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Japan on a Budget for 2 Weeks

Marayuma Park in Kyoto, Japan

Marayuma Park in Kyoto, Japan

Japan was always a must-visit country in my travels. And my two weeks there was everything I’d dreamt of and more. But many people are put off from travelling to Japan because of the expense. Yes, it is expensive, but there are ways to visit Japan on a budget and still see a lot of the top attractions that this amazing country has to offer.

Here’s how we did Japan in two weeks on a budget, including tips from fellow travellers.

Our Two Week Japan Itinerary

 

Day 1 – Arrive in Tokyo
Day 2 – Tokyo
Day 3 – Tokyo
Day 4 – Tokyo
Day 5 – Tokyo to Takayama (first day of JR Pass – see below)
Day 6 – Takayama to Kyoto
Day 7 – Kyoto
Day 8 – Kyoto
Day 9 – Kyoto
Day 10 – Kyoto to Hiroshima (half day) to Miyajima
Day 11 – Miyajima to Tokyo (last day of JR Pass)
Day 12 – Tokyo
Day 13 – Tokyo
Day 14 – Fly back from Tokyo

Alternative Japan Routes

 

Our trip started and ended in Tokyo, but you could easily fly into Tokyo and fly out of another city in Japan, such as Kyoto or Osaka.

We only bought a one week Japan rail pass, which limited our time exploring outside of Tokyo. You could buy a two week ticket and get to see more places, although you might feel you have to move around a lot to make the most of your ticket.

On Day 11 of our itinerary, many people fit in Himeji, which has a pretty spectacular castle. The castle is currently undergoing reconstruction and is covered in scaffolding, so we missed it on this trip and spent more time in Miyajima.

When you travel to or from Takayama you could make a stop at Nagoya to see the Sakura at Yamazaki-gawa or just visit some of of the local sights before traveling on.

Instead of heading up to Takayama, you could carry on down south to spend more time in Kyoto, visit Osaka or Kobe, or go past Hiroshima to the south of Japan.

Japan Guide Books

 

While we did a lot of online research before we flew out to Japan, we did invest in a few books to help us get to know cities better and as a useful guide for when we were out there.

And buying a book is a pretty budget-friendly way to have a personal guide for your trip to Japan ;)

Here are a few Japanese guide books to take a look at:

Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass)

 

If venturing out of Tokyo then definitely buy a JR Rail Pass before you leave your country.

This will be a life-saver whilst travelling around Japan as it is so expensive to buy individual train tickets when you arrive.

Their website also has an excellent forum, where you can ask questions about your visit and pick up tips from other travellers. Their team is very responsive, replying often within a few hours of posting.

Here’s the advice we got when planning our trip to Japan.

Cheap places to stay in Japan

 

When in Tokyo, I recommend staying in Ueno as it’s downtown and so relatively cheap compared to places like Shinjuku.

You can get off directly at Ueno Station from the main airport (Narita) and it’s easy to navigate through Tokyo from Ueno station.

Try to stay in Ryokans or Hostels, as Japanese hotel rooms are not only small but expensive. Ryokan are Japanese-style inns, so a more authentic experience as you sleep on tatami matt floor, futons, onsen steam bath – very comfy! You usually also meet fellow travellers over a delicious Japanese breakfast (rice, eggs, fish, etc).

If you are staying for longer than a week in Tokyo or want more independence, then look up the very reasonable Weekly Mansion aparthotel in Ueno (it’s also in every Tokyo district).

Two useful sights for booking accommodation – HostelBookers.com and HostelWorld.com. Simply pick the dates you want, how many people and then you can view all available listings. Map view gives you an idea of where hostels are located (nearer transport links is preferable), you can sort by rating to get the best places to stay at the top, and you can also read past visitors reviews to get a feel for each place.

A word of warning – book your accommodation far in advance of your trip,  at least a month. The best and cheapest places book up very quickly, especially in blossom season!

Japanese eating on a budget

 

Sushi Joint – Find a conveyer belt sushi place, which are cheaper than normal restaurants, and enjoy powered green tea and sushi!

