Japan, as is well documented, is not a cheap destination. Certainly when you compare it to most other places in Asia it is expensive, but when you compare it with London/Australia/most North American cities, then it is about the same. I probably spent the same money as I would on a trip to (for example) Sydney or Miami, all things considered.
I converted AUS$1,000 to take as spending money (that’s around £550/ US$700), for an 18-day trip. Hotels, plus my train fare to Kyoto and my other little trips, all went on my credit card.
Anyway, as I always say, my budget is probably atypical; what works for me maybe doesn’t work for you. I provide it here as a rough guide.
Hotels: 17 nights, 12 in Tokyo and 5 in Kyoto: £1,100 / US$1420
I stayed in a mix of business-class hotels and in a capsule hotel. I was travelling at one of the most expensive times, at the start of cherry-blossom season and also at the start of spring break. Plus I booked last minute.
Kyoto in particular was expensive; when I tried to book there was very little budget accommodation left (‘more than 90% of our rooms in Kyoto have sold out’ booking kept telling me when I was looking for somewhere). A bit of advance planning would save money here.
Transport (excluding flights in and out of Japan): £276/US$358
I bought a Pasmo (transport) card to use around Tokyo (it works in in Kyoto too). I ploughed around 11,000 yen onto the card. The rest of this money went on the bullet train down to Kyoto and back and the journeys to and from the airport.
You can save money on transport by buying the Japan Rail Pass. These passes are not cheap, but transport generally in Japan is not cheap. If you are really intent on saving money then a bus is even cheaper, but that will cost you precious time out of your trip, so you need to decide if it is really worth the saving. The trains are fast and efficient.
I didn’t get a pass because I organised the trip very last-minute and wasn’t confident of receiving it before I left. In reality, I would probably just have broken even with it, but I didn’t travel too extensively around Japan. If you are planning on doing a lot more travel around Japan then the savings are greater.
Trips and excursions, plus entrance fees: £300/ US$388
I took a bus to Hakone and around Mount Fuji (beautiful but very touristy and crowded). I also took a couple of walking tours, including a couple of excellent Urban Adventure tours; great for learning more about local culture and customs.
Local SIM (internet only) £43 / US$ 55
You could manage without your own internet; all hotels have wifi and there is on-street wifi in many parts of the city too. However I always find that the one time you really need it, to check something on a map or find some vital piece of information, then it doesn’t work. This way it was consistently reliable and offered me unlimited data.
Food, drink, laundry, shopping (everything else basically): £480/ US$620
711 and other convenience stores were cheap for food and snacks. I tended to buy breakfast and lunch out and then grab something like sushi for dinner from the local convenience store. Actually, I got tired of dealing with the constant queues outside of restaurants if you wanted to eat at ‘meal times’, and so often grabbed something from 711 instead of queuing.
Travel Insurance: £42
I’ve switched to a company called True Traveller after my dissatisfaction with Travel Nomads when they kept putting their prices up and then refused to pay out for my unnamed illness. I make no comment on how good this new company is, since you never know until you have to make a claim. It is easier to divide things up and only insure what you want with them though. Travel Nomads included insurance for a lot of stuff that would never happen (eg, they insure you against lost passport but only if it is stolen from a locked safe).
That makes a total of about £2,241 / US$2898, or £124 (US$160) a day. Around a third more than I’d been aiming for. However you could easily shave that third off by planning in advance a little; it would certainly have helped with the high accommodation costs.
I really enjoyed Tokyo, but I don’t think I’d go again unless there was a particular reason. By the time I left I had become exhausted by the sheer volume of people. If I went back to Japan I would go to one of the other islands, or to a less travelled part of the country.
Kyoto is beautiful but I didn’t expect it to be so touristy. Ditto Hakone (mount Fuji). I would never go to either of them again.
So the Japan trip has bought me another three months in Australia. This is my third lot of three months and this time I was held up for an hour at the airport and quizzed about where my money was coming from, what places I had visited in Australia and how much longer I was intending to stay. No problem – I still got in for another three months – however it does serve to remind me that I have pretty much zero chance of finding a way to settle more permanently and so I need to be thinking about where I could go next to do that.