Cost of 2 Weeks in Japan during Cherry Blossom Season | Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka
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Japan is notorious for being on the pricey side, especially for a popular time like Cherry Blossom season. While accommodations and food are definitely more expensive than most tourist destinations – we were pleasantly surprised that we were able to keep the total cost of the trip down without sacrificing experiences. To put it in perspective, we spent the same amount on our 13 day trip to Japan as our 9 day trip to Peru. Japan is relatively inexpensive when it comes to occupying your time and even internal transport. Most gardens and shrines are free to visit and cheap convenience stores and vending machines are aplenty. There is still the initial shock of hotel prices and the cost of a rail pass, but Japan doesn’t have to be the ultra-expensive travel destination it is made out to be.
A bit about our trip first.
We (2 people) spent 13 days exploring Japan with a base in 3 different cities: Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. We visited during one of the most popular (and expensive) times of the year – Cherry Blossom season. We solely relied on public transit (trains and metro) to get around the country and stayed in moderately-priced hotels. Hotel points and credit card rewards were used to cover the majority of our flights and accommodations, but all prices are listed in this budget as if we paid out of pocket. Expenses are listed as the combined price for two people, not per person.
Cost for a 13 Day Trip to Japan for 2 People
Roundtrip tickets to Japan from the USA: $1951
STL -> LAX -> NRT (St. Louis to Tokyo)
KIX -> LAX -> STL (Osaka to St. Louis)
LAX is one of the best continental American airport hubs for traveling to Japan. It offers a relatively short flight time (12 hours to Japan, 10 hours from Japan), good timing, and high frequency. Due to the unpredictable nature of cherry blossom blooms, we waited until less than 4 months before our trip to book the flights. It was still a risk at that point whether we would miss out on peak bloom. However, the price of flights was inching up above $1000 per person, so we decided to lock in our days and book the flight at $975 per person.
You can get better deals on flights by booking further in advance (taking the risk of missing peak bloom) or by allowing for more layovers or booking with a cheaper airline. We came across multiple deals for budget Chinese airlines that include an extra layover in China (adding an extra 5-10 hours to total trip time) that were under $450 per person.
We booked what is considered an open jaw flight – we are arriving in a different city than we are departing from. To avoid backtracking back to Tokyo, our return flight departs from the Osaka airport. As long as you book both halves of the flights together, this is still considered a round-trip ticket and it will not have an up-charge associated with one-way tickets. Taking a train or flying back to Tokyo would have added an additional $300 to our budget.
We paid for our flights using credit card reward points, as we have done on previous trips. If you are able, look into travel reward credit cards to get free flights. To maximize our rewards, we actually booked two sets of round-trip tickets: between St. Louis and LAX; and between LAX and Japan. The flights between St. Louis and LAX were through Southwest Airlines, and the international flights were through American Airlines. It is not too much of a hassle changing airlines when you are going from domestic to international flights. You will have to change terminals regardless, and coming back into America, you will have to recheck your bag even if you are staying with the same airline.
Ground Transportation: $756
Narita Express: $62
7-Day JR Pass: $536
Suica Cards: $158
There are several options to get from Narita Airport into Tokyo that allow you to balance your comfort vs budget. The cheapest option is the regular metro which should cost around $11 per person. A taxi or uber will cost you upwards of $220. We chose the middle of the road option ($31 per person) – Narita Express (N’EX) because it was relatively fast and our hotel was located right at the Shibuya Station exit.
For inter-city travel in Japan: The first thing you likely think about when it comes to travel around Japan are the famous Shinkansens (Bullet Trains). Japan has a lot of fast trains that connect all of its major cities. These are comfortable trains that travel at unbelievably high speeds – and thus are expensive. Most of these inter-city train trips (that can just take an hour or two) cost from $100 to $300+ per person each way. Fortunately for tourists, Japan Railways (JR), the major operator of these trains, offers a multi-day pass that covers all of your trips on their trains in Japan. Depending on your itinerary, this pass may save you a few hundred dollars or may cost more than buying individual tickets. The JR Pass can only be purchased by non-Japanese citizens before they arrive in Japan, so do research ahead of time if the pass is cost effective for you and then buy it. Despite spending 13 days in Japan, getting the JR pass for only 7-days was the most cost-efficient for us.
