Last updated: 10 Nov 2022
Quintessential experiences for your first Japan itinerary, on a budget — yes it’s possible, especially with the favourable exchange rates!
Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka Nara may be deemed touristy, but there’s a good reason why they’re so popular. If it’s your first trip to Japan, definitely experience them for yourself to see what the fuss is about.
If you’re returning to Japan, check out our other guides and itineraries exploring other lesser-known areas in Japan.
Budget Breakdown for 10D9N trip
Transport: S$449.75 (excld. flights from SIN – NRT)
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Since we’re covering both the Kanto (Toyko) and Kansai (Osaka) prefectures, a 7-day Whole Japan JR Pass is well worth the money. Order them at least 14-days before you arrive in Japan. More info about the collection process and how the JR Pass works in this JR Pass guide.
Day 1: The First 24-Hours in Tokyo
From Narita Airport to Tokyo: The Tokyo Skyliner brings you to Ueno station in just 41minutes. Since we’re in Tokyo for a few days, we’ll be activating the JR Pass on day 4 using our pre-ordered Tokyo Skyliner tickets (~S$22) to get to the city instead
Getting Around in Tokyo: Tokyo Subway Ticket (24hr, 48hr, 72hr) — purchase online and collect from Narita Airport
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. 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 3AM to reserve a spot. But since you’ll be visiting Osaka too, 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 how 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 venture 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 — and the unagi skewers (¥200) from Nisshin Tasuke.
Sensoji Temple — built in the 7th century, this is one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Japan. Get 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. There’s a practice that if you receive a bad reading, tie it up on the metal stands to signify “leaving the bad luck behind”.
Asakusa Suzukien — serves match 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).
Tokyo Metropolitan Government building — 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 ¥500!!). 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
teamLab Planets (~S$30) — step into this interactive and immersive art gallery that engages all your five senses. There are nine different rooms to explore, each with a different theme.
The exhibition will close at the end of 2023 so chuck it into your Japan itinerary before it’s gone!
*Pro-tip: Entry is free with the Klook Pass Tokyo
Meiji Jingu Shrine — one of the most famous shinto shrines in Tokyo. Take a quick pit stop to appreciate its grandeur.
I’m honestly hungry just uploading this image here. The Omotesando exclusive 4 cheese tart (¥950) found at the Pablo Premium Cafe is something all cheese lovers must try. Singapore has a few Gindaco Takoyaki outlets by now but if you see one along the way, grab yourself a serving (¥650).
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 more than 100 different types of sake flavours. Whether you love interesting flavours like milk, mango or the clean crisp taste of draft sake, they probably have it. There are 4 outlets (Shibuya, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro and Ueno)
*Pro-tip: Bring takeaway dinner and arrive at 5PM to maximise your time at the sake bar! (Outside food is allowed)
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 Disneyland/sea is a must!
The park is incredibly crowded on most days so arriving an hour before the park opens will give you a good headstart to your favourite Fast Passes. 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 Free Pass 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 Free Pass 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 use to 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.
Also, try their tamago (egg)-flavoured ice cream (¥350) which was 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 Chirashi place 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: Kamakura and Yokohama
JR Pass: Activate your JR Pass on this day
For more information on how to use and plan your trip with the JR Pass, check out our comprehensive JR Pass Guide.
Kamakura and Yokohama are just an hour away from Tokyo. 2 ways to explore:
1) Bring your bags along and leave them at the respective JR station lockers (¥300 – 500) while exploring the cities. Spend the night in Nagoya (mid-way between Tokyo and Osaka)
2) Leave your bags in Tokyo and take a day trip out
From Tokyo to Kamakura: Use the JR pass to ride on the JR Yokosuka line to Kamakura (slightly under an hour)
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.
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).
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.
Bonzo Kamakura — For lunch, have handmade soba noodles at the Michelin Guide before leaving for Yokohama.
From Kamakura to Yokohama: Use the JR Pass and take the JR Yokosuka line to Yokohama (25 minutes).
Cup Noodle Museum (¥500) — pick your own ingredients and design your own cup noodle 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.
Day 5: Nagoya
From Toyko or Shin-Yokohama to Nagoya: Reserve seats for a Hikari train to Nagoya with your JR Pass (105mins)
Getting around Nagoya: Purchase a 1 Day Nagoya Subway (¥740) or the Donichi Eco Kippu (¥600 — a discounted ticket which covers both trains and buses; available on Weekends, public holidays and the 8th of each month)
Tucked right between Tokyo and Osaka, this charming city is just as modern as its neighbours but takes on a more laid-back pace of life. It’s home to the Shinkansen Museum (SCMaglev) and Toyota Factories and great as a base for day trips to Nagashima Resort which has a roller coaster park, and a famous outdoor onsen. With just a day to spare, here are the Nagoya essentials that can be found in the heart of Nagoya.
Hitsumabushi (Nagoya’s speciality) — What’s special about this Unagi Don (grilled eel on rice)is the way it’s eaten. The dish is split into 4 portions: the first section is to be eaten on its own, the second is to be mixed with wasabi and other condiments, the third with dashi broth or green tea and lastly, a repeat of your favourite style.
