Tips for Enjoying Japan on a Budget

March 1, 2016
Tips for Enjoying Japan on a Budget

“Tokyo is an expensive place” is one of the most common responses I heard when telling people I would be moving and living here indefinitely. In fact, I’ve heard the same thing for most of the cities I’ve lived in, including Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. All of these cities are certainly pricey compared to other cities around the world, but I’ve found that I have still been able to go on many adventures in each place. With a little sacrifice and a lot of creativity, a little time and a lot of planning. I don’t believe that money ever has to be a reason to avoid a dream destination. Here are some tips for enjoying Japan on a budget.

Tips for Enjoying Japan on a Budget

1. City or museum passes

In Tokyo there’s a great booklet called a Grutto Pass, which gives you free or discounted tickets to 78 museums, aquariums, zoos, and parks throughout the city for a mere 2,000 JPY. The pass lasts for two months, so pays for itself after just four museum visits. You can enter some big-name places–like the Edo-Tokyo Museum, the Ueno Zoo, and The National Museum of Modern Art–with the pass.

Even outside of Tokyo, many cities in Japan provide passes that enable you to see multiple sites in a few days. In Osaka, for example, you can get the Osaka Amazing 1- or 2-day pass, which–along with free museum entry–includes discounts for restaurants with must-eat Japanese foods, like takoyaki (balls of fried octopus) and kushikatsu (skewers of fried foods).

2. Buy groceries, especially fresh items, at the end of the day

If you want to try traditional Japanese foods, what better place to look than the supermarkets where locals shop for their meals? Because Japanese food is all about freshness, most supermarkets will mark down their perishables at the end of the day, an hour or two before closing. Going to our local Maruetsu around 7pm leads to a goldmine in bento boxes (prepared lunches), meats, and sashimi platters for 10-50% off. Look for hangaku—or half price—stickers to get some sweet deals on delicious Japanese beef and sushi.

With a little sacrifice and a lot of creativity, a little time and a lot of planning… money doesn’t have to be a reason to avoid a dream destination.

The katsu (Japanese style fried chicken) you get from Life Supermarket is a tasty and cheap meal that easily compares to the restaurant down the street. For a typical Japanese experience, grab a bento box before your Shinkansen trip.

3. Look for Nomihoudai (all you can drink) or Tabehoudai (all you can eat) deals

If you’re looking for a great restaurant experience on a budget, a tasty and enjoyable option is to seek out nomihoudai or tabehoudai. For a set price (usually around 2000 – 3000 JPY) you can have 1-3 hours of endless yakitoris (barbecued meat skewers) and umeshus (Japanese plum wine).  If you’re in a new city, try to look for these offers in chain restaurants, rather than smaller Izakayas or hole in the wall places. The chain restaurants are able to support these deals without cutting corners (like watering down drinks) or requiring minimum purchases. Some of my favorites are Monteroza and Nabezo.

Walk into a 100 yen store for a toothbrush and come out with 10 kawaii souvenirs, a new favorite snack, and a portable banana keeper.

4. Shop at 100 yen shops and second-hand/recycle shops

Japanese products are known for their quality, and that doesn’t end at the 100 yen shop. Unlike the 99 cents store, 100 yen shops sell items that are of surprisingly good quality. You can get some really good deals for items that are usually higher priced elsewhere. They’re as convenient and ubiquitous as Japan’s konbini’s (convenience stores) and contain pretty much everything you’ll need and want, and probably a lot of things you didn’t know you needed. Walk in for a toothbrush and come out with 10 kawaii souvenirs, a new favorite snack, and a portable banana keeper.

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Japan’s second-hand shops are also a cut above what you might be used to, largely because it’s deeply ingrained in Japanese culture to avoid used objects, even if they’re still almost-new or in good condition. You can find appliances, clothing, gadgets, and gifts all for half price in near-mint condition.

The most popular chain stores are the Hard Off stores (and Mode Off, which sells used clothing, Book Off, which sells books, etc.), but wander around smaller streets and you’re bound to stumble across a privately owned recycle shop.

Tips for Enjoying Japan on a Budget

Traveling on a budget is always tricky. What should you pass up and what should you indulge in? My rule is, if it’s something you probably won’t experience again, it’s better to find a way to make it work than regret missing out. Have a truly unforgettable experience in Japan!


Tips for Enjoying Japan on a Budget photo credit: Unsplash.

About Ariel Annon

Ariel has lived in many countries in Asia and is currently residing in Tokyo, Japan. When not getting lost in a new city, she loves learning, consuming all forms of media, and cooking adventurous foods with her partner.

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