With its incredible blend of towering modern skyscrapers, ancient temples, wondrous natural sights and unique culture, Japan is a must-visit destination. From its coast to its interior, its cities to countryside, the Japanese islands offer a wealth of attractions whatever your interests. But how much money should you take to Japan? Here’s our guide to everything you need to know when it comes to budgeting for a trip to the land of the rising sun.
How much money should you take to Japan – the basics
The Japanese currency is the yen, and all your spending in Japan will be in yen – unlike other countries that have secondary currencies such as the US dollar. It is divided into 100 sen, although the yen’s rate against the US dollar means the sen is really only of historic interest, and you’re unlikely to encounter any on the street when you’re making purchases.
As one of the most frequently traded currencies in the world, the yen is probably easily available in your home country, meaning you can pick up some yen before arriving at one of Japan’s ports of entry. Its symbol is a Y with two lines horizontally across its centre: ¥, and ¥100 is roughly equivalent to US$1. ATMs in Japan largely also accept foreign issues bank cards.
Deciding how much money you should take to Japan
Needless to say, calculating how much money you should take to Japan will depend in some part on what sort of traveller you are – those happy with budget accommodation and cheaper food options won’t need quite so much as someone looking for a little more luxury.
Don’t forget to take any tour costs into consideration too – you certainly don’t want to travel all the way to Japan and find you haven’t brought enough money to go on the trip you’ve been dreaming about. When considering how much to bring, first note whether your big trip costs, such as hotel accommodation, has already been paid for, or whether you need to cover this too. Your daily costs will also depend on whether you are in a major city such as Tokyo, or in the countryside, where costs are slightly reduced by comparison.
Assuming flights and accommodation are already paid for, budget travellers should get by on around ¥8,000 (around US$75) per day, which will be enough to cover simpler meals and visits to the main attractions. Up this to ¥10,000 ($95) a day and you’ll be able to splash out on a few higher-end meals and visit all the attractions without worry, while ¥20,000 per day will ensure luxury all the way, eating in top restaurants, and even riding first class on Japan’s extensive rail network.
How much yen to bring to Japan?
If you can, it’s always worth arriving into Japan with some yen already in your pocket. We’d suggest having enough yen before arrival to cover the first few days of your trip, so you don’t have to be worrying about currency conversion when you should be enjoying your first taste of this amazing country. If this isn’t possible, the next best thing to do is bring US dollars or another major currency (Euros, British Pound Sterling, or Australian dollars), and make use of the currency counters at the airport after customs.
The other good news when it comes to considering how much money you should take to Japan is that the country is now very well served by ATMs. They can be found at post offices (look for the ‘T’ sign and orange-coloured stores), and 7-Eleven stores among other locations. Withdrawing cash in this way will result in some banking fees – usually a withdrawal fee and further currency conversion fee – however it does minimise the quantity of cash you have to bring with you. Credit and debit cards are accepted at major hotels and the larger shopping malls, although the use of cards in Japan is generally more limited than in western countries.
The cost of transport in Japan: how to get about
Since transport is likely to be one of your largest additional expenses while in Japan, it is important to consider how much traveling you plan to do when calculating how much money you should bring to Japan. Here’s some information that should help.
While Japan’s buses can be difficult to use without knowledge of the language, many of the country’s largest cities (Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagoya, and Sapporo among them) have comprehensive metro light rail systems that are relatively easy to use as a visitor, and are the cheapest way to get around. That said, they are best avoided during morning and evening peak rush hours, when they get extremely crowded with commuters heading to and from work. Ticket prices start at less than ¥200 for a single journey, with a day pass costing as little as ¥600.
A more relaxed way to cross a city would be with a private taxi, with prices generally starting at ¥500, and then costing ¥400 per kilometre, meaning we can’t recommend using a taxi for longer journeys unless there is no alternative.
The best way of completing a longer journey in Japan is almost certainly through the country’s comprehensive and highly efficient rail network, incorporating regular trains, express services, and Japan’s famed shinkansen bullet train high-speed lines.
Japan Rail offers a number of different passes providing discounted travel to visitors, which can be purchased even before reaching Japan, helping further when deciding how much money you should bring to Japan. These passes offer unlimited travel on local, express, and shinkansen services, as well as some buses. There are regional and national passes available, lasting from two (for regional passes) to 21 days in length, with the option of economy or premium (first-class) passes, for adults and children. As a guide, a seven-day adult national pass in economy (which is not shabby at all) costs just over ¥29,000.
The cost of food: cheap eats versus Michelin dining
Food is likely to be another of your big expenses and shouldn’t be forgotten when considering how much money you should bring to Japan. However, even in Tokyo and other major cities, good quality food can be found without breaking the bank. Many restaurants offer good-value set lunch menus, which are well worth looking out for, particularly if you’re on a tighter budget. A plate at a conveyor-belt sushi restaurant (called a Kaiten-zushi in Japanese, and also sometimes called a sushi-train restaurant) can be as low as ¥100.
At the other end of the spectrum, Japan has the second-highest number of Michelin-starred restaurants in the world, only bested by France. Almost 300 restaurants have been awarded one star, with a further 100 gaining two-star status, and 25 the much-lauded top grade of three Michelin stars, which will cost you the yen equivalent of several hundred US dollars for a meal. There are also an incredible number of mid-range restaurants to choose between across the country, with costs from around ¥4,000.
Budgeting for sightseeing in Japan
How much money should you take to Japan for sightseeing can be a tricky question to answer. On the one hand, many of the country’s main attractions, including most of its major museums and important temple sites are free to enter. On the other hand, there are attractions you will have to pay for. A visit to an iconic sumo wrestling match will cost in the region of ¥26,000, while a tour of the famed Studio Ghibli animation studio (behind films including the Oscar-winning Spirited Away) costs ¥4,000.
Budgeting correctly for a trip is the best way to ensure a stress-free vacation while missing out on nothing you want to see or do, and this is no different when visiting Japan. Hopefully we’ve shown you exactly how much money you should take to Japan to ensure this doesn’t happen to you!