Japan can be expensive and I was intimated by the thought of spending a lot of money on a trip. This is the main deterrent when I ask people if they want to go to Japan. They always say, "it's expensive there". But it's not. It's mainly the same prices as in Toronto. It's actually cheaper to eat out in Japan than in Toronto.
I was lucky enough to go there when the Canadian dollar was higher than the Japanese yen. But I still based my calculation on 1:1 ratio. 100 Yen equals - $1 CDN essentially.
There are ways to save money while traveling in Japan. It doesn't have to be so costly. But of course if you have cash to burn then the sky is the limit.
1. Book hotels directly - It is cheaper to deal with the hotels directly than booking through hotel sites (i.e. Expedia, Travelocity, etc). I booked most of my hotels on Expedia and I had to pay extra fees. If you book with the hotel directly; it's cheaper and no extra fees other than tax.
This was my first time in Japan and even with the help of my friend Keiko, I was still apprehensive about booking directly with the hotels in Japan. It is easier of course if you have a Japanese speaking friend who can call the hotel directly but most hotels have English sites so take advantage of it.
2. Check train tickets - A lot of people who travel to Japan will purchase the JR pass. Depending on your itinerary then it might make sense to do so but it is very expensive so I suggest doing your research first and figure out your itinerary before you think about purchasing the pass. The pass must be purchased in advance outside of Japan.
We had a one way trip from Tokyo to Osaka without looping back to Tokyo so it did not make sense to purchase the JR pass. It was even cheaper to take the the local train for example from Kyoto to Osaka. It only cost less than $10 (one-way) for the train ticket.
The most expensive ticket I purchased was for one way from Tokyo to Nagoya on the Nozomi - it was $119 per person
In total, I spent $180 on the train. If I got the JR pass, it would have been over $320 (as per my travel agent). You can use Hyperdia to calculate train fares between cities.
And if you want to go on a cheaper route without taking the train then you can also travel by bus. I almost did this but my travel partner wanted to take the train (great experience!!). You can use Willer Express. It's really cheap but of course the travel time is longer. Just make sure you book it in advance to reserve your seat, cancellation policy applies so be sure to check.
3. Food - When it comes to food, it's definitely cheaper to eat out in Japan than in Toronto. First of all, no tipping!!! Ramen is cheap and so are other foods. 100 yen sushi restaurants do exist! I ate a lot of different items and it was very affordable. I especially love ordering set lunch and dinner bento's. It came with everything for a really good price.
Also, you can purchase food at convenience stores for a really cheap price. I bought sushi as snacks and it was delicious. Cup noodles were the best for breakfast and oden as well. There are a lot of choices and Family Mart became my best friend! They had everything including alcoholic drinks (unheard of here in Ontario).
4. Take advantage of free activities - The best thing is life is free, right? You can walk around every street in Japan and not get bored (for me at least). Walking around is the best way to get to know the city/town. I love getting lost in little streets and finding gems along the way. Parks, shrines, and temples are mostly free. And if it isn't it's a very small fee to pay for entrance.
5. Souvenirs - It's so easy to go insane shopping in Japan. I recommend buying food as a souvenir. I bought a whole lot of kit kat's and matcha flavoured chocolates in Don Quixote. Snacks are the best presents as it is inexpensive and interesting. I also raided Daiso (100 yen store) for more knick knacks - I bought origami paper, washi tapes, pill boxes, stationary, etc. Go bananas for 100 yen! Uniqlo and GU is always great for cheap clothing. I got my sister's heat tech clothing for winter. We don't have it here in Canada yet.
And there you have it! Anything is doable on a budget.
If you have any more tips, please let me know!