now you’re in Tokyo. You’re first going to check-in to your hostel in Asakusa, which you’ve booked for 2 nights, 3 days. It’s rated 8.8/10, and in total, it’s costing you $25 for 2 nights. We kid you not. Budget. It’s down the road from Ueno station near the Asakusa district, so it’s a super convenient location too.

We’ll assume you landed in the morning today and only need to eat lunch and dinner. So, for lunch today, you’re going to get gyuudon. It’s a bowl of rice topped with marinated slices of beef, and it’ll cost just 400 yen ($3.60). That’s local, that’s Japanese, and that’s delicious. For dinner, you’ll grab your first bowl of ramen from a local ramen-ya. The kind where you stand at the counter, slurp down one of the 5 options available, pay, and head on your way. That’s going to set you back by 700 yen ($6.35), your most expensive meal of the day. Since you skipped breakfast today, we’ll treat ourselves to a local beer. At the convenience store, a high-end local brand called “Yebisu” will set you back 300 yen ($2.70). It’s tasty and authentic, and totally worth it. Welcome to Japan!

*For simplicity, we won’t add up all the subway trips. They’re about 180 yen per trip, and you should be taking about 7 per day in Tokyo. I’ll add this all up at the end.

Day 2 and 3: Tokyo

On day 2, you’ll head to:

  1. Takeshita Street in Harajuku (free)
  2. Meiji Shrine, a walk away from Takeshita Street (500 yen, $4.55)
  3. The Scramble in Shibuya (free)
  4. Yoyogi Park (free)

These are all famous, popular attractions. For brevity, we won’t explain each one. Just know that today, you’re spending only 500 yen on attractions.

For breakfast, you’ll have grabbed an onigiri from the conbini, a 350ml smoothie, and a boiled egg for a total of 310 yen ($2.80). For lunch, you had tonkatsu for 500 yen ($4.50). And for dinner, yakitori at a small local spot in a suburb. That’s costing you about 790 yen ($7.20).

On day 3, you’ll go to:

  1. Odaiba, to check out the architecture, the island, and the museum of Japan through the ages (free)
  2. Akihabara, for the arcades and anime. We’ll have a bit of fun in the arcades here, like the locals. It’ll only set us back about 1200 yen ($10.90)
  3. Naka meguro, to see what suburban Tokyo is like and enjoy the stroll along the river (free). You’ll also eat lunch in this area
  4. An izakaya for dinner, which offers karaoke (120 yen per song. You’ll sing 4, i.e 480 yen, or $4.35)

In the evening, you’re heading to Ueno station. Tonight, you take the night bus to Kanazawa (7200 yen, or $65). That’s transport across the country and a bed for the night. You have your own seat, a privacy curtain, WiFi, and a comfortable bed for the night. Lay back and relax).

Today, breakfast cost you 310 yen ($2.80), lunch was teishoku [miso soup, rice, grilled fish, some vegetables) for 600 yen ($5.45), and dinner was a few small plates of Japanese food at the izakaya for 690 yen ($5.90). The small plates were: dashimaki tamago, a few tempura pieces and a sazae.

Day 4 and 5: Kanazawa

It’s 7:10am and your bus has just dropped you off at Kanazawa station. First, you head over the the onigiri store (not conbini!) to get a large onigiri for 280 yen ($2.55). It’s warm, full of a stuffing, and a local favourite. That’s enough for the morning. For 210 yen ($1.90), you take the bus down to the Katamachi district where your 8.7/10 hostel for the night is. This is costing you $13.50 for the night.

Okay, checked in and now you need to head off to Kenrokuen, one of Japan’s 3 famous gardens. To get there, you’ll walk through the city. On your way, you pass through:

  1. Kanazawa Castle Park (free), and
  2. Oyama Shrine (free)

When you get to Kenrokuen, you need to pay 310 yen ($2.80). That’s totally cool, since you’ll be here for about 1.5 hours. There’s a lot to see, and there are some amazing photos you can take. Have a look at that photo, seriously!

After Kenrokuen, you’ll walk to Higashi-chaya, the east tea house district of Kanazawa. It’s that super authentic, ancient Japan vibe that we’re all after. Guess what? It’s free! Since we’re saving so much money today, we’ll throw in a sake bar with snacks. You’ll try three local kinds of sake, some tofu, and some dried fish. That’s going to be just 800 yen ($7.25).

For lunch, you’ll have a sizzling hot okonomiyaki that you made yourself on a flat grill at the restaurant. It’s just 650 yen ($5.90). For dinner, we’ll splurge just a tiny bit. Kanazawa is famous for its fish, and we can’t forgo sushi. This is going to count as an experience and dinner, so we won’t be exceeding our daily budget. For dinner and the sushi experience, it’s going to cost 1650 yen ($14.97). Boom. What a fun day, right?!

On day 5, you’ll have a conbini breakfast of miso soup and rice. This will cost you 300 yen ($2.75).

