Maybe this is too much information, but I like to be open and transparent, possibly to a fault. Instead of linking directly to my itemized spreadsheet, I’ll just summarize the information here. I planned to be in Japan for 14 days 13 nights. My guidebook said budget $150 a day for low end, $200 a day for high end, and mid-range would be between them.
I had seen other books that mentioned that $80-100 a day is entirely possible, especially with a JR rail pass already purchased. So I went for a minimum of $80 a day which is roughly the $1030 cash I brought with me, and it was pretty much perfect. I had $50 left over at the end of the trip and converted it back to KRW.
- Pre Purchases ($713) – Of the 3-4 things I bought before I came to Japan the JR railpass was the most important one. It is purchased though Japan Airlines (full price) or though a travel agency (usually discounted) $437 for 2 weeks of unlimited rail travel to just about anywhere in Japan. Seems like a lot but a bullet train from Kyoto to Tokyo is roughly $150 one way. Pocket WiFi because I needed maps and to stay connected, $87. Plane tickets $189 round trip.* The Lonely Planet guidebook was another expense I did not include in my accounting, $40**
*I do not recommend Peach Air. I was nickle and dimed over bags, the seats have 8 inches of leg room, the planes were delayed on both arrival and departure, and the service sucked.
**The guide book was essential for me because I had done no research and only booked a room for my very first day. I preferred to fly by the seat of my pants and go where I wanted whenever it fit nicely. The book even mentions side trips and took me to a sake tasting a city, one of the highlights of the trip. If you put in the time beforehand to plan an itinerary, a guidebook is almost useless.
The next part I break down spending by category and give a dollar amount and that category’s percentage of total money spent. I have converted all JPY amounts to USD.
- Food ($395, 35.5%) – Japan’s food was amazing but usually on the expensive side. Nice quality meals/sets would start at $15 and go up. I ate a lot of $8-15 dollar dishes, mostly ramen/udon, fried pork cutlet, curry, and sushi. I tried a wide variety of foods Japan is known for, including these potato pancakes, and octopus dumplings. I also ate a fair amount of convenience store food, usually a breakfast. Their convenience store food is actually VERY good, but still not as good as a $8/9 bowl of ramen (I love ramen). Japan really likes set menu’s and everything comes well positioned on a small little tray with some side dishes. My favorite food was probably okonomiyaki just because it is so different and uniquely Japanese. They also favor eating rice with chopsticks, unlike in Korea where a spoon is used. I was a little bummed that I limited my budget here (even though it was the biggest use of my money already) I was hoping to try one Michelin starred places in Tokyo. Tokyo is unique in that is has the most Michelin restaurants of any city in the world. Also it has more restaurants than any city in the world.
- Room ($377, 33.8%) – I sort of pride myself in the ability to sleep just about anywhere, so I was looking to save a lot of money here and I did. I started out in capsule hotels at $25-37 bucks a night. They are really comfortable and offer cheap prices but with privacy. After that I was ready to drop $50 for a good Ryokan experience at a place in Tokyo. It was my favorite place of the trip. Big round Japanese bathtub, window facing out to a garden, the slow dripping of water, Japanese style interior, and old Japanese couple running the place. Most all places had bikes to rent, razors, toothbrushes, towels, coin laundry, they all had computers to use, wifi, baths, bath robes, and air con. I was often asked Western style or Japanese style room and always opted for Japanese. I did a lot of sleeping the floor with a futon and I must say it is very comfortable, and it leaves the room open with more space when you are not sleeping. After staying at a cheap hostel near Mt. Fuji enjoying the mountain view from the rooftop sauna. I went to Hiroshima and found a municipal government building they had made 2 floors of rooms and subsidized the prices. I think I paid $46 for a room that could easily sleep 4 people. It was so comfortable that I stayed there for 2 days and did almost nothing the second day, a minor regret for wasting what little time I had there. The last place I stayed was in Osaka. It was Friday night in a big city I had waited too long to make reservations and by the time I had called every hotel in the guidebook they were all full. I was starting to worry but stayed calm. I asked at the information office at a train station for help and she gave me a paper with a bunch of cheap places near a different station. After calling 20+ hotels I finally got lucky and found one with room available.* Overall I was happy with what I spent on rooms, averaged a little over $30 a night and was comfortable enough.
*The station was Shin-imiyia. I would not really recommend this area. It’s old and run down, the red-light district is 1-2km adjacent (I’ll talk about that later), there are some homeless people. But it feels safe enough, it’s at a transportation hub, and the price is right at $20 a night for a room just big enough for your futon and bags.
- Transit ($71, 6.3%) – The public transit is great in Japan but it is expensive. It is better than Korea’s by a good deal. Japan isn’t in such a rush like Korea. Bus drivers wait, they drive slowly, carefully, and defensive. I did not include the JR railpass here because it would have skewed the numbers a lot. I probably should have though. Subway 1 day pass was $6, bus was $5, there are trams/trolley/street cars for $2. The biggest expenses here was getting to Fuji since it is not a JR rail line, it cost $20 round trip. Taking the bus off the mountain was $15. They got you hostage for that 20 minute bus ride. Ain’t nobody walking off that mountain. I was happy with what I spent here. All the money spent was necessary, I could have bought day passes and saved a buck or two on a few occasions, but it was just easier not to fight Japanese vending machines.
- Misc/Gift ($160, 14.3%) – Early on the weather was bad and I bought 3-4 umbrellas(kept leaving them at temples), paid for lockers, laundry, and bought gifts. Gifts was the biggest contributor here, in Akhibara I spent roughly $60 and another $60 in Osaka. The only 2 days where I spent well over $100.
- Entertainment ($64, 5.6%) – I did not spend as much money here as I was hoping to. I would have liked to see Japanese traditional theater, a performance, or sumo. They were all too difficult to book at the last minute so I missed out on those unfortunately. I did see some sumo on TV so there is that…What I did spend here was bicycle rents, cable cars, and a maid cafe because it’s only in Japan.
- Temple/Entrance Fees ($65, 5.7%) – My first city was Kyoto where I was doing 4-5 shrines temples a day at roughly $5 each. I was a little scared how high this category started, but I quickly grew bored of the temples and shrines and never really went back. It seems expensive to me to charge $5 to walk around an old building. Their sights are very well maintained and there is a lot of original art and structure so it great to see real history, instead of the renovated freshly painted history so many other places try for.
$62 were spent but are unaccounted for. It simply went missing like any good government expense report. Likely vending machines or convenience stores.
That’s my break down. $1133 spent in Japan, $713 spent before. Totaling ~$1850 for 2 weeks in Japan. It was a great trip and I do have an urge to go back and explore the north’s least developed island Hokkiado and possibly the beaches and onsen of Kyushu.
I would say Japan’s city centers are more developed than the US’s. The streets are always clean, the public transit is amazing, and people bike everywhere. Seeing the mother on a bike with the baby on back was cool, but I later saw a whole family on a single bike. Dad pedaling, mom sitting on the back above the rear wheel, and the baby in his seat on the handlebars. The Japanese live much closer to nature, even in the big city. Korean cities are concrete jungles with boring boxy concrete architecture, while in Japan they use glass, curved shapes, negative space. People grow and care for plants in front of their houses and it makes the place welcoming. Japan isn’t a perfect place and as I touched on before has a lot of problems that most Asian countries have. The competitiveness, stress, suicides, bystander effect, nobody standing up to older people.