6 of the Cheapest Cities in Japan
Avalon Harris-Trussell, 17.04.19
With exquisite natural landscapes and a striking fusion of ancient culture and futuristic metropolis, Japan is like nowhere else on Earth.
A trip to Japan is also often assumed to be expensive. And fair enough, if you’re staying in hotels, choosing the big cities, and haven’t done your research, the cost is likely to add up. Furthermore, with the country hosting both the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the Summer Olympics in 2020, tourism is set to be big business for Japan!
However, thanks to the Japanese Yen, which currently exchanges at around 111 per US dollar, costs for tourists are actually lower than they have been in decades. So, if you’re strategic, a trip to Japan can actually be both unforgettable and surprisingly affordable.
We’ve composed a list of the cheapest cities in Japan, and put together a comprehensive price guide, to help you plan your trip!
Kyushu: the Unique Island
Most tourists flock straight to Honshu, the main island, where you’ll find all the best known cities, including Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. Alternatively, fly to Kyushu, the largest island to the Southwest of Japan. With mystic forests and luscious green mountainscape, Kyushu is absolutely enchanting.
Fukuoka is Kyushu’s largest city. It’s bustling and vibrant, while still being small enough to be one of Japan’s cheaper city options. As an early centre of Japenese culture, the city is famed for its numerous ancient temples, as well as its popular Yatai street food stalls, which provide an incredible atmosphere every evening.
What to see?
Japanese cherry blossom. An absolute must for your bucket list. Unfortunately, visiting Japan during the bloom will likely drain your budget. Here’s an alternative: from Fukuoka, travel to nearby Kitakyushu, home to Kawachi Fuji Gardens and the "Wisteria Tunnel". The garden blooms in late April or early May, several weeks after the last cherry blossoms fall elsewhere. This way, you can still experience beautiful blossom, without paying a premium for accommodation.
Wisteria displays in Kitakyushu
Want to get away from the crowds? Less than an hour from Fukuoka, take a trip to Itoshima, a closely guarded secret for many locals. With its palm trees, white sand, and its famous sunset view, Itoshima is a heavenly oasis of calm. Top tip: combine with a visit to the exquisite Shiraito waterfall!
Itoshima Beach. Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons
Take me to Fukuoka:
Okinawa: the Paradise Islands
With its sub-tropical climate, world-class beaches and coral reefs, Okinawa is a paradise chain of more than 150 islands. Also known as the Ryukyu Islands, Okinawa was once an independent country, and its unique culture is different from elsewhere in Japan.
You’ll likely land at Naha, the capital of Okinawa. Along with a rich history, Naha also has a lively nightlife scene, and is the place to be if you’re a fan of beach holidays and water sports: get your scuba diving certification, take a surf class, or spend an afternoon snorkelling!
What to see?
Naha is home to the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Shuri Castle. Painted a striking red, Shuri is the restored royal palace of the Ryukyu Kingdom, which flourished from the 1400s–1800s. (Fun fact: the Ryukyu invented the martial art karate!)
Shuri Castle. Image credit: Wikipedia Commons
If you’re still thinking about cherry blossom, you’ll be pleased to hear that numerous trees line the scenic route to the ‘Nakijin Castle Ruins’, about two hours north of the city. Top tip: ride the Yanbaru Express back to Naha and stop at the city’s other most-popular day trip destination, Churaumi Aquarium.
Take me to Naha:
Catch a regional flight from any of the major airports for as little as $45 USD (5,000 Japenese Yen). ANA, Skymark, Vanilla Air and Jetstar Japan operate many flights per day between Tokyo (Haneda (HND) and Narita (NRT) Airports) and Naha Airport (OKA).
The beautiful beaches of Okinawa
Hokkaido: the Mountain Island
Hokkaido is the northernmost of Japan’s main islands. Imagine snow-capped mountains reflected in mirror lakes, with bubbling thermal hot springs and fields of spring flowers.
Often referred to as the ‘Capital of the Mountains’, Sapporo is one of the most exciting cities in Japan, famous for its incredible ramen, as well as its beer, skiing, and an annual Sapporo Snow Festival.
Top tip: if you’re concerned about breaking the bank, avoid the hordes of skiers, and travel to Sapporo during the warmer months to enjoy peaceful mountain trekking. Sapporo’s milder temperatures mean you’ll be more comfortable!
What to see?
The Sapporo Beer Museum traces the city’s brewing history and offers tastings in its buzzing beer garden.
A lot of the city’s attractions are free, including the Odori, Moerenuma and Nakajima parks.
Take me to Sapporo:
The nearest airport to Sapporo is New Chitose Airport (CTS) and Sapporo Okadama Airport (OKD), where you can catch a domestic flight from any of Japan’s major airports. Return flights on discount airlines Skymark, Peach Aviation, and Jetstar Japan can start from just $45.00 USD (5,000 Yen). Flight duration is 1.5 hours from Tokyo’s International Airport.
