Backpacking Japan Travel Guide

Our JAPAN on a BUDGET guide will show you how to cut costs, where to stay, what to see, when to visit and where to go!

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Towering mountains and mythological beasts, shiny robots and shinier samurai; Backpacking in Japan is a truly fascinating experience. Over seventy percent of Japan is covered by towering volcanic peaks and snow-capped summits, and these mountains, which still hold important religious and cultural significance, provide nothing short of a paradise for budding adventure junkies.

Whilst backpacking in Japan, I never once felt threatened, and I was rarely frustrated. This is such an amazing country.

The main challenge in Japan is trying not to spend too much money; it’s not a cheap country to travel in. I managed to spend an average of $30 a day over a three-week trip; I doubt it could be done for less, but there are a few travel hacks to backpack Japan on a budget and experience the country cheaply. There’s even one way you can travel around Japan for free!

I’ve written this Japan travel guide so that I can share my insider knowledge with you. I’ll show you how to travel in Japan cheaply and where you absolutely need to go. By the end of this guide, you’ll be armed with more tools than ninja assassin and will have everything that you need to have an amazing time in this country!

Where to Go Backpacking in Japan

Backpacking in Japan

Most backpackers start their adventure in Tokyo…

For me, Japan has always been the land of the Samurai. I have long admired the staunch bravery of the Samurai and the sheer tenacity of the Imperial Army during World War II. The wonderful thing about Japan is the painless mix of traditional feudal scenes with that of a buzzing, technological beast of a country.

The cities in Japan are unlike any other; they crackle and pop with energy. Tokyo is a futuristic wonderland of gliding transport, soaring buildings, and bright lights. Just a short way from Tokyo lies the ancient city of Kyoto and the first Japanese capital of Nara.

In Nara, Geishas still patrol the streets in traditional dress, temples lie hidden in tranquil bamboo forests and it feels as though you may encounter a band of marauding Samurai at any moment. Here is a great Japan backpacking route:

Whether you are after a chilled day-walk or a harder, multi-day, trek; backpacking in Japan has plenty to offer; I never got a chance to hit up any of Japan’s hiking trails although I will be sure to have a crack at Mt. Fuji upon my return!

Visiting Japan? Trains are the way to get around but they can be expensive.

We don’t want you to miss out on any part of this stunning country, which is why we recommend purchasing a Rail Pass. This is the best, and cheapest, way to explore Japan using the well-connected transit system.

Enjoy unlimited train and bus rides on Japan’s largest transportation network. Available for 7, 14, or 21 days of travel.


Best Travel Itineraries for Backpacking Japan

Honestly, there is so much to do and see in Japan. You can easily spend weeks, or even months, exploring the massive Tokyo and barely scratch the surface. If you have the time (and money) I suggest spending extra time in Tokyo and Kyoto! If you don’t have the time, then check out these two awesome itineraries, which will give you some solid exposure to beautiful Japan!


Backpacking Japan 3 Week Itinerary #1: Japan’s Mountains + Central Highlights

Japan Itinerary #1


3 Weeks: Japan’s Mountains + Central Highlights

This is the perfect itinerary if you have 2-4 weeks to explore Japan. Start off in Tokyo. I recommend staying here for 5 days at minimum. Like I said above, you can spend weeks in Tokyo and barely scratch the surface, but it is an expensive city.

Get the Odakyu express train (2x hours) from Odakyu station to Odawara (the base town of Hakone). Remember to combine your Hakone Free Pass with your normal ticket fare & save a bunch of money. Hakone boasts stunning views of the iconic volcano Mount Fuji! The scenery here is incredible and it’s famous for its trekking. It’s also the cheapest place to conquer the summit of Mt Fuji. You’ll need to spend at least 3-4 days here, especially if you wish to do some trekking.

Next, take a train from Odakyu to Shinjuku (870 yen), followed then by a highway bus to Matsumoto (3400 yen), which is famous for its old original 16th century castle Matsumoto, commonly known as Crow Castle.

Next, head to the Japanese Alps, which has some of the best skiing in the world! That said, you won’t be here for winter season if you are timing your Japan trip with cherry blossom or trekking season. The Alps offer hiking, canyoning, mountain biking, and kayaking in the summertime.

Speaking of cherry blossom season, make sure you visit Kanazawa in spring when travelling in Japan! Kanazawa is home to Kenrokuen, one of Japan’s most beautiful gardens. In winter it’s the end destination of the Alpine Route. There are a few attractions around the city like the Ninja Temple, Samurai & geisha districts too.

Shirakawa and Takayama are next on the list. Shirakawa is a remote mountain town is also a UNESCO world heritage site, famous for their traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses, some of which are more than 250 years old. Takayama makes for a great day trip.

Finally, head to Kyoto to finish up this amazing trip! With numerous temples, beautiful gardens, imperial palaces & bold, bright red gates at Fushimi-Inari Shrine, Kyoto is an unmissable destination. The city upholds formal traditions like Kiseki dining with a Geisha. The bamboo forest is enchanting to stroll through & the nightlife is pretty good here. You’d want to spend at least4-5 days in Kyoto.


Backpacking Japan 2 Week Itinerary #2: Japan’s Southern Highlights

Japan Itinerary #2

2-3 Weeks: Japan’s Southern Highlights

For this itinerary, we will also start in Tokyo, where you should try to spend at least 4-5 days. Next head to Kyoto, another amazing city in Japan.

Next up is Nara, a city filled with history and Japan’s first permanent capital. It’s home to some of the biggest & oldest temples in Japan like Todai-Ji, the largest wooden building in the world. Hang out & walk around the city among the deer that wander about the city. You’ll only need to spend a day or so checking out Nara. Then head to Hiroshima.

Hiroshima was largely destroyed by an atomic bomb during World War II, but has since been rebuilt. You can visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park visiting ruins surrounding ground zero. Make sure you visit the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb museum & Hiroshima Castle which is a fortress that is surrounded by a moat, next to a park. You only need a couple of days here, but make sure you take a day trip out to Miyajima Island one of the days.

Miyajima Island is full of ancient temples and forests. Just offshore is the big beautiful orange Grand Torii Gate marking the Itsukushima Shrine entrance.

The above itinerary is plenty to keep you busy for 2 weeks, but if you have a bit more time, catch a flight to Okinawa Island on this trip. This island is renowned for epic festivals and culture, year-round beautiful beaches, and off the beaten path adventure.

Glowing cherry blossom


Places to Visit in Japan

Backpacking Tokyo

Tokyo is an awesome city. There is a lot to do here but it definitely helps to have a Japanese friend to show you around. When I first arrived in Tokyo, I crashed with a CouchSurfing host for the first couple of days which really helped my budget and also helped me get the most out of the city.

Even if you only have a passing interest in Anime you really should visit the studio Ghibli museum. This needs to be booked in advance and can be booked from a machine in most convenience store chains.

The impressive Tsukiji fish market is the largest fish market in the world and is free to visit. Get there bloody early!

It is well worth going up to the top of the Tokyo SkyTree. Being the tallest tower in Japan not only do you get to see amazing 360 views of the city, if it is a clear day you can even glimpse Mt. Fuji in the distance!

Explore the food culture. Food in Japan is really a level up, delicate, balanced, and decorative… Each dish a small work of art. If you love sushi get ready to indulge; do your research in advance so you know what to look out for, what you might like to try and appropriate dining etiquette. There is plenty of incredible food in Japan, go nuts!

Taking a sushi-making class is a great way to elevate your love of Japanese food to the next level.

The Kodokan (free entrance) is worth a visit although it’s only particularly impressive if it’s in use when you arrive; it is the largest Dojo in the world.

If you happen to find yourself in Tokyo during the winter, be sure to check out the Marunouchi Illumination, where the cobblestone street of Nakadori is lit up beautifully.

There are plenty of temples and palaces, and although these are worth visiting many of them have an entrance fee. If short on cash, I recommend waiting until Kyoto as the most impressive temples are found there.

Some of the parks in Tokyo can be rather good fun to visit, and it is worth wandering around Harijuku to catch a glimpse of the infamous ‘Harijuku girls’.

