This Japan itinerary was first written in Sep 2017. Since then, the cost of the JR Pass has gone from ¥29,650 to ¥50,000 so here’s an updated itinerary without the JR Pass! Let’s see if we can still keep it within a smart budget!
On top of exploring Japan’s three most iconic cities — Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto, there were a few things I wanted to check off on this 8-day trip, the top three being:
1) Taking the Sunrise Izumo train between Osaka and Tokyo — an overnight sleeper train that would pass Mt Fuji at sunrise (previously covered by the JR Pass)
2) Visiting Tokyo Disneysea — since it was the only DisneySea in the world and the rides were known to be more exciting
3) Keeping the budget under S$100/day incl. transport for Shinkansen tickets
Spoiler: this was totally possible, especially with the favourable JPY rates!
If you’re returning to Japan, check out our other guides and itineraries exploring other lesser-known areas in Japan.
Budget Breakdown for 8D trip
Flights: Book an open-jaw flight arriving in Tokyo, exiting from Osaka.
Transport: You’ll need two essentials to get around Japan. One is the IC Card — a reloadable card you can use for the buses and subways. Second, is the Klook App where you can view the schedule, compare prices and purchase Shinkansen tickets. To retrieve the tickets, just scan the QR code from the app at any ticket machine at the station.
Accommodation: This can take up a huge chunk of the budget but you can generally get under S$35/night at hostels — there are many nice and affordable options in the cities. More details on Japan accommodation at the end!
Food in Japan: Surprisingly affordable, easily under ¥1,000 from Konbinis, and Salaryman places like Matsuya and Sukiya. But also allowing the occasional splurge on famous eateries.
Here’s how our budget looked at the end of the trip!
Transport: S$260.74 (excl. flights)
(prices are based on the Dec 2023 exchange rate)
Click here for the detailed breakdown of trip expenses.
Day 1: The First 24-Hours in Tokyo
Tokyo is bustling with things to do from as early as 5AM till midnight. If we had the chance, we could easily spend an entire week in Tokyo itself (which we did on a separate trip). If time isn’t on your side, here are our top picks for 24 hours in the city.
Since 2019, the Tuna Auctions in the inner Tsukiji market have shifted to Toyosu Market. If you’re looking for fresh seafood and restaurants to enjoy them, Tsukiji’s outer market is what you’re looking for.
5AM Tuna Auctioning — Extremely popular amongst travellers, get here as early as 3AM to reserve a spot. But since you’ll be visiting Osaka on this trip, save your early mornings for the Osaka Fish Market instead — no reservations required there!
*Tuna viewing at Toyosu Market’s lower observation deck requires advance reservations.
Tuna auctioning aside, another great reason to get up early is for Sushi Dai — a famous Omakase place with queues starting as early as 3AM. We haven’t tried so if you do, let us know if it’s worth the hype!
For us late risers, Tsukiji still has a lot to feast on. One of our favourite stores was Nakaya 仲家 — which serves Kaisen Dons but the key takeaway here is how affordable the uni (sea urchin) is!
If there’s a queue at Nakaya, get a friend to save your spot in the queue (or vice versa) while the other ventures out to buy skewers around the outer market. Must-tries are the tamago (egg) on a stick (¥300) from Tsukiji Yamacho 築地山長 — served with a dash of radish on top.
Sensoji Temple — this 7th century Buddhist temple is one of the oldest in Japan. Something fun to go here is getting your fortune reading (Omikuji おみくじ) for ¥100. Just drop your coin in and grab one of the metal containers containing wooden sticks with numbers on it. Shake until one of the sticks escapes.
Your fortune can be found in the drawer with the corresponding number on your stick. English versions are available although some may be poorly translated. If you receive a bad reading, tie it up on the metal stands nearby to signify “leaving the bad luck behind”.
