Comprehensive Japanese Budgeting

When I introduced the topic of Japan, I mentioned that the trip could be done on $70-$120 AUD (or CAD they’re pretty much par right now). Now that the trip is over, I have the chance to review my budget and give you some hard numbers. But a word of warning: I was shredding Japan. Getting my gear around, lift passes, food on the mountains and in the mountain towns changed some of my daily prices. On top of it, I spent 5 months in Melbourne busting ass for this trip- I was pretty frivolous with my spending. Don’t take my personal numbers as fact. To help you get a clearer idea of some costs, I’m going to break this down into 4 major ways your money gets spent and explain the ways your budget can fluctuate in either direction.

Moneytalks: At the time I was traveling in Japan the exchange rate was roughly (AUD) $1 = ¥80

Accomodation

I spent traveling: $30.75/night

I spent on mountain: $49.52/night

This is the big one. For me, while travelling accommodation generally reflects 30%-50% of your daily allowance. I’m a hostel guy, not to knock couchsurfing (a great way to whack your budget down by 30-50%) but I move far to unpredictably and frequently to be bothered with the hassle of it. Hostel dorm beds in Japan run from $20 a night to $50 a night, even more if you can justify it. You can also stay in a pod hotel for similar rates if you’re looking for something unique. More special experiences that might drive the price up include seedy love hotels, and not so seedy onsen (spa) stays. If you’re trying to drive the price down a bit temple stays are often a free way to do so but can be tricky to line up.

Before one of the last journeys of The Hamanasu
Awaiting one of the final journeys of the (very Soviet looking) Hamanasu

I snagged a ride on one of Japans last remaining night trains; The Hamanasu, a few days before she was discontinued, to save on a nights accommodation.

This wasn’t factored into the average above. Night trains may be slowly becoming a thing of the past but from my understanding night busses are still alive and well, and any overnight travel saves you hostel costs. And hey! That segues us nicely into the next of the big 4 expenses:

Travel

I spent locally: $6.56/day

I spent intercity (including my rail pass): $800.33 in a month.

Look, people argue you can spend a month in Tokyo, which I wont debate. But even if you’re posting yourself up there for a month- its not a very walkable city. In fact, not much of Japan is very walkable. You’re gonna need to get around, locally, and regionally. This can be very expensive if done incorrectly. Even 200¥ train journeys around town add up quickly.

The best strategy for local travel is to catch train to your destination neighbourhood in the morning and spend the day there, or walk to a nearby neighbourhood, then train back. Keep it to 2 or 3 trips a day. Hopping neighbourhoods constantly will drive your transportation cost through the roof.

For the intercity travel on my trip, I bought a 2 week long Japan Rail pass from JR for $529. This allows you to ride any JR train any time you want (with a few negligible exceptions) all 2 weeks the pass is valid. This includes the famous Shinkansen, or Bullet Train- an attraction in its own right, and lots of local lines as well. Osaka is easily maneuvered via JR rail, and I probably averaged $10/day in rail tickets there without the pass. My budget balanced at $6.56 a day because I spent roughly 5 days in Tokyo using strictly JR Line trains with my intercity pass.

Important advice about this pass though- it won’t save you money if you only use it locally. If you take a few long haul trips it starts to balance itself out. You can also use it if you want to take a day trip from Tokyo or Osaka to see Mount Fuji. Another warning: the pass only works on JR Line trains. Japan has multiple train companies, and if you travel on other lines you will still need to pay. It’s possible to travel strictly on JR but for the hassle it’ll be well worth it to use a few other lines when in the cities, especially Tokyo!

Food

I spent travelling: $22.12/day

I spent on mountain: $26.05/day

Let me preface this by saying: I love eating. And I eat a lot. In Japan portions seemed pretty small so I would usually have 4 meals a day instead of your average mans 3. Top that off with 2 of those bright orange steamed pizza buns from 7/11 a day (an averaged figure, thank god it took me till mid trip to discover those). There is just so much good food in Japan. An easier way for me to break this down so it makes sense is by meal for budget.

•Snacks $1-$4

Pizza buns. God I miss pizza buns. Snacky stuff like a meat skewer, ice cream, pizza bun, energy bar ect. wont ever cost you less than ¥100 unfortunately. But the good news is, its pretty easy to find something to quickly munch on for not much more than that.

•Low Budget $3-$6

I consider this to be pre-boxed sushi packs in 7/11s and supermarkets after they start to marking them down to clear at about 20:00, and general grocery shopping. Street food kind of sits in the mid-range in Japan for the most part. Generally 3 or 4 meals worth of groceries would run me ¥1200 ($15), and the pre boxed cheap stuff would be around ¥200-¥500. Depending on what you need to sustain yourself, and how you assemble your meals I’d class your per meal cost at anywhere between $3-$6.

•Mid-Range $7-$15

Fast food, bento boxes, cafe breakfasts, even the right ramen restaurant (ask in your hostel for a recommendation) will all run you minimum ¥500 for a good feed. Fortunately they rarely run more than ¥1100.

