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Hakone, Japan

How much does it cost to travel in Japan? Our budget and tips

Japan can be described with many words but cheap is not one of them. Transportation, accommodation, food…practically everything is pricey. No wonder it was our biggest budget fear. We prepared ourselves mentally to spend just under 100 euro a day for us both. Sounds like a lot but believe me, that’s low budget.

Surprisingly we ended up spending “just” over 7000 euro in 89 days. So that makes 40 euros per day per person.

So let’s break it down. Where did all the money go?


Where did we travel?

We visited many cities like Kyoto, Tokyo, Osaka, Hiroshima, Nagoya and even Fukuoka in the south. We also explored a lot of the countryside in the Gifu prefecture, Iya Valley and surroundings of the big cities. Unfortunately we didn’t get to go all the way north but hopefully that will still come.

How did we travel?

We didn’t want to spend much on transportation so we used local trains, buses and ferries. So no bullet train for us.

On transportation we spend a massive part of our budget (1597 euro). Short distance buses weren’t huge budget breakers. For example a trip from Kyoto to Sanzenin (1hr) cost 550 yen (so around 4 euro each). Buses on mountainous roads were a completely different story. The steeper the mountain, the more expensive it got. To get from Hakone village to the lake nearby we paid 820 yen each (almost 7 euro) for maybe around 40 min ride. In Iya Valley it got even more expensive.

For long distance travels we sticked to the buses especially to Willer Express, they offered a lot of direct connections for good prices. The journey with them from Kyoto to Fukuoka cost us 5900 yen (around 47 euro). It was a very comfy, overnight bus.

For short journeys between the cities or day trips we used local trains. For example to go from Nagoya to Nabana No Sato garden we paid 400 yen each (around 3 euro)

Where did we stay?

The most economic accommodation turned out to be aribnb so we stayed a lot in small studios with private kitchen, bathroom and all the Japanese crazy commodities of life. In Hiroshima we got a lovely studio with bikes, super-fast wifi and even pocket wifi that we could take with us. All that for only 33 dollars a night. Most of our Airbnb studios were really great value for money, pretty and in range of 30-40 dollars. It’s really hard to believe but they were way cheaper than dorms or guesthouses.

In more rural areas where there was no studio to rent we had to go for hostels. In Hakone we slept in a double capsula for 10400 yen per night (around 83 euro), by far our most expensive accommodation. In Iya valley we stayed in a charming, traditional double room with tatami floor and futon for almost 70 euro per night for us both.

We also spend 2 weeks volunteering in a guesthouse, south of Nagoya where we stayed for free. Except for that we visited a friend and stayed at her grandma’s house for a few days in Osaka. Those saved us a lot of yen… that probably went for food 🙂

In total we stayed 50 nights in Airbnb studios, 18 nights in a variety of shared accommodations, mostly capsula style and the rest in “free” accommodations volunteering or visiting. In total we paid 2558 euro on accommodation.

What did we eat?

We fell in love with Japanese food and its variety. We ate a lot of seaweed, sushi, sashimi and a variety of veg. Since most of the time we had a kitchen, we cooked a lot. But we also ate out to try authentic local cuisine. We went to mid-range restaurants as well as markets, bars and very local ramen micro-restaurants. During volunteering and visiting we enjoyed a lot of Japanese goodies cooked by our hosts.

The only drawback were ridiculous prices of fruit which forced us to limit ourselves to bananas and kiwis…

Overall we spent 2227 euro out of which 473 euro went on eating out and the rest for grocery shopping or convenient store sushi.

How expensive are museums, tours etc?

On tourism we spend 296 euros and that includes entries to castles, museums, gardens and sake tastings.

Most castles cost around 500 yen (around 4 euro). The most expensive ticket (2300 yen so around 18 euro each) was Nabana No Sato, amazing gardens and a bit of a theme park in one.

Where did the rest of our money go?

273 euro in the equipment section of our budget went for clothes that we bought in Japan. We treated ourselves with some amazing socks, t-shirts and replacement for stuff that was worn down. I also bought some Japanese cloth that can be folded to a very nice purse and that according to Jandirk is an essential thing to have and therefore belongs to equipment.

In 98 euro from miscellaneous we included postcards, chopsticks and small souvenirs we bought for ourselves as well as luggage storage and small expenses that didn’t fit in any other category.

