One common misconception that many have with Japan is the high cost of living, which might equate to an expensive holiday from a traveller’s point-of-view. While this may be (somewhat) true, there are still several ways one can travel on a budget while fully experiencing what Japan has to offer.
With so much to see, eat and do, and the June school holidays coming right up, Japan has proven once again to be Singaporean’s favourite escape. If you’re on the hunt for a concise, curated itinerary that will allow you to explore the key highlights of Japan within a modest, budgeted expense, you’ve hit the jackpot.
One thing: Our entire trip did cost approximately $6,000 in its entirety. However, that includes random shopping and whatnot courtesy of yours truly. If we take all that away, we actually only spent $4,826 for a 10-day trip for a family of four. This covers attractions (USJ and Disneyland BOTH!), hotels, food and more. If you instantly did some mental calculations, that’s ONLY ~$120 per day, per person. Absolutely possible, I kid you not.
Flights to Japan
Prices for flights to Japan on low-cost carrier airlines, like Scoot, can start from as low as $170 one way on promotion and may go up to >$400 during peak periods. The key is to plan in advance; we were lucky to chance upon a good deal while booking but we have friends who patiently planned an entire year ahead. Planning early gives yourself time to wait for lull periods where airlines will be forced to throw out irresistible deals. Be sure to subscribe to your favourite airlines, keep a lookout for promotions and when it happens, score!
Due to fluctuating prices of flights across different airlines and different preferences in comfort and class, we will be leaving flight expenses out in the total budgeted calculation.
Plan your travel dates, cities and accommodation around the JR pass!
What is the JR Pass and how does it work?
In summary, the JR Pass, or the Japan Rail Pass, grants you unlimited travel on almost all JR trains. It is most useful when and if you’re travelling to different parts of Japan. In fact, other than the Nation Wide Pass, there are also Regional Passes available (prices vary, but definitely more affordable than the Nation Wide Pass) that cover a combination of cities. Run a quick check to see if there are Regional Passes that will cover the cities you’re visiting. You can book your JR Passes here (one of the cheapest prices online), or check out the list of FAQs to clear your doubts: https://japanrail.changirecommends.com/
For this 10-day itinerary, the 7-day JR pass will be sufficient should you plan your trip accordingly with these simple, but IMPORTANT, tips on how to MAXIMISE your JR pass:
- Buy a return flight ticket, arriving at either Osaka or Tokyo (this itinerary is catered to the latter because there was a promo for Tokyo air tickets, but you can adapt it to suit Osaka easily)
- Upon arrival, collect your JR pass and use it for the first 7 days of your total trip. This will segment your trip, with the last 3 days travelling without the JR pass.
- Therefore, the last 3 days of your trip should be at the last city – the same city you are departing from and travels should be within the last city itself (in this case, Tokyo)
- During the last 3 days without the JR pass, buy a metro card to travel within the city.
Cost of JR Pass for 2 adults and 2 child (7-days Ordinary): $1050
Accommodation in Japan
With the recent Airbnb situation in Japan, we opted for hotels instead to avoid any unwanted surprises in foreign land. There is a wide range of hotels available that are both affordable and family-friendly. Some might be a tad smaller than I would have preferred them to be, but otherwise, I’ve not been to a Japanese hotel that looks shabby. Even the cheapest rooms are simple but tastefully decorated with quality, comfy beds.
Simply sign up as a member on www.ChangiHotels.com and enjoy up to 60% off nightly rates!
Room rates are based on a family of 4, with 2 adults and 2 children*:
- Tokyo: Daiwa Roynet Hotel Shimbashi: From $184.15 per night (located near JR Shimbashi station)
- Osaka: ANA Crowne Plaza Osaka: From $260.99 per night (located near the JR kita-shinchi station)
- Kyoto: Hotel Gracery Kyoto Sanjo: From $184 per night (conveniently located near Nishiki Market)
- Nara: Onyado Nono Nara Natural Hot Spring: From $175.94 (located near the Nara station – JR line)
* Prices accurate as of 28 May 2019
Total budgeted cost of accommodation: $1,880 for a grand total of 9 nights
Fun attractions for the whole family
On to the fun part. Purchase your attraction tickets from Changi Recommends at a discounted price! An e-ticket will be sent to you upon confirmation and all you have to do is scan the QR code right at the entrance of the theme parks! Do remember to check for minimum height requirements for your children for certain rides. Also, do come early as certain attractions might turn people away if the park is too crowded (e.g., Public Holidays).
