Japan is the most developed country in Asia and with that comes a higher cost of living.
We planned our trip to Kansai with the notion that services will be at a premium – a decent hotel or apartment at a strategic location would cost upwards of about ¥9,000 a night while a meal in a restaurant would set you back at least ¥1,000 per person.
As we researched further into our week-long itinerary to Kyoto and Osaka, we discovered a few ways to save money and also picked up a trick or two during our adventures across these two cities. Here are seven tips that will help save you money:
1. Get The “ICOCA & Haruka” For A Discounted Train Ride From The Airport
Japan has been actively wooing foreign tourists to visit their country by providing a lot of incentives and discounts across all aspects of travel. One of the perks for international travelers is the “ICOCA & Haruka” cards for trains departing Kansai International Airport (KIX) to three major cities around the region.
This combo includes the multipurpose ICOCA card pre-loaded with ¥1,500 and a massively discounted fare on the Haruka Limited Express to Kyoto, Tennoji or Shin-Osaka and when I say “massively discounted,” it’s not 20% or 30% reduction but up to 55% off the normal price.
A typical ride on the Haruka Limited Express to Kyoto costs ¥3,500 but by using the “ICOCA & Haruka,” our one-way trip from the airport to the ancient capital only costs ¥1,600 – a savings of ¥1,900 per person!
For more information on “ICOCA & Haruka,” you can check out JR-West’s website here.
2. Grab Cheap Breakfast At A Convenience Store Or A Super Tamade!
Convenience stores like Family Mart, 7-11 and Lawson offer a fresh selection of quick bites like onigiri, bento, sandwiches and buns that costs between ¥100 to ¥400 an item. All the foods we tasted throughout the whole week were so yummy and filling, our son had no problem munching on a salmon onigiri every morning!
If you’re in Osaka, be on the lookout for Super Tamade, a 24-hour supermarket chain known for its bright yellow exterior and neon signboards. The stores sell a wider variety of food and groceries at even lower prices than the “big three” convenience stores without compromising on quality.
Our apartment in Osaka was fortunately above a Super Tamade and we were quite happy to save about ¥100 daily for a similar breakfast for three. Although ¥100 does not sound much, the savings does add up when you’re staying for days.
Looking for a Super Tamade in Osaka? Google Maps have you covered here.
3. Save When You Spend at All “Japan Tax Free” Shops
I earlier mentioned Japan is going big with tourism and one of their initiatives for shoppers is the “Japan Tax Free Shopping.” Foreign visitors are exempted from the 8% consumption tax at all participating outlets with red-and-white sakura logo and the words “Japan Tax Free Shop” emblazoned at the storefront.
This tax exemption is only applicable if you shop more than ¥5,000 in a single receipt and by showing proof by providing your passport at the check-out counter. While products that fall under this incentive is wide, not all shops offer this tax exemption scheme, like when we discovered when buying shoes at ABC-Mart.
All the nitty-gritty details about Japan Tax Free Shop initiative are here.
4. When in Takashimaya, Obtain the Shopper’s Card for An Additional 5% Discount
I accidentally stumbled upon this perk when I was shopping for a tea set for my mom at Takashimaya in Namba, Osaka. When I was about to pay, the sales assistant asked I had the “Hello Kitty shopper’s card.” I said no and she proceeded to explain to me about this card which which gives an additional 5% discount for purchases of ¥3,000 and above.
The Shopper’s Card is given free to all foreign visitors provided they show their passport and can be used together with the 8% tax exemption as Takashimaya is a participant of this program. This means if you shop more than ¥5,000 at this departmental store, you will get a total “discount” of 13% on your items!
Learn more about the terms and conditions of Takashimaya Shopper’s Card here.
5. Make Full Use of All the Free Attractions On Offer
While accommodation and food take up most of your travel budget in Japan, the reverse is true when it comes to attractions. Out of the 10 places of interests we visited, we only had to pay once – an entrance fee of ¥500 to enter the grounds of Tenryu-ji, an ancient Buddhist temple which is one of the many UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto.
While some religious sites are open 24 hours, like Fushimi Inari and Yasaka shrines, other places charge a fee only if you want to learn more about its history (Osaka Castle) or view special exhibits (National Museum of Art). We didn’t buy the Osaka Amazing Pass because we focused more on shopping and food in “The Nation’s Kitchen.”
However, if you are interested to purchase the Osaka Amazing Pass, you can check it out here.
6. Stay Connected For Cheap with a Pocket Wifi
I’m a bit slow when it comes to travel tech and I only found out about the wonders of pocket wifi recently. A pocket wifi is a portable wifi that can accommodate up to five mobile devices on-the-go . It’s definitely cheaper than subscribing to the RM38/day data roaming package offered by telco operators in Malaysia.
On this trip, we rented a pocket wifi from Travel Recommends at a promo price of RM15 a day and together with insurance, the amount of we had to pay for eight days was RM150 compared to data roaming which would costs the both of us RM608! Another option is to get a Japanese simcard but I feel it is a bit of hassle to a register (but if you feel it is easier and cheaper than a pocket wifi, do let me know!)
I’m not endorsing Travel Recommends in any way but do see their offers for yourself here.
7. Never Overlook Buying A Travel Insurance Policy
This last money-saving tip requires you to spend a bit of money but it is one of the most important yet overlooked part of traveling – having travel insurance. This is more so important when you have a child and you are traveling to countries where the cost of healthcare and medical emergencies is high, like in Japan.
There are many insurance providers and aggregator websites like GoBear help you compare and decide which policy has the best coverage that fits your budget. On this trip, we went with Tune Protect for a quite comprehensive coverage for the whole family that includes personal accident benefit, travel inconveniences, medical benefits, personal liability, home care benefits and 24/7 travel assistance.
Compare travel insurance policies and premiums at GoBear.com
Do you have any money-saving tips for Japan you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments below.