The Best Places in Japan for Budget Travellers

Osaka is one of the best destinations in Japan for budget travellers
Osaka is one of the best destinations in Japan for budget travellers | © Sean Pavone / Alamy Stock Photo
Lucy Dayman

Despite its long-held reputation for being one of the more expensive countries to visit in Asia, Japan can actually be surprisingly cheap. Of course, in the 1980s, the country went through an economic boom, and living costs skyrocketed; however, in the 30 years that have followed, the cost of daily life and travel have evened out. Whether you are hoping to spot geishas in Kyoto, walk along Tokyo‘s Shibuya Crossing or ride the bullet train to Osaka, here’s Culture Trip’s budget guide.

1. Tokyo

Architectural Landmark

Japan, Tokyo City, Shinjuku district, Shinjuku Gyoen-Park, Cherry Blossoms
© mauritius images GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

Starting the list with Tokyo seems like a ridiculous notion, but if you’re willing to do your research and forgo personal space, staying in one of the most hectic cities in the world can be a rather thrifty option. Firstly, one of the greatest things about staying in Tokyo on the cheap is that many of the best sightseeing hotspots are free. You can explore countless stunning gardens like Yoyogi Park and the Imperial Palace East Gardens for free. If you want to see something a little more exotic, a visit to Shinjuku Gyoen is going to set you back a very low ¥500 (£3.30). So many of the city’s other sights like Tsukiji Market, the Shibuya scramble and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building Observatory will only cost you your transport fee.

2. Fukuoka

Architectural Landmark

Sitting on the northern shore of the Japanese island of Kyushu is Fukuoka, one of the country’s main cheaper city options. Given that it’s not as densely populated as say Tokyo or Osaka, Fukuoka balances between being small enough to stay on the cheap, while still being an incredibly vibrant city. You can easily get a dorm bed in a hostel for ¥2,500 (£17) per night. Because the city is known for ancient temples and beaches, you can embrace Japan’s local culture while spending nothing.

3. Kamakura

Buddhist Temple, Historical Landmark

Statue of Buddha at Kamakura Japan
© Anthony Shaw / Alamy Stock Photo

Want the history of Kyoto without the tourist trap costs? Then Kamakura is the place to go. Firstly, there’s the fact that it’s close to Tokyo (less than an hour), meaning that if you’re in the main city, you’ll save the crazy shinkansen (bullet train) prices. In a previous life (around 1192), Kamakura was actually the political centre of Japan, which it ruled for over a century. These days, a lot of the buildings and history of this era of Tokyo still remain. Known in some circles as the Kyoto of Eastern Japan, it is a popular tourist destination, but a lot more budget traveller-friendly. Don’t miss Kamakura Daibutsu, the second tallest bronze Buddha statue in Japan.

4. Osaka

Architectural Landmark

Osaka is like Tokyo’s grittier little sibling, with arguably better food. Like Fukuoka and Tokyo, accommodation options are varied and suitable for all budgets. However, what makes Osaka a budget traveller’s utopia is the ability to eat well for next to nothing. Street vendors sell local-style okonomiyaki (filling omelette/pancake-style hybrid dish) and takoyaki (fried batter balls), which cost the friendly price of ¥300 – ¥700 yen (£2 – £4.65) depending on how hungry you are. Osaka locals love to drink, too – check out izakayas with nomihodai (all-you-can-drink deals) to get boozed up for less.

5. Okinawa

Architectural Landmark

Aharen Beach on the island of Tokashiki in Okinawa, Japan.
© Sean Pavone / Alamy Stock Photo

If you want to experience world-class beaches and rich Japanese culture in one cheap vacation, Okinawa is the place to be. Surfers flock here for the waves, whilst others enjoy the turquoise waters for snorkelling and clear night skies for stargazing. There are plenty of beach camping options for free and cheap, just be sure to keep a look out for “no camping” signs. If you’d rather have a solid roof over your head, then a guesthouse is the best option – some places can be as low as ¥2,000 (£13) per night because real estate in the area is way cheaper than the more populated cities.

6. Kobe

Architectural Landmark

Kobe, Japan port and skyline.
© Sean Pavone / Alamy Stock Photo

If Osaka is the cheaper Tokyo, then Kobe is the even cheaper Osaka alternative. The capital of Hyogo Prefecture and one of Japan’s 10 largest cities, Kobe has a lot more going for it than just beef, though the beef is, of course, pretty great. This busy hub is overflowing with history and rich diverse culture, thanks to its origins as a port city. Located only 20 minutes from Osaka, you have the best of both worlds – the affordability of being in a smaller city, but the accessibility of Osaka in less than a 30-minute journey.

7. Sapporo

Architectural Landmark

If you want to explore Japan’s stunning mountains and sample the most incredible ramen you’ll ever experience, a visit to Sapporo is definitely one to add to your itinerary. If you’re concerned about breaking the bank, head during the warmer months to avoid the hordes of snow-chasing tourists and ski holiday makers. If you’re coming to Japan in summer and want to escape the heat, Sapporo’s mild temperatures provide some serious respite. Also, many of the city’s attractions are free, including Odori, Moerenuma and Nakajima Parks. During the non-snow season, finding a place to stay is a lot less competitive, which means you can nab a bed in a hotel or hostel for around ¥2,000 – ¥3,000 (£13 – £20) per night.

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