How expensive is Japan? This is a question that is asked over and over again…
With the incredible interest in Japan as a safe, clean and wonderful tourist destination, a question on everyone’s mind is how much do things actually cost?
Whilst there are a plethora of articles and blogs available over the internet making all sorts of claims about price we decided to set the record straight and dispel some myths.
1. Food in Japan
We start with Japanese Food as this is where the greatest fluctuation in cost occurs. The biggest misconception we have found is that people don’t understand how expensive food becomes once you eat at a mid-range restaurant and above. Additionally, if you are after quality produce, such as abalone, tuna belly, matsutake mushrooms etc. expect to pay a premium. We recommend keeping an open mind when it comes to food cost as you may, at times, be surprised.
There are plenty of delicious, nutrious and local varieties of Japanese food that are definitely affordable to tourists from all walks of life. These cheap eats such as ramen, rice bowls, Japanese curry, and sweet street snacks should set you back no more than $10 – $15 USD pp. These cheap foods are definitely something you should try as part of your Japanese experience.
Izakaya – Japanese Style Gastronomic Pubs
One of the best places to eat in Japan. Izakaya are the place to have a relaxing drink and something delicious after a busy work day. For English speakers, an Izakaya is best described as a Japanese Style Gatronomic Pub; or, a place to drink that serves amazing food.
An evening meal at a basic Izakaya should cost you around $35-$50 pp, with the amount you drink greatly affecting the price. You will often see Izakayas recommended on travel sites and tourist advisory pages; however, it is often exceptionally difficult to find and then order at an Izakaya due to the lack of English available.
Mid Range Cuisine
Examples of mid range cuisine, such as high quality yakitori, ryokan kaiseki, some sushi, fusion cuisine, Japanese yakiniku (BBQ) etc. is where most people will aim for in order to live it up a little. You can expect to pay around $80 – $175 USD pp before tax and drinks. This is generally more than people would spend on themselves in restaurants in their home country; however, when on holiday it becomes more acceptable.
High End Cuisine
This is where food in Japan becomes incredibly expensive. It is not uncommon to pay a starting price of $350 USD pp before adding consumption tax, service charge (luxury tax) and drinks. Examples of High End Cuisine are Wagyu, Kaiseki, Sushi, Tempura, Specialty Seafood Products etc. If you want to sample these luxurious products be prepared to pay a premium.
Michelin Starred Restaurants
It isn’t any surprise that receiving the nod from the lovely people at Michelin is often considered a license to charge high prices. Whilst there are a few examples in Japan of “cheaper” Michelin Starred Restaurants, 99% of the time they are very expensive. We frequent many Michelin Starred Restaurants as part of our planned tours. We do this, because the restaurants represent the pinnacle of Japanese Cuisine, be it sushi, tempura or kaiseki. Expect to pay anywhere from $300 – $1000 USD pp before taxes and drinks to dine at these exclusive locations.
Famous & Private Restaurants
Japan is home to a number of famous restaurants, some of which are private and for members only. To gain access to these restaurants often requires a lot of pre-planning, including getting on a waiting list, or booking months in advance; you also may need a special introduction if the restaurant is members only. As these types of restaurants are exclusive, they of course charge a high price. Expect to pay anwhere from $300 – $1000 USD pp before taxes and drinks.
Accommodation is another necessary expense in Japan that varies greatly in price. There are of course options for the budget traveller, such as capsule hotels and backpacker/dormitory style establishments; however, for this section we have decided to examine three types of hotels.
Japanese Brand Hotel (4 Stars & 5 Stars)
A Japanese Brand Hotel is essentially a mix between a Western-style hotel and a Japanese Hotel. These hotels are excellent, they are exceptionally clean and well presented and are often in very convenient locations. Often including a a relaxing bathhouse and delicious breakfast and a host of amenities, we recommend this style of accommodation in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and other major locations.
Expect to pay $300 + USD per night for the basic double bed room during off peak times. During Cherry Blossom Season and other peak times expect prices to rise to $500 + USD per night for the basic room.
For a twin bed room expect to pay $500 + USD per night during off peak times. During high season, twin rooms start at $700 – $1000 + USD per night.
For famous/concept Japanese Brand Hotels expect to pay prices starting from $1000 + USD per person, per night.
Western Luxury Hotel
Well known hotel chains are very expensive in Japan, particularly the 4 and 5 star options. Travellers will often choose these hotels as they are familiar with the brands and the quality. These style of hotels are great and do offer a sense of home to travellers who may be overwhelmed by Japan. Expect to pay $500 + USD for the basic room type per night in low season. During peak season expect to pay almost double for the basic room.
Ryokan (Japanese Traditional Inn)
Ryokans are the very best place to stay for the full cultural experience. We cannot recommend these establishments highly enough. Essentially a Bed & Breakfast, with the option of including the evening meal, a Ryokan is Japanese wonder on full display (Check out our article on Ryokans).
Ryokans always charge per person, per night so please keep that in mind.
For a standard family run Ryokan expect to pay $250 USD pp /per night during low season, climbing as high as $350 USD pp / per night in peak times. This includes breakfast and dinner.
For a high quality ryokan situated in a highly desirable location, such as foot hills of Mt Fuji or a Ski Resort, expect to pay $500 + USD pp/ per night in low season. For peak time, expect to pay $700 + USD pp/ per night. Whether this price will include breakfast and dinner all depends on the individual provider. We would highly doubt it though.
