Staying six weeks in Japan with a low budget and without a plan was a challenging but also an exciting experience. Unlike in many European and South East Asian countries, in Japan the hostel selection is not very wide. Most hostels that we found were absurdly expensive. What might surprise many people, even the capsule hostels are not a cheap option in most cases. This forced us to be more creative and research other budget accommodation options in Japan.
What do we consider expensive then? We wanted to save as much money as possible so for us even 20 dollars each per night was too much. That would make 1.800 dollars for 45 days. Our goal was to use mainly free forms of accommodation, like couchsurfing. Someone might ask now, why we went to Japan and not to one of the cheap countries. Well, we really wanted to experience the Japanese culture and even though we knew that budget traveling will be hard in Japan, we wanted to give it a try. And we actually proved that it is possible!
With our TOP 5 budget accommodation list you will learn how to travel cheaply in Japan. These options are definitely not for everybody as some are a bit extreme. If you cannot sacrifice your good night’s sleep and want to have a soft bed every night, you might not want to even think about these alternatives. Using only hotels or hostels means that you have a certain and safe place to stay but on the other hand, you can forget about traveling super cheaply in Japan. If you give these alternatives a chance, you will return from your Japan trip with lots of new experiences and stories to tell!
For experiencing the local culture and traveling for free, Couchsurfing is obviously the best option. We spend about 15 nights couchsurfing with different hosts in several cities. The problem in Japan, especially when couchsurfing in Tokyo, is that the Japanese apartments are very small and the people don’t have much free time because of long working hours. Make sure to send the couch requests well ahead. Also, check which part of the city the host lives in. Tokyo is a huge, about 70 km wide metropolitan area so in the worst case you might end up spending hours on a train and paying more for the tickets than for a hostel.
We had a blast couchsurfing in Japan! We got hosted by both young and old people and by a family with children. Our hosts brought us sightseeing, drinking and eating. We took part in a family dinner and had many long conversations in the late hours. The thing with couchsurfing is that you basically never know what you will get. That’s why you must be adaptable and not too picky. After all, it’s a free place to stay so you cannot complain if sleeping is not comfortable enough for you. We spent nights sleeping on a tatami, on a floor in a 20 square meter apartment, in hammocks, in a car… But sometimes we also got a queen-sized bed with an own bedroom.
Eventually, couchsurfing is an amazing way to get a deep insight of Japanese culture and see how the local people live. Japanese people appreciate small and beautiful gifts. Brings some souvenirs with you and familiarize yourself with Japanese etiquette rules.
2. Internet cafes
Before our trip, we searched cheap accommodation options in Japan and found internet cafes. We got to try this already on our second night in Tokyo when we didn’t have another place to stay (read about our night as internet cafe refugees). The concept of Japanese internet cafes is unique. In these places, you can basically find everything you need – a mattress, internet connection, bathroom and showers, unlimited soft drinks and food that you can buy. We actually had a pretty good sleep on most nights!
We mostly used big internet cafe chains Manboo! and Media Cafe POPEYE. What we noticed though, is that the prices vary A LOT from city to city. Compare the prices and find several options. Weeknights are cheaper that weekends. Our cheapest night in a big private booth with free ice cream cost 1.500 yen each. The most expensive night was about 2.000 yen. We saw prices more expensive than this but decided to skip it at that point – the price starts to be close to a hostel so it makes sense to pay a bit more for a proper accommodation. Sometimes we booked a booth for a few hours during the daytime just to take a shower and a nap.
Most cafes are located close to train stations. Some places ask for an ID or require to buy a membership card but mostly we could just enter without any hassle. The staff almost never speaks English so try to figure out in advance what you want – a normal or reclining chair or a mattress. We found Media Cafe more comfortable than Manboo because the booths were bigger and the cafes were not as smoky as Manboo (yes, unfortunately smoking is often allowed).
3. Karaoke rooms
Do you want to fall in sleep listening to drunk people screaming their lungs out? Probably not, but if you don’t want to stay in the street and the internet cafes seem too expensive or fully booked, the private karaoke rooms are your savior.
We spent maybe five nights in karaoke rooms. Probably our standards were already very low at this point, but we slept here relatively well. Bring the earplugs, though! The good thing in karaoke is that the places can be found everywhere and before going to sleep you can sing your favorite songs and enjoy unlimited soft drinks. You can also order food and alcoholic drinks in the room.
The size of the karaoke rooms varies a lot. One night we had a big room with enough space for both of us to straighten our legs. Sometimes the room was so small that especially Jarkko was laying half in the air.
Be aware that even though the room is private, the staff has a right to enter anytime. The doors cannot be locked and sometimes the doors are partly see-through. We got caught sleeping once when a waitress came in but she didn’t complain. Maybe because she didn’t speak English… While sleeping we had our valuables next to us. We were not concerned about the safety in such a safe country like Japan though.
We used the biggest karaoke chain Jankara. This is the most affordable karaoke place in Japan but the prices vary. Sometimes we found three or four Jankaras only 50 meters apart from each other and every place had a bit different prices. So again, compare and do some research.
Karaoke rooms have a fixed price for a night from 10 PM to 5 or 6 AM. The actual trick to get the best deal is to sign up for Jankara’s membership system. You always get a cheaper price as a member. The staff won’t tell you this but when we kept asking what the cheaper fare in the price list stands for, we finally managed to sign up. You can read the QR code from the leaflet and register. Everything is in Japanese but we got help from the staff. Once we stayed 8 hours for only 850 yen each instead of the normal 1.500 yen.
After spending a few nights in a row using the option 2 or 3, you probably need some rest and privacy. And a long, hot shower. AirBnb is a good budget accommodation option in Japan. We found pretty good hostel and apartment deals via AirBnb in Tokyo, Hiroshima and Osaka. In Tokyo we found a hostel only 10 minutes from Shibuya crossing for 12 dollars per night. It was not fancy at all but it had everything we needed – a bed and a shower.
In Hiroshima we got a high-quality hostel for the same price. In Osaka even the private apartments were very affordable and we managed to book one for 90 dollars for 4 days. The apartments are often almost like hotel rooms but might also have a small kitchen for cooking which is a good addition for budget travelers.
If you are not on AirBnb yet, register here* and get $35 discount for you first reservation! You can also invite your friends to join and get $20 credit for yourself.
And here comes one more extra that cannot really be recommended to anyone…
You might laugh reading this but the sad truth is that sometimes even the internet cafes and karaoke rooms were too expensive for us. We ended up spending at least 4 or 5 nights in McDonalds in order to stick to our budget. In Japan sleeping is fine basically anywhere and we were not the only ones taking a nap at the table. Sometimes the staff comes to wake the sleeping people up but sometimes they don’t care. Look for big restaurants with several floors and find a silent place upstairs.
The problem is that even though most restaurants are open 24/7, they sometimes only sell takeout between 2 AM and 5 AM. Mostly we had to wander around during these hours or find a convenience store. The good sides of McDonald’s are that the coffee is only 100 yen and they mostly have free wifi. In the summer you can go to a park after and take a nice nap in the sun, but during the coldest months, this was not an option for us.
One more positive side is that once you have spent a night in McDonald’s, you definitely will start to appreciate the basic things in the life. When we entered our simple AirBnB apartment after 4 nights in karaoke rooms and McDonald’s, it felt like Hilton. A bed (wow!) and a shower (amazing!). So sleeping in McDonald’s can actually be a good life school 😉
We hope that you liked our budget accommodation list and will try it out on your next trip to Japan!
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