Most Filipino travelers have Japan high on their bucketlists. But most of us have this perception that traveling there is too expensive. Generally, the cost of living is higher than popular Southeast Asian countries on the backpacking trail like Thailand, Cambodia or Vietnam.
But Japan is such a worthwhile destination in terms of natural landscapes, rich traditional culture, and world class technology. It’s amazing how efficient and clean everything is. Like traveling to any destination, there are always ways you can cut down on costs. Last year, I got to visit Nagoya and I just recently came back from visiting sights around Osaka, Kyoto and Nara in the Kansai Region. Here are a few tips I can share that will hopefully help Filipino travelers plan their dream trip to The Land of the Rising Sun.
TIP: 100 USD is roughly 10,000 yen. If you want to convert yen to pesos, the general rule of thumb is to divide the amount in half. For instance, anything that costs 1000 Yen is roughly 500 pesos.
1. Book flights on low-cost carriers
Surprisingly the airfare to Japan is not that expensive these days. If you can score promo fares or seat sales, it may even be cheaper than booking an instant flight to local Philippine destinations. Budget airline Cebu Pacific, which flies between Manila and Osaka (Kansai) five times weekly, has the lowest year-round fares starting from PHP6,399. From Kansai, I was able to visit sites around Osaka, Kyoto and Nara. Once you’re in a major hub, you can easily get around to other destinations by train or bus.
2. Fly outside the peak seasons
Most tourists come to Japan in time for spring (for cherry blossom season) and autumn. However, Japan is beautiful the whole year around. If you fly outside the peak season, you can usually enjoy lower rates on airfares, hotels and package tours or enjoy tourist spots with less crowds.
At the torri Gates in Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto. Photo by Solitary Wanderer
Another common tactic among travelers is to enter through one airport and leave through another, while sightseeing through the different regions you pass. This will help you avoid backtracking on your route. Aside from flying to Osaka, Cebu Pacific also flies from Manila to Tokyo (Narita), Nagoya and Fukuoka, as well as from Cebu to Tokyo (Narita). So you can plan your itinerary accordingly.
3. Get a JR Train pass and bus pass
Taking taxis in Japan can be very expensive. Flagdown rates for standard four-passenger taxis start at around 600 to 700 yen in Osaka and Kyoto and increase by around 80-90 yen for every additional 300-400 meters traveled.
Thankfully, everything is very well connected with trains and buses that operate like clockwork. If you’re planning to go around Kansai (Osaka, Kyoto, etc.), it’s really convenient to get the JR West Rail Kansai Area Pass. You can avail of 1-day, 2-day, 3-day or 4-day passes depending on the length of your stay. This is valid for unlimited travel on any area on the map! We made use of the Kansai Area 2-day pass which costs 4,300 yen when purchased abroad or 4,500 when purchased in Japan. Check out the rest of their rates & routes here. TIP: The cost of the passes is cheaper by 200 yen if you reserve passes online compared to buying it after you arrive in Japan.
The JR West train covers a route of 5,000 KM with approximately 1,200 stations and goes directly to Osaka and Kyoto from the Kansai-Airport! The Kansai Area Pass gives you unlimited rides on the Kansai-Airport Express “HARUKA”, rapid service and local trains from Kansai Airport to Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Nara, Himeji, Wakayama, Shiga, Tsuruga and Iga-Ueno. If you’re going around a lot, the train pass will save you a lot of money. Expect to walk a lot though in between train stations.
While the train system may be quite overwhelming and confusing at first, I’ve found that the staff and locals are very friendly to tourists and more than willing to help. In smaller places like Nara, buses are ideal for going around. Trips usually cost 200 plus yen every time you get on a bus (even for very short trips) but an unlimited day pass only costs 500 yen per day.
4. Explore by bike
For those who know how to bike, bicycle rentals are a good option for getting around since you can combine transportation with sightseeing. Affordable bicycle rentals are usually available in hostels and in shops around train stations. Classic mamachari style bicycles are the most common types of bikes available.
However, I’d only recommend biking in small to medium sized cities, city districts or rural towns. Rates for bike rentals vary but usually only cost 200 yen per hour or 500 to 1300 yen per day. Kyoto Cycling Tour Project (www.kctp.net) offers mountain bikes for rent at 1,500 – 2,000 Yen per day. Rental Bicycle Fuune (email@example.com) even offers Tandem Bikes for rent for 3,500 per day.
5. Opt for alternative accommodations
As guests of Cebu Pacific and Universal Studios Japan, we stayed in the Righa Royal Hotel during our official tour, but when fellow bloggers and I extended a couple of days, we moved to more budget-friendly options. Instead of staying at a hotel, you have a range of options to choose from including AirBnb, hostels, dormitories, inexpensive business hotels or capsule hotels, which have a lot of character. But if you are able to reserve packages for hotels beforehand, it may still come out cheaper than the daily rates at hostels.