Today, you’re going to visit:

  1. Omicho Fish Market (free)
  2. An onsen near the main river (500 yen, $4.55)
  3. The samurai district, and a walk along the stream (free)
  4. A local bar affectionately known as “Mama’s” by the regulars, for a beer (400 yen, $3.65) before boarding your night bus to Kyoto (3200 yen, $32.67)

For lunch, you’ll eat a bowl of ramen for 600 yen ($5.50), and for dinner you’ll grab a conbini meal to eat on the bus. This is going to be karaage (fried chicken), rice and some vegetables for 450 yen ($4.05).

Day 6, 7 and 8: Kyoto

That’s your second and last night bus! All right, you know the drill by now. You’ve arrived early, grabbed breakfast for about 300 yen ($2.75), checked into your super cheap 9.3/10 hostel for 2 nights ($31.25), and are ready to see the city.

You’ll mostly take subways and buses in Kyoto, which are about 200 yen each way. BUT, there’s a heck of a lot of walking to do here. So, we’ll budget 5 pieces of transport per day, which we’ll tack on at the end too. Anyways!

On day 6, you’ll go to:

  1. Nishiki Market (free, but we’ll budget 1200 yen, $10.90, for foods you want to try)
  2. Nijo Castle (500 yen, $4.55)
  3. The Golden Pavilion (500 yen, $4.55)

Lunch is a bowl of tempura and rice for 500 yen ($4.55), and dinner is a big bowl of udon with egg and vegetables for 700 yen ($6.35).

On day 7, you’ll go to:

  1. Gion (free), and try all the free snacks on display. Let’s buy a box of mochi ‘pancakes’ and senbei (local soy crackers) for a total of 600 yen ($5.45)
  2. Kiyomizudera (500 yen, $4.55)
  3. A tea ceremony in Gion (big activity, 2000 yen, $18.15)

That’s the major highlights of Kyoto! There’s an impeccable amount to see here, but this is a great list of activities done. For lunch, we’ll try out some karaage at a restaurant for 350 yen ($3.20) and for dinner, a nice big bowl of soba with some toppings for just 650 yen ($5.90).

On day 8, you’ll have the morning to:

  1. Stroll along the river
  2. Check out anything else you wanted to, but didn’t get the chance to (we’ll budget 1000 yen, $9.10) for this

Day 8, 9 and 10: Osaka

At around about 13:00, head on over to Osaka using a specific train. This train will take an hour to get to Osaka, but only costs 500 yen ($4.55). Unreal, right? We’ll say it again: budget.

You’ll check in to your 8.6/10 hostel that is costing you $38.50 for 2 nights. It’s in the centre of town.

So for the rest of day 8, you can easily head off to:

  1. Dotonbori, to see the glico man and grab some takoyaki (500 yen, $4.55)
  2. Go to Osaka Castle Park at night. You won’t enter the castle, so it’s free. At night, the park is quiet and entirely local – people going for jogs, going on dates, and admiring the castle. It’s really amazing at night and highly recommended

Breakfast was the usual 300 yen ($2.75), lunch was the takoyaki mentioned above, and dinner is a bunch of gyoza, dumplings and fried rice (800 yen, $7.25).

On day 9 and half of day 10, we have no schedule for you, but we recommend the following:

  1. Umeda Sky Building (1000 yen, $9.10) for a great view of the city
  2. A day trip to Nara, where you’ll spend about 3500 yen ($31.50) total including your train and entry fees
  3. A dining experience using Doot, which costs 1000 yen ($9.10) to arrange a meetup with a local foodie, and then the meal costs are dependent on the experience you choose. They each have their unique average costs. This is an excellent way to meet the locals. You can do these experiences in Tokyo, Osaka and Kanazawa, but unfortunately not Kyoto just yet

Nonetheless, this is going to be TWO breakfasts (600 yen, $5.55), TWO lunches (an okonomiyaki at 700 yen, $6.35, and Chinese food at 800 yen, $7.25). You’ll only have 1 dinner, since you’ll be at the airport on day 10. For dinner, you’ll have the local Osakan kushikatsu, which will cost about 800 yen ($7.25) too.

A bus to KIX, the airport, is going to be 1550 yen ($14.10). And that’s it! Your Japan trip is over.

Did you notice how we weren’t holding back? On this trip, you’d have experienced a lot of authentic activities and foods, and you’d have hit up all the major spots you’d want to.

So, how much did this cost in total?

Accommodation: $108.25

Transport (including trains/buses in the city): $168.40

Food: $150.75

Activities: $124.10

Total: $551.50

Add 10% Contingency for unplanned spending: $55.10

Grand Total: US$606.65 (66,850 Japanese yen / 8,335 South African rand)

That’s 10% of the cost we’ve seen a lot of travel operators offer this kind of trip for. Through experience, having personally done this route more than 3 times, this is an entirely reasonable and accurate budget.

Interested in more tips like this? Subscribe to our updates, and we’ll send you a bunch of guides and newsletters like this to help break the false generalisation that Japan is always an expensive travel destination.

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