Street Food – Japanese street vendors are everywhere and the food is very varied. From steam buns to yakatori, there’s something for everyone to fill up on for a lot less

Sushi Triangles – Mostly sold in convenience stores such as 7-11, these are small triangles of sushi wrapped in sea weed. They come in an intricately wrapped package (pull 1, then 2, then 3) and are a cheap and delicious way to feed fatigued tourists. Oh, and 7-11s have free wifi and toilets, which comes in very useful at times.

Okonimiyaki – This is a Japanese savoury pancake containing a variety of ingredients. The restaurants that call themselves Okonimiyaki are cheap and serve lots of other delicious Japanese meals – not to mention that some let you cook your own pancake on heated grills installed into your table!

Alcohol – Drinking is expensive in Japan, especially in bars and restaurants.

Cheap/free things to see in Tokyo

 

Tsukiji fish market (free) – Its due to move location next year and will be much harder to get to. You have to go Monday-Friday around 4-5am for the best time. Then go get Sushi from the Breakfast Sushi bars by the market (cash only at most – Sushi Dai is the one I went to with locales – lines to get in at 5am).

Harajuku Station area (free) – A number of things to do here a) Walk through park to Meiji Jingu shrine. b) Harajuku Girls on the bridge by the station – especially on a Sunday afternoon c) Takeshita Street just across from station is the main trendy fashion street – well worth a stroll down and people watch. The area around here is full of high end shops to but don’t waste your time – Takeshita Street is a good one for people watching.

Shibuya Crossing (free) – This is the major pedestrian crossing just outside the station. Be aware all stations in Tokyo are large and if you leave by the wrong exit you could be literally miles from where you want to be. Grab a coffee at the Starbucks that overlooks the crossing – a great place to sit and watch everything happen.

Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo (free) – nice walk down to it as well.

Find an all you can eat and drink Shabu-shabu restaurant (cheap) – Here you book a table for a fixed amount of time and its all you can eat but more importantly all you can drink. Load up on sake and try the Shoju too.

Take the Yamanote subway line and ride its loop all around the inner city core (cheap) – Get off at Akihabara for the electronics district. Visit Yodobashi store here – apparently the biggest electronics store in the world.

Take the last train home on the Yamanote line (cheap) – Remember last trains leave around midnight, so you either want to go then or just stay up until they start running again around 5am.

Maiden Cafe (cheap) – Visit a Maiden Café in Akihabara for a cup of coffee and slice of cake.

Go to Shinjuku station at rush hour (free) – busiest, and largest, railway station in the world. A trip on the Yamanote line in rush hour is also quite the experience.

Oriental Bazaar (cheap) – On Omotesando Street in Harajuku, this is a good and inexpensive place to pick up souvenirs.

Ginza (cheap/free – if you don’t buy anything) – From the Imperial Palace in Tokyo you can reach Ginza, which is worth strolling through as it’s where all the posh shops are (Japanese version of London’s Knightsbridge). Stop off at Doutor coffee shop (opposite Mitsukoshi department store) at the crossroads, an amazing spot for watching the world go by.

Day trips out of Tokyo

 

Nikko – a world heritage site of ancient Buddhist shrines.

Hakone – a good weekend break from Tokyo, picturesque lakes with wonderful views of Mount Fuji.

Kamakura – Pretty much Zen central, famous for the enormous Daibutsu Buddha statue.

Rest of Japan

 

Kyoto – Lots of the main temples and tourist attractions are grouped together in the east of the city. We travelled to the south east, starting at the Seikan-Ji Temple, then walked our way through to the north east of the city. Once you finish the Philosopher’s Path, catch a bus back to central Tokyo. It’s a long day, but worth it!

Nara – A day trip outside of Kyoto, this city has a huge park full of deer, temple and one of the biggest statues of Buddha in the world.

Hiroshima – The peace museum and park are very moving. The museum is 50 Yen to enter and you can wander around the park for a few hours.

Miyajima – When visiting Hiroshima, definitely take the boat out to Miyajima Island, one of the most beautiful islands in Japan. You can walk around the island and to the top of the mountain for some great views. The boat across to the island is also included in the JR Pass.

Kobe – A vibrant city where younger generations live and of course home of yummy Kobe beef. If you have time, there is a great Onsen town called Arima Onsen just a bus ride away.

Kanazawa – Some of Japan’s most beautiful temples and most famous garden Kenrouken.

