When travellers think of Japan, they think of it as an expensive country. The truth is: it is, and it isn’t! If you are a backpacker who is used to having a daily budget of £20-30, Japan is a little more than that at around £40-£50 a day. Backpacking Japan on a budget isn’t going to break the bank!
Let’s say you’re in Japan for 1 month as a backpacker, 100% do not get the JR Rail Pass. Yes, maybe, there will be some places that cost too much to travel to without the pass. However, the trodden path down the main body of the country can be done at a very reasonable price on buses and local trains.
The big journey is Tokyo to Kyoto – an easy over night bus. The joy of Japan is that the over night buses are almost luxury in comparison to some buses around Southeast Asia. Japanese buses ensure you sleep in darkness; have a cosy blanket; with the added bonus of a delightfully clean toilet at the back. Furthermore, the great thing about overnight buses is that you save a night on accommodation spends! Obviously, as you’re in Japan, it arrives right on schedule and you are ready to explore the next city.
Travelling around the Kansai region is definitely not worthy of the 7 or 14 day pass. The journeys between Osaka, Nara, Kyoto, and even Koya-San can be done for less than half the cost of the JR pass. You won’t be travelling by Shinkansen so it will take longer, but in reality it’s less than 1 hour between the main cities. Taking the slower, cheaper trains means you see more sights and beautiful Japanese countryside.
Budget accommodation can vary from £8 to £20, averaging around £15. The great thing about Japan is you can almost NEVER get a bad hostel. Almost all will have a privacy curtain, free toiletries, a kitchen, and the most kind and helpful staff. Plus, you will never be too far from the nearest public transport stop. Sometimes the cheaper hostel is out of town, but you have to remember that you will pay more by having to travel into the centre every day.
And of course you can get a free bed on CouchSurfing, or a taste of a local home on Airbnb.
Food doesn’t have to be expensive either. Fresh made, ready-to-eat food is largely available in Japanese Supermarkets. Bento boxes can be found for £3-5. Additionally there is a huge variety of other foods to choose from (sushi, tempura, chicken, rice bowls etc). Don’t be shy of the convenience stores food either. 7 Eleven typically has the nicer food, however, all major stores serve great sandwiches, onigiri (rice balls), and baked goods.
Whilst backpacking Japan you can find fast-food restaurants that work by: purchasing your meal at a machine, collecting a ticket, taking a seat, receiving a free drink, and a quick wait for your meal to arrive. These places are really convenient and won’t set you back more than £5 – £7 for a huge lunch.
The popular tourist attractions will never set you back more than £6 for a ticket and a lot of the parks and temples are free. Sometimes there is a free alternative, for example, if you want a free view of Tokyo from the top of a skyscraper, then head over to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building.
All in all, a cheap day can be as little as £30, but other days (such as big travel days) can be near to pushing over the £50 mark. Backpacking Japan on a low daily budget is more possible than most think.