Backpacking Japan

Suppose you want to go to Japan and you want to go backpacking. Where do you start? We give you some tips on how to prepare for your trip, but also once you are in this great country. Your budget, the costs, where to sleep and what restaurants are in your budget. We tell you all about it.

Vacation Japan

A vacation, and especially backpacking, to Japan doesn’t have to be expensive at all. You can make it as expensive or cheap as you want. Important to realize this because if you look at most online travel agencies you immediately lose around € 3500 for two weeks traveling through Japan. We have been several times to Japan and know the best ins and outs. You can also go to Japan for 1/3rd of this total amount.

Japan is a perfect holiday destination. First of it is versatile, you will find culture, nature, beaches, cities, good food, going out, rest and so on. Public transport is really great, you can travel from one side of the country to the other within a few hours. The bullettrains in particular are highly recommended and that is why we would like to recommend a JR Rail pass to everyone. Driving yourself is also a possibility, however it is often difficult to park in the big cities and the signs are often (only) in Japanese which makes it difficult to navigate. In Japan, people are super friendly and everything is very organized. The cities are very tidy and it looks a bit like western cities only in large and sometimes over the top.

Tokyo Tower
Tokyo Tower

Preparation

Okay, so you chose to go on vacation to Japan. You can of course go to a travel agency and let them sort it out, but that is not the reason why you are reading this. Because you want to travel on a budget, preferably backpacking. Your journey actually starts before you go. We would recommend that you book your flights, hotels and train tickets (if you choose to travel by public transport) separately on various websites such as Skyscanner, Kiwi.com, Booking.com and Expedia . If you want a really low budget you can of course go to hostels. For example, a good site where you can book hostels directly is hostelworld.com. Our experience is that if you travel together, you might as well take a hotel instead of 2 single beds in a hostel.

To make it a bit easier for you, you can use Airtrotter.com. A planning tool with which you can easily plan your journey from start to finish and instantly see how much your entire trip will cost. For example, on the front page, select that you are traveling from Amsterdam, then go to Tokyo, Takayama, Kyoto, and Hiroshima, each with a 3-day difference. The system calculates the best routes including flights and your total travel plan. Select your hotels and you have a complete journey without having 15 tabs open in your browser. An example trip that I have planned myself can be found here (12 days Japan for € 750,-).

A tip: search flexible on Kiwi.com for flights, then start planning with the same dates on Airtrotter.com. The systems are the same.

Costs

What exactly are the costs that you have to think about when you go backpacking in Japan. It starts with preparation. Your flight is the most expensive, search flexible and you can find a return flight to Tokyo for approximately € 500,- (use Kiwi.com to search flexible). For your accommodations you’ll spend around € 350,- per person for 2 weeks (€ 25,- p.p.p.n.). An JR Pass costs you € 365,- with which you can travel unlimited by public transport throughout Japan (https://www.japan-rail-pass.nl). Add everything together and you’ll pay approximately € 1200,- for your entire trip. If you compare this to a “normal” travel agency you will have to pay 3 times more for exactly the same.

Other costs that you naturally incur are the food, from our experience we can say that it doesn’t have to be that expensive at all. Local specialties such as ramen (a kind of noodle soup) you pay around 700 yen, equivalent to € 5.50. Bakeries for bread can be found everywhere as well as supermarkets or the famous 7-Eleven supermarkets.

If you are in Japan, and you want more luxurious food such as sushi, one of the country’s specialties, you will spend an average of 2,000 yen (€ 16,-) for a good portion. A good option as a backpacker would be the Kappa sushi, the McDonalds of sushi.

Backpacken Tokyo - Typical Ramen Restaurant
Backpacken Tokyo – Typical Ramen Restaurant

Accommodations for backpackers

As a backpacker you soon think of hostels. However there are some other options: Capsule hotels, Love hotels, Couchsurfing or Airbnb. As indicated earlier, our preference would be hotels if you travel with 2 people. Hostels if you travel, but a capsule hotel can also be an idea. Capsule hotels are hotels where you literally lie in a small capsule, you share the bathroom and toilet. You often get your own locker for your personal things. A small note: don’t be claustrophobic!

Another option could be AirBnB, although we must say that you often end up in a very small room in a suburb. On average you still pay € 140 per night in Tokyo, Kyoto € 120 and Hiroshima € 100.

Another possibility could be Couchsurfing. This requires a little more preparation time, in advance but it saves a lot of money. Couchsurfing is sleeping at other people’s couch (can also be a normal bed in a spare room) completely free. The advantage is that you can save enormously and you get to know the local people, the only drawback is that it is not “comfortable” and that you sometimes enjoy some drinks/food with your localhost which still costs you some money.

Japanese cities

Which cities are the best to visit? Japan is very diverse, we have 1 favorite route with which you can see the country well. Of course there is much more to visit but our favorite travel route consists of Tokyo – Takayama – Kyoto – Osaka – Hiroshima – Fukuoka (optional). We have Fukuoka optional, the reason is that you often have relatively cheap return flights to Tokyo, making it cheaper (and especially as a backpacker) to return via Tokyo. If you travel back from Tokyo keep in mind the travel time between Hiroshima and Tokyo is approximately 4 to 5 hours with the famous bullettrains.

Another option would be to fly from Hiroshima to Okinawa. A southern tropical island, to relax on the beach. A nice fact that Okinawa belongs to the “blue zones” of the world, which means that this is a place where most people live over 100 years old.

You can see our favorite route here:

Tokyo - Takayama - Kyoto - Hiroshima
Tokyo – Takayama – Kyoto – Hiroshima

How many days in Tokyo?

Obviously this metropolis isn’t cheap, but don’t skip this city. Not even as a backpacker. There is so much to see and do. With 13 million inhabitants, one of the largest cities in Japan. A number of sights that are really worth seeing are the Imperial Palace, Senso-ji Temple, Ueno Park (especially during the blossom season), Tokyo’s National Museum, Meji Shrine, Akihabara (manga district), Shibuya Crossing (busiest intersection of the city) and Disneyland Tokyo. But there is really much more to see. We would therefore recommend a minimum of 4 nights in this great city. Not only because there is so much to do and see in this beautiful city, but also outside. You can easily go from Tokyo to Mount Fuji, one of the icons of Japan. The town of Hakone is also nearby, a large nature reserve with volcanic activity. Or visit the big Buddha of Kamakura, one hour south of Tokyo.

Want to have more travel tips for your vacation to Japan, see our top 10 Japan guide here.

Best time to travel

Last but not least the best travel time for your vacation to Japan. When is the best time to travel to Japan? Of course you never have guarantees on nice weather. If you want to enjoy the blossom season, it is best to travel to Japan at the beginning of April. In addition, we must say that the chance of less good weather is present. We ourselves walked through Hakone in the rain in April and Mount Fuji was hidden under all clouds. The best travel time would be May to October if you want the best chance of good weather. We would not recommend July and August because temperatures can rise to 30 degrees in Tokyo. Which is no fun to visit a city.

Enjoy

Try to enjoy both your trip and the preparations. As already described, Japan is a great holiday destination for the normal ‘suitcase tourist’ as the backpacker. Compensate a night in a hostel with a more luxurious hotel, a sandwich in the evening and then have a more luxurious breakfast. Enjoy your trip to Japan!

If you want to know more about Japan or need help with your next free travel plan, can contact us.

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