Gone are the days when travel to Japan was exclusive to hedge fund managers and Nintendo geeks, and with it the assumption that it’s expensive, boring and difficult to travel here. From January to September of this year, the country has welcomed more than 24 million tourists, and expects at least another 6 million more by the end of December.
As the government carries out measures to make Japan more accessible to international travelers, we’re seeing transport get cheaper, hearing more foreign languages being spoken, watching new facilities being built and cheering as visa restrictions are relaxed.
What does this mean for thrifty travelers seeking the best in budget adventure? Here are five reasons why you should choose Japan for your next bargain trip.
1. The food is cheap
Japan has the highest density of restaurants in the world, amounting to nearly half a million places to find grub on the go. Best of all, it can be really cheap. From ¥100 sushi-go-round (that still tastes better than any sushi you’ll find at home) to Michelin-starred ramen for under ¥1000, it’s extremely easy to feed yourself on a budget while traveling around.
Tip: Look out for chain restaurants that are popular with your everyday salaryman. Places like Matsuya and Yoshinoya serve protein-packed gyudon (rice topped with beef) for under ¥500 while izakaya franchise Kinno-Kura has a menu where everything—including alcohol—costs just ¥270.
2. There are discount passes galore
The JR Pass, which offers discount rail travel on pretty much the entire Japan Railway network is a steal from $277 for a 7-day pass. Jump on the shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Kyoto then down to Hiroshima and loop back up north to Hokkaido simply flashing your pass to the station attendants along the way. The pass also covers the monorail to/from Tokyo Haneda airport, the ferry from Hiroshima to Miyajima, local JR buses and discounts at JR-affiliated hotels.
Private rail networks across the country also offer a big range of special train pass packages that include meals, souvenirs, and other freebies to encourage tourists to visit lesser-known areas. For day trips from Tokyo, for example, the Hakone Freepass and the Misaki Maguro Pass are two of the most popular.
Don’t want to take the train? There’s now also a similar pass for planes instead. The JAL Explorer Pass offers travel on Japan Airlines domestic routes for a flat fare of ¥10,800. This often works out cheaper than taking a train or highway bus, and you can reach faraway destinations that aren’t served by these networks. Travel in bargain luxury to places like Okinawa, Kochi, Fukuoka, and Hakodate.
Tip: On top of this, a lot of major Japanese stores like Uniqlo and Bic Camera offer tax-free shopping for those with temporary visa status. Show your passport and you’ll also be able to get discounts for different activities like cultural workshops, outdoor activities, and tours with some travel agencies.
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