Universal Studios Japan, Osaka
Visiting zones like The Wizarding World of Harry Potter will be a dream come true for all potterheads (a trip to USJ would not be complete without trying the sweet and frothy butterbeer!), while the minion park will make you go ‘awwww’ at all the cute little minions everywhere!
One day admission ticket for Universal Studios Japan for adults are priced at S$99, while a child’s admission costs S$68. Total price for the whole family of 4: S$334
The happiest place on Earth! There are 7 themed lands within the park, including some of the most popular and iconic Disney’s favourites like Fantasyland with Winne the Pooh’s Honey Hunt, Tomorrowland with Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters and Adventureland, featuring the Pirates of the Caribbean.
One day admission ticket for Tokyo Disneyland for adults are priced at S$90, while a child’s admission costs S$59. Total price for the whole family of 4: S$298
Mt Fuji Day tour: Rope way and all you can eat seasonal fruits
A full-day itinerary planned out for you and your family that includes Japan’s most iconic natural landmark, the majestic Mt Fuji! Get the closest view of Mount Fuji at the 5th station at 2,300 metres high! Other fun-filled activities will also include the ropeway ride, picking fruit from a farm and enjoying a paranomic view of Lake Kawaguchi, will surely be a memorable day trip for the whole family. Total price for a family for 4: $540
Smart tip: Combine your attractions and use code <GTSUMMER10> for 10% off with a minimum spending of $380 (capped at $70). Other terms and conditions apply, promotion is not applicable for JR Pass and Universal Studios Japan.
Food you should not miss out!
Have you heard your friends exclaim, “I would totally travel to Japan just for the food”? Although the statement’s a little farfetched, it’s not hard to see where they’re coming from. Japan is packed with countless eateries, from high end Michelin starred restaurants to street stalls catered to commoners like you and me. And the best part? They all promise superb quality for prices you’d never have thought possible.
Daiki Suisan: Conveyor Belt Sushi Chain Restaurant (Osaka)
You can’t leave Japan without having sushi! Starting from only 100 Yen per plate, Daiki Suisan is managed by a seafood company and this ensures the seafood is always fresh and very affordable.
If you’re lucky and come at the right timing, you may see a live demonstration of tuna cutting while waiting for seats right outside the restaurant. They even serve free green tea!
Budgeted cost for a meal for the whole family: Approximately S$50
Japanese Convenient stores “Konbinis”
7-11, Lawson and Family Mart are the major convenient stores in Japan, and they can all be found all over the country. One can find anything and everything here, but these convenient store are most known for its high quality yet affordable meals that are easily re-heated over the counter. Onigiris and sandwiches (200-300 Yen) makes for a perfect quick snack if you’re looking for something to fill you up, while main meals like soba, udon or rice bowls costs between 400-600 Yen on average.
Don’t forget to try their dessert section – Lawson is most well known for their sweet treats, with their custard éclair and sponge roll being the hot favourites. (200-350 Yen)
If you don’t live in Japan, you would be puzzled by the portion sizes served as what is known to be “Family restaurants” by the locals. Most of the set meals comes with 2 mains – too much for 1, yet it may not be enough for 2 adults. This is because the portion sizes are mostly catered to families (of course), assuming it is one parent to one child. These set meals also come in different varieties, most often a rice and noodle combination – for example, udon with curry rice.
Meals at family restaurants are also very affordable at approximately 1,000 Yen (remember, this is for 1 Adult and 1 Child).
Street Food Markets
There are endless varieties of food available along these street food markets. Here are our recommended food items that you should try while strolling through these food heavens. Be sure to head out to food markets early, as they tend to close before 6pm.
Kuromon Market (Osaka)
Osaka is known to be the Nation’s Kitchen and for a good reason. This is the birth place of some of the most well-known Japanese food, like Takoyaki and Okonomiyaki. There are many food stalls selling fresh seafood and grilled Japanese beef (both Kobe and Wagyu Beef), so be sure to take your pick for the freshest food stall you can find!
Nishiki Market (Kyoto)
Nishiki Market (and everything else in Kyoto, really) holds this rustic Japanese vibe, as if you are being transported back in time! One fun fact is that the entire market used to be run only by natural spring water from the water source nearby. You can expect everything here, from fresh seafood to sweet traditional Japanese snacks.
