Travel tips: How to save some money in Japan


Ever since I returned from Japan, I’ve meant to write an article about how to save some money on unavoidable expenses. Now it’s finally finished. It’s just a few tips which many of you might know about, especially if you have been to Japan before. Nevertheless, I believed that some people might learn something new from it, so I felt it was worth writing. I write about 4 points which appear on every traveler’s travel budget, regardless of what he or she does and buys there. Drinks, food, accommodation, and expenses on public transport. If you disagree with something written in the article or if you find something that ought to be corrected, feel free to leave a comment.

1) Drinks

You can easily save some money if you choose your drinks carefully. You will see the vending machines anywhere and everywhere and most of them would offer 0.5 liter drinks for 150 yen. However, if you don’t opt for the first vending machine you lay your sight on, you are likely to come across another one which will have the same drinks or some other 0.5l drinks at a lower price. Some of these vending machines have big 100 yen prints on them, so you can easily tell that the vending machine has 100 yen drinks.

That’s not all. If you want to reduce your expenses on liquids even more and you do not want to buy still water (depending on the store, that may actually cost you more than the following option), you can buy 1 liter tetra-packs of flavored water for 105 yen. Different shops offer different flavors, some of which include peach, muscat grape, lemon, and chassis. But you will find at least one in every convenience store. The only disadvantage of this is that you can’t carry it in your bag once you open it.

2) Food

Where should I start… Okay, let’s go through the options that are more on the cheaper side, starting with not expensive options and finishing with the cheapest possible options that will ensure your survival.

If you want to have a proper lunch or dinner, you can go to a restaurants. Of course, there are many of them, but what I want to mention are the chain restaurants. The prices start at about something over 500 yen for a simple meal. For example, at Denny’s, you will pay some 700-1200 yen if you order a regular meal. Some family restaurants are cheaper than that, but it might come as a trade-off for the size of the meal. For example Saizeriya’s menu lists some pasta for 300 yen, but I haven’t seen the size you get for that.

If you fancy some curry, you can go to one of the restaurants of CoCo Ichibanya chain. You can have some good curry starting at about 600 yen, and you can order a large serving of rice for additional 100 yen. I had nattou curry there and it was delicious.

Let’s move on to something cheaper. You might call this category Japanese fast food chain restaurants. First, we have Yoshinoya. It was established in 1899 so it has quite a long tradition and it’s very popular. They primarily offer bowl meals (gyuudon, etc.) and curry and the prices start at 300-400 yen. But as far as I know, they have one meal for a special price at any given time. For example now, they offer gyuunabedon for 280 yen.

A similar chain to Yoshinoya is Matsuya. The menu resembles the menu at Yoshinoya and so do the prices.

Another option are noodle bistros which you can find pretty much anywhere. In large cities, they usually have a vending machine outside which you buy a meal ticket from and hand it in inside. Besides soba and udon, they might offer various bowl meals (katsudon, gyuudon, oyakodon, etc.). The price varies from store to store, but some of them might offer soba and udon starting at about 250 yen. However, bear in mind that the size is not likely to fill your stomach. You will have to order something more expensive, like large size soba/udon, katsudon, or a set if you want to feel full.

What seems to be the cheapest option is supermarkets and convenience stores. You can get some pastry or things like yakisoba pan for about 100-160 yen there. But it’s nothing big, unless you happen to come by something with good mass/price ratio. You can also get onigiri there for about the same price. What is surely a better deal if you want to fill your stomach is the various bento they sell there. What’s more, if you’re getting it for dinner, you might come across some discounted bento, or even a half-priced bento (don’t worry, you don’t have to seize it in a fight ^_-). Expect to pay at least 400 yen for a full-priced bento.

If you are very desperate and all you want to do is to fill your stomach with some mass, you can buy some toast bread in a convenience store or a supermarket. In supermarkets, you might get about 360g of toast bread for about 100 yen (probably a bit over, but I also came across 68 yen one in Osaka’s Shin-Imamiya area). But don’t live on nothing but bread! You have to try out some things when you are in Japan.

Another thing worth mentioning is that supermarkets (Fresco, Shimadaya, Y’s Mart, etc.) are almost always cheaper than convenience stores (Family Mart, Lawson, 7-Eleven and the likes). But it’s harder to come across one. Convenience stores are, on the other hand, on every corner (well, almost :D).

3) Accommodation

If you are looking for cheap accommodation in Tokyo, search in Taito-ku, specifically in the area marked by Minami-Senju, Ueno, and Asakusa stations. You can find lodging for as low as 2,500 yen per night. You will have to bear with a small room (and when I say small, I mean really small), but you will have Internet access, usually tea and coffee, and shower, whose use may, however, be charged (I paid 100 yen for 5 minutes at Aizuya Inn). What’s more, Akihabara is only some 15 minutes by train or 11 minutes by metro from Minami-Senju Station. Sounds good, doesn’t it? The area doesn’t really belong to the pretty parts of Tokyo. You will see quite a few homeless people and drunk people there, but they possess no threat unless you provoke them. Just mind your own business and you will be fine.

In Osaka, try looking in the area near Shin-Imamiya Station. I hear this area used to be a slum, and I have to say that you will notice that it is very far from being an upscale area. You’d better not go southward from the station, because that area is not considered safe. There’s a very shabby shoutengai (shopping street) stretching southward from near Shin-Imamiya Station. I went there about three times, because there was a cheap supermarket there, but I must say it sent chills down my spine once. At the south end of the shoutengai, there’s the largest red-light district in Osaka and places like that always possess some level of danger (though, you’re still in Japan, one of the safest countries in the world). If you go northward from Shin-Imamiya Station, you will find yourself in Nipponbashi, Osakan counterpart of Akihabara.

4) Transport

If you are not going to stay only in one city, but intend to travel around different places, you should get the Japan Rail Pass, with which you can use any JR Line, except the Nozomi service and Mizuho service Shinkansen trains. JR offers 7-day, 14-day, and 21-day pass, all of which come in two versions, Standard Car and Green Car. With the Green Car pass, you can use the green cars if they are available. If you have the Rail Pass, you can also reserve seats for free. You can only obtain the Rail Pass if you purchase the exchange order prior to going to Japan. Once you are in Japan, you can exchange it for the Rail Pass upon presenting your passport with 90-day Visitor’s Visa. If you have any other type of visa (student’s visa, working visa, etc.), you can’t use the Rail Pass.

Class 7-day 14-day 21-day
Green Car Adult ¥37,800 ¥61,200 ¥79,600
Child ¥18,900 ¥30,600 ¥39,800
Standard Car Adult ¥28,300 ¥45,100 ¥57,700
Child ¥14,150 ¥22,550 ¥28,850

Now, which one is the right type for you? I believe that in 99% of cases, you will do fine with the Standard Car version. What are the advantages of green cars? From what I hear, they are a bit more spacious. That’s about it. I used the standard cars carrying two suitcases and didn’t encounter any problem. Not even during the Obon period. Another thing which needs to be mentioned is that green cars are only available on certain train services.

When you go from point A to point B, there might be more than one way to get there. For example, if I were to go from Minami-Senju Station to Shibuya Station, I could either use JR Jouban Line and JR Yamanote Line or I could opt for the metropolitan metro lines (Hibiya Line and Ginza Line). What would be the difference? I would pay 290 yen for the former and 230 yen for the latter. You can look up the possible connections and the prices on Google Maps.

I hope you can make use of some of these bits of advice. You can spend all the money you save that way on some anime merchandise, CDs and other thingies you can take home with you :D

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