Asakusa Suzukien — serves matcha gelatos that come with seven levels of matcha intensity. Unless you’re a major matcha fan, level 7 might be a tad too intense. The recommended levels are 5 and 6. My personal favourites were the Genmaicha and Hojicha ice cream (¥470 for a double scoop).
Photo credit: Manish Prabhune
Tokyo Metropolitan Government building (free) — catch a birds-eye view of the city for free. On clearer days, you might even spot a silhouette of Mt. Fuji.
Unatoto — For lunch, grab a bowl of quality unagi on rice (from ¥590!!). This small unassuming store tucked in the ground floor of the Shinjuku Centre Building is a true gem for quality unagi at an affordable price!
teamLab Planets TOKYO
The exhibition has been extended till 2027! Yay
*Pro-tip: Entry is free with the Klook Pass Tokyo. Book your slots early as they run out quickly!
Detour: While you’re in Toyosu, check out this charming 24-hour onsen just a 12-minute walk from teamLab Planets.
Meiji Jingu Shrine — one of the most famous shinto shrines in Tokyo. Take a quick pit stop to appreciate its grandeur.
Kurand Sake Market
Kurand Sake market — end the day at this “drink all you can” sake buffet bar. For ~S$40, you’ll have unlimited access to three levels of shochu, sake and fruit liqueurs. Whether you love interesting flavours like milk, mango or the clean crisp taste of draft sake, they probably have it. *Since 2017, many of the outlets have closed except for the one in Shinjuku
*Pro-tip: Bring takeaway dinner and arrive at 5PM to maximise your time at the sake bar! (Outside food is allowed)
If you have more days to spare, check out other quirky things to do in Tokyo! From go-karting on the streets to shopping in hipster neighbourhoods, our Tokyo guide will keep you busy for at least three days.
For foodies, tick off these famous foods and restaurants in Tokyo as well, although, we can’t promise you’ll keep to the budget in this itinerary 😉
Day 2: Tokyo Disneyland or Disneysea
For Disney fans, Tokyo’s DisneySea is a must!
The park is incredibly crowded on most days so arriving an hour before the park opens will give you a good head start to your favourite attractions. Find out more about Fast Passes, days to avoid, and other helpful tips from our Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea guide.
Chances are, you’ll be staying there past the night parade (usually around 8:30PM). If you find yourself hungry after returning back to the city, have a nice, warm and savoury bowl of ramen at Ichiran 一蘭 (most outlets are open 24 hours or past midnight).
We also love the cheese gyu-don from Sukiya すき家 — most outlets either open 24 hours or past midnight.
Day 3: Hakone via Odawara
From Tokyo to Hakone: Your final stop is Hakone Yumoto Station — at Shinjuku station, activate your Hakone Freepass (~S$57 for two days) at the manned gantries. Take the train to Odawara before changing to another line (also covered by the pass) to your final destination
Getting Around in Hakone: Hakone Freepass 2D/3D gets you unlimited rides on all the main transports in Hakone incl. the ride from Shinjuku to Hakone Yumoto
Hakone Torii Gate — There are lots of Torii gates around Hakone but the most famous is on the edge of Lake Ashinoko. You can view it from two vantage points, on land and from a boat on the lake itself.
Hakone Old Checkpoint — In the olden days, people would walk from Kyoto to Tokyo and Hakone was the last checkpoint before they could reach their destination. This section has been entirely remodelled but still does a pretty good job of setting the scene from the Edo period.
Cedar Avenue — One of the best-preserved sections of the Old Tokaido route is this scenic path, neatly lined with Cedar trees.
Lake Ashinoko — This iconic lake is the heart of Hakone. There are a few ways to explore: on a rented kayak, a swan paddle boat or a ride on the double-deck pirate-themed ship (free for Hakone Free Pass holders). Look out for the famous red torii gate on the edge of the lake. You might even spot Mount Fuji on a clear day.
Owakudani — A picturesque volcanic valley famous for its tasty black eggs boiled in sulphurous water.