Shrimp-Ramen and a Beer on Hokkaido: ¥1200
Shrimp-Ramen and a Beer on Hokkaido: ¥1200

Meals on mountain in Japan were pretty fairly priced, shockingly. Id consider it just ¥100-¥200 more than the prices you pay in the cities. As a general rule, during the day I’d eat twice in the hostel, and once or twice in town while I was out wandering. With an average price of $22.12 a day, it’s pretty fair to say most mid range costs on the lower end of the scale, or closer to ¥500.

•Upscale $20-$35, but the sky is the limit.

There are some really nice places to eat in Japan. And it’d be a shame to not treat yourself occasionally. Looking back at my budget I can find 5 restaurants I ate at that I’d class as upscale. My average spend? $26.77 before drinks. Keep in mind what I said about being a big eater before though, at 3 of them I got appetizers, or side dishes to go with the main. A few of them were just for the sake of treating myself, but if you’re in Japan I think it’d be a shame to not budget for at least a few really nice meals.

•Coffee & Alcohol

This wasn’t included in my daily cost, as everyone is going to be different here.

Coffee– the Japanese do a really nice drip roast. As a fan, I couldn’t help but do the research and find a few cafes that were doing it well. Expect to pay $4-$6 a cup for these. A Mr. Doughnut cheapo coffee? $2.5-$3.5. Unfortunately, I didn’t try any of the espresso coffee, but I think I remember lattes costing about the same as a nice drip roast. The only Starbucks I went to (I’m usually pretty anti-Starbucks) was the one overlooking the Shibuya Crossing, and they charged me $9 for a small coffee and brownie.

Alcohol– Vending machine beers were a very tempting novelty. These cost me $3.5-$5 a go. I bought a case of a dozen Asahi in Tokyo for $18.40, and individual beers in the supermarkets usually ran between $2.50 and $4. A beer out? That depends on where you go but I never paid less than ¥500. I spent ¥800 at a few bars, and there are places in Tokyo that charge over ¥1000. I had a few whiskeys with a mate in Tokyo for about ¥700 each and I had a gin cocktail in an apres-ski bar for ¥800, which was a pretty good deal I reckon. So with all this in mind, I think a suitable, but wide, range for a drink out would be between $6 and $14.

Activities & Tourism

Excluding lift passes I spent roughly $200

As we move down my list the daily budget becomes more vague and hard to predict. This is the vaguest and hardest to predict yet. The biggest drawback to Japan, for me at least, was the entry fee charged by most temples and religious sites. There are some wicked gardens and shrines that you can see for free, but most of the other stuff costs you quite a bit. Because of this, I spent a lot of time wandering around to free stuff which is pretty readily available. What I’ve done, rather than write up about the individual cost of all attractions is average out what I spent per attraction type for you to take a look at. I didn’t do many things more than twice either, so take all this information with some hesitancy.

•Temple admission averaged $4.42

•Museum admission averaged $7.71, but I went to mostly cheap ones.

• Onsen Admission: These are natural hot pools, and a huge part of the culture. A few were included with lift passes and I wound up going to over 10- they’re pretty popular apres-ski. Since I’m covered in tattoos I was almost barred entry from one, but since I’m obviously not Japanese they let it slide. The average cost of admission to an onsen? $8.32

• Snow Monkey Tour:

You read that correctly: Snow. Monkeys.
You read that correctly: Snow. Monkeys.

I only went on one of these, but it was a rad attraction and worth mentioning here. Return bus trip from Nagano, temple admission, and park admission are all included in the reasonable price of $36.65.

•Lift Passes: For my fellow shred-heads. This depends on what mountains you plan on riding and what deals you can find. I wound up getting some cheap days in Hakuba through my accommodation, so buying your passes outright might cost a bit more than my average of $61.43

•Shopping: I’m not a big shopper, so probably not the guy to ask. I bought a pair of snowboard boots on sale for $232.85, unfortunately beyond that I can’t advise you on much.

Total Cost In AUD

Right, the big numbers: my total expenditures for a month in Japan. After you take my base rate for accommodation, food, and transportation, and add in my snowboarding costs and beer/coffee habits I got a pretty reasonable figure, in line with what I predicted when budgeting for the trip.

•Accommodation in cities: $492 for 16 nights.

•Accommodation on mountain: $693.28 for 14 nights.

•Food: $740.74 for 32 days

•Transportation: $997.13

•Cost: Everything but rail pass and snowboard boot purchase, for 17 days, 16 nights in cities: $1455.17 or $85.60/day

•Cost: Including 13 lift passes, 15 days, 14 nights on mountain: $1809.32 or $129.23/day.

•Total Cost: For a 32 day snowboard and travel vacation, including rail pass and shopping, excluding flights: $4029.86 or $129.99/day

And just for fun I went back and tallied up the cost of the moderate drinking I did on the trip- $261.00

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