'I went to Japan on a budget. Here's my honest review.'

After years of having plans hampered by various COVID lockdowns, I finally visited Japan for the first time

It was a holiday that I'd considered a top priority for a long time, partly because of a family connection, partly because I've always been enamoured with the aesthetics of Japanese art and architecture, but mostly because of the food

And it did not disappoint. 

Between the outrageously stimulating cityscapes, the astoundingly beautiful natural scenes, and the respect and creativity that you'll discover in its culture, Japan is a singularly wondrous place. I feel like it would be almost impossible to travel there and not fall completely in love with it. 

Watch: Our best tips for your next vacation. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia.

Over the course of 15 days, I found myself slurping bowls of the most incredible ramen, feeling the dizzying press of inertia in my head as I sat on the Shinkansen with the world whizzing beside me at 300 kilometres per hour, and drinking ice cold beers in the thick smoke of tiny jazz bars. It is a remarkable place.

I also happened to discover a detail of Japan that doesn't seem to be fully recognised, at least not by the hundreds of people I cornered with my holiday chat after I returned: travelling there can be very cheap


Here are my best tips for those who want to have a great trip on a budget.

You can find great deals on flights.

There are a number of carriers that fly from Australia to Japan, including budget options. I am one of those people who strongly considers the flight as part of a holiday, so I'm generally unwilling to bend when it comes to making multiple stops or flying with an airline that's not deeply comfortable. 

Luckily, there are frequently sales on flights between Australia and Japan, and we managed to secure a return trip on ANA (a highly rated Japanese airline) for a great price. Setting up a Google alert or keeping an eye on travel websites can go a long way.

The food is next level. Image: Supplied/Elfy Scott. 


Cheap accommodation is still good accommodation.

Accommodation in Japan can, admittedly, be tricky. Rooms are small and hotel prices can shoot up into the absurd very quickly, in Tokyo especially. But something we discovered is that a lot of the ultra-cheap accommodation is still highly rated. 

We spent the first couple of nights in Tokyo sleeping in a ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn with tatami-matted floors) for $50 per night and it was clean, comfortable and, in a city where you're spending the vast majority of your day outside, totally acceptable. It's worlds away from cheap European hostels, where people are vomiting in the communal toilets and the bed bugs roam free.

Cheap meals are extremely easy to find.

Ramen is a clear winner. Image: Supplied/Elfy Scott. Coming from a city where breakfast can easily cost $40, everyday eating in Japan felt like an absolute pleasure. Food is cheap. We ate Michelin-star ramen for $12 a bowl. 


Our favourite pasta place delivered mountains of spaghetti swimming in red sauce for $11 a plate. A world-renowned pizza restaurant in Tokyo offered the most perfectly crafted pizza that we've ever eaten – a pizza so beautiful that it made my Italian boyfriend weep – for $15 each.

While I'm sure that you can work your way up through the fine dining world of Tokyo and order meals into the hundreds of dollars, we were perfectly content to eat some of the best food we'd had in our lives for these prices.

 Nights out don't have to break the bank.

The drinks aren't half bad either! Image: Supplied/Elfy Scott. 


Much the same as with food, alcoholic drinks are astoundingly cheap compared to Sydney prices, where you'll now be hard-pressed to find a decent glass of wine for less than $19. The price of a night out in Japan can be shockingly affordable.

Ice-cold draft beers will cost around $6-8, wines top out at around $9, and glasses of umeshu (plum liquor, generally served over a large hunk of ice) are about the same.

You can game travelling intercity.

The price of the bullet trains has increased rather dramatically recently (we managed to get in just under the wire and order our week-long Shinkansen passes before the prices leapt up by more than 70 per cent), but there are still ways to be clever about intercity travel. 


Do your research on the different lines and weigh up your options for wherever you're planning to go. While the bullet train has the distinct advantage of zipping you across the country at hyper-speed, there are often other options that could significantly decrease the cost of travel. 

The secondhand stores are possibly the best in the world.

Bargain-hunting through Japan's vintage and secondhand stores is thrilling. For those who enjoy designer labels, there are endless secondhand stores that offer high-quality pieces (think Louis Vuitton, Prada, and Gucci). 

I, however, am not this person and I don't remember the last time I spent more than $100 on any one item. What I did manage to pick up was a $13 vintage trench coat (yes, thirteen), a leather A.P.C. bag that was a little banged up for $40 (originally worth somewhere in the realm of $500), and a Y2K leopard-print top for $20 that makes my boobs look fantastic. 

Search the vintage districts in Tokyo (Koenji, Shimokitazawa, Harajuku) and keep an eye out for the big chain secondhand stores.

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Elfy Scott is an executive editor at Mamamia. 

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