There are absolutely LOADS of awesome day trips that you can do from Tokyo – check out this comprehensive roundup for lots of Tokyo day trip options. 

There is so much cool stuff to do in this city, I just can’t squeeze it all into one blog post. For further inspiration pick up a Lonely Planet and for an alternative perspective. This gay travel guide to Tokyo by Nomadic Boys leaves no doubt there is something for everyone in this awesome city. This 24 hour guide is worth a read too!

For more information on where to stay in Tokyo, check out our guides on the best hostels in Tokyo and the neighborhood breakdown of Tokyo!

Be sure to check out our guide to the top places to visit in Tokyo!

Backpacking in Japan


Backpacking Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji is Japan’s most iconic mountain and watching the sunrise from the top is on many a backpacker’s bucket list. Although it is one of the most popular things to do when travelling in Japan, bear in mind that it stands at an altitude of 3776m and altitude sickness is a real possibility even though the climb itself isn’t very difficult. Anybody with a reasonable level of fitness can climb Mount Fuji but, if you can, it makes sense to do a bit of training first.

Hakone is located within the Fuji-Hake-Lzu National Park area & boasts stunning views of the iconic volcano Mount Fuji! The scenery here is incredible , and it’s also the cheapest place to conquer the summit of Mt Fuji. Use your Hakone Freepass to explore all the attractions in the city like the Odawara Castle & Open Air Museum or relax in one of the natural hotsprings.

You’ll need to spend at least 3-4 days here, especially if you wish to do some trekking.

Start the climb for Mt. Fuji from the fifth station around evening so by the time you reach the summit it is dawn and you can catch the awe-inspiring sunrise. Make sure you tackle the climb slowly; no need to rush. There are several rest stops on the way offering food, drink and a restroom and you can even buy oxygen (you’re unlikely to need it) at these huts if you have altitude sickness.

Make sure you are loaded with plenty of water, enough warm clothes, energy bars and great hiking shoes. Check out my backpacking checklist to make sure not to miss out on essentials.

The climb is best attempted during the official season – From July till the end of August although this is the Mt. Fuji’s busiest time and it can become crowded. At other times of the year, the trekking route is shut due to low temperatures and snow. If you’re looking for a quiet sunrise and to be alone amongst nature, Fuji is the wrong mountain for you. But I will say that if you are going to Japan, you really should try to fit in a visit to Mount Fuji.

There is a popular Japanese saying – ‘One who never climbs Mount Fuji is a fool; one who climbs it twice is twice the fool’. So go ahead and give it a shot!

Find out where the best places to stay in Mount Fuji are so you can be as close as possible to the attractions (or parties for that matter).

Book Your Mount Fuji Hostel Here!

backpacking Japan budget travel guide

Stunning Mount Fuji in Autumn


Backpacking Matsumoto

The city is famous for it’s old original 16th century castle Matsumoto, commonly known as Crow Castle. Explore the city, visiting Nakamachi street, it’s lined with old merchant houses, the river is also a nice spot to eat dinner at night. You only need 2 days here to see everything. To leave, in the morning get a train from Matsumoto to Shinano-omachi. Then take the incredible Alpine Route to Kanazawa. Just FYI, the Alpine Route is only open from April to November.

Find out where the best places to stay in Kanazawa are so you can be as close as possible to the attractions (or parties for that matter).

Check Matsumoto Hostels Now!

Matsumoto castle in Japan

Matsumoto’s Castle.


Backpacking the Japanese Alps

Japan is surprisingly a great place for winter sports. One of the most popular spots is the Japanese Alps. I must warn you that it is not the cheapest to go skiing in Japan. There are plenty of resorts in the Japanese Alps where you can hire (or buy) equipment but it’s obviously cheaper if you take your own stuff with you. Although a bit expensive, you could take a snowboarding lesson, most places offer coaching in English.

If you’re hitting the slopes in winter, you’d want to head to Hakuba. It’s in the heart of the Japanese Alps & is where the 1998 winter Olympic games were held. You’re surrounded with 11 different mountains, so you’ve got quite a choice. Hakuba Alps Backpackers is the place to stay during snow season.  They also cater for summer too with hiking, canyoning, mountain biking, kayaking etc. Check out this post for some winter in Japan inspiration… 

Book Your Japanese Alps Hostel Here!

backpacking Japan budget travel guide

Tackling a ski slope in the Japanese Alps


Backpacking Kyoto

Kyoto is pretty damn special. It is crammed with temples, shrines, castles and legends…

If you can you should try to stay in Gion, the Geisha district; it is crazy colourful. A Japanese friend gave me some tips on the correct etiquette when interacting with Geishas; Never talk to a Geisha or try to stop them for photos as this is considered extremely rude.

backpacking in japan

Backpacking Japan – Photo Credit YourKamaGraGuide

Kyoto’s famed Golden Pavilion is well worth a visit; it’s a stunning place to spend half an hour or so quietly contemplating the beautiful gardens set in the shadow of the impressive temple. Unfortunately, the entrance price is pretty steep and often it’s pretty crowded; arrive early.

Nijo-jo is an impressive castle from the outside but is sadly rather empty on the inside; still worth exploring. Kiyomizu-dera (free) is well worth visiting. Dairoku-Ji was my favourite temple complex in Kyoto.

Kyoto upholds formal traditions like Kiseki dining with a Geisha. The bamboo forest is enchanting to stroll through & the nightlife is pretty good here.

There are hundreds of temples and shrines in Kyoto and you could spend a lifetime trying to visit them all. Among the ancient temples, you can also explore the hip, modern side of Kyoto. For more info on the best things to do in Kyoto, chat to the locals or look online!

Consult your guesthouse to find out which temples are nearest to you. I have heard great things about Arashiyama’s bamboo forests, which an easy day trip from Kyoto.

For backpackers looking for an epic trekking adventure, consider going on the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Trek. This 3-day hike take you to 5 UNESCO World Heritage sites and even some hot springs so you can soak your weary bones.

And for more inspiration, check out this guide for where to stay in Kyoto!


Backpacking Nara

If you have a free day, you can make an easy day trip (by train) to Nara, Japan’s historical capital. Nara is full of chilled out parks and more temples including Todai-Ji, the largest wooden building in the world.

Todai-Ji was the only building in Nara which I thought was worth paying to get into. Most of the other temples are less impressive and yet still cost around $10 to get into.

The picture below? Me kicking ass with a Samurai I was introduced to through Couchsurfing. Seriously folks, in Japan, it’s all about having unique experiences and discovering cool places you wouldn’t normally hear about. My secret weapon for this is always Couchsurfing: it is simply the best way to get to grips with a new place and land on your feet with a social life.

Read up on the best areas to stay in Nara using our comprehensive guide.

Backpacking in Japan

Kicking ass with a shiny Katana…


Backpacking Hiroshima

Poignant Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is heartbreaking. The park tells the story of how Hiroshima, a previously untouched (by the war) city in Japan, was nuked towards the end of WWII by American forces.

In the park, you’ll find the Atomic Bomb Dome – site of where the first atomic bomb hit, and now just a skeletal reminder of the past. The park is free to get into and it costs under a dollar. It’s well worth it to visit the museum.

You can store your bags in museum lockers for free. When visiting the museum, I recommend splashing out on the audio tour. There are two free films you can watch in the museum’s small cinema. You can get free WiFi here as well so it’s a good place to chill if you’re stuck for a bit.

There is a library in the park where you can use a computer for up to an hour for free.

A good afternoon activity in Hiroshima is making a tour of a Sake brewery. The brewing process is pretty cool and… the best part? You get a diverse sampling of sake at the end of the tour. After all of the heaviness regarding Hiroshima’s history, you might find that you needed the sake tour more than you thought.

I personally found visiting Hiroshima to be a really worthwhile but somewhat distressing experience; do some research beforehand so that you have a basic idea of what happened here.