Try their tamago (egg)-flavoured ice cream (¥350) which is absolutely delicious and oden (one-pot soup dish) which is perfect on chilly days.
Odawara Kashiden 小田原鱼河岸でん — Before returning to Tokyo, have dinner at this Michelin Guide restaurant which serves very value for money bowls of chirashi (~¥1200 – 1900). Turned out to be one of our favourite chirashi bowls on the trip!
*Pro-tip: Ask for a bowl of miso soup for ¥100 — comes in a medium-sized bowl with a piece of fish in each and with a strong dashi taste. Great value for just ¥100!
Day 4: Day Trip to Kamakura and Yokohama
Tokyo (Shibuya) to Kamakura: 77mins — no reservations needed, you can use the WELCOME SUICA Card as long as there’s enough value in the reloadable card
Filled with lots of temples, shrines, and scenic trekking paths ranging from two to six hours, Kamakura is a nice relaxing contrast from Tokyo. You’ll find many locals from Tokyo taking a day trip here during the weekends so pick a weekday to avoid the crowds.
Photo credit: Ponte Ryuurui
Kencho-ji (¥300) — Japan’s oldest monastery that’s still active today. In fact, if you’re around on a Friday or Saturday, you can even join the beginner-friendly zazen (meditation) sessions held from 5:30PM – 6:30PM
Great Buddha Statue (¥200 entrance fee) — The other icon of Kamakura is this 13.35m tall Buddha Statue. From Kamakura station, either take a 20-minute walk or take the Enoden train (¥190 one way).
Photo credit: Jessica A Page
Hokokuji Temple (¥200) — Escape the summer heat at this temple, famous for its own bamboo groove with over 2000 stalks lining a narrow pathway to a tea house.
Kamakura to Yokohama: 25mins (use the WELCOME SUICA card)
Cup Noodle Museum (¥500) — Pick your own ingredients and design your own cup for ¥300. It’s quite similar to the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum in Osaka but a lot bigger and has a slightly different video shown in their mini cinema explaining the history behind the creator, Momofuku Ando.
Yokohama World Porter’s mall — If you skipped lunch at Kamakura, this is a great place for more budget-friendly options. There’s a food court, a Gindaco Takoyaki store, and even melon pan (although I suspect the best is still found in Osaka’s Dotonbori).
Yokohama Chinatown — One of the largest Chinatowns in the world with over 200 Chinese-themed restaurants and shops. If you understand Mandarin, you could also get a palm reading done here as most of them speak Chinese.
Yokohama to Tokyo (Shibuya): 37mins
Day 5: Kyoto
Fushimi Inari Shrine — Probably one of the most photographed places in Kyoto. Come early to enjoy the cool air and even take on one of the hikes to the top.
Temple hopping on a bicycle
J-Cycle — Rent a bicycle and explore the nearby shrines and temples around the Higayashi District. The law here for parking bicycles is quite strict so make sure you park at the designated areas or risk having it taken away by the authorities. Some will require a bicycle day pass which allows you to park the bicycle at a couple of the other parking areas. Ask the shop for a cheat sheet.
Recommended Cycling Route: J-Cycle – Imperial Palace – Philosopher’s Path – Nanzenji (Free Parking) – Gion Area – Kiyomizudera (Park at Kodaiji) – J Cycle (Approx. 1.5hrs cycling time)
Philosopher’s Path — A pleasant stone path lined with sakura trees and roaming cats.
Photo credit: Kosu
Nanzenji — One of the most important zen temples in Japan containing multiple sub-temples in its large complex.
Kiyomizu-Dera — Famous for its 13m high wooden stage perched on the hillside, it is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Nishiki Market — Nishiki market closes at 6PM so return your bicycles and have an early dinner here. Have your fill of matcha snacks, grilled skewers and large oysters.
Day 6: Kyoto
7AM at Arashiyama
We got here at first light and there were only a few other humans around. Take a walk through the thick forest of bamboo stalks and make a stop at the various gardens around the Arashiyama area. Each garden costs around ¥300 to enter.
