Sunday, January 25, 2015

How Much Money to Visit Japan?

somewhere in Morioka, Iwate

How much will I spend when I visit Japan? 

I heard this question many times. I think people ask me either because they're really preparing for their trip or because they're thinking if they can afford it. Lots of people want to see Japan but there's a widespread perception that this place is expensive. 

Is Japan really an expensive place to visit?

I browsed through several blogs trying to answer this question. They're almost unanimous in saying that Japan's expensive if you compare it with other East Asian countries like Korea, China and the tropical countries in the South. However, Japan's considerably cheaper if you compare with Western European countries, the US, Australia and New Zealand.

I've never been outside Asia so I wouldn't be able to compare. But I would agree that Japan's the most expensive place to visit on this side of the earth. It doesn't mean though that you have to mortgage your house or sell your car just to visit.

You can visit Japan with 700-800 USD. (30,000- 40,000 PHP) That's the lowest estimate I can give for a 4-day trip to Japan. You can either visit Tokyo or Osaka and Kyoto. I'm partial with the Osaka and Kyoto tandem because of  Kyoto that feels very Japanese while Tokyo for me seems like another big city. Unless you have a friend you can stay with, it's hard to get lower than that. Airfare and visa fees are not included here by the way. 

So is Japan an expensive place to visit? It depends what part of the globe you're coming from really. If you're coming all the way from the US and Europe, it seems like a waste of money to just spend 4 days in Japan. But if you're from the Eastern half of Asia, a 4-day trip to Japan is not that bad. 

How can I manage a budget trip to Japan?

Let me share first that I'm a budget traveller but I'm not a backpacker. There are some comforts I can't give up- like a bed and a clean toilet. I'm quite picky with food so I don't spend much on that. I'm also not a fan of trinkets and souvenirs but I always try the local coffee brand. All these being said, I hope you understand what kind of traveller the following tips are coming from. 

Consider the following tips when you plan a budget trip not only to Japan but to other places as well.

1. Set your financial priorities

People travel to see every possible nook and cranny of a place. But let's accept the fact that the world is too big to see in this lifetime. So, just pick a region or an area of a country you want to visit and plan your budget around that area. Whenever I travel, I'll have Top 3 things or places that I'd like to do or see. If my budget can afford more, cool! If not, then so be it.

If you're visiting Japan with 700 USD consider what area you want to see and what you want to experience. Would you like to see big and busy Tokyo? traditional Nara and Kyoto? snowy Nagano? historical Hiroshima? colorful Osaka? So sorry though that you can't visit Hokkaido with 700 USD. Once you choose what part of Japan you want to see, you can then plan your activities based on your budget.

Two of my friends visited Japan for 4 days with barely 800 USD. One of them stayed for 2 nights in Kyoto by renting a place through AirBnB. The other friend took a night bus from my place to Kyoto to save a night's worth of lodging. Both of them were able to visit lots of beautiful free parks, go to an anime museum, stayed in a ryokan, bathe in an onsen, shopped for Japanese goods and ate affordable Japanese food. They were surprised that they didn't run out of cash. They would have wanted to see more but they weren't disappointed with their short visit. 

2. Use local currency instead of credit cards

Aside from the airfare and maybe the hotels and other lodgings, it's better to use the local currency of the country you're visiting. If you're using cash, you can shop even in the smallest stores. You don't have to worry if an establishment accepts credit card or not. I remember the hassle of using a card when I visited Thailand 3 years ago. My boyfriend and I was supposed to pay the hotel through his card but the hotel only accepts baht or dollars. Our baht wasn't enough to pay the hotel. They wouldn't accept my yen or my boyfriend's peso. We had a long trip and more than ready to rest but we had to search a long line of shops to exchange money.

Even in Japan, some youth hostels, ryokans and shops still don't accept credit cards. They might accept dollars and euros but it's still better to pay in Yen especially now that it's weak. It's the perfect time to exchange your money with Yen. You also don't have to constantly convert from one currency to another.

A lot of financial gurus are also saying that it's better to pay with cash because people tend to spend more when they use a card. This is the reason why I decided to have my cards cancelled. I'm not disciplined enough not to make small purchases that would total to a  considerable amount. This is especially true when I started to travel. There's a lot of new things to buy and activities to do. Half of them are mostly things I can live without and activities I could have passed on. When you come to Japan, there are a million things you'd be tempted to buy but may not be useful when you return to your country.

3. Compare shops before exchanging your money

Exchanging money is like searching for bargain goods. Take time to shop around and compare rates before exchanging your money to the local currency. If you really need to exchange and there's only one shop, exchange only a few amount cause you might see another shop with a better exchange rate. From my experience, some local shops offer better rates than Western Union and other well-known foreign exchange shops. But of course, don't deal with seemingly shady places. It's usually best to ask the hotel for a good foreign exchange shop.

In Japan however, a number of foreign bloggers advise tourists to exchange their money to Yen before coming to Japan. According to them, Japanese banks and foreign exchange shops don't offer better deals. Their rates are lower and language can also be a barrier. I don't personally know about the banks here but I concur that the ForEx shops here offer lower value for your money. So, better exchange your money in your home country.

Check Show Me the Money; Cheapest Places to Exchange Currencies in Tokyo for a more comprehensive discussion on currency exchange. 

All these being said, ultimately you'll be the one to decide how much money you're willing to spend in Japan. Or if you're willing to spend your money in Japan at all.

More on money and Japan:

How Expensive Is Japan and How to Travel Japan Cheap

Is Japan Expensive? 

20 Ways to Visit Japan on Cheap

Is Japan Actually Expensive?

You'll Never Believe the Prices in Japan

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