How much does it cost for 3 weeks in Japan? You will find details of our expenses at the very end of this article. But first, let me tell you that Japan was by far the country I most dreaded, because of its hermetic culture, its customs and rules of conduct that can’t be encountered anywhere else, its eclectic mix between tradition and modernity, its technology at the cutting-edge of innovation.
And fortunately, we were well prepared and quickly made ourselves comfortable. Orientation is easy, the food is delicious, the cost of living is low (compared to other developed countries) and the Japanese are humble, courteous and honest.
The highlights of a 3-weeks visit in Japan
Cherry trees in bloom
The only disadvantage of visiting Japan in April is that it is still a little chilly during the day, which has led us to wear gloves and hats. But it’ s not really a disadvantage since we never would have wanted to miss the spectacular blossoming of sakuras – or Japanese cherry trees – at this time of the year! And what an incredible show! All over Japan, to commemorate the spring during the Hanami season, the Japanese go out to the parks with family and friends for a picnic under the sakuras.
The flowering of the sakuras was a little late this year. Therefore, we were able to enjoy these wonderful flowering trees for the entirety of our 20 days in Japan! Whether in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Himeji or Nara, we were blown away!
Tokyo seduced us. What do I say? It amazed us, delighted us, hypnotized us, dazzled us! The Tokyo inhabitants (and also the Japanese in general) are of such a zenity and piety that we have rarely seen. Whether on the street, in the subway or in any public place, the Japanese never let a single negative emotion show up on their faces. No one complains, no one raises their voices, everyone is calm in the subway and waits their turn before getting on. No one looks at each other, but everyone is aware of the world around them. Always ready to help, kindness is all around us. Without fuss, but with gestures of a disconcerting simplicity, the Japanese go to the Shinto or Buddhist temple, perform rituals for physical and spiritual purification, and then continue their lives as if nothing had happened. In this megalopolis of 42 million inhabitants, which is nothing less than the largest urban agglomeration in the world, we have nevertheless noticed some weary, angry or tense faces, but only among foreigners, never among Japanese people.
Like any regular tourist, we wouldn’t have wanted to miss some of the attractions of the Japanese capital, such as Shibuya, where we bulldozed out into world’s busiest crossroads with thousands of other pedestrians.
We went to the observatory of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government headquarters, from which we were able to admire the vastness of the megalopolis. We were even able to see Mount Fuji in the distance!
Meiji Jingu, a huge Shinto shrine, will soon celebrate its 100th anniversary. It is a haven of peace in the middle of the city.
Harajuku has long been the district of fashion, rock and more generally of the avant-garde. Today, the district is mostly occupied by teenage Lolita fashion enthusiasts, or fans of cosplay, mangas and video games.
Ginza is the ultimate Japanese luxury district where the greats of international fashion (Prada, Louis-Vuitton, Gucci, Dior and others) rub shoulders with the greats of Japan (Sony, Ricoh, Seiko, Nissan, Yamaha, etc.). Many travelers prefer to avoid these chic neighborhoods. On the contrary, we like to walk on the same sidewalks as the wealthy. Beauty is not only found in nature. We also know how to appreciate the craftsmanship around a beautiful diamond at Tiffany’s, the fine timepieces of a Rolex, the finesse of a Prada dress (Jessica) or that of a Leica camera (me).
The famous Tokyo Tower is a modern version of the Eiffel Tower. Less imposing than the latter, it is still impressive!
Just beside the Tokyo Tower is San’en-zan Zōjō-ji, a very pretty Buddhist temple, where we were able to admire a traditional Buddhist ceremony.
We went to Akihabara Electric Town, the most popular district for fans of manga, video games and Japanese popular culture. The boys loved it. And I found the nostalgia of the 80s, when I used to watch Dragon Balls Z and Saint Seiya, or when I used to play the Gameboy and the Sega console.
Ueno is known for its large park filled with cherry blossoms and its many museums. But in the evening, we discovered a lively neighborhood, with many bars, restaurants and shops.
Our favorite in Tokyo is TeamLab Borderless! We adults, just like the little ones, were amazed! This permanent artistic and interactive exhibition is based on plays of light, sound and mirrors. It’s the only attraction we paid for in Tokyo in 9 days!
The Tokyo Skytree, inaugurated in 2012, is the 2nd tallest structure in the world, after the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. This massive broadcasting tower is just impressive.
Not far from the Skytree, in the Asakusa district, lies the Senso-ji, which is the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo. Although it is a very busy place, the sanctuary is magnificent and very photogenic, day and night. Tourists dressed in Japanese kimonos are seen walking around.
For 10 centuries, Kyoto was the imperial capital of Japan, a title it lost in 1868 to Tokyo. But it still remains the cultural and religious capital of Japan.
