Everybody loves Japan. They have a rich history, the food is heavenly, the trains run on time, and the people are polite beyond belief. Not to mention the various subcultures that make the Japanese such a interesting and quirky bunch. I especially love how much pride the Japanese put into the work they do regardless of how big or small it is.
Before flying from Singapore to Osaka, I thought we would need to break the bank in order to travel comfortably. Yet after 8 days in Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara, I was surprised at how affordable Japan can be without compromising on quality. With a little careful planning and travel hacks, it’s easy to plan a Japan Budget Itinerary.
For us, we spent on average just S$1,200 per person for 8 fun filled days in the Kansai region of Japan. The 4 of us stuffed ourselves silly with street food, explored temples, cuddled with owls, and slept in all sorts of interesting and comfortable accommodations.
Here’s our Japan Budget Itinerary to Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara. Read on for the summary of costs, as well as tricks on how we managed to keep the budget low.
All prices are per pax and listed in Japanese Yen, but I will convert them to USD & SGD at the end.
Day 1-2: Osaka
We arrived in the late afternoon at Osaka’s Kansai International Airport. After checking in at our hostel, we headed straight for Dotonburi, Osaka’s famous food district for dinner.
If there was a way to describe Dotonburi, it’ll be that it’s a gastronomic’s heaven. From street eats like okonomiyaki and takoyaki, to heartier ramen and sushi, we were overwhelmed by the sheer variety of Japanese food to try! The best part was that everything tasted so good! I guess you can say that this was the perfect start to our Japan adventure.
The colourful streets of Dotonburi.
Takoyaki with poached egg from Creo-ru
(See also: 16 must eat foods in Osaka & Kyoto)
The next day, we headed out early to Momofuku Instant Ramen Museum at Ikeda, which was a little out from Central Osaka. If you’ve ever been fascinated by instant noodles, this is a place you must visit. You can rent an audio set for free (refundable ¥2,000 deposit) and learn about the history of instant noodles.
Customising our very own cup noodles!
The most fun part though was customising our own cup noodles. Other than getting to pick our own ingredients (you can get really creative here), we also got to doodle on our own cups. For just ¥300 a piece, it makes for a very good gift!
Animal cafes were next on the itinerary.
We headed to Owl Family Cafe, which housed so many lovable owls that it was difficult to leave. Just look at this short video we did!
Selfie with the adorable owls
For a little more variety, and to counter the cuteness overload from the owl cafe, we also visited Rockstar Reptile Cafe, which might not be for everyone.
Chameleons, snakes, spiders… you name it, they have it. Credit: @Rachelwongggg
If you prefer something more adventurous to drink… this is centipede with sake. Not for the faint hearted.
(See also: 5 animal cafes in Osaka not to be missed)
In Osaka, we stayed at Ark Hostel, conveniently located near Osaka Station. While hostels are usually cramped and small, the beds at Ark Hostel were surprisingly huge and comfortable. Newly opened, the owners really took great care in ensuring that their guests are well taken care of. There is also a restaurant and bar located downstairs. It’s not the cheapest hostel around, but definitely the most value for money in our opinion.
Entrance of Ark Hostel. There’s a nice restaurant and bar on the ground floor.
Spacious beds with sufficient power points for our charging needs
– Entrance to Momofuku Instant Ramen Museum, Free
– Instant Cup Noodles Souvenir, ¥300
– Owl Family Cafe Entrance + Drink, ¥1,500
– Rockstar Cafe Entrance + Drink, ¥1,500
– Lots of Street Food from Dotonburi (Okonomiyaki, Takoyaki, Egg Tarts, Sushi), ~¥4,696 / 4 pax = ¥1,174
– Soba & Katsu Don mix bowl lunch Set at Ikeda train station, ¥530
– Random street food and convenience store food in Shinsabashi, ~¥3,164 / 4pax = ¥791
– Ark Hostel Dorm Bed, ¥2,900 x 2 nights = ¥5,800
– Nankai Line Train from Kansai Intl Airport to Ark Hostel (2 transfers), ¥1,330
– Random Subway fare around Osaka (7 different trips), ~¥1,620
Day 3-5: Kyoto
The former capital of Japan, the extremely photogenic Kyoto is only an hour away by train from Osaka. Regardless of the season, the old streets, shrines, and parks will blow you away. It’s also another food paradise, led by the street eats at Nishiki Market.
Pro-tip: Use the Navitime Japan Travel App to plan your train journeys. There are multiple ways to get to a destination and the app shows you all the ways with timings and cost.
Any visit to Kyoto wouldn’t be completed without visiting the famous red torii gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine. There’s nothing quite like seeing rays of light peak through the endless row of torii gates in the morning.
