Our annual holidays to Japan are always a revelation! There is always something else you can do to help keep costs down, without sacrificing the enjoyment you can get out of the trip. To help you guys out, we’ve put together a short list of money-saving tips that we’ve personally road-tested. We hope it will encourage you guys to take the plunge and head for Japan on your next holiday!
For the unfamiliar, a matryoshka doll is a set of Russian dolls where the smaller dolls sit inside the bigger dolls. We use the same principle in packing for our Japan holidays: we cram a smaller suitcase full of clothes and other stuff, and then put it inside a bigger suitcase. By packing matryoshka-style, we can discipline ourselves into packing only what we need to save on overweight charges. We are also assured that we have enough luggage space on the return trip for figures from Akihabara, clothes from Harajuku, or Harry Potter souvenirs from Osaka.
Lunch Sets Rule!
Japan loves lunch sets, and we do too! Lunch sets are special items available only at lunch (usually 11AM to 2PM) from cafes and restaurants all over Japan. They are generally cheaper than ala carte items available at dinner — as much as half off menu prices. They also come with “Special Service” — which can be in the form of unlimited drink refills, free dessert, or bigger servings. So instead of splurging on dinner, go whole hog during lunchtime instead — it’s more bang for your buck!
Bento Shops are Cheaper Than Conbini
Convenience stores or conbini are everywhere in Japan, and they always seem to be stuffed to the gills with everything you could possible want to eat or drink — even at the wee hours of the morning. However, there is a price for all this convenience, as convenience stores jack up the prices on food, drinks, and toiletries by as much as forty percent compared to regular stores!
Our tip? Follow the crowds of office grunts and construction workers headed for the neighborhood bento shops for lunch. Not only are they cheaper, they are also freshly prepared on site, as opposed to a commissary far away for most convenience stores. Best of all, bento shops drop prices on all their wares near closing time! If you play your cards right, you can get JPY 30 onigiri, JPY 200 curry sets, and JPY 300 full bento — cheap and delicious!
Skip the Shinkansen, Take the Overnight Bus
Shinkansen are fast, comfortable, and convenient. Unless you have a ride-all-you-can Japan Rail Pass, however, they are not cheap. So for travelers watching their budgets, there is a cheaper alternative for cross-country travel: the overnight bus. Japan has a network of overnight buses that connect major cities such as Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Kyoto, and Hiroshima. Not only are tickets cheap (some routes go for as low as JPY 3000), but you also save on hotel accommodations since you will be sleeping in the bus for the night.
Skip the Hotel, Stay at an AirBNB or a Hostel
And speaking of hotel accommodations, Tokyo is notorious for having expensive yet tiny hotel rooms. If you are gonna end up sleeping in a shoe box anyway, why no make it a cheap shoe box? There are plenty of hostels and cheap ryokan that have rooms for as low as JPY 3000 per person per night. And if that’s still too pricey for your tastes, try AirBNB — a revolutionary booking site that lets you rent accommodations from private individuals at really low prices.
AirBNB works on the premise that “Whether an apartment, for a month, a castle for a week, or a villa for a month, AirBNB connects people to unique travel experiences, at any price point, in more than 34,000 cities and 190 countries”. That’s quite a mouthful, but they did deliver on their promise! We browsed their listings for suitable lodgings, narrowed it down to our favorites, and finally booked them via their iOS app ❤
We scored a stay at an entire apartment in Osaka for just JPY 1500 per night for two persons — it was accessible, clean, and super comfortable! We honestly would never have saved so much money if it wasn’t for AirBNB. If you guys are feeling extra adventurous, why not sign up with AirBNB now and stay with them on your next holiday in Japan? I’ll even toss USD 25 your way to use with your first AirBNB booking — how’s that for more money saved? 🙂
Buying second-hand items may turn some people off as they feel that the quality is not the same as brand-new items, or that the seller is lying to hide some flaw or defect. That may be true in the Philippines, however in Japan it’s a different story. Buying second-hand in Japan is almost like buying new items for half the price; many of the items are in excellent condition (sometime, brand new!).
Japanese sellers are also very up-front about flaws — a dented box, minor surface scratches, missing parts, etc. so you definitely know what you are getting into. And the best thing about buying second-hand items in Japan? There is still hope in scoring that rare and long sold-out item missing from your collection! Give it a go!
That’s it for our top six Japan travel tips! Got a tip of your own? Post it in the comments section! Se you in Japan again very soon!
See also: Six More Top Japan Travel Tips.
14 Comments Add yours
Not a super cheap option, but if you’re pressed for time and want to visit destinations far flung destinations like Okinawa or Sapporo, you can consider domestic airfare deals offered by Japanese airlines. ANA has the Experience Japan Pass, where you can get domestic flights for ¥10,000 per segment. Not the cheapest, admittedly, but if you’re flying Sapporo-Okinawa-Fukuoka, it’s not bad at all (it comes out at $365.20 for that route)
WOW thanks for the tip, Nina 😀
A mid-range option between taking the Shinkansen and bus is to fly. I was able to book ¥4000 roundtrip tickets to Osaka from Narita via Peach Airlines. Other LCCs such as Skymark, Vanilla, Skymark, AirDo, Jetstar, Solaseed etc. offer cheap flights between major Japanese cities and even nearby countries.
I would also recommend buying bento from local groceries. They get marked down at night as well. If you’re near a university, might as well eat there too. They have super cheap and healthy food options. 🙂
LCCs are making it even cheaper to fly in Japan — thanks for the tip Herb! 🙂
Which specific areas would you recommend when buying second-hand stuff?
It depends on what you are looking for — for anime figures and toys, Akihabara in Tokyo. For designer bags and watches, Shinsaibashi in Osaka. For kimono and traditional Japanese items, Kyoto.
do you mind if I ask the weight of your inbound and outbound flight luggage??the Matryoshka-style Packing is genius, I never thought of that..
thanks for the tips~
Hi there — it’s 20kg outbound and 40kg inbound 😀
Depachika, basement food floors, for cheap yet awesome dinner eats! But be sure to come in around 7pm and see the food they have on sale! Also, since a lot of depachika host gourmet food and cuisine, the idea of getting a large tub of potato salad with serrano ham for 200 yen is a treat. ❤
Yum yum — thanks for the tip Khursten!
Love that tip about taking the overnight bus rather than a bullet train. I’m still confused with the whole rail pass thing, even though I’ve read so much about it :p Are there any rail passes that can take me from Tokyo to Osaka, but I can use for going around the cities?
The Japan Rail Pass covers all lines owned and operated by Japan Rail, including Shinkansen, local trains, and some buses and ferry lines. So you can use it to ride either the Hikari or the Kodama Shinkansen from Osaka to Tokyo and vice versa, and then use it also on the local lines within Tokyo like the Yamanote, Chuo, Sobu, and other lines. It does not, however cover subways and private lines operated by other companies like Tokyo Metro, Keio, and Odakyu etc.
Hi darling! Sorry to spring this on you out of the blue but my friends and I tried browsing the AirBNB site, but we still don’t know which is the best and affordable one to get. Is there any possibility that you could share the hostel/place that you’d tried staying in while you were in Osaka and Tokyo? Thank you so much for your help.
Hello. We have a list of AirBNB properties we stay at already linked in the post.
If you sign up for AirBNB, please use our Invite link to get USD 25 in credit 🙂