Dating from the 14th century, the Kinkaku-ji is also called the Temple of the Golden Pavilion. It is well known by its nickname, since it is covered entirely with pure gold, except for the ground floor. It is attached to the Rinzai School, one of the 3 main sects of Zen Buddhism (which draws its origin from Mahayana Buddhism, i. e. China). It is one of the symbols of Kyoto and is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
The 16th century Ryōan-ji is a monastery known for its famous stone garden, which is considered one of the masterpieces of Japanese Zen culture. It is located in the middle of a magnificent environment, where aesthetics and nature blend perfectly. Also a UNESCO Worlds heritage.
The beautiful bamboo grove of Arashiyama is one of the most popular attractions in Kyoto! And you certainly shouldn’t miss it when you’re in town!
Gion is the most touristic district of Kyoto, and also that of the geishas. We spotted a few of them strolling there! We loved going through its small, very photogenic streets, while admiring its traditional houses, temples and pagodas, surrounded by blooming cherry trees.
Another traditional district is Higashiyama, which happens to be stuck to Gion. It is a must-see for its old houses, its narrow streets and its many small restaurants and cafes.
Kiyomizu-Dera is a large complex of Buddhist and Shinto temples, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most popular landmarks in the city: a huge building built on a mountainside. The latter being under renovation during our visit, we had to settle for the other structures of the large complex, which were still sublime!
We wouldn’t have wished to leave without seeing the Fushimi Inari Taisha. It is the main Shinto shrine dedicated to the Inari deity, the patron saint of trade. The site is known for its 10,000 toriis, these orange arches, which are donated by companies and cover the immense area of the estate. Legions of tourists flock there to be photographed in the middle of these toriis. The site is huge! We walked for almost 3 hours and we didn’t even see all the toriis.
A detour to the famous commercial arcades of Teramachi and Shinkyogoku is worthwhile. Especially since they are connected to the no less famous Nishiki market!
Osaka, this city in the shadows of Tokyo, has a metropolitan area of 20 million inhabitants that includes Kyoto and Kobe. But for foodies, Osaka has nothing to envy its great rival because it is the real haven of Japanese food! As we walked in Kuromon Ichiba’s market, we saw beautiful fruits at a golden price, seafood of a gigantic size and beef cuts with exceptional marbling. If we had an unlimited budget, we would have tasted everything!
But the city’s most popular tourist attraction is undoubtedly its charming 16th century Osaka Castle, which has been destroyed and rebuilt many times.
The Osaka Aquarium is renowned for having one of the largest whale shark tanks in the world. We spent a very entertaining half-day there, while it was raining outside.
Dontonbori and Tsutenkaku are very bright at night and crowded with people who are hungry for shopping and good food. It’s quite a feeling to walk around and experience this dynamic that you can’t find anywhere else but in Japan.
Himeji is home to what is considered as the largest and most sumptuous castle in Japan. Himeji Castle, a real pride for the country, is listed among Japan’s national treasures and is part of UNESCO’s heritage.
We spent a wonderful day in Nara, where we were able to admire deers roaming freely around monuments listed as UNESCO heritage sites. The deers are protected, since they were proclaimed messengers of the gods of the Shinto religion by the imperial family Fujiwara. It’s very funny to see them bow in reverence to get biscuits from tourists.
We were able to visit the Todaiji complex, which includes several buildings, including the Daibutsuden. This building is the world’ s largest wooden structure and contains the largest bronze Buddha in the world (15 meters high and 500 tonnes).
Not far from there lies the Nigasu-Do temple, another national treasure of Japan.
The sanctuary of Kasuga Taisha, in the middle of its forest protected for more than a thousand years, is also a sacred place known for its many stone and bronze lanterns.
For a better preparation
We stayed no less than 9 nights in Tokyo, which gave us enough time to get comfortable with the Japanese way of life. All this time has not been too long, since Tokyo is a megalopolis where the main attractions are scattered throughout the city. We then stayed 5 nights in Kyoto, before heading to Osaka for 6 nights. We used Osaka as a strategic base to visit Kobe, Himeji and Nara on day trips.
Since housing is considered extremely expensive in Japan, and even more during the cherry blossom season, we decided not to book it at the last minute, but more than 6 months in advance instead. And even though at the time, the hotel occupancy rate was already at 90%, I still managed to find a very acceptable hotel at an excellent rate. Therefore, our 20 nights of accommodation only cost us 105,300.00 JPY (730.37 USD), or 5,265.00 JPY (36.52 USD) per night, for our family of 4.
Here is a Travel Hacking tip: to connect Tokyo to Kyoto without losing a full day, we had 2 choices:
- Take a train, which would have cost between 92 and 127 USD per person.
- Take a flight with Japan Airlines between Tokyo Haneda and Osaka Itami with our points (4500 Avios points + 3.70 USD), then a one hour train for 980.00 JPY (6.80 USD) to reach Kyoto.