Tsukiji Outer Fish Market (Tokyo)
Tsukiji wholesale fish market is very well known for being the largest and busiest fish market of Japan and the whole world, with well-known Michelin starred restaurants often bidding for the freshest seafood here. The outer market is a food street catered for the tourists, but also has many wholesale shops and restaurants. One can expect all types of fresh seafood here, with the sushi and sashimi being especially famously known for.
Where to buy souvenirs
Daiso in Japan is slightly different than the ones in Singapore. For starters, everything is priced at 100 Yen (excluding tax of 8%). One can also find a wider variety of items: Chopsticks, snacks, magnets and other novelties are all available, making it a uniquely-Japan item to bring back home.
Donque Jote, or better known as Don Don Donki for us Singaporeans, is a discount store and is available all over Japan. Some recommended novelties one can bring home are printed socks (priced at 3 for 998 Yen) and special flavoured Kit Kats amongst a huge variety of Japanese snacks (trust me, you’d be tempted to ship them all back to Singapore). Beauty items, especially Japanese brands are also very much cheaper here, definitely something that the ladies would want to splurge on!
Other Travel Tips
Tourist Tax Refund
Always be on the lookout for tourist tax refunds and bring your passport when you’re out for shopping! Most stores require a minimum purchase of 5,000 Yen excluding tax (means you would have to spend at least 5,400 Yen including tax) to qualify for the tourist tax refund of 8%. Most stores will also refund the tourist tax within the store or shopping mall right after payment, so you don’t have to go through the tax refund counter at the airport before your departure.
Stay connected with ChangiWiFi! The connection in Japan was the best I’ve had in all my travels. Use promo code <2FREEDAYSOFF> to enjoy 2 free days of unlimited 4G internet access. Being able to seamlessly connect to up to 5 devices at once, this will bring about much convenience when travelling, be it looking for directions online or to constantly stay connected on social media.
10D9N Japan Trip summary
Arrive at Tokyo Airport & Take the shinkansen to Osaka
Arrive at Osaka, Check into Accommodation
Kuromon market for street food, Lunch
Shopping at Shinsaibashi
Checking out Dontonburi area
Dinner at Daiki Suisan
Universal Studios Japan (Alight at JR Universal City Station)
Dinner: Sukiyaki buffet restaurant near Universal City station
Breakfast from a Convenient store nearby
Osaka Castle, Lunch
Umeda Sky Building Tempozan Giant Ferris Wheel
Check out from Osaka Accommodation, Brunch
Take the JR line to Kyoto
Check in to Kyoto Accommodation, Lunch
Nijo Castle, Dinner
Nishiki Market, Brunch
Arashiyama Bamboo forest, Dinner
Check out of Kyoto Accommodation, Breakfast
Take the JR line to Nara, Check in to Nara Accommodation
Nara Deer Park
Todai-ji Temple, Dinner
Check out of Kyoto Accommodation, Brunch
Take the JR line to Tokyo, Check into Tokyo accommodation
Shinjuku Gyeon National Garden, Dinner
Tokyo Disney Land
Dinner, Shopping at Donque Jote Mega Store
7:30 am to 6:30pm
Mt Fuji Full Day Tour, including Ropeway ride, all-you-can-eat seasonal fruits and wine sampling
|Day 10||Check out and flight back home|
JR pass: $1050
Universal Studios: $334
Tokyo Disneyland: $298
Mt Fuji Day Tour: $540
Use code <GTSUMMER10> for 10% off (capped at $70, terms apply): -$70
Other transport expenses (3 day-Tokyo Metro Pass): $76 for 4 pax
Food expenses: budget of 6,000 Yen (S$75) Daily Food budget for 4 Pax / $675 for 9 Days
Total expenses: $4827
Even though this itinerary was supposedly $6,000 for a family of four, the expenditure that we have computed thus far adds up to less than $5,000. How did that happen? The difference was spent on other ad-hoc items like shopping, Umeda Sky building passes, etc., which is avoidable if your budget is really tight. But hey, you’re on a holiday in Japan. Doesn’t sound that bad to treat yourself once in a while, isn’t it?
We hope that you enjoyed this itinerary and found it useful for your upcoming trip to Japan. If we had to pick, the greatest takeaway for a trip to Japan would be to plan as much as you can in advance. The savings you made here and there really adds up. Let us know which country you wish to be visiting next, and we might just create an itinerary for it too! Arigato gozaimasu, and Sayonara!
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