Budget travelers can get a taste of authentic Japanese culture by living like locals — taking public transport, shopping at konbini (convenience stores) and noshing on cheap eats. But remember that Japan is predominantly a cash culture, so you’ll be spending yen instead of swiping plastic.
Your chance to save the most cash occurs well before you even set foot in Japan. But a few insider hacks can help you hold onto yen after you arrive as well.
Time of year
The most inexpensive time to visit Japan is generally December through February, excluding New Year’s.
Cherry blossom season in the spring is the most expensive for accommodations and sightseeing, as thousands flock from around the world to see the pretty pink flowers.
Budget travelers can find fun festivals and other stimulating celebrations all year long, so it’ll be easy to pinch your pennies during your stay.
The cheapest Japan flights take off from the west coast: Los Angeles or Honolulu. If you’re starting from the heartland or east coast, consider hopping aboard a budget airline like Frontier or Spirit to head west first.
AirAsiaX offers discount flights from Honolulu (HNL) to Osaka (KIX) for as low as $480.23 round-trip. You can also cross the Pacific on:
- American Airlines
- Hawaiian Airlines
- All Nippon Airways (ANA)
- Japan Airlines
- Korean Air
- Asiana Airlines
Use our guide to find a cheap flight to Japan, no matter where you’re heading from.
While Japan is known for being an expensive country, it’s possible to travel inexpensively using these handy hacks:
- Avoid airport taxis. A taxi to the center of town can cost upwards of $200. But Japan’s major international airports offer cheaper passage via train. Also check out “limousine buses” in Tokyo, which offer transport from nearby airports for less than $60.
- Buy subway day passes. A 24-hour pass is under $10 and far cheaper than catching a subway or Uber.
- Stay in a capsule hotel. Japanese capsule or pod hotels are a growing trend with tourists. Although you’ll be sleeping in a tiny pod, most cost less than traditional hotels.
- Look for lunch specials. To save money eating out, visit restaurants during lunch hours. Many offer hearty deals.
- Embrace convenience store food. Fondly known as konbini to locals, Japanese 7-Eleven stores offer cheap yet delicious food. Look for onigiri, yakisoba buns and fried karaage or purchase a bento set — an economically priced full meal of rice, sides and dessert.
- Hold the tip. In Japan, tipping is considered rude by most service workers. Invest spare cash in extra food or other activities instead.
- See natural splendors. Focus on seeing Japan’s free attractions and religious landmarks instead of spending top dollar on tourist experiences. Most matsuri, or festivals, are free to the public. And so are public parks, the imperial palace garden and many shrines and temples.
Hostels and capsule bunks are fairly easy to find in cities like Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto. You can find many listed on Airbnb.
Three-star hotel rooms in Tokyo start at $65 a night, while 4-star spots start at $121. If you’re out in the country or a smaller town, consider staying at a traditional ryokan, famous for Japanese hospitality, excellent meals and — depending on the locale — hot spring baths.
Our guide to the best hotels in Japan will fan your wanderlust flame.
What about last-minute travel?
Last-minute flights to Japan can get pricey, so scout through sites like Expedia or FlightHub to find the best rates. For accommodation, try capsule hotels and hostels. Both tend to have better short-notice availability. Finally, the best time for last-minute travel is the off-season in January and February — just not New Year’s.
Taste authentic sushi and see the sun rise on an unforgettable trip to Japan. The best way to save yen is to time your trip right, cozy up in a capsule or hostel and take advantage of Nihon‘s no-fee spectacles.