Is Japan Expensive for Tourists?

By: leelefever on June 11, 2006 - 2:57am

Like many travelers, we understood that Japan would be an expensive place in which to travel.  After spending a month in the country, we’d like to provide our perspectives on how much travel costs for tourists in Japan.  All prices are in American dollars.

In visiting any country as a tourist there are 5 costs that must be considered: 

  1. Arrival - The cost of getting there (and leaving)
  2. In-Country Transportation- The cost of moving around within the country
  3. Lodging- The cost of having a place to sleep each night
  4. Food and Alcohol- Keeping the belly full
  5. Tourist Activities- Seeing and Doing

Unfortunately, the first 3 of the 5 costs for Japan are likely the highest you’ll pay in almost any country- but there are some ways around the high expense.


  1. Arrival – It is generally expensive to fly into Japan from anywhere in the world.  However, there are places in the world that serve as major hubs and you may find that departing from these hubs can reduce the costs. We bought a round trip ticket from Bangkok to Tokyo for about $650 per person, even during Japan’s holiday season (Golden Week- April 25th- May 5th).  We hadn’t seen any tickets under $1,000 other than the ones we purchased.  The best advice is to plan ahead, be prepared and jump on any tickets that are below your expectations.
  1. In-Country Transportation - This one is an absolute no-brainer.  Japan has an amazingly safe, efficient and comfortable rail system that serves almost the whole country.  If you plan to travel to more than one or two cities it is essential that you purchase a “Japan Rail Pass” or “JR Pass”.  You must get the JR Pass before you leave - you CANNOT get one in Japan. The JR Pass web site has listings for ticket agents worldwide.  We bought a standard 14 day pass for $391 per person.  That seems like a lot, but once you start seeing how much inter-city train travel costs, you’ll be glad you have the pass.  For instance, a one way trip from Tokyo to Kyoto on the Shinkansen bullet train costs about $200 per person.  We figure that our JR Pass paid for itself within the first week of our trip.  Taxis are rather costly too and we took them very rarely.  In Tokyo, the charges start at about $5 and can quickly rise to over $50 on a late night trip home (subways stop around midnight). Further, most major cities have subways (not covered by the JR Pass) that cost $1-$3 point-to-point
  1. Lodging – Tourist lodging in Japan can be a complex mix of western rooms vs. Japanese style rooms, regular hotels vs. business hotels, ryokans vs. hotels and hostels.  Hostels offer the lowest rates ($20-50 per person) and the high end reaches to thousands of dollars.  On the whole, staying in hotels in Japan is an expensive affair, with 2-3 star western-style rooms costing $70 per night or more for two people. Often there are different prices for the number of people, enabling a single traveler to find a cheaper room.  For $80-$120 you get the regular hotel amenities (TV, A/C, bathroom, tea, breakfast, etc.) along with some Japanese treats like a yukata (robe), slippers, a shoe horn, disposable toothbrush, etc.  Near most train stations are “business hotels” which lack character, but have convenient locations, basic amenities (plus in-room Internet connection) and a decent price.  We found business hotels to be useful and easy for our travels in Japan and usually paid between $60-$80 per night.  If you want the Japanese experience of staying in a ryokan (traditional Japanese traveller’s lodge), we suggest going to a nice one and paying the $200 for the whole experience.
  1. Food and Alcohol - Aside from the basics listed above there are other costs that should be considered.  Food, of course, tops the list.  Food is one thing in Japan that offers a number of choices for different travelers.  It is possible to eat street-side noodles or a rice bowl meal for less than $4 dollars and then walk around the corner to a tempura restaurant that is $100 per person. Like many things in Japan, you pay for the experience.  Also, as a TwinF member mentioned, there are great choices in the convenience stores, like 7-11, which have delectable sushi rolls for about $2.  We found nearly all food, cheap or expensiv,e to be delicious, fresh and of high quality.  Also, you will surely drink your weight in Japanese tea, which is generally served free of charge.  The Japanese must consume more beer per capita than any other country.  Beer is sold everywhere and the prices are quite reasonable, depending on your drinking habits. A can of beer is usually about $2 from a vending machine and a draft beer in a restaurant is about $3-4.  Sake is also very popular and the prices vary widely based on reputation and quality, like wine.
  1. Tourist Activities - One of the wonderful things about Japan is that by simply being there, your tourist ambitions are fulfilled.  Walking the streets, riding the trains and sitting in parks all offer the tourist a view into the quirky and entertaining culture – free of charge.  You will pay for entrance into castles, some temples and shrines, etc.  These are usually between $5-10 per person. On the whole though, tourist activities in Japan are not prohibitively expensive and the most rewarding things are free.

So, to answer the question: Is Japan Expensive?  We would say yes.  We spent about $200-250 per day, all inclusive.   Compared to a place like Thailand, Japan is 3-4 times more expensive on a day-to-day basis.  But, the expense is the cost of admission to experience a truly unique, sophisticated and beautiful country that is extremely safe, clean and very rich in culture.  It was well worth our money.



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By: risingsunofnihon (not verified) on June 11, 2006 - 4:28am
I think you gave an excellent summary of expected travel costs in Japan. You're right about the food. Despite what a lot of people might think, ti really is possible to eat great (and healthy) meals for a reasonable price. Thanks for the informative post!
By: JC (not verified) on June 12, 2006 - 6:22pm
Good summary of costs, Lee. When we went in 2004, we probably spent more on one night at our hotel than we did for food for the entire 5-day visit. There are so many great little inexpensive restaurants. We planned out our meals at before we left, and just tried to have something different each meal (sushi, yakitori, tempura, okonomiyaki, tongkatsu, etc.) Although we had to go to Midori Sushi in Ginza twice - so good, so cheap! I'd go back to Tokyo in a heartbeat.