If you have a spare day on your hands, head off to beautiful Miyajima. An easy day trip from Hiroshima, Miyajima is a fantastic island covered in gorgeous woods. Hike up into the hills to escape the tourist crowds and discover some awesome views as well as herds of cheeky deer. If you are spending a few days in Hiroshima, use our Hiroshima itinerary to plan your stay.

japan backpacking


Backpacking Nagasaki

Nagasaki is located on the southern island of Kyushu. Like in Hiroshima, there are museums about the bombing, a peace memorial, and a peace park with lots of sculptures and beautiful flowers. Nagasaki is a really nice city to wander around – there are lots of Buddhist temples, gardens and an interesting Chinatown area. It has a pretty chill and laid-back vibe. You could happily spend a couple of days here.

Book Your Nagasaki Hostel Here!

Backpacking Japan hiroshima

Hiroshima in the evening time.


Backpacking Ishigakijima

Ishigakijima is about 400km south of the main island of Okinawa. The colour of the ocean and the fragrance of the flowers is mesmerising. It has the clearest blue waters and if you go snorkelling you will be surrounded by coral and tropical fish. This is a pretty sweet spot for a romantic getaway, what with the peaceful waters and starry skies.

Want to get into some scuba diving in Ishigakijima? The real magic of the island lies beneath the surface of the ocean. You can go for dives and earn your scuba certificate in just a couple days, which enables you to go diving anywhere in the world after leaving Ishigakijima.

Ishigakijima has the most beautiful night sky in Japan! You could also go explore the Hirakubosaki lighthouse. This is the island to go to if you want to immerse yourself in the nature of Okinawa’s outlying islands.

Book Your Ishigakijima Hostel Here!

backpacking Japan budget travel guide

The Hirakubosaki lighthouse

Backpacker Accommodation in Japan

For backpackers on a budget, Couchsurfing is your best bet whilst backpacking in Tokyo. There are however some truly awesome accommodation options as listed below…

Furthermore, we have put together neighborhood guides for Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto!

To help you find the absolute top places to stay during your Japan backpacking adventure, check out this in-depth article on the best hostels in Japan.


Types of Hotels in Japan

BUDGET HOSTEL – A backpacker institution and a great place to meet people, the Emblem hostel is fairly cheap and awesome.

CAPSULE HOTEL – A quintessential Japan travel experience. Crashing in a capsule hotel will make for a memorable night’s stay. I recommend Capsule Hotel Asahi Plaza Shinsaibashi in Osaka.

SPLURGE HOTEL – Wanting to splash out for a night of awesomeness, Shinjuku City Hotel with its five star amenities is the place to chill, or so I am told.

Airbnb in Tokyo – Much of the best value accommodation in Japan is found on Airbnb

Looking for kick ass hostels? Check out our city guides:

Book Your Japan Hostel Here!


Where to Stay in Japan

LocationAccommodationWhy Stay Here?!
TokyoEmblem Hostel, Sakura HostelThe Emblem hostel is pretty cheap and awesome.
HiroshimaK’s House HiroshimaMy top choice in Hiroshima for backpacker friendly beds is K’s House Hiroshima. It is a cozy and friendly backpacker's hostel where you will get to meet other backpackers!
NagasakiNagasaki International Hostel, Nagasaki House BuraburaThe Nagasaki International Hostel is a beautiful riverside property with traditional historic temples around which you can explore on foot.
Mount FujiK's House Fuji ViewMy suggestion would be K's House Fuji View with Japanese style private rooms and shared dorms with a great lounge on the roof top. You could visit the five lakes around Mount Fuji from here.
KyotoKhaosan Kyoto Theatre, Bird HostelA great place to crash here would be the Khaosan Kyoto Theatre. Clean and comfortable with air conditioning, wifi and free tea!!
Ishigakijima IslandShiraho Friends HouseThis is the only real hostel property on this island It is a cozy little place with separate dorms for men and women.
Japanese AlpsK's House Hakuba AlpsAwesome spot if you want to hit the slopes in the Japanese Alps. They have reduced lift tickets for sale at the hostel, as well as a 20% off voucher for rentals! There's even extra space to dry clothes from snowboarding & an awesome kitchen to cook your own food.
NaraDeer Park Inn, Oak HostelMy favourite hostel in Nara was the Deer Park Inn, the only budget accommodation in the Nara World Heritage area. This place has a mountain-lodge feel and a great vibe. And like most hostels in Japan,  they have wifi and a shared kitchen.


backpacking Japan budget travel guide

A cozy capsule in Tokyo!


Top Things to Do in Japan


Backpacking Japan is all about having unique and crazy experiences that you cannot have anywhere else in the world. Below are the top 10 craziest, must-try things to do in Japan:


1. Watch a Sumo Wrestling Match

Large men pretty much rocking thongs and battling it out. Where else in the world do you get to see something so delightfully odd? Check out this site for up to date locations for different events.


2. Hang out in a Village of Foxes

No not foxy ladies. You can hang out with the wild animals, foxes, at Miyagi Zao Fox Village. Seriously. The foxes run around freely, some curiously approaching visitors, while others sleep away in the bushes. You can also buy some food to give them, and part of the village is more like a petting zoo – and who can say no to petting adorable foxes?!


One of the best ways to get to grips with a new culture is through the food! Cookly partners with local cooking schools and restaurants in countries all around the world and is an awesome way to go on your very own culinary adventure. Book an Japanese cooking class here.


3. Get Lost in Another World

Enjoy the colorful and eccentric world of teamLab Borderless. This unique immersion will completely stimulate your visual senses. Crafted as a living museum, one without boundaries, teamLab Borderless is an ever changing ecstatic experience.

Buy your tickets here before you go.


4. Real Life Mario Kart

Get ready to race! Nothing like speeding around one of the world’s largest cities, in a tiny go-kart, while dressed up in costume. If you are looking for a bit of thrill and some fun then street go-karting is where it is at.

See here for availability.


5. Random Robot-ness

If over-the-top performances and costumes are your thing than you need to check out the famous Robot Resturant Show. It is hard to describe this full on craziness. Everything from the entrance to the handful of extravagantly over done floors are pushing this Vegas like energy as you descend into the robot pit. The show itself is full of different themes and acts as two sides battle each-other.

See here for availability.


6. Find out What an Earthquake Feels Like

Keen to feel what a real live earthquake feels like without, you know, experiencing an actual earthquake?  Ikebukuro Earthquake Hall is awesome – you get the extremely interesting feeling of being in an earthquake with any of the risks while learning what to do should you find yourself in a real earthquake. And if you’re a traveller, you’re probably going to land yourself in some places where it could happen.


7. Eat at a Cosplay Restaurant

The basic idea here is that it is a normal restaurant, except the ladies are dressed in French maid outfits, and address you as “master.” Any ladies reading this and not totally loving the idea? Don’t worry – they’ve got butler restaurants for you, too. Hell, there’s even one where chicks dress up as the butlers. Basically, there’s a rather strange themed restaurant for you, whatever your tastes, in Japan.


8. Drink Coffee with Cats

While the rise in popularity of this trend has it spreading across the globe, cat cafes actually originated in Japan (and for those of you who haven’t heard of this delightful treat yet, it’s basically a normal cafe, but there are a bunch of cats… so you can sip on your coffee and pet a cat while you’re at it). But why stop the fun here?! There are also rabbit cafes, bird cafes, reptile cafes… there’s even an owl cafe and goat cafe. Don’t tell me your cappuccino doesn’t taste ten times better when your non-coffee sipping hand is patting a goat’s head.


9. Go to the Ramen Museum

Yep, this exists. Learn about the many flavours of Ramen, and, more importantly, taste them! This is so much better than the just-add-water kind we’ve all been rocking. This is one of the coolest things to do in Osaka. 


10. Then go to the Meguro Parasitological Museum

Not exactly the museum you had in mind? Well, entrance is free, and it’s not exactly the type of museum you’re going to find anywhere else on planet earth. With 300 parasite specimens to view, save this for a few hours after your tasty Ramen has been digested.

Backpacking in Japan

Fox Village


Japan Travel Tips

Below I’ve listed tons of helpful tips for backpacking Japan, including an extensive section on how to travel on a backpacker budget, and a quick guide to Japanese food, history, and culture.

The Best Travel Backpack?!

