One of the most daunting tasks when planning a trip to Japan is to estimate how much cash you need to bring. A lot of smaller Japanese stores, restaurants, and much of the Japanese countryside works on a cash only system, making it difficult to estimate amounts and cash required, creating a lot of confusion.
Cash or Credit?
While major chains and department stores in the largest cities have accepted credit cards for a while, many restaurants and smaller stores still not not accept cards of any type. Fortunately, 24/7 ATMs are now common place at Lawson’s Stations and 7-11’s and the exchange rates and the fees are comparable to what you can find if you change money at the banks in Canada. Planning to withdrawing money from these convenience store ATMs on a semi-regular basis is a reasonable way to avoid bringing a lot of cash up front.
It is important to realize that most of the country is still a cash-based society. Many Japanese will still carry cash on them to cover their day-to-day spending and any major purchases, hence, it is important that you also always have some cash on you. I recommend keeping about 10,000 to 15,000 Yen (¥), and a little more if you plan to do some shopping, eat at a nicer restaurant, or have specific expenses planned for that day.
Costs and Daily Spend
The typical traveller’s daily budget should be approximately 10,000¥ per day. This excludes shopping and accommodation. This budget includes modest meals (ramen, yakitori, etc.), trips to the convenience store for snacks, beers, tea a few times a day, a night of light drinking as well as a trip to the supermarket to purchase food for the next day, as well as any admission feeds to castles, shrines, etc. which you want to visit.
If you don’t have a rail pass and are travelling locally, add approximately 2000-3000¥ for local train travel. If you are taking the train a long distance, for example taking the shinkansen from Tokyo to Osaka or a super express out to Nagoya, budget an additional 15,000¥ to 25,000¥ for a one-way express train ticket.
Travelling between cities without a rail pass, or on a private line (more on how to navigate the Japanese train system in a later chapter), should be budgeted separately. Some guidelines are below:
- Shinkansen (Bullet train) between Tokyo and Osaka: approx. 15,000¥ (approx. $180 CAD) one way;
- Shinkansen (Bullet train) to a very far city (e.g. Tokyo to Fukuoka): approx. 22,000¥ (Approx $260 CAD) one way;
- Super Express train to an adjacent major city (e.g. Tokyo to Nagano): approx. 8000¥ ($100 CAD) one way;
- NEX Express from Narita Airport to Shinjuku station 3200¥ (approx.. $42 CAD) one way;
An example daily spend for 10,000¥ is as follows:
- Breakfast: 2 onigiri and 2 bottles of tea: 520¥
- Morning Hydration/Drink: 160¥
- Lunch: Ramen and beer: 1200¥
- Tourist Entry Fees: 1000¥
- Beers for the train: 360¥
- Afternoon Snack & Hydration: 740¥
- Dinner & Drinks: 5700¥
If you decide to do more sightseeing to more touristy places, an additional 500-1500¥ may be required for entry fees. Alternatively, if you don’t drink, or don’t drink as much as we do, then you can probably save a few thousand Yen.
Before I leave for Japan, I usually order between 160,000¥ to 220,000¥ at my bank. This usually covers me for approximately to 14-18 days in Japan. Each day I take out between 10,000¥ to 14,000¥ to cover my daily expenses and lock the rest of the cash in the safe. With ATMs being foreigner friendly, I could reduce my cash to about 120,000¥ and then withdraw from the bank machine as I require.
Hotels in Japan will cost you a lot of money. Big chain hotels will usually cost around $200 to $250 CAD a night plus taxes. Baller luxury hotels will run you closer to $400 to $500 plus taxes. I usually stay with the business class hotels, which you should be able to find for approximately $80-$150 plus taxes a night.
AirBnB’s are a good way to minimize your accommodation expense, especially if you’re travelling in a group. Historically, we’ve been able to get AirBnB’s between $50-90 a person in a group of 3 or more. As of June 2018, Japan has changed its laws regarding AirBnBs and other short-term private rentals. It has effectively stunted AirBnB as most operators now require a license and can only rent their private residence for up to a total of 6 months in a year. Hence, the price of AirBnBs has went up greatly. If you can find a deal, I would still recommend it over a hotel.
If you are lucky enough to stay with a friend or a host family, please remember that it is customary to bring a gift for the family (families) to show your thanks. Choose something that uniquely represents the country which you are from. I’ve often gifted maple syrup, Canadian whiskey, ice wine, and smoked salmon.
Ultimately, most of my 2 week trips to Japan cost between $3500-$5500 CAD for accommodation, airfare, food, train fare, and spending money, for a duration of about 2 weeks. I once spent a month there for about $3500 CAD, but I was living at a friend’s apartment so that allowed for massive savings. You should be setting aside around $4,000 CAD for a very comfortable trip to Japan. Doing a trip for less than $3,000 CAD is very difficult.
No matter what your budget, plan out the spend and stick to it. There’s nothing worse than coming home to an empty bank account and a bloated credit card bill. You may have had a good time, but scrounging for rent money sucks.
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