Takayama – Wonderful as it takes you into the heart of traditional Japanese life, with a beautifully preserved old Japanese town.

Himeji Castle – What many people don’t know is that just outside Himeji City is an amazing 1000 year old temple complex called Engyo-ji, high up in Mount Shosha and which can be reached by a 30 minute ropeway journey. Recently, it was made more famous as parts of The Last Samurai film with Tom Cruise were filmed there.

 

That’s my suggestions on how to visit Japan on a shoestring. What advice would you give for first time travellers to Japan?

 

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13 Comments

  1. I enjoyed reading about your 2 week trip. I am going very soon
    and the information was very useful, THANK YOU!

  2. Thank you for this! I planned my two week itinerary around this.

  3. Thanks for such a great and informative write-up…especially the “Rest of Japan” notes. I have been trying to narrow down and pick and choose places for my first trip to Japan. I have been interested in Japan for a while and am a solo traveler, so this helps me with my planning for a trip in 2015.

  4. That’s a great write up! I only did Kyoto for a week when I went to Japan – mostly temples, Arashiyama, and lots & lots of food. Can’t wait to go back. It was amazing. Next time I go, I’m taking your itinerary with me.

    This is what happened on my crazy trip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9I6Ku0tY9SM

  5. Hey this was great! I’m currently wading through information on the web (OK,I won’t complain – it’s my favorite hobby), in order to plan a two-week visit to Japan. You included a lot of useful information plus a very realistic itinerary. Thanks!

    • Thanks, Linda! Definitely better to pack less in, but take in more of the places you do visit.

      Let me know if you write about your trip :)

      • Hello Ben. Just to let you know that I came back from Japan yesterday, and I followed a lot of your advice! In fact, I even had a photocopy of your information with me (and dumped another one which was way too intensive). I pretty much followed the same itinerary, but because I had sixteen days I added a little more time in Kyoto and went to Kanazawa. After reflection, I took the JR pass for 14 days and used it until the last day, although I could almost have done as you did. I took your advice and went to a hotel in Ueno – and I really liked that neighborhood! Returning to Tokyo on my last three days (two nights) I stayed in a business hotel which was right in the fish market, so I had no excuse not to go see it – and I could go back to sleep for a bit at 6:00 am when they let us out.

        I really loved Japan! In every way….it was just such a pleasure to walk around and discover. I’m a big fan of Buddhist (and Shinto) temple architecture – it just fascinates me – and I really got my fill of this. Sorry for my friends who have to see the photos! I had hesitated about going all the way to Hiroshima but I think it’s well worth it, and Miyajima was just beautiful.

        I’m a Miyazaki (great animation) fan and on my last day, went to a museum called the Tokyo-Edo Open-Air Architectural Museum; they had a special exhibition of background paintings from the films. However, I discovered that this museum was really interesting in it’s own right – they actually moved houses and shops to this sight that you can’t see anywhere else in rebuilt Tokyo.

        As far as keeping to a budget, because I live in France and was changing euros, I think it was rather favorable against the yen. I don’t know if that’s the same for other currencies. Japan overall was cheaper than France and I even did some clothes shopping to save money! I think a lot of money went into temple and museum visits, but that can be curbed on a tighter budget. And like you said, there is lots of inexpensive food available.

        By choice, I travel solo at least once a year – and I do sometimes think of contributing to the sites specializing in solo travel (there’s even one for women who travel solo). However, I don’t know if there’s anything particular to say about solo travel in Japan. Perhaps people were more willing to help me? A few times, being a little lost, I just put on a lost face with my map in my hand, and people actually conducted me to the right bus stop or in the right direction. Don’t think the Japanese get the same treatment in Paris!

        So thank you again for the information which I followed from the beginning and throughout my trip!

  6. Did you stay in tokyo and take day trips out of tokyo?

  7. This is very interesting and I enjoyed reading your experiences and where you went. May I ask, what was your budget like for the 2 week trip?

  8. Thank you so much, really hopeful guides. I was planning for weeks to think of a route for my 2 week trip in japan but am thinking to do osaka – kyoto – tokyo. just worried how it would be like spending christmas in japan. heard they don’t really celebrate it

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