Pssssst! Not picked the perfect travel backpack yet? The Broke Backpacker team has tried out over thirty backpacks this year! Our favourite carry on backpack is the Nomatic Travel Bag.

Read our full review!


Books to Read While Travelling Japan

The Backpacker Bible – Get it for free! Learn how to ditch your desk and travel the world on just $10 a day whilst building a life of long-term travel with an online income. To inspire and help the next generation of Broke Backpackers, you can now grab ‘How to Travel the World on $10 a Day’ for free! Get your copy here. 

Lonely Planet Japan Travel Guide – It’s always worth having a Lonely Planet packed away, plenty of useful info on routes and where to go.

A Geek in Japan: Discovering the Land of Manga, Anime, ZEN, and the Tea Ceremony – Comprehensive and well informed, the book covers a wide array of topics with numerous photographs, providing a lively digest of the society and the unusual culture of Japan.

Kaffka on the Shore – When you talk about Japanese literature, Murakami is the first name that comes to mind. A master craftsman of words, this guy is one of the coolest writers in the genre of magical realism. This book is an elegant and dreamlike masterpiece.

The Tale of Genji  – Lady Murasaki’s great 11th century novel, this is a beautifully crafted story of love, betrayal and death at the Imperial Court.

Memoirs of a Geisha – A masterful portrayal of the intriguing Geishas of Japan, this novel became the centre of a lot of controversies, but remains one of the most poignant portrayals of Japanese Geisha tradition.

Lost Japan – Originally written in Japanese, this passionate, vividly personal book draws on the author’s experiences in the valleys of Japan over thirty years. Alex Kerr brings to life the ritualized world of Kabuki – a classical dance drama.

Kokoro – Kokoro, meaning ‘heart’, is a tantilizing novel about the friendship between a young man and an enigmatic elder whom he calls Sensei.

I am a Cat – The world knows about Japanese and their obsession with cats! This book is based on a nameless cat’s observations of upper-middle-class Japanese society of the Meiji era, the essence of I AM A CAT is its humour and sardonic truths.

Here are some more amazing books to read during your Japan backpacking trip.


Japanese Travel Phrases

Japanese is not an easy language to learn, but knowing a few phrases will go a long way! Many Japanese people do not speak English well, or feel embarrassed to, so knowing these travel phrases will help you connect with the locals!

Hello – Konnichiwa

Thank you – Arigatoo gozaimasu

Please – onegai shimasu

Yes – hai

No – iie

Excuse me – Sumimasen

Where is the __? -__ wa doko desu ka?

I don’t understand – Wakarimasen

I don’t speak Japanese – Nihongo ga wakarimasen

How are you? – Ogenki desu ka?

Do you speak English? – Eigo o hanashimasu ka?

Where is the subway? – Chikatetsu wa doko desu ka? 

No plastic bag – bin?ru-bukuro nashi

No straw please – Waranaide kudasai

No plastic cutlery please – Katorar? wa arimasen

Is the tip included? – Chippu wa fukumarete imasu ka?

How much does that cost? – Kore wa ikura desu ka?

Can you help me? – Tetsudatte itadakemasu ka?

Where is the bathroom?> – Ofuro wa doko desu ka?

Cheers/ Bottoms up – Kanwai

Fool/ Idiot/ Moron – aho, baka, bakayaro

Eat shit – Kuso Kurae

Pervert – Hentai



Staying Safe in Japan

Japan is one of the safest countries in the world. Honestly, there isn’t much crime here, and people don’t really steal! You can leave your purse unattended in a metro station, and chances are, you’ll get it back.

Have a look at the Japan Safety Guide before you fly and check out Backpacker Safety 101 for tips and tricks to stay safe whilst backpacking anywhere.

Pick yourself up a backpacker security belt to keep your cash safe on the road.

Check out this post for plenty of ideas on ingenious ways to hide your money when travelling.

I strongly recommend travelling with a headlamp whilst in Japan (or anywhere really – every backpacker should have a good headtorch!) – check out my post for a breakdown of the best value headlamps to take backpacking.

Want to save the world and stay hydrated? Single-use plastic bottles are a huge threat to the oceans and planet – Be a part of the solution and invest in a filter water bottle.

The GRAYL GEOPRESS water bottle is the ONLY all-in-one filter water bottle setup you’ll need. We use it on our own adventures to purify often nasty looking water and it does a beautiful job – we have yet to get sick! This is what the whole Broke Backpacker team uses- in mountains, cities, jungles – we love it – it’s a total game changer


Sex, Drugs and Rock ’n’ Roll in Japan

Japan is big on sex, alcohol, and pop music to an often extreme degree. What you will not find very easily though is weed. They have very strict rules around the possession and consumption, and in Japan, you are guilty until proven innocent. The number of cops is insane and rumour on the street is that the cops are actively looking to bust anyone who looks foreign. So you’re probably better off avoiding getting high whilst backpacking Japan.

Check out my article Blazed Backpackers 101, on how to stay safe whilst getting fucked overseas.

Tokyo has one of the world’s best concert scenes. The city is full of small and medium size concert halls called “live houses” in Japanese. There are plenty of genre specific venues in the city including punk, hip hop and jazz clubs. If you’re in town you should definitely check out a show — even if it’s a random band you’ve never heard of!

Most small shows cost 2000 – 3500 yen and might feature 2-4 bands. Japan also hosts one of the coolest festivals in Asia – Fuji Rock. This festival is famous for its chilled open air forest theme – rural Japan at it’s best! What better way to explore it than with a groundbreaking music festival. If you’re around in Japan in July, make sure to check this festival.

Tinder is pretty common in Japan. Keep in mind that the Japanese are pretty old fashioned when it comes to love and sex. They prefer to be physically intimate only after confessing their love for each other. Also, it is not uncommon for a woman to ask a man out. So yeah don’t be surprised if a Japanese woman is somewhat forward. Swipe away!


Get Insured

Before you hit the road and head off exploring, be sure to get some travel insurance (but don’t try to battle a sumo wrestler just because you’re insured, okay?).

As a wise man once said, if you can’t afford travel insurance, you shouldn’t be travelling – so be sure to get your insurance sorted before you head off on a backpacking trip to Japan! I highly recommend World Nomads.


Find out why I recommend World Nomads, check out my World Nomads Insurance review.


What to Pack for Japan

On every adventure, there are six things I never go traveling without:

AR Security Belt

1. Security Belt with Hidden Pocket: I never hit the road without my security belt. This is a regular looking belt with a concealed pocket on the inside – you can hide up to twenty notes inside and wear it through airport scanners without it setting them off. This is hands down the best way to hide your cash.


 2.Travel Water Bottle: Always travel with a water bottle – it’ll save you money and reduce your plastic footprint on our planet. AR bottle are tough, lightweight and maintain the temperature of your beverage – so you can enjoy a cold red bull, or a hot coffee, no matter where you are. For every AR bottle sold, we donate 10% to – an initiative to reduce plastic in our oceans!


AR microfibre towel

3. Microfibre TowelIt’s always worth packing a proper towel. Hostel towels are scummy and take forever to dry. Microfibre towels dry quickly, are compact, lightweight and can be used as a blanket or yoga mat if need be.


Headlamp4. Headtorch: Every backpacker should have a head torch! A decent head torch could save your life. If you want to explore caves, unlit temples, or simply find your way to the bathroom during a blackout, a headtorch is a must. Currently, I’m using the Petzl Actik Core rechargeable headlamp – an awesome piece of kit! Because it’s USB chargeable I never have to buy earth polluting batteries.


Hammock for backpackers5.HammockTaking a tent backpacking is not always practical but hammocks are lightweight, cheap, strong, sexy (chicks dig hammocks) and allow you to pitch up for the night pretty much anywhere. Right now, I’m rocking an Active Roots parachute hammock – it’s light, colourful and tough.


Active roots Toiletry bag6. Toiletry Bag: I always travel with a hanging toiletry bag as it’s a super efficient way to organise your bathroom stuff. Well worth having, whether you are hanging it from a tree whilst camping, or a hook in a wall, it helps to have quick access to all your stuff.

