When I first moved to Japan, it was very sudden and with very little planning time, so I found myself stranded with only about $200 to last me my first month! When I tell my friends about this, they all think I’m crazy and wonder how I managed to survive on so little money in a country that’s considered to be very expensive. It wasn’t easy, and I may or may not have thought about robbing a bank to replenish my dwindling funds while waiting to receive my first paycheck.
I wouldn’t suggest to anyone trying to come here with so little spending money, but I arrived under unique circumstances just after the 2011 earthquake that allowed me to squeak by on such a small amount. The experience taught me a lot about finding good deals and ways to cut back and save while trying to budget here. If you’re coming to Japan as a tourist, student, or worker and wondering how much spending money you’ll need per day, here are some basic guidelines that I hope will help you plan your budget more effectively than I did!
How Much Spending Money You’ll Need As a Tourist
If you’re coming to Japan as a tourist, chances are your goal is to see and do as much as possible in a short span of time. Most of the tourists I’ve met here come to visit for about one to two weeks. There is a lot of excitement you can pack in that amount of time, but doing so doesn’t have to break the bank. If you’re thinking about coming to Japan for your next vacation, your most expensive costs will probably be your plane ticket and accommodations.
Since this post is more focused on how much you’ll spend day-to-day while having a good time here, I won’t dive too heavily on how to save money on airfare or a place to stay. Just try to buy your ticket as many months in advance as possible and check out Airbnb or some hostels to limit your upfront costs.
Tourists are very unlikely to want to spend much time in the kitchen, and will want to try as many delicious Japanese dishes as possible. After all, why would you leave your home country and travel across the world just to cook and eat the same old meals you’ve been having? Let’s assume that you’ll buy at least three meals a day, and maybe a snack or two in-between them to hold you over. How much could you realistically expect to spend on food while vacationing in Japan? Here’s an estimate along with some breakdown information:
|1 Day Tourist Costs||Minimum||Maximum|
|Total||5300 ($53 USD)||18000 ($180 USD)|
Some Japanese hotels include free breakfast with your stay, but if you opted for more cheaper accommodations, you’ll probably find yourself going to a cafe, or a nearby convenience store to get something to eat. Most breakfast sets will cost you between 800-1,000 yen for a full meal including a drink. Keep in mind that “free refills” are not a thing in Japan, so you might pick up another drink shortly after from a vending machine.
Most restaurants stop serving breakfast by 11:00am, and begin offering their lunch specials. These tend to be slightly more expensive, so plan to spend between 1,000-1,500 yen around lunch time if you get a set meal at a cafe or nice restaurant. If this seems a little too high to you, you can grab really good and fulfilling meals for about half the price from Japanese “fast food” restaurants like Sukiya, Gusto, or Matsuya. For around 800 yen you could get gyuudon (beef over rice), soup, salad, and water or barley tea.
Going to a nice restaurant in Tokyo or Yokohama can be as cheap or expensive as you want it! You can go to a nice cozy izakaya (Japanese pub) with some friends, and get some yakitori (chicken skewers) and other a la carte dishes along with drinks, and spend about 2,000 yen each. It’s very uncommon to order meals just for yourself and and get individual bills when in such places. For example, if you order a salad, it’ll come on a large plate, and the server will bring you some additional small plates or bowls for everyone to take some and share.
Plan to order what you want at an izakaya as a group, and have everyone pay equal amounts of cash at the end. To make this easier, go for tabehodai and nomihodai (all-you-can-eat and drink) options so everyone knows they’re getting an equal value.
If you want to get some high quality sushi or steak while you’re here, you’ll spend quite a bit more depending on the location. Ginza, for example, will likely total 8,000-10,000 yen or more per person for dinner. My friends and I enjoy going to the Ninja Restaurant near Akasaka at least once a year, and a course meal and drinks cost us each about this amount. Shibuya, on the other hand, will probably cost you between 4,000-6,000 yen per person, and there’s a lot you can see and do in the area.
