Tips for Visiting Japan

Japan is one of the most expensive country to visit in Asia. As a frugal traveler, below were my expense when I visit the country of the rising sun.

When to Visit Japan

Cherry blossom season is one of the best time to visit Japan. To time your visit for the season, you should go to Japan-Guide and estimate the time the cherry blossom will open. The best time to go when the cherry blossom is in full bloom or starting to fall.

Taking picture with a bud is dull

Taking picture with a bud is dull


Bloom Cherry Blossom

Bloom Cherry Blossom

But a picture with a full bloom cherry blossom is beautiful

My trip was from March 26 – April 11 2016 which was the best time for seeing cherry blossom. This was a 2 week long vacation because just in case we arrive in Japan too early for the blooming duration.

Sadly, we missed the Sumo and Japanese anime convention which happened one week earlier. If you are planning to see these two events and also catch the cherry blossom, then I would advice you to go south of Japan where the cherry blossom bloom earlier.

How much does it cost for a flight to Japan ?

The Flight to Japan costed $883. My flight was a 15 hours flight to Haneda with 1 hour layover in Beijing. The flight back was 9 hours non stop.

The cheapest flight that we found was around $500 from China Eastern but there is a 13 layover at night at Shanghai to and from. China Eastern does provide free accommodation and shuttle servers for one night if you fill out an application (click here for more info). So, for one trip you will have to find your own way. Since I was traveling with another person, I wanted to find out if we can use one person transit hotel one at a time so we can be cover both from and to. However, China Eastern did not answer my question with multiple contact both phone and email. Since time was not expendable and China Eastern did not answer our question, we choose to pay more to have a smooth trip.

P.S Searching for flight was done during December. When we check back in January, the price changed.

Accommodations in Japan

The cheapest place that I can find for 2 people is through Airbnb. I had tried looking at capsule hotel but were not able to find one that would be safe for a women and accommodate 2 people at the same time. All of our Airbnbs have kitchen so for some meals, mainly breakfast, we would cook.

When you book your Airbnb, make sure that the places are near the subway.

Tokyo airbnb  – 3 nights $133 (44.33/night)
Kyoto airbnb – 4 nights $232 (58/night)
Osaka airbnb – 2 nights $87 (43.5/night)
Tokyo again airbnb – 5 nights $268 (53.6/night)

Total hotel for the trip is $720 for 2 people for 14 nights. I think Airbnb is a safe and cheapest place for a family traveling in Japan.

Beside a kitchen, we also have a washing machines. We want to travel light so having a washing machines helps with our luggage weight. For 2 adults we only bring 2 bags of carry on and 2 small backpacks for our day pack.

Getting Around in Japan

If you are planing to visit more than 2 cities, I would recommend getting a JR Rail Pass. It is the cheapest way and easiest way to get around Japan. You should order your about 2-3 week ahead of your trip because they need to mail you the pass.

  • Tokyo
     Suica card and Pasmo is wisely use in Tokyo. I personally got Suica card because you can use it in Kyoto and Osaka.
  • Kyoto
    In Kyoto, there are day pass for buss and subway. They are two different tickets. To optimize your money, you should try to plan an all day bus pass or an all day subway pass. We only get the buss pass because we were able to use our JR Rail Pass most of the time.
  • Osaka
    Suica card and JR Rail Pass are all what we needed to travel around Osaka.

If you have T-mobile, you will have free texting, and 2G data everywhere you go. I have used this to help navigating through the buses and train.

TIP: You should make sure that your train/bus is going to the right direction. In California, buses would make one full run around the block. However, Japan bus only go one way most of the time. If you did not get get on the right direction, you will be like me spending more than 2 hours to get back to the hotel.





Big noodle cup

Big noodle cup

The cost for food will depend on what and where you are planing to eat. If you want to eat Kobe beef everyday, then spending $150 for a meal is the average. However, if you are willing to go to the market to dine, an average meal will be $10.

You can use Tokyo & Osaka Restaurant Guide app to help finding a place to eat with your budget. This app does not have review but from my experience all of the restaurants that I tried on this app are delicious. To read reviews of the restaurant, you should use Yelp.

Lunch is cheaper than dinner by at least 30%. If you are planing to have an expensive lunch like Shabu Shabu, I would not wait and try the food at lunch time rather than dinner.





So, how much cash should you bring to Japan?

Yes, Japan is a cash base country. Before leaving to Japan, we convert about $250 USD to Yen, and $2000 USD in cash. Yes, this is very little cash which mainly use for paying food and re-filling suica card. I use my credit card every time we can which reduce the amount of cash we need.

Where to get your Yen?

We have used Chase and CitiBank and both gave us really good exchange rate. However, the best exchange rate was in Japan. We went to an exchange shop our first day. They are everywhere in Ikebukuro. I would not exchange money at the airport ATM or Bank. The exchange rate at the airport was worse than when we were in the US (we landed at Haneda airport).

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