For plenty more inspiration on what to pack, check out my full backpacking packing list and Japan packing list.

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Best Time to Travel to Japan

Japan is best visited between March to May and September to November. If you want to catch the cherry blossoms, and yes, you do, your best bet is to go backpacking in Japan between March and May. The delicate cherry blossom of spring and the vibrant hues of the autumn leaves are absolutely stunning!

backpacking Japan budget travel guide

Delicate cherry blossom trees


Apps to Download Before Travelling to  Japan

Download the following apps as you go backpacking across Japan.

Maps.Me – Prone to getting lost or taking that ‘shortcut’ that adds another few hours onto a simple walk? This app is definitely for you. My favourite offline maps app, download your map and route before you venture out to keep you on track while backpacking Japan.

Hyperdia– I would advise you to download this app to figure out train routes and schedules.

XE Currency – I used this a lot when backpacking Japan. It is a great help while calculating expenses.

HIDE.ME –  I always have a VPN ready to go on both my phone and laptop, I personally use Hide Me which is one of the fastest and most reliable options out there. This particular VPN allows for up to five connections which is handy for keeping all your devices connected without having to purchase multiple VPN packages.

Check out this full list of apps that will help you travel Japan!

backpacking Japan budget travel guide

Surfing the web in private using


Japan Travel Guide for Getting Around

The most common flight destination in Japan is Narita Airport (NRT), which is about an hour from Tokyo. There are a ton of international ferries to Japan, from Korea, Taiwan, China and Russia but for backpackers, Busan (Korea) is likely to be the only practical destination from which to take a boat to Japan. Boats are generally cheaper than airfares, but their schedules can be unreliable, and travel times long and tedious. Unless you’re travelling with cargo, spending two days on a ferry is really no fun. It’s fairly straightforward to sort out your Japanese visa before you arrive!


Entry Requirements for Japan

A lot of countries do not need a Visa to enter Japan, and will receive 90 days on arrival. All other nationalities need to apply for a ‘Temporary visitor’ visa prior to arrival, which is generally valid for a stay of 90 days. Be sure to check out the Guide to Japanese Visas for more information and then get the visa if required!


How to Travel in Japan

Japan has one of the world’s best transport systems. Getting around is usually very easy but transportation can really dig a hole in your pocket. Although Japan is expensive, there are a variety of passes for foreigners that can make travel more affordable.

By train – Trains in Japan are super fast and always on time! The confusing aspect of Japan’s railway system is that several private railway networks overlap with the most popular – JR network. I would advise you to download Hyperdia to figure out train routes and schedules.

Your best bet is to get a Japan Rail Pass, which allows unlimited travel on almost all JR trains, for a fixed period of 7, 14 or 21 days. This will save you a ton of money! If you are sure about your route, what you can also do is get local or regional passes. There are several types of trains available too, but the Shikansen or the bullet train is the fastest and the best! This is the most affordable way to backpack Japan on a budget.

Buy your tickets here before you go.


backpacking in japan

Backpacking Japan – Photo Credit Kathmandu Post

By plane – Japan’s excellent Shinkansen network has rendered flights more of a luxury than a necessity. However, the only way to reach Japan’s outlying islands is by plane.

By boat – Given that Japan is an island nation, boats are a surprisingly uncommon means of transport. Most major islands are linked together by bridges and tunnels.

By bus – Long-distance highway buses serve many routes covered by trains at significantly lower prices, but take much longer than the Shinkansen, and let’s agree, they are much less cooler! You could also take local buses in smaller towns. Be sure to check the price before you venture into one. They can be surprisingly expensive at times!

By taxi – There are taxis available everywhere in Japan. They are very clean and comfortable, but can be pretty damn expensive. Taxi meters are strictly regulated and clearly visible to the passenger. Make sure to get a trip cost estimate from the driver. If you do this, some taxi drivers will stop the meter at the estimated price regardless of how much further the destination may be, which can save you money, but remember this doesn’t happen every time. Luckily, Uber is now available in Japan and a great way to get around.

By car – Rental cars and driving in Japan are rare since the public transport is so kickass! Plus, most major cities are riddled with traffic jams and the parking is expensive. So it’s best to give renting a car a slip.

My advice would be to backpack Japan using the super cool bullet trains.

So Shinkansen away my friend!

Visiting Japan? Train travel can be expensive and we don’t want you to miss out on any part of your itinerary or exclude a stunning region by not being able to travel there.

Purchasing a Rail Pass is the best, and cheapest, way to explore Japan using the public transit system. Enjoy unlimited train and bus rides on Japan’s largest transportation network. Available for 7, 14, or 21 days of travel.


Hitchhiking in Japan

Hitchhiking in Japan is the key to true budget travel and the way to escape the country’s ruinously expensive transport costs, but it can be fairly tricky. Though it is close to impossible to hitch a ride in Tokyo and other large cities, it gets easier as you move away from major cities.

Make sure to always hitch at an interchange or at a gas station and not on the expressways as it is prohibited to go there on foot and the police will rock up. Hitchhiking in Japan is still pretty uncommon so it is likely that you might be the first hitchhiker that your driver has ever even seen, much less picked up. The key to hitchhiking is to look as friendly as possible.

That said, this is one of the safest countries you can ever hitchhike in.

Broke Backpacker Tip: Put up a sign in Kanji (Japanese script) that says Nihongo dekimasu which translates to ‘Japanese can’. Put smileys in between your kanji characters to earn extra brownie points and more rides!

backpacking Japan budget travel guide

Thumbing a ride!


Onwards Travel from Japan

Being a series of islands, Japan shares maritime borders with China, North Korea, South Korea, the Philippines, Russia and Taiwan.


Japan Backpacking Costs

Backpacking Japan on a budget is possible, but I have to admit it is going to take some well-calculated planning and some sacrifices. If you map out your route and the things you want to do, you can book discount flight tickets, a multi-day rail pass, and other helpful money savers ahead of time.

It is possible to backpack Japan on $35 a day, but this will mean hitchhiking and wild camping while splurging on a few dorm beds, eating at convenience stores and food courts, and only picking a couple sites to visit. Transportation is the largest cost, so staying put will help cut costs too.

But this is Japan. If you want to eat sushi and go to a Robot dinner show, soak it up in hot springs and visit several beautiful shrines, and have a couple nights out on the town, you will want a minimum of $75 a day. Were you expecting more? Many people think you need hundreds of dollars a day to visit Tokyo and Japan, but there are a lot of ways to save money and travel comfortably for well under $100 a day. Read on!

Accommodation: There are some good options set up for backpackers. A bed in a ten bed dorm often costs around $30. (Hey cheaper than Western Europe!) If you have to book a hostel I recommend the chain ‘K’s House‘ – as they will give you a loyalty card allowing you to make savings throughout the country. Japan is a great place to Couchsurf too.

I know a couple girls who just hitchhiked and wild camped around Japan, so it’s definitely possible to camp. Just be wary of the wild boars! You’ll have to tie your food up in a tree. See the bottom of the article for plenty of accommodation recommendations or pack a backpacking tent and sleep for free!

And finally, if you are travelling with a group, hotels and AirBnB may be an affordable option.

Food: Food can be expensive if you’re eating sushi all the time. The cheapest food is available at one of the many 7/11s gracing every street. I mostly ate rice balls and pizza slices and was able to get by on around $8 a day for food. There are some cheap restaurants where it is possible to find a meal for around $12.

If you don’t want to eat pizza slices all day, Bento boxes are also cheap and can be bought from any convenience store. You can also get Ramen and Udon for around 1000-1500 Yen. Food courts also serve cheap food!

Transport: If you plan ahead, you can definitely save your pennies. The best way to get around is by metro and train and buying a Japan Rail Pass beforehand can be a big money saver. It’s really wise at looking into this in advance of your trip. There are also some multi-day rail passes which are essential for getting around the country with ease and swiftness. A multi-day rail pass can end up saving you a lot of money.

JAL (and oneworld) and ANA Airlines each offer special domestic fares exclusively for foreign visitors to Japan for not much over 10,000 yen per flight. Just make sure you book these tickets outside of Japan, so before your trip.

