Traveling to Japan seems to be trending in recent years, at least among my friends and acquaintances. Even so, some still assume that traveling to Japan is expensive. I used to think so too, until I finally flew to Japan for the first time in 2012.
How to travel Japan on a limited budget?
Undeniably, it entails higher costs compared to traveling in our neighboring countries in Southeast Asia, but it is possible to travel in Japan on a limited budget.
There are various ways to save money in Japan. For example, opting for cheaper options like a youth hostel instead of staying in a hotel; or buying half-priced bentos, sandwiches, etc from supermarkets for dinner or breakfast (some supermarkets would mark down prices of some food items a couple of hours before they close).
Transport is expensive in Japan, but there is good news for foreign travelers – there are a wide variety of special offers that we can make use of. I always make sure that I plan my itinerary, do some research on the transport options and offers, and do some calculation before I head out to the airport.
Plan in advance
Japan Transit Planner (https://world.jorudan.co.jp/mln/en/?sub_lang=nosub) is an excellent website that I used to plan my travel routes and estimate the travel costs.
By simply keying in the departure point and destination, the website will offer you a list of options as well as the schedule, travel duration, and cost of each of the options. After planning your itinerary and figuring out the estimated fares, do some math and compare it with the prices of passes available to find out which deal is better.
For example, in my most recent trip to Japan, my plan was to travel southward to Hokuriku area and Tokyo after my 4-week stay in Sapporo. I also wanted to stop by in Tohoku area for hanami (cherry blossom viewing).
Use JR Rail Pass
It seemed to me that traveling by train was the most feasible option. (Well, I must confess that I was also keen to take a ride on the Hokkaido Shinkansen, which was launched in late March 2016, just about a month before my trip!)
But traveling by Shinkansen is by no means cheap. A one-way trip from Sapporo to Tokyo alone costs close to 27,000 yen!
Luckily as a foreign visitor holding a temporary visitor visa, I was eligible for the JR Rail Pass. I bought a 7-day JR Rail Pass at 29,110 yen (about RM1,090 at the current exchange rate) and squeezed all my long-distance trips into those 7 days. Based on my rough estimation, I had saved at least 67,000 yen!
A nationwide JR Rail Pass holder is entitled to unlimited rides on almost all JR trains including Shinkansen bullet trains, as well as some local lines of JR Bus within the period of validity. The few exceptions are the Nozomi and Mizuho trains on the Tokaido, Sanyo, and Kyushu Shinkansen lines.
I used the JR Rail Pass to travel from Sapporo to Aomori, Akita, and Kanazawa before I arrived in Tokyo a week later. Anyway, squeezing all these trips into 7 days might not be a good idea as I only realized later that I didn’t have enough time to explore each of these places adequately.
In addition to the 7-day pass, 14-day and 21-day passes are also available at 46,390 yen and 59,350 yen respectively (ordinary passes for adults). For further details like where and how to purchase, please refer to the JR Rail Pass official website (http://www.japanrailpass.net/en/index.html).
If you are interested in getting one of the travel passes for your trip to Japan, please check in advance where you can buy it. While some can be purchased after you arrive in Japan, some others including these nationwide passes may require us to buy before we leave for Japan (the nationwide passes are available at certain sales offices in Japan from 8 March 2017 to 31 March 2018 though).
Nevertheless, as you may have noticed, the nationwide JR passes are not cheap either. The good news is you may not need it, unless there is a long-distance trip or two in your itinerary. If you only plan to travel within a certain area like Kansai or Kanto, I would recommend you to explore other cheaper options instead.
Writer: Li Ling.
A big fan of Japan and Japanese language and culture, who has visited Japan as a traveler four times since 2012. But she knows Japan has more charms waiting for her to discover.