Japan is freakishly expensive – but these local tips from a South African expat can guarantee you the range of experiences you’re after, and make your Rands go farther
Who are we and why should you trust us?
We’re Doot, a dining experiences platform for travellers in Japan to meet with local foodies at places only they know. We offer a variety of experiences, linking you with a local to take you to the best sushi bars, sake bars, traditional Japanese restaurants and more in Japan’s biggest cities.
We’re a team from South Africa that have spent two years cumulatively in Japan, and we’re deeply ingrained into the Japanese system. Since we’re a travel company from South Africa, we’ve needed to move in, out and around Japan – a lot…And to ensure we can eat every night, we’ve had to do this as cheap as possible. So here are our best tips that have made sure we can live comfortably in the Land of the Rising Sun!
First things first – flights
Japan is far. Distance and budget does not mix well with an airline, but fortunately, our homies up north have got our back. Ethiopian Airlines consistently has the cheapest airfares from Johannesburg to Tokyo. Is it the most luxurious flight? No. Is it the fastest way to get there? No. Is it going to make your money go farther? Absolutely.
A round-trip to Tokyo will cost you around R9200 – in other words, R4600 each direction. That is a phenomenal price to East Asia. What’s amazing is that these are the standard prices that you can find week-on-week, and it’s not a limited special. So there’s no rush to book – go whenever you’re comfortable, and you’ll still lock in this great price!
Getting around the country on the cheap
The Japan Rail Pass is a popular option for travellers to Japan. It’s excellent if you want to save money on the super expensive bullet train network. Basically, it’s for people with loads of money to save a bit.
It’s a great investment if you look at the bullet trains as an experience to have, but if you’re looking for a budget trip, it’s not the way to go. The best way to go is with buses – particularly night buses.
Now, if you do a search on the internet, you’ll probably come across Willer Express. They’re really popular with tourists since they were the first company to start offering English services. Unfortunately, they’re not that cheap. They’re pretty expensive. We recommend you use Kousokubus for the best priced, and surprisingly the most luxurious options. A round-trip using this bus network will be more than half the price of a one-way ticket with the bullet train.
Avoid convenience stores and vending machines, and make sure you eat local
Why avoid convenience stores?
Convenience stores are on basically every corner in Japan. Lawson, 7/11 and FamilyMart are the main stores you’ll see. As the name suggests, they’re super convenient. They sell practically everything, and have seasonal stock that rotates almost weekly. They’re totally fascinating – but you pay for the convenience. They’re deceptively expensive, and if you’re ever wondering where all your money went, these guys are the main culprits.
Use vending machines sparingly?
Second in line would be vending machines. Japan has the highest density of vending machines in the world. We like to call them black holes. They love your money, and they’re very tempting to use. Now, we won’t say avoid them all together. They’re fantastic, but just be aware of how much you’re using them. A great tip is to look out for the standard “100 yen” machines. Everything inside them is essentially R10 – water, coke, juice, everything. When you see these ones, take advantage.
How to go local?
…But above all, go local. Shop at the 100 yen stores. Literally everything will be R10 – the instant ramen, drinks, instant meals, everything. Shop at the local supermarkets. The same drinks in the supermarket will be a good R5 – R10 cheaper than convenience stores. Eat at the small restaurants, not those massive ones you read about online. The ones you read about online have often paid to be featured there, and it’ll be you eating with people from Germany, America, Australia and England.
As conventional wisdom goes, eat where the locals eat. It’s not only cheaper, but it’s more authentic and exciting. A little humble shoutout to us, Doot has a large network of local Japanese people waiting to take you out to their favourite local spots. So if you’re worried about language barriers, what foods are good to eat, and if that little place with a light outside is someone’s house or a restaurant, our locals can help you out.
Daily food budget – what should you be aiming for?
Speaking of restaurants, they can also be pretty expensive. Eating local can get you three meals a day for under 2000 yen (about R200). That’s cheaper than eating out in Cape Town!! Some great places to keep in mind are Yoshinoya, Matsuya and Sukiya. They serve cheap bowl of beef and rice, breaded pork cutlets and more. Another good word to bear in mind is “teishoku”. Ask your accommodation for “teishoku restaurant recommendations” and they’ll point you in the right direction. “Teishoku” will get you a tray full of cheap, Japanese foods like grilled fish, rice, clam soups, deep fried vegetables and more.
Tying it all together
By following these simple guidelines, staying in hostels and providing a R2500 budget for daily experiences, you could do a 10 day trip in Japan for about R8400 excluding flights. Throw those in, and you’re looking at about R17 000 for 10 days. That’s not bad at all!
It’s comparable to European travel, and certainly cheaper than what you could do in North America.
Interested in seeing more from Doot?
We have a couple of places you can follow us to see and learn more about travel in Japan!
Our blog – We write inspiring pieces about Japan and have exciting local insights.
Instagram (@doot.app) – We have pictures that will motivate you to travel across Japan. Food, temples, cityscapes, we’ve got it!
For Facebook and LinkedIn, just search “Doot App” and connect with us there! We’d love you to join us.