Not a planner? I recommend you hitchhike.

Although metro services are fairly reasonable, trains can be expensive unless you book them in advance. The best form of budget transport for major distances is bus; I recommend using Willer buses as they are the cheapest around and they operate night services allowing you to save money on accommodation. When booking buses try to book them in advance as this is always cheaper.

Activities: Exploring traditional markets, visiting shrines, or absorbing the vibes in Harajuku are all either free or have really low entrance fees! That said many major sites and attractions in Japan charge a hefty entrance fee, so either choose what you want to see carefully or get a day pass rather than a few individual tickets.

Or, if you have room for a bit of a splurge, you could always get a bad ass tattoo instead!

Bento box: 500-1000 Yen/$5-9

Ramen and Udon: 1000-1500 Yen/$9-14

Japanese Curry: 800 yen. ($7/£5.50)

Robot Restaurant: 8,000 yen ($75)

A 72 hour subway pass: 1,500 Yen/$14

1 Day unlimited travel in Osaka: 550 Yen/$5

Kansai Hiroshima pass (5 days): 13,500 Yen/$125

Hostel Bed: 3,000 Yen/$27

Business Hotel for two: 5,000-8,000 Yen/$45-$70

AirBnB in Central Tokyo: 10,000 Yen/$88

The Golden Temple in Kyoto: 400 ($3.75)

Onsen (Hot Spring) Entrance: 500-800 Yen/($5-8)

backpacking Japan budget travel guide

Gorgeous lake Ashi


Money in Japan

There are lots of international ATMs but many of these, charge pretty insane withdrawal fees so it’s advisable to avoid small ATM transactions and get out a bunch of cash at once – just make sure you hide it well.

If you need to transfer money internationally, use Transferwise, it’s the fastest and cheapest way to move money around when travelling.

You should always have emergency cash hidden on you – pick up this awesome security belt with its hidden pocket before you travel, it’s perfect for hiding money, a passport photocopy.



Budget Tips for Broke Backpackers

Japan can be a very expensive country, luckily though if you follow the tips below you can backpack Japan on the cheap…

Cook your own food: I took a small gas cooker with me to Japan and cooked a lot of my own meals whilst hitching and camping, I saved a fortune. Check out this post for a breakdown of the best backpacking stoves.

Couchsurfing: The best way to explore any country when you’re broke is to get on Couchsurfing!

Rail Pass: The best way to get around the country is having a Rail Pass. Once you have one you can travel without being constantly freaked out by the astronomical cost of buying individual train tickets.

Eat local: Avoid the big restaurants and stick to street food, food courts, and convinent stores!

Pack your bible: Learn how to travel the world on $10 a day whilst you get your shit sorted, discover the secrets to longterm travel and build an online income. Check it out here.

Hitchhike: In Japan, it is so so easy to thumb a ride and it is an ace way to keep your transport costs down and instead spend it on smashing experiences. So hitchhike as much as you can when backpacking in Japan.

Pack a travel water bottle and save money every day!

backpacking in japan


Joining an Organized Tour in Japan

For most countries, Japan included, solo travel is the name of the game. That said, if you are short on time, energy, or just want to be part of an awesome group of travelers you can opt to join an organized tour. Joining a tour is a great way to see a majority of the country quickly and without the effort that goes into planning a backpacking trip. However—not all tour operators are created equal—that is for sure.

G Adventures is a solid down-to-earth tour company catering to backpackers just like you, and their prices and itineraries reflect the interests of the backpacker crowd. You can score some pretty sweet deals on epic trips in Japan for a fraction of the price of what other tour operators charge.

Check out some of their awesome itineraries for Japan here…


Volunteer in Japan

Long term travel is awesome. Giving back is awesome too. For backpackers looking to travel long-term on a budget in Japan whilst making a real impact on local communities, look no further than World Packers. World Packers is an excellent platform connecting travelers with meaningful volunteer positions throughout the world.

In exchange for a few hours of work each day, your room and board are covered.

Backpackers can spend long periods of time volunteering in an awesome place without spending any money. Meaningful life and travel experiences are rooted in stepping out of your comfort zone and into the world of a purposeful project.

Worldpackers opens the doors for work opportunities in hostels, homestays, NGOs, and eco-projects around the world. We’ve tried and approved them ourselves – check out our Worldpackers in-depth review here.

If you’re ready to create a life-changing travel experience and give back to the community, join the Worldpacker community now. As a Broke Backpacker reader, you’ll get a special discount of $20. Just use the discount code BROKEBACKPACKER and your membership is discounted from $49 a year to only $29.


Travel Japan for Free

Are you a native English speaker looking to earn cash whilst traveling the world? Teaching English online is a great way to earn a consistent income—from anywhere in the world with a good internet connection. Depending on your qualifications (or your motivation to obtain qualifications like a TEFL certificate) you can teach English remotely from your laptop, save some cash for your next adventure, and make a positive impact on the world by improving another person’s language skills! It’s a win-win! Check out this detailed article for everything you need to know to start teaching English online.

In addition to giving you the qualifications to teach English online, TEFL courses open up a huge range of opportunities and you can find teaching work all over the world. To find out more about TEFL courses and how you can teach English around the world, read my in-depth report on teaching English abroad.

Broke Backpacker readers get a 35% discount on TEFL courses with MyTEFL(simply enter the code BACKPKR), to find out more, please read my in-depth report on teaching English abroad.

Whether you are keen to teach English online or looking to take your teaching game a step further by finding a job teaching English in Japan, getting your TEFL certificate is absolutely a step in the right direction.


Internet in Japan

Many hotels and hostels will offer free wi-fi. You can also find free wi-fi spots at a lot of public transportation stations, cafes, and restaurants.

Universal Travel AdapterOne of the best investments you can make is a worldwide travel adapter that will work anywhere! The one featured here is tough, reliable and a solid buy – Don’t leave home without one.



Must Try Experiences in Japan

People in Japan

While it is difficult to stereotype an entire society, there are some important qualities to understand about Japan.

Japan is organized into a hierarchy: age and status matter, and younger people show their elders respect and honor. It is rude to refer to seniors with informal language. In Japan, tone of voice and facial expressions matter a lot since spoken words can have several meanings.

Another highly ritualistic and meaningful custom in Japan is the gift giving etiquette. Gifts are given in many occasions.

In business and social settings, punctuality is a must. Seriously, no one is ever late. Even the public transportatino is on time. Time management is important in Japan. It is courteous to show up to a business meeting or social gathering early.

Japanese people value harmony and etiquette in a highly structured and traditional society. Japan isn’t as “individualistic” as many Western countries. Your actions tend to reflect more on your family, community, and peers.


Food in Japan

When you go to Japan, you can’t not try the most obvious foods like Ramen and Sushi but you must try some of the weird shit they have out there as well! Here is a list of Japanese food you must not miss out on!

Sushi: As I am assuming most of you already know, sushi is raw fish served on rice seasoned lightly with vinegar. It’s available in a variety of flavours and textures and goes extremely well with soy sauce. You might think sushi sounds all fancy but it actually originated as street food in Japan. Rolled up in toasted nori seaweed or pressed into fat rectangular logs. Delicious sushi can be found in every price range in Japan.

Ramen: Egg noodles in a salty broth and is Japan’s favourite late night meal. It is simple to make and is oh so filling! One of the most popular ramen shops in Japan is Enji, it has ramen noodles dipped in a thickly concentrated fish-and-pork-bone-based broth- YUM!!

Some soupy goodness!

Takoyaki: Octopus balls is a widely available snack in Japan. A crisp exterior surrounding a gooey center of octopus, pickled ginger and scallions – this is truly delectable!

Unagi: Fresh river eel grilled over charcoal and with some sweet barbecue sauce. It is said to be the ideal antidote to the heat and humidity of Japan’s exhausting summers.

Tempura: Light and fluffy tempura is Japan’s contribution to the world of deep-fried foods. It is usually seafood that is batter fried in sesame oil and served with either a tiny pool of salt or a soy sauce-flavoured broth. My favourite was the Prawns tempura!