Our tips to save money in Japan

  1. Stay in Airbnbs ! ! ! Huge budget saver! I know Airbnb seems to be “the more pricey” option but in Japan it’s really the cheapest that there is. It requires a bit of planning in advance, the best places fly out of the window pretty fast. It’s also better for stays longer than 4 days, just because of the cleaning fee and Airbnb fee which then spreads nicely without hurting your sight and account. Many of the properties have pretty great discounts for stays above 7 nights. If your schedule is flexible, you want to stay longer in a place and you want great value for your money, Airbnb is the way to go!
  2. Consider volunteering! Japan is not a country that you can understand over a day or two. It’s a long, never-ending process and the best way to do it is to volunteer. You get closer to the people that live there, you can ask them questions and see their lifestyle. Not to mention that you can help them! For opportunities in guesthouses, farms and yoga centers go to Workaway.
  3. Go to the tourist information. Except for Tokyo we met nothing but kindness and a sea of help in the tourist information. Those people are magicians, they know everything and what they don’t know, they will find out for you. They can book you a ticket, find a bus, inform you about millions of discounts and save you a lot of money. Japan has a lot of special tickets and offers for foreign travelers but they are pretty complicated so you really need someone to clear all of them up for you and fish out what could work for you.
  4. Use million transportation discounts. They vary per region and per city. Tokyo has metro cards valid for 1 or multiple days and the price changes depending on your home station. In the Kansai region you have a special ticket to see the whole area of Osaka, Kyoto and Nara. Some tickets include entrance to castles or public baths. With multiple day tickets sometimes they need to be used for consecutive days but sometimes you can choose the days and even use the ticket together with a few other people. We even came across tickets that you can only buy when you’re still in your own country and pick them up on the spot. It’s a pretty confusing and twisted system. Over time we realized the discounts were not meant for long term, slow travelers. They require a bit of a pace and tight schedule to get the value out.
  5. Take Willer Express! This bus company offers the cheapest buses and plenty of different connections. They also have a loyalty program, you save points every time you travel with them and then you can use them as discount on your next trip. Their webpage is in English and buying tickets online is super easy. You don’t even have to print them!
  6. Take a look at the Japan Guide. It’s an amazing guide book for culture and sights in Japan but they also give you all the transportation info. For each destination they show the cheapest, the fastest and the easiest route. Be prepared though, it’s almost never 3 in 1.

P.S. Exchange rate used for the overall budget 1 EURO = 119 YEN

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Nabana No Sato, Nagoya, Japan

Our secret garden- Nabana no Sato

As a child I was literally obsessed with the Secret Garden, both the book and the movie. I never got bored of reading or watching it and wanted to find my secret garden. Too bad this one can’t be mine. It joins pretty well my two passions: gardens and Christmas markets.

So what is Nabana no Sato?

It’s a garden taken straight from fairy tales. It’s huge and has something to offer every season of the year. When we went there, the plum and cherry blossom was just over but we saw fields of tulips that were just remarkable. They really reminded us of Holland.

The most unforgettable moment was when we walked into the Begonia Garden. We actually entered it through the exit and the first thing we saw was a stunning pond with flowers floating in a circle and chains of begonia hanging from the ceiling. I literally screamed from all the joy and enthusiasm. It was like a Secret Garden from my dreams filled with colors and hidden from greedy eyes. I guess because of its location Nabana no Sato is not particularly busy on a weekday… Which tourist heard of Nagoya? Very few and even fewer would go even further to get to the garden. But it’s worth all the energy.

Except for the flowers…

It’s one of very few places where Christmas lasts for half a year. From October to May there is an amazing Winter Illumination which leaves many Christmas markets in Europe far, far behind. There are two long tunnels of little lamps, light performances and even mulled wine to complete the whole experience. It wouldn’t be Japan if there wasn’t a selection of food to go with it. There are a few restaurants as well as food stands in the park.

The only drawback is…

As usual in Japan… the price. The entrance costs 2300 yen that's including a 1000 yen voucher that you can spend in one of the shops and restaurants. Unfortunately you can’t buy the entrance without the voucher… Begonia Garden, onsite onsen and Mount Fuji-like observation platform are charged extra… The last one spoils the view quite considerable, I’m still wondering how come stylish Japanese came up with a kitsch idea like that.

Still, I would say Nabana no Sato is worth the price. And that’s coming from a lady on a rather backpacking budget:)

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Nagoya, Japan

Our favorite cherry blossom spots

Spring is the most popular season among tourists coming to Japan. All dream of seeing the cherry blossom and that's the time to do it. Most crowds hit Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo. Prices there double and triple which scared us away and made us think of an alternative…

Those turned out to be endless. Spring in Japan goes from February in Okinawa to May in Hokkaido and there are many different types of cherry that bloom earlier or later than the others. We decided to go for the cheapest option, the most off the beaten track possible and it turned out to be the area around and in Nagoya. We got very lucky with that one. There were crowds where we wanted them, on picnics and festivals but we also found peace and the feeling of discovery in so many other places. Having seen the pictures and videos of crowded streets and parks in both Kyoto and Tokyo, we knew we made the right decision.

So to all of you that would like to see nature in its full glory but don’t know where, a short list from us 🙂 and believe me no picture can give you the smell of the fragrant cherry flowers or the feeling of excitement when the petals fall off the trees creating a kind of snow, carried by the wind. You just have to see it with your own eyes. Don’t forget to check the cherry blossom forecast before going!