*Pro-tip: Come early as the park starts to get drastically crowded around 9AM when the tour buses arrive.
Moss Garden at Gio-ji Temple
Day 7: Kyoto — Nara — Osaka
Kyoto to Nara: 45 minutes — no reservations needed, use your SUICA card with sufficient value
Getting around in Nara: Nara is pretty small and its attractions aren’t too far away — so it’s easy to cover by foot. It’s also very bicycle friendly; rent bicycles for ¥700 until sunset. You can leave your luggage at the JR Station lockers for ¥300 – ¥500 depending on the size of the locker.
Deer Park — To be honest, there’s no need to stop by the deer park as deer are everywhere, even on the temple grounds. Buy a stack of biscuits for ¥150 and the deers will bow to you just to be fed, which is absolutely adorable. Just watch out for your JR Pass as they will happily gobble that up too.
Todai-ji (¥500) — Houses a large Buddha statue and is possibly one of the largest wooden structures in the world. Though be warned, this is a famous sight for school excursions so Nara could in fact be better visited over the weekends.
Kasuga Taisha (free) — Leading up to the shrine is a pathway lined with hundreds of lanterns where deers like to hide. They’ll happily trot out for a biscuit if you have one for them.
Nara to Osaka: ~1hr — no reservations needed
Day 8: Osaka
Getting around Osaka: If it’s your first time in Osaka, purchase an Osaka Amazing Pass which gives you free access to over 30 paid attractions and covers all your subway rides for the day. Check out our previous Osaka itinerary which utilised the Osaka Amazing Pass over two days.
Minoo Park — If you’re looking to escape city life for a bit, take a quick train ride out to Minoo Park. It’s an easy 2.4km walk with a gorgeous waterfall to chill by.
Dotonbori — No matter how many times we’ve visited Osaka, I still find myself amazed at this street. It’s a sensory overload in the best possible way — the neon lights, giant pufferfish and moving crabs that kind of feels like an acid trip.
Our favourite food picks here are the creo-ru takoyaki, the kin-ryu ramen (Chinese-style ramen with free-flow kimchi and leek), and to finish off with one of the best melon pans in Japan (toasted sugar bun with a generous serving of vanilla ice-cream).
From Osaka catch the Nankai Rapid Express from Osaka station to Kansai International Airport in 34 minutes (~S$12.20)
Read also: 3-Day Osaka Budget Guide — for more things to do in Osaka
Bonus: Take a train back to Tokyo via the Sunrise Izumo
2023 Update: The Sunrise Izumo is a sleeper train that travels between Osaka and Tokyo. It’s a 6.5-hour train ride but the highlight is that it passes by Mount Fuji around 5AM as the sun rises! It’s quite pricey so we’ve decided to leave it out and suggest an open jaw route for this itinerary. If you’re travelling with the JR Pass (covers nobi-nobi seats) and perhaps flying back from Tokyo, this might be worth considering!
From Osaka to Tokyo: The Sunrise Izumo overnight train leaves Osaka Station at 00:34 and arrives in Tokyo at 07:08 — you can only reserve tickets in Japan so reserve them as soon as you arrive!
Sunrise Izumo: The train has private bedrooms that require a top-up fee but the Nobi Nobi seats (pictured below) are free for JR pass holders. These are a little more comfortable than coach seats as you get to lie down fully and there are partitions that give you enough privacy.
We’re huge fans of taking overnight transport as it saves time travelling (while you sleep). What’s more, you save a night of accommodation covered by the JR pass! Double-win.
Though, another highlight of this train is that it rides past Mount Fuji at sunrise around 5AM so set your alarms if you want to see it!