For travel within a city, metro and the JR subway lines are the most efficient, both in terms of speed and cost. Renting a car comes with far more challenges (parking, higher cost, navigation, traffic) than benefits. Taxis are pricey and often take longer than the metro. At first glance, the Japan subway system is a bit confusing. There are two different operators in most cities that run different subway lines. Within one trip, you may need to switch operators (which may mean going outside and entering into a different station across the street) to get to where you are going most efficiently. After a few days in Japan, you will get the hang of it. What makes it simple is you can purchase an IC card that works for all public transit in Japan, regardless of operator, to pay for all of your bus, subway, and train rides. Depending on what station you buy it in, it may be called a Suica card, Passmo, or a multitude of other names. You load a balance onto this card and each journey a fare will be deducted. This card can be continuously recharged and even transferred onto your iPhone.
We chose moderately-priced accommodations that averaged $178 a night. Most hotel chains in Japan will cost you between $100 and $200 a night for a room with a full or queen-sized bed. We likely saw an uncharge in accommodation prices as we were visiting during peak season. Airbnbs in similar locations with comparative square footage will likely cost around the same or a bit cheaper. However, Airbnbs are likely a more affordable option if you are traveling in a group of more than 2 people. There are quite a few cheaper options if you are traveling solo or as a small group – including capsule hotels and hostels. These options will typically cost $25-$40 per person.
Japanese accommodations are known for being small and a bit cramped – while this is definitely true compared to many western countries, it is not unmanageable. If you are a couple, you will likely be sharing a bed a bit smaller than you’re used to. You likely won’t have much room to open up your suitcase and spread out your belongings (typically there are no dressers or closets). However, you will likely have a desk and enough room to walk around the bed to the bathroom. Speaking of bathrooms, get ready for one of the most technologically advanced toilets you’ve ever sat on. Heated seats, numerous butt sprays, and a deodorizer are commonplace.
Tokyo Skytree: $37
Robot Restaurant: $120
Akihabara Arcades: $10
Row Boats in Chidorigafuchi Park: $8
Various shrines and gardens: $55
While many shrines or temples throughout Japan typically charge a small fee to enter ($1-$5), there are also several that are free. You can spend many wonderful days in Japan, especially during cherry blossom season, without spending a cent. We ending up paying the entrance fee to most of the popular shrines in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. While most of the time it was definitely worth paying, a few other times we regretted paying when we could see most of the beauty from the outside. However, that money will go towards the preservation and upkeep of the amazing sights throughout Japan – so not too much regret there.
Our largest entertainment expense was for the eccentric robot restaurant. Don’t let the name fool you, no food was included in that price. It was a one-of-a-kind show that we’d never be able to experience anywhere else in the world. While it may be a bit tacky or touristy, it made for an exciting night.
We’ve never spent nearly this much on food while traveling. Our month in Australia and New Zealand didn’t even reach this amount. So I feel like I have to give a bit of an explanation for why our food budget was this high. Normally, we like to be cheap when it comes to food. There is so much authentic and good food you can get for cheap in most countries around the world – whether that be in supermarkets or through street vendors.
While in Japan, we had one main struggle when it came to food. We’re vegetarian. In most countries, vegetarian food is cheap and fairly plentiful. Not true in Japan. Nearly all their food contains meat or fish of some kind – whether that be chunks of meat or in the form of fish stock or fish flakes. What makes it worse, is that vegetarianism isn’t common amongst locals so most food vendors do not quite understand what it entails. With our extremely limited Japanese, it was pretty much impossible to ensure what we were eating was vegetarian at the vast majority of Japanese restaurants. So we stuck with restaurants that were either vegan or advertised that they were vegetarian-friendly. And those restaurants were typically more expensive.
In the country famous for convenience stores, ramen, and sushi – you can fill yourself up on far less than the $17 per day per person that we did.
Travel Insurance: $154
SIM card: $34
Travel Insurance may seem like just an added expense – but it is invaluable when you need it.
There a few options for data or wifi while you are in Japan. For us, the best solution was to get a SIM card from a vending machine at Narita Airport when we arrived. We purchased a pre-paid SIM card that gave us 100 MB a day for 14 days. Once we hit 100 MB for that day, we could still use data but at a slower speed. That 100 MB was plenty for getting directions and looking up places to eat.