Travel tips

Japan: a travel money guide

By Emily Ward | Marketing manager at ICE

How much money should I take on my trip to Japan?


Japan is a country of contrasts, from buzzing cities to silent mountains. It’s home to an endless number of
activities and places to explore, which means that guessing where to spend your time and money can be
impossible.

Japan has a reputation for being expensive, but this isn’t really true: modernisation and tourism have created
a range of prices to choose from, with some being shockingly cheap, so travelling on a shoestring is
definitely possible.

We’ve researched all the costs and created this guide to how much to budget for a typical trip to Japan.
At the time of writing, the exchange rate between Pounds Sterling (GBP) and Japanese Yen (JPY) was 1
GBP : 137.62 JPY.

Food and drink prices in Japan


Good food in Japan is extremely easy to come by, even with a low price tag. Buying food and drink from
convenience stores is very common at any time of day, and is probably the best source of breakfast for self-catering holiday-makers. You can find snacks for 100-200 JPY, fruit for 200-400 JPY and packaged meals for
300-500 JPY.


In cities, fast food chains are used frequently by both locals and tourists - not only because of the huge
variety, but also due to their quality: their are much healthier than their western equivalents. At the quickest,
you’ll find a rice bowl with beef for about 350 JPY, while up the scale you’ll find udon or soba noodles for
about 400-500 JPY, ramen and katsu curry for about 700 JPY, a tempura meal for about 900-1000 JPY or a
sushi meal for about 1500 JPY.

In Japan, as with any country, a higher bill is usually worth paying for delicious food and skilled preparation.
At a good restaurant, you’ll be looking at around 30-60% more than fast food: for ramen, for example, you’ll
pay 900-1100 JPY.

Drinking tap water is a risk in Japan, but bottled drinks are sold in all convenience stores and vending
machines: they’re 130-160 JPY in vending machines, and 110-140 JPY in stores.


Alcohol prices in Japan

As with most countries, domestically-produced alcohol is far cheaper than imports in Japan. Domestic beer
and sake (rice wine) can be found at convenience stores, fast food places, restaurants and bars wherever
you are. In fast food places and convenience stores prices are about 200-250 JPY, while you’ll be looking at
300-350 JPY in a typical restaurant.

Cocktails carry a higher price depending on your location: a basic cocktail is about 500 JPY, while a classy
one might set you back 1300-1800 JPY.

Transport costs in Japan


Japan’s rail network is famous for good reason. Long-distance journeys can be taken by shinkansen,
otherwise known as bullet trains, which are an efficient, clean and incredibly fast form of transport. With a
Japan Rail Pass, you can travel on these (and any other train) as many times as you like for 30,000 JPY
(one week), 47,500 JPY (two weeks) or 60,500 JPY (three weeks) However, without a pass, the journey from
Tokyo to Kyoto is about 13,000 JPY, or 43,000 JPY for the (frequently-taken) trip from Tokyo to Kyoto and
Hiroshima.


The bullet trains are complemented by the local train network, which links the towns within each region.
These journeys are typically between 150 JPY and 500 JPY per train.


In Tokyo, the Metro is an efficient way of getting around, taking you from one side of the city to the other in
minutes. A journey costs 160-260 JPY but, unlike some other city networks, each separate train counts as a
separate journey. A typical day’s travel in Tokyo is likely to cost 1200-1500 JPY.


If you’re going to be using public transport regularly, it’s best to get an IC card. These prepaid travel cards
cost a deposit of 500 JPY (you get 230 JPY back after the handling fee), and can be used for most modes of
transport in most cities, as well as a large number of vending machines, stores and restaurants (especially in
and around train stations).


It’s best to stay away from taxis if you’re interested in keeping your budget reasonable: fares in cities start at
600 JPY and add 400 JPY for every kilometre travelled, making a typical journey across a city cost upwards
of 3,000 JPY.

Cost for activities


Japan’s cities hold a wealth of activities for tourists, such as museums, skyline views, amusement parks and
aquariums. Entry fees to most are about 800 JPY, while multi-entry passes such as the Great Museum pass
cost about 2,200 JPY. Tokyo is famous for its shopping gaming arcades, with Akihabara being the most
famous; spending time wandering around shops and arcades is free, but if you want to play the games you’ll
be paying 100 JPY per turn.


Temples and shrines can be found across the country. Most are free to explore, but the gardens of most will
change an entry fee of 600 JPY. In the countryside, walks and mountain strolls are abundant and free, as is
entry to most parks in urban areas. Entry to some of the tourist parks, however, costs a small fee - seeing
the deer in Nara, for example, costs 500 JPY and Kyoto’s Monkey Park is 550 JPY.


Other costs

Free wifi isn’t common in Japan, and because journey planning is especially confusing, it is very useful to
have access the internet on the move. You can pick up a local pre-paid SIM for your phone in the airport for
about 4,000 JPY (10GB data).


Tipping in Japan

In Japan’s service-driven culture, tipping is seen as dishonouring the server and is considered offensive.


Cash and currency exchange in Japan


While card payments are fairly common in Japan’s cities, its economy is still largely cash driven. At smaller
shops and street food stalls, as well as at vending machines and ticket machines, you won’t be able to pay
by card even in urban areas.


However, you can find ATMs at 7-Elevens and post offices all around the country - even in small towns -
which accept most western debit cards. Many large stores, supermarkets and banks have currency
exchange facilities (and accept credit cards rather than debit cards), though we recommend researching the
exchange rate in advance rather than just going to the nearest store.

How much to budget in Japan


Aside from your flights, accommodation is the thing you’ll spend most on in Japan. Space is limited in urban
areas, and rural areas contain fewer places to stay, which places both at a premium. An advance period of at
least three months is pretty much essential.


In Tokyo, many new hostels and hotels have sprung up to address the shortfall. In the cheapest regions of
Tokyo, like Asakusa or Ueno, a bed in a hostel will be 2,000-2,500 JPY per night, while a private bed in a
capsule hotel starts at 3,000 JPY and rises to over 5,000 JPY depending on location and season. Business
hotels are the next option, at 5,000-12,000 JPY, and these usually carry the advantage of offering breakfast.
Above that, room prices depend on the hotel type and location; as with any city, they can rise into the
thousands.


The scarcity of space also affects housing prices, meaning that average cost of an Aribnb is high. These will
naturally be cheaper if you’re travelling in a group - and of course, you can sometimes find hidden gems.
Ryokan, traditional Japanese inns, offer excellent cooking, steam baths and basic (but elegant) facilities.
They are usually build around onsen, natural hot springs, so are a common place to stay if you’re venturing
into the countryside. They’re likely to give you a lot more value than a city hotel, so although they can be
pricey it’s usually justified. A cheap ryokan costs around 10,000 JPY and an upmarket one about 20,000 JPY.

 

 

 

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