  1. Enchanting tunnel nearby Ogaki

This one is by far the most spectacular cherry blossom spot we could ever even imagine. It’s one of those where no picture can explain the full glory of it. We discovered it completely by accident, just walking around from the Sunomata Castle. We spotted a few sakura trees and decided to take a closer look, following the trees we were getting deeper and deeper into the tunnel that in our mind should end “just after the next turn”. In reality it literally stretched over few kilometers and there wasn’t a single tree of another kind getting in the way of that marvelous spectacle.

  1. Little “one night” Sunomata Castle

According to the legend the castle was built in just one night and for that many call it a “one night castle”. Although it’s really tiny I can’t believe something that precise and beautiful could be constructed overnight. We loved it because of the surrounding cherry trees and secluded location. Not to mention the proximity to the absolute number one -“the enchanting tunnel”.

  1. Celebration town of Iwakura

This little town north of Nagoya definitely knows how to celebrate spring. During the cherry blossom festival it had just enough people to get the atmosphere right and few enough not to get annoyed with queues and waiting. Sakura was beautifully scattered all over the place with the epicenter of flowers and food stands on both sides of the river. In the evening the riverbed was bathed in warm, pink light coming from charming, little lanterns hanging above it.

  1. Park like no other- Tsurumai park

The place that showed us what hanami (enjoying beauty of flowers) and sakura (cherry) are all about. The park was not only one of the hot spots for the spring festival but a stunning picnic where people shared memories, joy, delicious food and a sea of sake. Many were literally sleeping under the trees guarding their special place under the fragrant cherry trees. There was music, there were dances, amazing food and with a bit of sake even the normally cool and collected Japanese were approaching us. We wish we could celebrate spring like that every year!

  1. Castle with a view in Inuyama

Just about when we already felt like we didn’t want to see any more castles we decided to give a chance to the last one… the one in Inuyama. We never regretted it. The castle itself was pretty empty inside but the view from its terrace was just breathtaking and the cherry blossom alley leading towards it was a little treat.

  1. Stairs to pink heaven at Yamazaki-gawa river

Very calm destination with stairs allowing a great picnic and chilling under immense cherry trees. Plenty of space, trees and stairs so everyone can really get their own little piece of paradise. We loved this place because it was really popular among families and we just loved watching parents trying to take pictures of cute, little kids dressed up for the occasion. Nothing makes us laugh more than a little human running away from a shot 🙂

  1. Nagoya castle

The most traditional spot to enjoy the blossom in the area but we wouldn’t skip it for the world. I dare to say that the most spectacular cherry trees in there are actually the ones surrounding the castle from the outside… Although the best view is from the walls within it. Those trees must have been the biggest and most wide-spread we have seen and from a distance they looked like an impressionism painting.

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Tokoname, Japan

Tokoname- the Pottery Town

Ceramics was my passion when I was a little girl and not because I saw “Ghost”. I just liked playing with clay, creating little animals and painting them. The whole process was just fascinating for me and I never could understand how something so plastic as clay could become so hard by just putting it in the oven. Now I can’t understand how come I ever stopped… Especially when we went to Tokoname…

Tokoname is a small village on Chita peninsula famous for its pottery. Tradition there dates centuries back and judging by the amount of people that we saw there, it’s fighting for survival. Not many people are going to buy a plate for 40 euro when they can drive to IKEA and buy a whole set for the same price. Especially since young Japanese are fascinated with anything that is western. For tourists on the other hand most expect a village of old grandmas trying to clay something together, something not very sophisticated or stylish. That’s what Jandirk thought for sure so it was a challenge to get him to join me. But as soon as we got there it was clear he was wrong.

Entering the village we followed the signs of “The Pottery Footpath” passing 39 beckoning ceramic cats just along the road. They are an interesting tribute to Maneki Neko, the famous figurine of a cat that brings luck. Tokoname is the biggest producer of those. And cats in general are very popular subject of plates, cups and ceramic sold in the town.

Instead of grandmas trying to clay something together, Tokoname is full of small ateliers. They are all different in sizes and styles. Some are a part of someone’s garden or entrance where figurines and pottery are left unattended with just price tags and a collection box for the money. I get an impression that stealing is not a well-known concept in Japan. Some of the studios are a messy sight of work in progress and sadly dust on the pottery indicates that the pieces don’t fly out of the door as soon as they are made… Pots, cups, little chopsticks holders, it all made me feel a bit sad that my backpack was not filled with yen to spend. Especially the last atelier left me hoping that one day I will be able to switch from IKEA to a rather niche table setting. Just in case that would ever happen I tried to ask if it was possible to buy the things online and to my surprise none of the shops had a website…

To come to my senses and remind myself that I can only collect photos and memories we went to explore the village a bit more. My favorite part was a little “Clay Pipe Hill” made from clay shochu alcohol pots and another specialty of Tokoname, clay pipes. In the middle of that path we spotted “The Takita family house” that once belonged to one of shipping dealers in the area. Up to the 20th century the town was very much involved with shipping goods to Edo (Tokyo) and the house feels like a journey in time.

We left Tokoname with a strong feeling that someday we will get beautiful ceramics for our house either by going back to Japan to buy it or by learning how to make it…