The decision was easy. In addition, Haneda Airport received some of the most prestigious Skytrax awards in 2019: 2nd best airport in the world (after Singapore Changi), best domestic airport in the world and cleanest airport in the world. As we looked out the windows before takeoff, we couldn’t believe it: the runway agents greeted us and wished us a happy flight. Unbelievable!
We had no plans to visit the iconic Mount Fuji in our Japanese itinerary. No problem! We have nevertheless planned to admire it… from the sky! Okay, it’s not the same, but we still saw it from very close!
Japan is known for the ease of use, frequency and reliability of its public transport. So, we used a lot of trains and buses to get to wherever we wanted to go. And since most of our trips were short distances, we considered it uneconomic to take the JR Pass. However, we did have IC Cards (Pasmo in Tokyo and Icoca in Kyoto/Osaka), which are very practical prepaid payment cards that enabled us to use public transport and be automatically debited by presenting it at the terminals located at the entrances and exits of the stations.
To orient ourselves, Google Maps was our best friend. All we had to do was specify our destination and Google would give us the transport options, schedules, costs and boarding platforms. It was that easy!
A Japanese Toilet
The language barrier
And since we don’t speak a word of Japanese, we used Google Translate, which can translate Japanese inscriptions in augmented reality mode.
The Kobe Beef
We had the pleasure of having a meal which we will remember for a very long time! We went to the La Shomon restaurant in Tarumi, a few minutes away from Kobe by train, to taste what is considered to be nothing short of the best beef in the world! And it was simply the best meal experience!
This meal cost us the “modest” sum of 20,051.00 JPY (139.08 USD), including 12,960.00 JPY (89.89 USD) for the sole 100 gram cut of Kobe!
Vous savez maintenant ce qu’il vous reste à faire si vous venez au Japon!
Do you know the Fugu? You may have heard of it as the world’ s most poisonous fish. Prepared by the wrong hands, it can send you straight to your deathbed within 2 hours. It takes about five years for a cook to be granted the right to prepare the fugu. Well prepared, it is a delectable dish. We took advantage of our visit to the Asakura district of Tokyo to taste this famous Fugu in sashimi and it was really delicious!
Ramen, Sushi, Takoyaki, etc.
We found out that it can be really easy to eat inexpensively in Japan. Of course, as everywhere else, there are high-end restaurants that offer menus at excessive prices. But Google, once again, helped us find very inexpensive restaurants serving delicious food! Japan is overflowing with small restaurants offering meals that cost as little as 350.00 JPY (2.43 USD), like a delicious ramen! We were often more than satisfied for less than 2,000.00 JPY (13.87 USD) for the 4 of us.
The most economical restaurants are those qualified as Self-Service, where the order and payment are made on a machine located at the entrance of the restaurant. And when the food is ready to be served, usually in less than a minute, all you have to do is pick it up at the counter and enjoy it. Overall, we found that Tokyo offered many more budget restaurants than Osaka and Kyoto.
We love sushi, and although sushi restaurants are not as frequent as we thought, we were still able to satisfy our fine pallets of extraordinary bites of raw fish. On several occasions, we have visited sushi restaurants with rails that bring the small sushi plates in front of the customers. At the end of the meal, the empty plates are counted and the invoice is issued. These conveyor belt sushi restaurants are usually very economical.
Thanks to strategic decisions, Japan did not end up costing us as much as we might have expected. We rank it among the cheapest of the expensive countries. Including our Kobe beef madness, the cost of our stay for our family of 4 is:
- 469,300.00 JPY (3,255.10 USD);
- 23,465.00 JPY (162.76 USD) per day;
- 5,867.00 JPY (40.69 USD) per person and per day.
In detail :
|Expense Category||Amount Spent|
|Flight||161,000.00 JPY / 1,116.71 USD|
|Accomodation||105,300.00 JPY / 730.37 USD|
|Transport||54,600.00 JPY / 378.71 USD|
|Eating out||93,500.00 JPY / 648.52 USD|
|Groceries||34,700.00 JPY / 240.68 USD|
|Activities||20,200.00 JPY / 140.11 USD|
|Total||469,300.00 JPY / 3,255.10 USD|
In a nutshell
|Dates||2019-03-29 to 2019-04-18|
|Number of days||20|
|Cities we visited||Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Himeji, Nara|
|Inbound||From Vanuatu by plane|
|Outbound||To Taiwan by plane|
|Mode of transport||Subway, city buses|
|Distance travelled (excluding flights)||1290 km|
|Number of photos taken||8800 (440 per day)|
|Currency||The Japanese Yen (1.00 USD = 144.17 JPY)|
Japan was a strong favorite of our round the world trip. These 20 days have gone by at a crazy pace and we feel like we’ve only scratched the surface of the tip of the iceberg! One thing is certain, in the category of countries “to visit again”, we will keep Japan at the top of the list!
And now, let’s head for the island of Formosa, more commonly known as Taiwan!
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