Eel isn’t cheap and being the city’s delicacy, you can expect a bowl of Hitsumbushi to cost at least ¥3000 except for a store we found located in the basement of the Shirakawa Sakae Gas Building which sells a bowl for ¥2450.
Unfortunately, we were there on a weekend during the Nippon Domannaka Matsuri — one of Japan’s largest dance festivals held annually at 20 different venues across Nagoya. By the time we arrived at 12PM, they were sold out for the day. Do come early to get your name on the list if you’re here during the weekends.
For something sweet, there’s a famous soufflé pancake shop in the same building next to the Hitsumabushi restaurant. There are clear glass windows where the kitchen is so you can watch the chefs skillfully flipping the fluffy pancakes.
To be fair, the dance festival added a very cheerful vibe to the whole city where we could view the performances for free at the parks and the streets. Each dancer had so much enthusiasm in their eyes while performing, we couldn’t help but had our eyes peeled for at least three performances.
Nagoya jo (¥500) — one of the three most famous castles in Japan. Apart from accessing the main castle keep, the ¥500 entrance fee also includes access to the reconstructed palace which served as the residence of the royal family. It was entirely reconstructed with replicas of the intricate artwork adorning each of the sliding doors.
Osu Kanon — an iconic Buddhist temple in Nagoya that dates back to the 14th century. Next to the temple is the Osu shopping district where you can find cafes, street snacks, and vintage stores.
From Nagoya to Kyoto: Before night falls, take the JR Hikari train to Kyoto (52 minutes). Reservation needed.
If you’d like a little more time in the city, stay the night at Nagoya Hostel Nishiasahi and leave for Kyoto the next morning instead.
Day 6: Kyoto
Getting around in Kyoto: Hire a bicycle from J-Cycle (¥800 from 10 – 6PM)
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 7: 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 8: Kyoto — Nara — Osaka
From Kyoto to Nara: Catch the JR Special Rapid Service which arrives in Nara in 45 minutes. No reservations are needed for this train.
Getting around in Nara: Nara is pretty small and its attractions aren’t too far away to cover by foot although 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 deers 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. Be careful of 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.
From Nara to Osaka: Once you’re done with Nara, collect your luggage from the lockers and take the JR Yamatoji Rapid Service to Osaka (Slightly under an hour). No reservations are needed.
Day 9: 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 2 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).
Day 10: Osaka — Tokyo — Catch Flight home
From Osaka to Tokyo: Take the Sunrise Izumo overnight train which leaves Osaka Station at 00:34 (reserve tickets early!) and arrives in Tokyo at 07:08.
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 catch this sight.
Back in Tokyo, if you have extra time to spare before catching your flight home, leave your luggage at Tokyo station so you can collect them before taking the Narita Express (JR train) to the airport.
Accommodation Under ¥3,000/night
Tokyo: Wise Owl Hostel
Odawara (Hakone): Plum Hostel
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
2) Plan to visit theme parks outside of your JR Pass dates — Visiting USJ in Osaka or Disneyland/Disneysea in Tokyo (or both)? Since theme parks take up an entire day, you’d be wasting an entire day on the JR Pass.
3) Visit Nagoya during the weekends — while we rarely recommend visiting places during the weekends, Nagoya is more alive over these days of the week. If you’re lucky you might even get to catch a festival like the Domatsuri we caught at the end of August. On top of that, you’d also get to enjoy the discounted 1-day pass (Donichi Eco Kippu) which covers both bus and subway for ¥600 instead of the regular subway-only pass which costs ¥740.
4) Visit Nara during the weekends — surprise, surprise once again. The reason is that Todai-ji is a common site for school excursions which typically happen on weekdays. You might be better off dealing with other travellers than an entire school of children.
5) JR Pass Train Reservations — The Whole Japan JR Pass includes seat reservations which are especially useful for long-distance rides e.g. Tokyo to Nagoya/ Nagoya to Kyoto. Most train reservations can be made on the day itself except for the Sunrise Izumo (from Osaka back to Tokyo) — refer to the next point. Breakdown of trains here (2nd tab below).
6) Make reservations for the Sunrise Izumo once you arrive in Japan — one way to maximise the value of the JR pass is to take a round trip from Tokyo to Osaka. On top of that, score a night of free accommodation on the Sunrise Izumo (a 7-hour ride from Osaka to Tokyo). Though, these run out pretty quickly so book them as soon as you can.
7) Book your flights six weeks in advance for the best prices — secure your flights while they’re still cheap! Check prices here:
If you can’t see the widget above, check out prices here instead.
Tokyo is an incredible mish-mash of weird and wonderful, with many quirky things to do.
Then there’s Osaka — a foodie’s paradise, also a broke student’s paradise because you need not splurge to find a good meal!
And finally, Kyoto, a city that preserves culture so well — need we say more?
Hope you found our Japan Budget Guide useful. Let us know in the comments below if you have any other recommendations!
This post was brought to you by Klook.