The same can also be said for Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, where it almost feels like you have stepped into another world. The towering bamboos create a calming effect, and is great for pictures. The surrounding area is really scenic as well, with plenty of gardens and small shrines, so do go for a walk beyond the bamboo grove.
Pro-tip: For Fushimi Inari Shrine and Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, I highly recommend that you visit both early in the morning. They are very popular and loses it’s charm once the crowd starts streaming in with the tour buses. We went at 7am and it was perfect!
If you enjoy walking, do check out the scenic 2km long Philosopher’s Path too. Cherry blossom trees line the entire stretch, with cafes and shops a little to the right.
Cats making the Philosopher’s path their own.
Do detour from the Philosopher’s path from time to time cause you never know what you might find.
Selfie at the famous Kiyomizu-dera temple.
For food, look no further than Nishiki Market. The five block long street has more than a hundred shops, offering tons of food options.
Nothing like a matcha ice cream in the middle of the day.
Assorted flavoured fish on sticks.
To relax, we headed for a local onsen called Funaoka Onsen. This is as local as things gets as people from around the area all head here for a good soak at the end of the day.
No pictures allowed inside, so here’s one on the outside instead.
We wanted to try something different in Kyoto, and opted for a hostel with traditional sleeping options on tatami mats instead. Taikoya-Bettei is a 180 year old guesthouse with old school charm – creaky wooden floors and thin walls included. While it doesn’t exactly have the same services as a traditional ryokan, it is a pretty decent budget option.
Doing some last minute planning before heading out to explore Kyoto.
– Fushimi Inari Shrine, Free
– Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, Free
– Goji Temple Entrance, ¥300
– Kiyomizu-dera Temple Entrance, ¥400
– Tenryu-Ji Temple Entrance, ¥500
– Local Onsen, ¥430
– Convenience Store Breakfast, ¥400
– Nishin Udon Dinner, ¥1,100
– Convenience Store Brunch, ¥410
– Lots of street food at Nishiki Market, ¥6,848 / 4pax = ¥1,712
– Dinner at Ichiran, ¥910
– Random Lunch, ¥1,000
– Convenience Store Food, ¥593
– Taikoya-Bettei Shared Tatami Room (4pax), ¥11,800 x 2 nights = ¥23,600 / 4pax = ¥5,900
– Osaka to Kyoto Train, ¥560
– Random Subway & Cab fare around Kyoto (9 different trips), ~¥2,390
Day 6: Nara
Nara is known for it’s free roaming deers, which can be either friendly or annoying depending on your opinion. Found around parks or near tourist attractions, the deers are not afraid of humans and will approach you with the hope of getting a deer biscuit sold by street vendors nearby. For some reason, the deers have been conditioned to bow before asking for a biscuit, which is really adorable!
Pro-tip: Don’t get distracted by the deers if you want to cover the other sites in Nara. Many close from 4pm onwards, so you’ll still have plenty of time to interact with the deers after you are bored with visiting temples.
In terms of transport, simply rent a bike as the attractions are all pretty close to each other.
Cycling is probably the best way to travel in Nara. There are electric bikes too.
The UNESCO World Heritage site of Todai-ji is the most famous buddhist temple in Nara, and houses a very large Buddha statue inside.
Todai-ji Temple in Nara. It was once the largest wooden structure in the world.
Kakinoha Zushi, a specialty of Nara. Basically mackerel sushi wrapped in persimmon leaves. Credit:@Rachelwongggg
Supermarket food. We were out the entire day and had a picnic at one of the parks in Nara! Credit:@Rachelwongggg
While we stayed a night at Nara, it’s very possible to cover Nara on a day trip from either Osaka or Kyoto, both just an hour away. The budget accommodation options in Nara are quite limited so this might be best.
– Deer biscuits 1 packet, ¥150
– Todai-Ji Temple Entrance, ¥500
– Supermarket food for picnic lunch, ¥500
– Dinner, ¥700
– Yuzan Guesthouse, ¥2,400 x 1 night = ¥2,400
– Kyoto to Nara Train, ¥710
– 1 Day Bicycle Rental near Nara Station, ¥700
Day 7-8: Osaka
Hogwarts Castle in Universal Studios Japan.
Back to Osaka before our flight home, we decided to splurge a little at Universal Studios Japan (USJ) and fulfil our Harry Potter fantasies. If you love theme parks and Harry Potter, USJ will bring out the kid in you again. The park can get really crowded, so if you’re heading there, do check out my other guide to maximising time at Universal Studios Japan to get your money worth.
Minion bao for you? So cute that we almost couldn’t eat this!
Pro-tip: It’s difficult to navigate the Japanese USJ website for tickets, so I suggest getting them via activity booking app klook instead. It’s faster, simple, and literally cost the same.
Of course we couldn’t leave Osaka without visiting the iconic Osaka Castle.
