Budget traveling in Japan: Cheap accommodation

Japan is known to be very expensive for traveling and when we decided to backpack there for over a month, we were extra careful about getting the cheapest rooms there are. We spent 14 $ per night (per person) on average and tried different types of accommodation like hostels, private rooms, couch surfing, capsule hotels, internet cafe and camping … There are budget hotels to be found in Japan but a lot of them are expensive. In Kyoto the average priced room on Agoda is supposed to be 130 $, but we slept there for 10 $.

Our traveling style is low budget but not zero budget which means we don’t sleep on the streets or dumpster dive.
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So here are the cheapest budget sleeping options in Japan:

Hostels and hotels

Unlike all other parts of Asia, in Japan it’s best to know where are you heading and book in advance. We needed a week to get our heads around it but yes. It’s cheaper if you book online (not in the hotel/guesthouse) and at least a couple of days in advance. We used booking.com, agoda.com and hostelworld.com (last one is the most expensive one but has exclusive offers on some guesthouses like Khaosan). Try to check both booking and agoda to see different choices.
Private rooms (50 $ and more) are much more expensive than a bed in a dormitory (10 – 17 $) but all have shared bathroom. Rooms with private bathrooms are more expensive. Hostels in Japan are very tidy, clean and equipped (each bed has a night light, electricity plug, curtains). All bathrooms in Japan had free shower gel and shampoo.

If you’re traveling in a couple and searching for two beds in a dormitory you’ll need to search for 1 person (because you’ll mostly get private rooms if you search for two). Sometimes you’ll even need to book first for male and then female (or other way around) because it doesn’t support the option of booking together. Hostel dormitories in Japan are usually mixed but not always so read the description carefully.

Sometimes there is no hostels and all the hotels are very expensive and then you need to find other options like these listed below.

Internet Cafe

In all the bigger cities (with more than 10.000 people ;))  you can find Internet Cafes where you can rent a space for a certain number of hours (usually in packages of 6, 12 or 18 h). You have the option of a chair or a tiny cubicle. Cubicle is just a little bit more expensive but you get your own space with mats on the floor where you can even take a nap. Cheap room in Japan!

Internet cafe has a policy of free drinks so you can drink (non-alco) all you want (coffee, green tea, soups, soft drinks). There’s a shower and a toilet, and even blankets. We tried it once and it was fun!

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For 12 hours in an internet cafe you’ll pay around 15 $/person. Time starts from the moment you pay and when you enter, you can’t leave and come back. So bring some snacks with you.

Japan has a lot of smokers so even there are no-smoking cubicles it still smells.

There is one thing that might complicate things for some people. Employees there don’t speak very good English and to get in you need a member card which costs some money. Since you’re not going to use it a lot try to persuade them to give you a free card (you have the tourist card :D). The trick is that Japanese people can get it for free with an application but it does work in our App store. So there is a big chance you won’t need to pay.

Karaoke

Yes, karaoke! Japanese people love them and that’s why you’ll see them on every corner. They’re taking place in several floors of big buildings with hundreds of rooms. You can rent them for an hour or more or for a night. Everyone gets a private room with a table,a couch and a karaoke system. Ouyeaaaaah!

You need to ask for English songs. You don’t want to get stuck with only J-pop and K-pop, right? 🙂 There are also free drinks and toilet in the halls.

We didn’t sleep in the karaoke because they had a policy that you need to leave after 3 hours if the karaoke is full. So we didn’t risk it. We did rent it for an hour and left with sore throats. It was fuuuuun!

Overnight package is usually from 22 pm to 5 am, and the price is 15 $ per person.

Camping

Japan is probably the safest country in the world and that’s why you can camp just about anywhere, as long as you don’t disturb other people. You can camp by the road, in the park, temple’s parking space (just not on the temple ground) or in campsites (which are usually not in the city). People say that even cops are so polite that they will wait and wake you up in the morning. If you set up a tent and put it back in the morning, you should be fine. You can read more on urban camping in this detailed article.
We visited Japan in June, the rainiest month there is, we had only few opportunities for camping, and actually camped only once. Very hard to get there but it sure was beautiful. Camping sites in Japan are very organised, the nature is amazing and you can save some money. We paid 9 $ per person for one night. If you stay for more nights it gets cheaper but you need your own tent otherwise you pay more (around 6 $). The best way to to travel around Japan is to have a rent-a-car, camping equipment and sunny weather.

Capsule hotel

Besides shinkanesn train and sushi, capsule hotel is probably the thing on people’s bucket lists and Japanese people can’t understand why. They can be found in bigger cities like Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and are mostly for men only. Some now have also women’s floors but they’re not mixed. They have shared communal bathrooms which means you’re taking a traditional Japanese shower with a hot bath as well. Together. Don’t be shy, it’s a very cool experience 🙂
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Capsule is big enough to sit in so you won’t have a claustrophobic attack but small enough to feel like you’re in a space ship flying to space! Yes! We got our experience in capsule hotel in Tokyo for 15 $ a night (per person).

Couchsurfing

If you have an opportunity to Couchsurf in Japan, do it! It was the nicest experience in Japan. People are friendly, polite, will take you around, cook traditional meals and they won’t want any money. You will be treated like a king – guest. We couch surfed twice, once we slept at a cafe of a cool Japanese girl, and second time at a very friendly Japanese family’s place.
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Hosts said they get up to 10 requests per day so they don’t have the time to answer all. Maybe it’s better to search for CS in smaller towns, because in bigger they are very busy.
Even though couch surfing is free and we saved some money, hanging out with locals and and getting to know their culture from inside was the highlight of our trip to Japan.

With some luck you’ll find your way of finding cheaper accommodation in Japan!
Oh, and if you have extra money in the piggybank, have a ryokan experience (traditional Japanese hotel). We spent a day in Ryokan Sanga in Kurokawa Onsen and it was beautiful.
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