The city of Sapporo
Honshu: the Main Island
Although we’ve started with Japan’s ‘other islands’, if you’re planning on truly exploring all that the incredible country has to offer, then no trip would be complete without visiting Honshu, the main island. However, instead of staying in the big city names, consider these cheaper alternatives.
Yokohama is the second largest city in Japan, and there is a healthy rivalry with Tokyo. Like the Japanese capital, Yokohama is extremely futuristic, filled with shopping and entertainment options. Not only does Yokohama make the perfect base for exploring Tokyo, it’s also the capital of the Kanagawa Prefecture, a great area to explore.
What to see?
Shopping addicts need to take an immediate beeline for Minato Mirai 21, Yokohama’s futuristic central business district. Get lost amongst the massive skyscrapers, shopping malls, and amusement parks.
Visit the Cup Noodles Museum in Yokohama! Or, if you take your ramen more seriously, visit the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum.
Hakone, just over an hour away by public transport, is a town within the borders of the volcanically active Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. With views across Lake Ashinoko of nearby Mount Fuji, Hakone boasts stunning scenery no matter the season. Take a hike with your camera and enjoy Hakone’s mesmerising beauty.
Take me to Yokohama:
The nearest airport to Yokohama is Tokyo Haneda Airport (HND), which is only 30-40 minutes away, via the Tokyo Line, by train!
The city of Yokahoma, with views of mount Fuji
Kamakura is a much smaller city; you’ll notice the reduction in premiums! Only a little further along from Yokohama, Kamakura was the political centre of medieval Japan, and is a fantastic destination due to its numerous Buddhist Zen temples and Shinto shrines.
What to see?
The Great Buddha in Kamakura, a 13m-high bronze statue (still standing after a 15th-century tsunami) is one of the city’s most important sights, which you can combine with a visit to Hase-dera, a famous Buddhist temple.
Kamakura is also a popular beach and surfing destination. Head to a popular beach such as Yuigahama, Inamuragasaki or Shichirigahama, where you can also enjoy a view of Mount Fuji!
Take me to Kamakura:
The JR Yokosuka Line connects Tokyo Station directly with Kamakura Station. The one-way trip takes just under an hour and costs just $8 USD (920 Yen).
The Great Buddha in Kamakura
The turbulent history of Hiroshima will forever mark the city as one of the most distinct destinations you can visit. Victim to a nuclear bomb that destroyed most of the city during World War II, today Hiroshima stands as a strikingly strong, vibrant, and diverse city.
What to see?
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial, or “Genbaku Dome”, was the only structure left standing in the area where the first atomic bomb landed. The memorial is open to the public and stands as a powerful symbol of resilience and hope.
Get smothered by rabbits on Rabbit Island! An easy day trip from Hiroshima, the official name of the island is Okunoshima, where you can both feed the thousands of wild but tame rabbits, and, in complete contrast, visit the Okunoshima Poison Gas Museum to discover the dark history of the island.
Take me to Hiroshima:
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial
Travelling in Japan: A Price Guide
Japan offers a wide range of accommodation options. At the lowest budget level, hostels within all mentioned cities offer meals and lodgings from $10 USD (1,119 Yen) per person, per night. For those travelling in groups, vacation rentals can be found from $40 USD (4,478 Yen) per room/apartment/house.
Or, for a more authentic experience, look out for “Minshuku”, Japanese style bed and breakfasts. They’re usually family-run, starting from $30 USD (4,000) dollars per person, per night (meals included).
Eating in Japan is incredibly affordable and can go a long way towards keeping down your daily spend. From just $4 USD (500 Yen) “Bento boxes”, basically a single-portion take-out, can be brought from any convenience store (not what you might expect from a convenience store at home, these meals are healthy, tasty and fresh!).
Noodle bars can be found on every street corner in Japan; a large bowl of ramen and a soda will cost just $7 USD, with tea usually served for free! A sit-down meal at an average restaurant will start from $10 USD (1,119 Yen).
All of Japan’s cities have a modern and reliable public transport network. Larger cities, including Fukuoka, Sapporo, and Yokahoma, are serviced by trains and subways. A single ride is typically $1.50 USD (160-200 Yen), with unlimited day tickets available.
Smaller cities, including Hiroshima, are serviced by trams and buses. Again, day passes, at $5.30 USD (600 Yen) are often the most economical way to get around.
Travelling Between Cities:
Although train travel in Japan is a great experience, recent years have seen numerous low-cost carriers spring up, offering incredibly competitive alternatives.
Airlines include JAL, ANA, Skymark, Starflyer, Peach, and Jetstar.
To find out more, check out our guide to domestic flights within Japan.