As far as drinks go, most vending machines cost between 100-160 yen per beverage. It’ll be very tempting to buy and try out as many as possible, because Japan is famed for it’s huge variety of drinks. Can you buy corn soup in a can where you’re from? Just a bit of advice though, if you want to buy soft drinks such as Coke or Pepsi, you’re better off getting them from a shop like My Basket, because they’re sold at a significantly lower price. I buy a bottle of Coke Zero pretty regularly for 88 yen from My Basket, but it costs 160 yen from most vending machines!
The prices for alcoholic beverages in Japan are relatively cheap in comparison to other countries. You can get a 500ml can of Strong Zero that is 9% alcohol for about 200 yen. It’s perfectly legal to drink and walk around with alcohol in public areas in Japan, so you could pick up a few cans from the convenience store and sip them while walking down the street.
However, the fine for driving a car or bicycle while intoxicated is very hefty and includes possible jail time, so be smart about it! Most restaurants will serve beer for about 500 yen a mug, and nomihodai for around 2,000 yen.
The entrance fees listed above are how much you can expect to pay to enter temples, shrines, and museums. Most temples in Kyoto are around 500 yen each. Some in the more rural parts of Japan are free. If you think you’ll mostly stay in Tokyo or will just view them from the outside, then you can ignore these costs.
Some famous temples, such as Sensou-ji in Asakusa, don’t have an entrance fee and host many seasonal events that you can participate in. I suggest checking out local calendars to see what interesting activities might be occurring.
Saving on Transportation Costs As a Tourist
Traveling across Japan can cost you an arm and a leg as a tourist if you just purchase normal train and bus tickets without any discount. Going from Tokyo Station to Kyoto Station would cost you around 27,000 yen ($270) round trip! You can get the Japan Rail Pass for the same amount, and it’ll let you ride any JR train at no additional cost (including the bullet trains).
Fair warning though, you can only purchase the Japan Rail Pass if you are a tourist and haven’t entered Japan. Once you’re here, you have to pay the same high prices as everyone else. Please be sure to book your JR pass before departing your home country! It is the most cost efficient way to travel around Japan if you plan on doing a lot of sightseeing, and just one trip between two major cities could make up for it.
So if we total everything up together, for a one week vacation to Japan this is roughly how much you’ll need excluding any shopping for clothing, souvenirs, etc.
|1 Week Tourist Costs||Minimum||Maximum|
|Total||37,100 ($371 USD)||126,000 ($1260 USD)|
For a two week vacation to Japan just double the costs above to get a basic idea of how much money you should save. Don’t think that you have to spend the maximum amount of money to have a good experience. Even the cheaper food options here are very nice, and you can use the difference in cash to purchase more goods to take back home with you. The prices become significantly cheaper if you plan on staying at least a month or two, and we’ll take a look at them next in what I’ll call the student budget.
How Much Spending Money You’ll Need As an International Student
If you’re coming to Japan as an international student, you’ll mostly likely be surviving on a fraction of the money that a tourist would spend. Most people that come here to study do so full time and are unable to work part time either because they are too busy with their classes, or because their visa doesn’t allow it. As a result, you might find yourself stuck with whatever funds you initially arrived with, and will want to make it last for a semester, a full year, or however long you intend on staying. Fear not though! As long as you’re willing to spend a little time at the grocery store, and a few minutes here and there in the kitchen, you can get by on very little spending money per day in Japan as an international student.
The budget breakdown for students will differ from that of tourists, because we’re making a few assumptions about how much you’ll eat out, and how often you’ll venture far away from your campus. Let’s assume that you’re willing to eat at least breakfast and dinner at your home on weekdays, but will grab something cheap for lunch between classes. We’ll also assume that you’ll opt for Japanese-style fast food or an equivalent on the weekends, and will go out to an izakaya or karaoke with some friends at night. You could definitely get by on 20,000 ($200) worth of groceries per month or less as long as you’re savvy about what you buy and when you buy it.
A lot of fresh foods at grocery stores get discounted in the evenings, sometime after 6:00pm. You can get meat, bread, fish and just about everything else for up to half off if you shop late. Buying and freezing meat for later when you snag good deals will save you a considerable amount of money. Also, rice is your friend. Buy a bag of rice for about 1,500 yen and it’ll last you about a month. It goes well with just about anything, and will help you stay feeling full for longer.