Delectable, crunchy Tempura Prawns

Miso: Where would Japanese cuisine be without miso? This salty fermented bean paste forms the base of so many soups, sauces and marinades. Every region in Japan has its own special recipe.

Tonkatsu: Breaded and deep-fried pork cutlet which is melt-in-your-mouth tender. It is served with a side of miso soup and a mountain of shredded cabbage. This shows some sort of Western influence on Japanese cuisine.

Yaki-imo: Tokyo’s streets are filled with the nostalgic, nutty aroma of roasted sweet potatoes that are sold by these Yaki-mo trucks. It is the feeling of familiarity and home that pulls people to these trucks.

Yakimo street truck!

For Japanese cooking classes, check out this site for awesome deals.


Festivals in Japan

Cherry Blossom Festival: Between March and May, Japanese families picnic and party in the park amongst the blooming cherry trees.


Brief History of Japan

In efforts to keep this section brief, I will only highlight Japan’s modern history, and focus on the 20th century.

Japan and China have a long history of war. In the 20th century, Japan staged a bombing, known as the Manchurian Incident of 1931 to invade Manchuria, Northern China. This occupation reached its peak with the Nanking Massacre. This occupation was opposed by the US and other Western powers because of economic implications. Japan then allied with Germany during WWII.

The Japanese government was structured around imperialism, which also caused them to enter the Second World War. They seized several Pacific colonies, such as the Philippines and Malaysia. Much of their occupation in other countries ended in the second war when Japan was forced to surrender because of the nuclear atomic bombings.

This is probably one of the saddest and most significant turning points in Japanese history. Hiroshima was bombed by the US first in efforts to end WWII. They soon after bombed Nagasaki. These are the only nuclear bombs to ever be used. After the world saw the catastrophic implications of nuclear warfare, it has been a constant tension since. There are many moral implications here, as most of the casualties and people affected were civilians, not soldiers. Truly a sad event in human history.

Relations with the US were restored with the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951. In the decades following the Second World War, Japan’s economy grew considerably. Japan still remains one of the world’s most culturally and economically vital countries on the planet.


Being a Responsible Backpacker in Japan

Reduce your plastic footprint: Perhaps the best thing you can do for our planet is to make sure you do NOT add to the plastic problem all over the world. Don’t buy one-use water bottles, the plastic ends up in landfill or in the ocean. Instead, pack a tough travel water bottle.

Go and watch A Plastic Ocean on Netflix – it’ll change how you view the plastic problem in the world; you need to understand what we are up against. If you think it doesn’t matter, get off my fucking site.

Don’t pick up single use plastic bags, you’re a backpacker – take your daypack if you need to go to the shop or run errands.

Bear in mind, that many animal products in countries you travel through will not be ethically farmed and won’t be of the highest quality. I’m a carnivore but when I’m on the road, I only eat chicken. Mass-farming of cows etc leads to the rainforest being cut down – which is obviously a huge problem.

Recently, my gear-venture, Active Roots has started to sell water bottles. For every Active Roots water bottle sold, we donate 10% to – an awesome initiative aimed at educating people on the risk of single use plastic and helping to clean up our oceans. Help save the planet, whether you take an Active Roots bottle or not – TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for your plastic footprint, don’t be a dick.

Need more guidance? – Check out our post on how to be a responsible backpacker.

Being a responsible backpacker is quite simple: be respectful of Japanese people and their culture. Japanese people value etuiquette, respect, and punctuality. Abide by these things, and be respectful when you are visiting temples, shrines, and sites.

The cities of Japan are the ultimate playground, with plenty of crazy and unique things to do, so enjoy yourself; just don’t be a drunk asshole!


Final Thoughts on Backpacking Japan

Japan is a truly intriguing land with something for everyone and will give you a million “what in god’s name…” moments – which is awesome.

Japan is one of my favourite destinations and you should definitely check it out even if you are on a tight budget! And if all that wasn’t enough to convince you, check out this awesome video from Travel Ticker – you’ll be on the next flight to Japan to hike amongst the beautiful mountains of Nikko!


Want to learn how to travel the world on $10 a day? Check out the Broke Backpacker’s Bible for FREE!

Yay for transparency! Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you book your accommodation, buy a book or sort your insurance, I’ll earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. I only link to stuff I’ve actually used and never endorse crap. Your support helps me keep the site going. 

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Our JAPAN on a BUDGET guide will show you how to cut costs, where to stay, what to see, when to visit and where to go!


  • Avatar cam says:

    Wow your post is very informative, thanks so much. Will keep this in mind in my next travel to Japan

  • Avatar Suzu says:

    I’m suzu live in Japan where near from Tokyo. I have been doing Politics activities at Shinjuku Per month. In Japan we have really serious problems. They are not curious about politics. I guess you already felt about that while you had lived here. And now, Perhaps , this year or next year ,
    will be hold important election and it is result for direction of future of Asia.
    I know I’ve been writing suddenly and might it makes you worry from my sentence. I’m sorry. Anyway I’m looking for a person who talks to people about this theme. ” In abroad, how often people usually talk about politics. And how much they are curious about that.” I was looking for a person who help us but couldn’t see good person. (I’m female. In the past , I have a trauma. so I need a person have deep curious about politics. )please teach me. Where can I meet foreigner who curious about Japanese politics? Thank you for reading long message.

  • Avatar Cikasur says:

    I’m impressed with your budgeting skills. Awesome!

  • We’ll be the 100th post to say this but that Samurai picture is so cool. Experiences like that are what traveling is all about! Was your couch surfing host the one teaching you to use the sword in that picture?

  • Avatar Taiss says:

    Nice Samurai pic there! I cannot wait to get to Japan and eat the amazing food!

  • Hi Will!
    Great post! So many details that are often left out of other blogs.Nicely done!
    I have one small question… I have heard so much talk about the necessity for one of those pocket wifis to stay connected and help with directions (since Google maps cannot be downloaded offline in Japan apparently?) Do you think one of these pocket wifis is a necessity? Or would a sim card be better? or just wing it? We plan to be in Japan for about 2.5 weeks. We are used to hopping from Starbucks and McDonalds in other countries mooching off the free wifi. Is it that much more difficult in Japan?

    Thanks for your input!

  • Avatar ichigoichie says:

    Hey there explorers and adventurers. I am very interested in backpacking and setting out an adventure all over Japan. I speak almost fluent Japanese but I am not Japanese. I would love to take an adventure all over Japan soon. I can be a good help with the language barrier.

    Let me know what you think.

  • Avatar Kyle says:

    Hi guys! Great blog and site Will, really enjoyed it. ^^ If anyone wants to stay in Tokyo long term out short term check out Tokyo Stay. 😀

  • Avatar Marcel says:

