Japan is as expensive as you make it. Here are 7 ways we afford Japan with kids

Japan has a persistent reputation for being expensive. Here’s the thing though: Japan is as expensive as you make it. We have been able to afford Japan with kids—on a modest family budget.

While there is no ceiling for how much you could spend on a trip to Japan, the floor is a lot lower than you might think. We’ve visited Japan twice with kids. Here are 7 ways we afford this amazing east Asia destination, and number 4 we use every day when we are in Japan.

1. Look for hotel or rental accommodation in or near neighborhoods, and outside the main tourist areas.

Japan’s main cities, such as Tokyo and Osaka, have areas that are especially popular for tourists. These are great to visit and sight-see, but we prefer to sleep elsewhere. Since Japanese cities have extensive, and affordable, public transportation, it’s also not a big deal to have accommodation in a different part of the city and commute in for sightseeing and attractions.

We often save money on accommodation by seeking out hotels or rentals in or near neighborhoods. Staying in a hotel in Tokyo’s Hatagaya area gave us futons on tatami, access to nearby bakeries and ramen shops, and a train station that could have us in tourist areas within a few minutes. Or, when we stayed in Osaka for a month, we stayed in a residential neighborhood a few minutes walk from Sumiyoshi Temple and with bakeries, groceries, a takoyaki shop, and a train station close by. These savings on accommodation went a long way to helping us stretch our travel budget.

2. Skip taxis, use public transportation, and get around on foot.

Connor and Aster wait for a tram in Osaka during our family trip to Japan in 2023.

Taxis can be very spendy, and we minimize their use. In fact, during a 45-day trip to Japan, we used one taxi, and that was only because it was the middle of the night, and a train snafu had us needing to get from Haneda airport to our hotel in Hatagaya.

Otherwise, when in Japan we use public transportation, and that has been a big help in how we afford Japan with kids. Since we stay near train stations, it’s easy to use local trains to get wherever we need to go. We also get the children their own Suica cards, which are set up for reduced children’s fares. We use trains and buses every day when in Japan (and trams, such as Osaka’s tram system). Having their own fare cards teaches the children responsibility and helps our family save money.

Getting around Japan on foot is also easy. Cities are safe, sidewalks are broad, and walking is simply built into Japan’s urban infrastructure.

3. Make high-end dining a low priority.

A visit to Japan is synonymous with incredible dining, but eating well in Japan does not have to mean spending top dollar. When it comes to finding a way to afford Japan with kids, food is where you can save a lot of money, while eating incredibly well.

If there are particular restaurants or experiences you want to have, by all means, build those into your plans and budget. However, delicious, affordable, everyday food is available everywhere you look. Understanding this will go a long way to helping you stretch your travel budget, especially when visiting Japan with kids.

4. Excellent food abounds in everyday neighborhood eateries.

The tip we use every day when we are visiting Japan? We have learned that it is easy to find affordable, everyday food. We don’t need influencer posts, fancy magazine articles, or snooty shows to do it, either.

All we need to do is go out our front door.

One of the best meals we had in Japan was in Tokyo. You probably won’t ever find this spot in a paid video, a luxury travel TV show, or in some highfalutin influencer’s feed. However, as we walked toward Meiji Temple a couple of days after arriving in Tokyo from Thailand, we realized we were very hungry, likely a side effect of our bodies still adjusting to a new time zone.

Heading down a random street, we happened upon a small diner. A woman came out, showed us the menu, and helped us all sit together at the counter that ran along the window. Soon we were admiring the generous helpings of steaming rice, shredded green cabbage, and luscious pork tonkatsu and tempura shrimp before us.

During our month in Osaka, we typically dined in the ramen shop near our rental, the udon place in a shopping center, not to mention the takoyaki/okonomiyaki stall and two bakeries, all within a few minutes walk of our accommodation. And in Kyoto, our guesthouse was minutes from delicious sushi, tonkatsu, and more.

We don’t worry about dining recommendations for Japan. Incredible everyday food abounds in eateries throughout neighborhoods, train stations, and, well, pretty much anywhere.

5. Japan’s ubiquitous convenience stores, or konbinis, offer simple meals and tasty snacks.

When in the USA, we might get treats or snacks from a convenience store, but we typically wouldn’t get meals from one. In Japan, though, we can get meals that are balanced, affordable, and really tasty, even from 7-11. Rice or noodles with meat, egg, and veggies? No worries. And the person behind the counter will heat it up for you.

Konbinis, or convenience stores, are also an excellent stop for snacks and drinks. When on the go, we usually pick up a few snacks for later. And while we mostly drink tap water from our refillable water bottles, we’re happy to snag a hot or cold beverage from a konbini as a simple treat to brighten up the day.

6. Many amazing attractions are free or have a low cost.

While you can shell out some impressive spend on certain themed cafes or other experiences, you don’t have to. We’ve found time and again that Japan has incredible attractions that are free or have a very low cost.

In Osaka, for example, the free sewerage museum kept our kids engaged for hours, with well-designed interactive exhibits and fascinating, approachable insights into the engineering and science that underlies the city’s infrastructure (literally, in the case of a giant water catchment system underneath a local park). Wandering among the gentle wee deer in nearby Nara Park is also free, though you can spend a couple of hundred yen for packs of crackers that you can feed to the deer. Parks and temples are abundant and free to enter.

Time and again, we have found that we don’t mind skipping spendy novelty experiences for more everyday ones that are free or have a much lower cost. That’s a big help for how we afford Japan with kids.

7. Save your yen for the Japan travel priorities that deserve your precious travel budget.

Star Tours, take 2, with matching hats and jackets
Anthony and Connor bought special Tokyo Disney sunglasses.

We save money and conserve our spending in part so when we want or need to splash out, we can, without reservation. Being frugal yet flourishing with our family travel budget in Japan frees us up to take advantage of things that are priorities to us and that simply do require more cost.

For our family, that’s Tokyo Disney. During our 45 days in Japan, we visited Tokyo Disneyland once and Tokyo DisneySea twice. Saving in other parts of our travels helped us have Tokyo Disney adventures that have become some of our favorite family travel memories from being in Japan, and we know that when we next visit Japan, we will be visiting Tokyo Disney again.

BONUS 8. The JR Pass probably isn’t worth it.

2023 saw some big changes and price increases for the JR Pass for some of the country’s train system. Depending on your trip, it could be worth a look, but its value is no longer a given. During our first trip to Japan in 2011, we barely got decent value out of our JR Pass. During our second trip in 2023, we didn’t get one. A JR Pass can come in handy if you are moving fast. But if you’re not, odds are you’ll get more out of your transit budget by getting one-off train tickets, or comparing trains to flights and ferries instead.

Visiting Japan can be much less expensive than you imagine.

Toddler in Tokyo! We've been working on family travel for a long time.
Connor in 2013, during our first trip to Japan.

There’s no limit on how much money you could spend in Japan. However, there are lots of ways to have an amazing trip to Japan for much less cost than you might have imagined. We save money yet still have amazing food, lodging, experiences, and ways to get around. Our family has found that we can then be free to spend money on experiences that matter to us and that happen to cost more.

If budget worries have been holding you back from visiting Japan, fear not! Visiting Japan can be much less expensive than you imagine. You can have the trip you want, based on the budget that works for you, for a trip of a lifetime that you will always cherish. Yes, you too can afford Japan with kids!

About the author
Anthony St. Clair
We are the St. Clair Family: Anthony, Jodie, Connor, and Aster. As Learners and Makers, our family of four slows down, connects, and enjoys the world and each other's company. We have been traveling full time since 2022.

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