So if you spend about 20,000 yen per month (645 per day for 31 days) on groceries, eat out on weekends, and travel mostly between your home and university, you can expect your daily budget to look something like this:
|1 Day Student Costs||Minimum||Maximum|
|Weekday Total||1295 ($12.95 USD)||2800 ($28 USD)|
|1 Day Student Costs||Minimum||Maximum|
|Beverages (Inc. Alcohol)||100||1500|
|Weekend Total||1295 ($12.95 USD)||9500 ($95 USD)|
It is definitely possible to spend even less than the minimum that is listed above, but you’d have to rely almost entirely on food from grocery stores, and only drinking tea or water. I also suggest checking out bento box prices at Amazon to find a set to carry your meals in.
The transportation costs are set to 0 yen for students that live on campus and can walk to class. The majority will have to commute, but can buy a monthly pass with a student discount of about 20%. A typical train pass costs about 9,000 yen, but if you’re a full-time student you can get one for about 7,200 yen. It can be used to ride between your home and university as much as you like, and every stop between them as long as it’s valid.
This will keep your transportation costs as low as 232 yen per day for a month if you don’t mind sticking to local bars and shops. But, let’s be honest and assume most students will venture out and explore a few different locations while they’re here, and spend a little extra yen on the trains or buses.
How Much Spending Money You’ll Need As a Worker/Long-term Resident
People who move to Japan to work for an extended period of time and make a living here can expect to spend as little as a student or as much as a tourist depending how tight and carefully they manage their budget. On days when I don’t watch what I’m spending, I can easily waste up to 2,000 yen just on junk food and drinks I buy at the convenience stores and cafes near my workplace. Getting a big bowl of ramen with a side of gyoza (dumplings) runs for about 1,200 yen.
Then, a quick stop at the cafe later for a snack and a latte would be another 800. Sometimes I wonder where all my money has gone by the end of the month, and then I realize I’ve spent over 50,000 yen ($500) just on eating out and buying beverages! And that’s for ONE person! Some of my coworkers budget for a family of three or four on less money than I manage to waste, because they prepare more of their meals at home.
Let’s imagine that you’re someone who cooks everyday, versus someone who stops by a convenience store at least 2 or 3 times. Here is how much money you’ll spend per day as one of these two kinds of workers in Japan:
|1 Day Worker Costs||Minimum||Maximum|
|Weekday Total||645 ($6.45 USD)||5467 ($54.67 USD)|
Something most of you will notice is just how much cheaper it can be for workers compared to students and tourists. Many offices will have free snacks that people bring in as souvenirs, or that are paid for by the company. This cost is also assuming that you’ll buy some from the grocery store and carry them with you to work. Many companies also offer free tea and coffee to employees, and let’s not forget that water is also free!
Lastly, transportation can be free, because most jobs will fully reimburse you for your monthly commuter’s pass to and from work. The maximums that are listed are if you’re too tired or lazy (like myself) to cook everyday, and end up picking up a bento from a nearby store. The transportation fee is if you end up taking a taxi (which is at least 710 yen) or decide to travel to a different station than the one designated on your pass.
As far as spending money for the weekends goes, take a look at the tourist budget, because really there is no limit (other than your paycheck)! You may decide to go to Hokkaido for some skiing over the weekend, or stay out over night in Shinjuku until the first train the next morning.
For traveling long distances I highly suggest checking on the Seishun 18 ticket availability dates. It’s basically a packet of five tickets that can be used for unlimited rides on normal and express JR trains across Japan. They can be used by up to five people, and cost roughly 2,400 yen per ticket. The Seishun 18 tickets can only be purchased and used for limited periods of time, but they’re a good alternative for people that don’t qualify for the JR Pass.
I hope that this post has been helpful to some. Please leave a comment to share what your budget is like if you’re currently in Japan, or to ask any questions you may have if you’re planning on traveling here. Remember these are all estimates, and I’m sharing this information just to give you a general idea of how much money you might spend. If you’re interested in learning more information about what it’s like to live in Japan, please check out my post on How to Get a Job in Japan or A Guide to Apartments in Japan for Foreigners. Cheers!