If you are up for an early day, I suggest checking out the Tuna Auction at Osaka Central Fish Market. At 4am everyday, fisherman and restaurant owners gather to bid for the freshest and best tuna. Watching the auctioneer was particularly interesting as he breaks into his own “song” while facilitating bids.
Check out the size of the tuna! Credit:@Rachelwongggg
Harukoma Sushi was probably the best value for money find we had in Japan. With thick sushi slices ranging from ¥100-300 per plate, we ate till our hearts were contented without burning a hole in the pocket. The quality is above average too!
Part of our spread at Harukoma Sushi. Best food find in Osaka.
For one of our final two nights in Osaka, we wanted to try sleeping in a capsule hotel, and found Asahi Plaza Shinsaibashi, conveniently located in the shopping district of Shinsaibashi. Capsule hotels cater mainly for Japanese businessman, who might be too tired (or drunk) to travel home after a night of drinking of colleagues or clients.
While the capsule may seem claustrophobic, it’s actually pretty spacious and I could lay comfortably and roll around. This one even has a hot bath and sauna to enjoy. At only ¥2,900 a night, I wouldn’t have minded staying longer if I needed to stretch my budget further. The only inconvenience is having to keep your main luggage in the lockers.
– Universal Studios Japan Tickets, S$95
– Osaka Central Fish Market Tuna Auction, Free
– Osaka Castle Grounds, Free
– A lot of sushi at Harukoma Sushi, ¥1,875
– Food in USJ for entire day, ¥1,650
– Osaka Fish Market Sushi Breakfast, ¥450
– Convenience Store Food, ¥400
– Menya Gaten Ramen, ~¥1,000
– Asashi Plaza Shinsaibashi, ¥2,900 x 1 night = ¥2,900
– Ark Hostel Dorm Bed, ¥2,900 x 1 night = ¥2,900
– Nara to Osaka train, ¥560
– Nankai Line Train from Osaka Namba to Kansai Intl Airport, ¥1,330
– Random Subway & Cab fare around (6 different trips), ~¥1,652
Japan Budget Tips
(1) “Salaryman” type chain restaurants & Convenience Store food
While it may be easy to lose control with all the good food in Japan, sometimes we need to hold back a little in order to keep the budget in check. There are plenty of hole-in-the-wall eateries in Japan catering to the working Salaryman. These joints typically churn out delicious and affordable meals and can be found near subways and main streets. Most of the time you order using a vending machine and pass the order chit to the chef.
Compared to convenience stores back home in Singapore, the Japanese ones operate on a different level. From onigiri to bento sets, you can easily find a full meal at a fraction of the costs in a restaurant. While the quality is definitely not as good, it is a quick alternative for eating on the go if you do not want to waste too much time queueing for a restaurant meal.
(2) Share food
For all the gastronomic goodness in Japan, it is physically impossible to eat everything you want in one trip. Which is why I highly suggest hunting for food with a small group of friends so that everyone can order something different for sharing. If you are travelling alone, make friends with other travellers! Nothing bonds people like good food. That way you can stretch your dollar and try as many different dishes as possible without breaking the bank or wasting food.
Special find at Dotonburi in Osaka. Maze soupless ramen at Menya Gaten. Credit:@Rachelwongggg
Just don’t go beyond 4 people, otherwise it might be difficult to find seats in Japan’s small restaurants!
(3) Book direct
It is almost always cheaper to book direct with your hotel/hostel than go through a third party platform like Hostelworld or Bookings.com in Japan. While it may not always be as straightforward as many Japanese accommodation sites have limited english text, I assure you that the savings over an entire week will be significant.
The ones recommended in this article are all fairly easy to navigate. I personally used Hostelworld to research, before searching for the guesthouse I want and booking direct.
(4) Hostels & Capsule Hotels
Unless you are going for the full ryokan experience with meals, I suggest sticking to hostels and capsule hotels to save cost. Japanese hostels are very different from their more notorious European counterparts. They are clean, comfortable, and more than sufficient for a good nights rest. After all what’s the point in having such a nice hotel and only enjoying it for a few hours every night. I rather be out exploring.
(5) Search for the cheapest flight
Flights from Singapore to Osaka are usually more than S$700. While our flights for this trip were sponsored by FlyScoot, I easily found flights from Singapore to Osaka for under S$430 using Skyscanner’s “Cheapest Month” feature. It basically scans all the flights in a given time frame for the cheapest flights and recommends the best options to you. If you’re flexible in your travel schedule, you can easily save a chunk of your airfare and spend it on eating instead.
Budget Summary (Per Pax)
Flights – from S$430
Accommodation – ¥19,900
Food – ¥15,195
Activities – ¥5,580 + S$95
Local Transport – ¥10,852
Total = ¥51,527 + S$525 = S$1,201.45 or USD892.64 (assuming 1S$ = ¥76, 1USD = S$1.35)