Accommodation under ¥3,500/night
One of the key ways to keep our budget low was to choose affordable accommodation options. The good thing about hostels in Japan are their private spaces. Most bunks have curtains or even a whole container (i.e. Capsule hotels) and have most of the facilities that a business hotel would provide. Besides, we hardly spent any time in the accommodations! Here are some that we stayed at:
Tokyo: Wise Owl Hostel
Wise Owl’s very own cafe at the Shibuya Outlet
Odawara (Hakone): Plum Hostel
Hakone was supposed to be a day trip but due to some circumstances, we missed the last train out and ended staying here which turned out to be a nice cosy impromptu stay! Besides, the Hakone Freepass covers two days so we got a little more time to explore.
Address: Japan, 〒2500011 神奈川県小田原市 栄町3-4-17 相湘11栄町ビル 2F-B
Cost: From ¥2,125/night
Nagoya: Nagoya Hostel Nishiasahi
First started as a restaurant and bar, Nishiasashi extended its 2nd floor into a cosy living space for its guests. The capsule-style beds were super spacious (enough to fit your backpack), perfect for a stopover on the way from Tokyo to Osaka.
Address: 1 Chome-6-13 Nagono, Nishi Ward, Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture 451-0042, Japan
Cost: From ¥3,000/night (Capsule style dorm beds)
Kyoto: HARUYA Umekoji
HARUYA Umekoji is located close to attractions such as Nijō Castle and Nishiki Market — also, it is close to Umekōji-Kyōtonishi Station!
Address: 1番地12 Wakicho, Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto, 600-8834, Japan
Osaka: Ark Hostel
Address: 1 Chome-15-11 Edobori, Nishi Ward, 大阪市西区 Osaka Prefecture 550-0002, Japan
Cost: From ¥2,900/night for a dorm bed
For more budget accommodation options in Osaka check out 9 Budget Accommodations in Osaka Under $50
Travelling to Japan for the first time
This trip in 2017 was an epic one. While trying to maximise the cost of the JR Pass, we ended up visiting so many places and ticking off many experiences — planned and unplanned. That said, it was an exhausting one.
Now that we’re no longer limited by big ticket transport passes like the JR Pass, we’ve since chosen to explore Japan a lot slower. Even exploring lesser known locations like Nagano, Kyushu, and Karuizawa.
But no regrets! We all start off as broke students who want to experience it all and if I could turn back time, I’d do it all over again.
Alright, on to the more practical tips for those visiting Japan for the first time:
|7-day JR Pass
|Tokyo -> Narita Skyliner (round trip)
|Tokyo Subway Pass (72hr Unlimited)
|Tokyo -> Osaka Shinkansen (Round trip Nozomi)
|Kansai Thru Pass (3 days)
1) Save at least S$110 without the Whole Japan JR Pass — since the price hike in Oct 2023, we figured the best way to save on transport in Japan is to get individual transport passes. Even after maximising the Subway Pass and Kansai Thru Pass to three days each, and, taking a round trip Nozomi Shinkansen train, you’ll still save S$110 (compared to getting the 7-day Whole Japan JR Pass). Thankfully, you can still get the individual passes online at one place!
2) Book Shinkansen tickets beforehand — while most transport in Japan (subway, local JR lines, and buses) can be paid on the spot with a reloadable card like the SUICA or ICOCA, longer distanced Shinkansen rides usually require reservations. You can check the schedules and book your Shinkansen tickets via Klook. Just scan the QR code to collect them on the day of travel.
3) Plan to visit theme parks on Tuesdays or Wednesdays — Both Universal Studios Japan in Osaka or Disneyland/Disneysea in Tokyo are incredibly popular amongst the locals so visit midweek for a better chance at shorter ride queues. For more theme park tips and hacks, check out our USJ Guide or Tokyo Disney Guide. Not sure which to visit this trip? Take our USJ, Tokyo Disneyland, or Tokyo DisneySea Quiz!
4) Book your flights six weeks in advance for the best prices — secure your flights while they’re still cheap!
5) Look out for more travel discounts — US$10 promo code here!
If you found our Budget Japan Guide useful, let us know in the comments below!
This post was brought to you by Klook.