6. Stay in a Central Location
On our first extra night, we stayed in a dormitory with double deck bunks in a quiet residential area in Nara which I don’t really recommend because we found out that you can easily tour Nara as a day trip. Later on, we moved to Hana Hostel, a hybrid inn with cozy traditional Japanese style rooms and dorm beds in Kyoto, which I highly recommend.
Hana Hostel is centrally located just walking distance from the Kyoto station, which connects you immediately to all points of interest. There are several convenience stores nearby, they have a kitchen where you can cook, they have free wifi, computers, free luggage storage and even even offer free bike rental if you stay 3 nights. Rates are generally affordable especially for single travelers who need to book on the spot.
- Dormitory: 2,800 yen
- Single: 4,200 yen
- Twin/Double: 3,200 yen
- Triple/Quad: 3,000 yen
- Ensuite Twin/Double: 3,600 yen
Aside from the location, consider the amenities like luggage storage and complimentary breakfast when you pick where to stay. TIP: Luggage storage usually costs 500 yen per bag in Tourist Information Centers in major train stations. There are also lockers available in bigger train stations. Travel light so you can avoid the problem of where to store your luggage.
7. Visit free attractions
There are lots of free attractions in Japan worth visiting including UNESCO World Heritage Temples, shrines, parks and top tourist districts. Most of these have no entrance fees for the outer grounds, though some of the museums and specific temples charge 300-500 Yen if you plan to enter.
There’s no entrance fee to enter the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove in Kyoto!
Here are a few places where you can walk around, soak in the beautiful Japanese sights and take photos without any charge.
- OSAKA: Stroll along Dotonburi, visit the Osaka Castle Park, Sumiyoshi Taisha, Minoh Park, Shitenoji Temple, Osaka Takoyaki Museum, Momofuko Ando Instant Ramen Museum, Hattori Ryokuchi Park, Osaka Tenmangu Shrine,
- KYOTO: Fushimi Inari Shrine, the Imperial palaces and villas (Kyoto Imperial Palace, Sento Palace, Katsura Villa, Shukagin Villa), Nishiki Market, walking the Philospher’s Path, go Maiko and Geisha spotting in the historic districts around Gion and Kiyomizudera, the Bamboo Forest in Arashiyama, take a tour of the Asahi Beer Brewery (and get free beer samples!)
- NARA: Yoshikien (free entry for foreigners only), Heijo Palace, and strolling through Nara Park and Naramachi.
Nara Deer Park is another beautiful place to visit that’s completely free
8. Spend your money wisely
By visiting free attractions during the rest of your stay, you can allot more money for entrance tickets and souvenirs at Universal Studios Japan and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which I recommend you visit because the theme park is just amazing! In fact, for most millennial travelers, this would probably be one of the major reasons for going to Osaka anyway.
Dotonburi in Osaka
Visiting free attractions also means you have a bigger budget for buying souvenirs at major shopping hubs places like Dotonburi. Price-wise though, clothes in top boutiques like H & M and Uniqlo seem more expensive here than the ones in the Philippines. Since we now have these stores in the country, I suggest you prioritize unique Japanese items that you can’t get back home instead. For budget-friendly souvenir shopping, head directly to Don Quijote, a huge discount chain store in Japan or the 100 yen shops.
9. Buy food and drinks at convenience stores & vendo machines
I got to sample lots of great Japanese eats and beer during our official trip, but when we extended, my friends and I switched to budget traveler mode.
We found that supermarkets and convenience stores have all these delicious bento boxes, sushi and sashimi which are discounted at 30-50% off at night. An average meal like a bowl of ramen in a restaurant costs about 700-800 Yen. A complete Salmon Bento Box meal at the grocery store cost me 375 Yen (at 30% off). Food standards in Japan are really high, and this tasted really fresh and delicious. We also got packs of sushi and maki at discounted rates. Big containers of water and milk tea generally cost cheaper than the single serve drinks (100 yen).
For beer drinkers, vendo machines and convenience stores are the best option. A mug of draft beer costs about 300 yen or more in restaurants, but only costs 145 Yen for small cans in convenience stores and vendo machines.
10. Stay connected online
While you can get free WiFi in some spots like the airport and train stations, having WiFi on the go is invaluable for researching, planning and staying connected with your friends should you get separated from each other. This also helps you avoid International Roaming charges or having to buy a local SIM. You need WiFi to check GoogleMaps, figure out where you are, do last minute bookings, and of course, keep updated on social media. Please follow me on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/karasantos)
Three of my companions were using FlytPack Travel WiFi Routers, which gave them unlimited WiFi throughout the trip for just 300 pesos a day for Japan. The router is very portable and provided unlimited data! The great thing about it is that other people could connect to their routers, so instant free WiFi for the rest of us without having to rent one. Hehe. For more details, specifics and rates, check out this full review of the Flytpack by Pinoy Adventurista.
Got any other budget travel tips for Japan? Feel free to share below on the comments section 🙂