For Ultra-Exclusive Ryokans, often concept in nature and in secluded locations, expect to pay from $1000 + USD pp/ per night in low season and more than double that in peak time. At these high end establishments food is always additional, so keep that in mind.
Getting from place to place in Japan is easy and painless. Japan is blessed with the best transportation infrastructure in the world. You can easily travel by plane, car, bus, train, hire car, taxi and even by foot to anywhere your heart desires. As parking is the major issue in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and other major cities, moving around by train and then foot is often the way to go.
Local Trains, Ferrys and Buses are inexpensive and usually cost $3-$5 USD per trip.
Taxi Fares are inexpensive for short distances, around $10 USD; however, fares become high as soon as you get beyond a few kilometres. For example, taxi fare from Narita Airport to a Ginza hotel will cost $200 + USD.
Private Vehicles (Cars, Vans & Buses) are expensive and come with restrictions and obligations. You will need to essentially look after the driver in everyway (accommodation, meals etc.). You will also need to pay all the parking and toll costs which is very expensive. You will also need to pay either an hourly rate or daily rate, depending on what the hire company offers. It is quite normal to pay $500 + USD per day (8 hours) for a car and $1500 + USD per day for a private van in Japan. You will need to pay for meals and accommodation on top if you hire the vehicle for more than 24 hours.
When travelling between cities the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) is by far the best choice; however, it isn’t cheap. The Shinkansen has two classes; Economy & Green Class (First Class). The Shinkansen is so convenient it runs all the time between major locations, and even stops in some small countryside locales.
A one way trip from Tokyo to Osaka in economy expect to pay $140 USD.
A one way trip from Tokyo to Osaka in Green Class expect to pay $200 USD.
On certain Shinkansen there is Gran Glass which is a step above Green Class; expect to pay an additional $150 – $200+ USD for a three-hour journey.
4. Local Guides/Translators
With the influx of foreign tourists the local guide and translator business in booming. Although Japan is exceptionally organised with the world’s best infrastructure, getting to certain places and/or expereiencing certain things requires help.
There are a lot of options when it comes to hiring a local guide in Japan; however, if you would like a guide who is university qualified, experienced, well connected and has good language skills then be prepared to pay a premium. For guides of this calibre expect to pay $500 + USD per day with the guides meals, transportation and accommodation an additional cost.
For translators expect to pay a call out fee and an hourly rate. Usually the hourly rate begins at $100 USD. Of course the more qualified the higher the price.
5. Consumption Tax
Japan is a country that functions on consumption of goods and services. The Japanese government charges a consumption tax on all goods and services of 10%.
In our experience the 10% Consumption Tax is never added to the display price of a product, and, is always added on at the point of sale. We recommend that tourists be acutely aware of this as the addtional 10% can catch you out.
6. Service Charge (Luxury Tax)
The Service Charge or Luxury Tax is by far the most controversial “added” charge to a bill at the end of a meal or stay in a hotel. The Service Charge is generally 15%; however, we have encountered 25% before.
This charge is seen as a special payment to the hotel, ryokan, performance, Geisha, restaurant etc. for the luxury service and/or skills of the artisan. Some may see it as a gratuity or a tip; however, once added it makes a meal much more expensive.
A high end sushi meal for one person.
|$300 + 10% tax|
|$330 + 15% service charge|
Be aware, most of the establishment will add the 10% consumption tax onto the bill, then charge you the service charge. This is just how things are done in Japan.
7. Special Taxes (Kyoto & Onsen)
If you thought that was the end of tax in Japan you would be wrong. Here are two more taxes of note.
Kyoto Lodging Tax
The local government in Kyoto introduced this small tax as part of a initiative to raise revenue for the promotion of tourism. Whilst the tax varies, expect to pay around $10 USD per night on top of all other charges.
Nationwide every person in Japan, local or tourist, must pay a small tax for the use of a hotspring, or onsen. Expect to pay $2 – $3 USD pp/ per night when staying in a hotel with hotspring facilities. If you are visiting an onsen just for the day, this tax will be included in your entry fee.
8. Important Notes
Japan is not Bali; Japan is not South East Asia.
One of the most common remarks we encounter is in relation to the cost of Japan and the rest of Asia. Many guests, particularly those from Australia and New Zealand have visited the tourist hotspot of Bali, Indonesia. They can’t quite quantify in their minds how their $2000 gets them five days in a five star hotel in Bali, yet in Japan they have to travel budget style.
Japan is a country of sophisticated culture, safe, clean and desirable. As such, providers can command a much higher price then their counterparts in other Asian destinations. We recommend trying to understand this concept above all others when going to Japan.
Whilst Japan offers many exceptional activities, events, experiences, foods and reasonably priced accommodation, there is a marked difference from “luxury or high end” products and services.
If you visit Japan and want to stay in a 4 star hotel and above expect to pay a premium.
If you want to eat high calibre cuisine expect to pay a premium.
If you want to travel in style expect to pay a premium.
The biggest advantage of coming with a reputable tour provider is the savings you enjoy by purchasing a packaged tour. Save time, energy and most importantly money whilst experiencing true Japanese luxury.