    Hey there Will and fellow explorers, greetings from Canada. Im an explorer, its who i am, i cant help it, it permeates everything i think and do, i have always had a deep need, an unscratchable itch to live, see, and experience all the endless beauty of life in all capacities, be it exploring my constant lifelong love of learning to gain more knowledge and skills, be it exploring a beautiful story, be it my love of finding and exlporing rich life experiences, or among many other things my love of living in the thick of history/culture and travel. I have 7 major dream trips and endless minor ones i been planning since i was 3 lol, japan being my number one, i love japan, i always have, do, and always will, i deeply connect with japan more then any other place body/mind/spirit, from the history and culture to the language, food, philosphies, martial arts which i practice, and everything inbetween. but i have yet to go to japan, ive been all over Canada, but have yet to dip my toes into world traveling, but when i do its never gonna stop, lol, never, im the explorer who loves and imbraces the experience fully, includng the challanges, i get excited by challange, all rich experience come with challange, it enhances the experience, few things worth doing are easy, whats a mountain if you arnt a better person by the time you reach the top, i dont mind and actually love roughing it, and i don’t complain i embrace, complaining is one of the few things in life that has no posotive effect overall, all it does is further feed and foster a negative way of thinking, action solves problems, complaining does not lol.Adapt, overcome, and have fun doing it, one of my many mottos 🙂 also i have an interesting side goal for my travels of always seeing how i can do the most possible for the least amount of money possible, more money means i can do more longer and travel more hehe. Lifelong travel is one of my dreams/goals, and want to live it as well by learning and doing many things including, travel journalism of all kinds, farming, teaching english, translating, interperating, tourism…etc. my long term goals also include studying in and eventually living in japan long term, and man im so excited to finally take the plunge and start that journey, then i can upgrade my vegabond status and start sticking tacks in my map instead staring at it haha and im actually doing it this winter for a month maybe more, fitingly starting with my No.1 dream trip to tour japan from south to north, i love the winter and i want see japan in my favorite season, and do it on a budget, im searching for my ticket now, i saw one in the core of winter date ranges i want a few days ago for only 650ish Canadian which is amazing, but i have never booked a ticket before and am unsure how to go about it so that its done completly and well, whats all included? and what are the steps?, also i need insurance, how do i get that? im more excited by the moment actually for japan and my journey to start haha, i have been researching my trips forever and in doing came across your site, man is it amazing, the great info, the wonderful pictures, so detailed, clear, concise, a great way of laying out guidence from start to finish of your first trip and how to keep it rolling hard, and all with such a fun tone and atmosphere, i love it, i could easily use this as my sole source for learning how to travel as a whole as well as specifics, few others come close and fewer still are on this level, its helping me so much in learning and planning my first trip, and when i saw that you have a book too i got it too, just now actually, thats one of the reasons i decided to coment, thanks and keep up the great work man, like i said one of my goals is to travel longterm and do travel journalism as well, your good at this, i would love to learn from you, where do you think i should start? any words of wisdom? anything would help, i love love writing, photography, video, business, im not shy at all, im good at expressing myself, among other things, to give you an idea of some of my interests, also any extra advise on recomendations of awesome things to do from your own experiences in japan come to mind? Thanks again, nice to meet you, hope to talk again, and keep rocking it, be well, and keeping dreaming, dreaming builds the mind and the heart, and smiling never hurts either lol, Marcel “The Samurai” from Canada 🙂

    • Hey Marcel and thanks for your message amigo! Words of wisdom… Never give up. Nobody owes you anything. Forge your own destiny. Hard work is the only guarantor of a positive future. Work for your future but do not forget to enjoy the present. Best of luck man! Hopefully catch you on the road for a beer sometime soon!

  • Avatar Jess says:

    Hey Will, thanks for the budget tips 🙂 did you camp much in Japan, and if so where did you set up your tent (in and outside? of cities)? Thank you 🙂

    • I slept rough a few times in cities and camped outside of cities often; well worth having a tent but in Japan, it’s couchsurfing to the rescue in cities for sure – apply well in advance, there’s not many hosts.

  • Avatar John says:

    Great review thank you! I’m coming into and flying out of Tokyo April 9/23. Want to tour Japan and looking to buy either a 7 day or 14 day pass. On a budget and wanted to know if you recommend 7 or 14 day JR pass?

    Also do you have any recommendations for my trip on where to go?

    Sample Itinerary:

  • Japan certainly isn’t an inexpensive country to travel to, but with a little creativity we can work things out, or even just save a little. Another great write up, Will, I love it how you have this “Dating in -” section, it kind of gives a little insight on how you should act around them.

  • Avatar Kimberly says:

    Wow this is such a detailed post so thank you for sharing your experience. I’m considering travelling Japan for a few months next year so it’s good to know that the best time to go is between March and May. It looks like you covered so much while visiting. The Capsule Hostel looks so cosy!

    If I was to go for 2 months and not work how much would you recommend I take money wise? Or would you recommend working as a teacher for at least a month?

    Also, is the food healthy or not in Japan?

    Kim //

    • The food is very healthy in Japan, lots of sushi and vegetables! Money-wise, it’s an expensive country but can be done on a budget of $1000 a month – less if you manage to couchsurf, camp or hitchhike.

  • Avatar Stuart Morlan says:

    After I finish college I was planning on backpacking through japan for at most a year, do you have a recommendation on how much money I should have and places I should see that are a bit more off the beaten path?

    • That’s a tough one… Japan is truly awesome and a year would give you the chance to do some really off the beaten path adventures – I’m heading back there myself soon with the aim to head out into the Japanese Alps and some of the outer islands (I’ll update this post once I’ve been) but I reckon your best bet is to head to the islands… Money-wise; man, it really depends – Japan ain’t cheap but if you hitchhike and camp and couchsurf, it can be. You could consider buying a scooter to get around; transport is the biggest cost.

  • Avatar kristy says:

    Can you tell me where you started to where you ended? so i can take the train accordingly?

  • Avatar Susanna says:

    Hi there, I am looking to hike and camp around Japan, particularly in the Kumano Kodo area, during my Easter holiday next year. I need some recommendations on websites. And of course I would love to write about my experience there for your blog, maybe in exchange for lending me a gopro or something.

  • Avatar Agnes says:

    Hey! I wish I saw your blog earier, so many places that I didn’t know of! Also want to climb Mt Fuji next time. When I was there in April there was still some snow up there. Budgeting in Japan is hard, the food looks so amazing everywhere that it’s hard to resist. I’ve managed to travel for around $20-$25, but I was hitchiking a lot. I also couchsurfed a few times but it is still not very popular in Japan, comparing to fe South Korea.
    Anywho I live in Okinawa now and definietely would recommend you to visit (if you haven’t done it yet…)

  • Avatar Daphne says:

    Really nice post!
    I’m planning in going to Japan next year and I’m trying to
    get all the info that I can. I just found this post and is very useful Thank you
    for share all your knowledge.
    Grettings from Mexico 😀

  • Avatar Monika says:

    Awesome post with great info dear! Thanks for sharing with everyone. I know you have already mentioned, but I recommend to go to the basement of the Department store. We call there ‘Depachika’. You will find all kind of tasty foods including SUSHI, cakes, Japanese sweets and more

  • Avatar Caroline says:

    Hey, Will! I was just wondering if you climbed any of the “Holy Mountains of Japan” (Fuji, Tate and Haku). I’m currently teaching English in Japan and want to try climbing at least one of them sometime.

  • I’m dying to get to Japan and this is all very useful info! I’m impressed with your budgeting skills. Awesome! ??????

  • Avatar Nicolas P. says:

    Thanks for all the tips and useful information! Now I want to visit Japan >_<

  • Avatar Dixie says:

    Hey Will! Your blog is indeed fantastic and helpful! Im planning to travel in Japan this coming August. but i heard it will be to hot & humid? which month did you travel this beauful place? Looking forward to your reply.. Thanks!

    • Glad its been a help, Dixie. For me the weather was no problem. Of course its great to visit places at the “best time of the year” but that isn’t always an option. The best plan of action is to make the best of a tricky situation. Hope Japan is awesome for you!

  • Love this post! I’ve been to Japan twice, once in Tokyo and another in Kyoto, and I am absolutely in love with the country and the culture!

    But what must have been an awesome experience was that Samurai picture you posted…how does one go about doing this? Please do tell 🙂

    Thanks and I enjoy reading your blog!

  • Avatar Christian Vielma says:

    Nice! My wife and I included Japan in our backpacking trip this year 2015, and was a great adventure. We posted our executed daily costs in our blog in case you’re interested:

  • Great post! I have been in Japan twice. I was born there and I visited it last year. Now I have business in London. I am so proud that I am Japan. Thank you for sharing your article! I am glad that foreign people could appreciate the beauty of my country. Best regards!

  • Ohh! I find your article interesting. Not only because I love Tokyo, but also because your tips are truly useful! Thought Japan is an expensive country, I will visit it in the near future!! <3

  • Avatar Daniel Telford says:

    Hi! First of all thanks for the advices. I’m traveling to Japan maybe next week. I’m planning on staying there for about 2 months. If you have any more recomendations, please let me know. I’m definitely using couch surfing. Do u speak japanese? Is it easy to move around being an english speaker?
    Did you happen to here about Shirikawa village?


    • Hey bro, my main recommendation is eat at seven elevens – haha! – nice and cheap! Seriously though, its an amazing country but it is expensive so you need to watch your budget; I didn’t get to Shirikawa village I’m afraid. I speak no Japanese although I can count to ten…

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