Jeremiah Rogers

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Japan on a Budget

Leaves changing color in Osaka, Japan. April 2014.

In four hours I’m flying from Bali, Indonesia to Nagoya, Japan. Japan is one of my favorite countries in the world and even though Japan has a high GDP per capita it doesn’t have to be an expensive country to visit. I think that Japan gets this reputation because some things in Japan are expensive. If you eat at Jiro’s Sushi it will cost around $300. If you buy a one way ticket on the bullet train it can cost $300-$400, and one friend took a taxi from Tokyo Narita airport to downtown Tokyo for more than $200.

Jiro’s is expensive, transportation can be expensive, but many things in Japan are actually great deals. Most of my meals on my last trip cost only $4-7. Without fail, everything I bought in Japan was remarkably high quality no matter what end of the price spectrum it was on. So I think that you can live and travel in Japan on the lowest end of the economic spectrum and still have a fantastic time.

As a result, today I’m starting a new blog series about traveling cheaply in Japan. My last trip to Japan cost $80 per day and I think that this time I can easily come in under $70 or even as low as $40 on days when I really cut costs.

$5 ramen lunch in Tokyo. April, 2014.

Before we get started I’ve purchased a few things for my trip upfront. Let me write about those below.

Transit in Japan

Most of the transit for my journey will be covered by a 21 day Japan Rail Pass that set me back $580 including shipping. I’ll be in Japan for 22 days total, so it works out to $26.30 per day for the rail pass. That’s not cheap, but I’m expecting to be able to sleep on some trains in Japan and therefore the rail pass as free accommodation. Even a hostel in Japan regularly costs $20 to $30 per night, so a Japan Rail Pass at $26 is a fantastic deal if it works out as a hotel too.

Shinkansen conductor. Osaka, Japan. April, 2014.

Flights

I’ve also purchased a $248 flight from Bali and a separate flight back to the United States for $70. The $70 flight from the United States was made possible using American Airlines frequent flier miles that I got by signing up for a Citi AAdvantage card. When I got the deal for this card it gave me 40,000 miles for spending $2,000 on the card. The deals change all the time and the current deal is only 30,000 miles, so I suggest that you shop around for a good deal on flights. Use this Google search to get started 1.

If you timed things right and bought your $580 rail pass on the credit card mentioned above you’d only have to find another $1,420 in regular day to spending over a few months to hit the limit for the 40,000 mile bonus. You can spend that money on groceries, gas, luggage, travel gear, gifts, or whatever else you’d normally spend money on in a month.

As a result you can get a flight to Japan from the USA and transit all over Japan for three weeks for around $650 ($70 to book a round trip flight on American Airlines using points and another $580 for your rail pass). That’s a really good start to making a cheap three week vacation in what is normally considered one of the most expensive countries in the world.

Sika deer on Miyajima Island. Near Hiroshima, Japan. April, 2014.

Do you have tips?

Finally, I know I have a bunch of Japanese readers or readers who have travelled to Japan in the past. Shoot me your favorite tips directly to my personal email (jeremiahrfish@gmail.com but without the “fish”). Please put “Japan” in the subject line just so I can make sure it doesn’t get filtered into my spam folder. Also let me know if you want attribution on the blog and/or a link back to your own blog or profile.

Time permitting I’ll put your theories to the test. In addition to sleeping on the train I’d like to try sleeping in a karaoke room or in an internet cafe. If I can work things out I’ll also try couch surfing or maybe even hitchhiking.

Who knows what we’ll find. Just so my mom doesn’t worry: I won’t hold myself to being an ascetic for the whole trip. I’m hoping to eat a meal at Sushi Iwa, which was supposedly Steve Jobs’s favorite restaurant.

Racing through the alley. Kyoto, Japan. April, 2014.


  1. I don’t have any affiliate relationships setup with credit card right now. Once I do I might link into the best deals I can find. [return]