It is probably not as expensive as the rumour has it. There is a false understanding that Japan is very expensive, but that portrayal is not accurate. If you compare Japan with other Asian countries then yes, Japan is relatively costly. In fact, it is (within certain limits) as expensive as you want it to be, let me explain.
Japan is both expensive and cheap. A lot of times you can get away relatively reasonably but you could also spend as much as you want, there is not a real roof to what it might cost. There are usually low-cost options if you have a bit tighter budget.
What do food and beverages cost in Japan?
Tokyo is the city in the world that has the most Michelin stars, beating London, Paris and New York in the number of stars. Tokyo is a food town. However, restaurants with Michelin stars often come with a juicy price tag (not always!).
What are some of the low-cost options here? If you have a really tight budget, you should go for one of the big chains, Yoshinoya, Sukiya, Matsuya, Otoya and others. Here you can get a comparably inexpensive meal. For 500 yen (around US$4,5) at Yoshinoyayou get a bowl of rice, a bowl of miso soup, a plate of fried meat and a bowl of egg to dip the meat in.
If you want to get away even cheaper, you can get a simple but filling and delicious Gyudon (bowl of rice topped with meat) for about 400 yen, US $3,5.
On the other side of the spectrum, you can go to Joêl Robuchon in Ebisu and get a tasting menu for 45000 yen (US$420). Which is both expensive and yet relatively inexpensive for a three-star restaurant.
I’m always surprised by how cheap beverages are in Japan. Often you never have to pay more than US$1-1,5 for a bottle of water or a soft drink in a convenience store. It can get even cheaper if you buy it in a vending machine.
Beer and alcohol are generally also relatively cheap in Japan, a beer at a restaurant costs around 500 yen (US$4,5).
What does it cost to travel in Japan?
If you look at Tokyo, you have as a tourist many different transport options. You can choose between trains, subway, bus or taxi (or walk). In Tokyo, you pay for how far you go. If you take local trains as an example and specifically what it costs to go on the Yamanote line (Tokyo’s loop line). To get to the opposite side of the loop wherever you are costs about 200 yen (approximately US$2).
Taxi is the more expensive option, here the cost also depends a lot on the traffic, the same journey as above would cost anything between 4000-8000 yen.
If you want to go a little further, like Kyoto or Osaka from Tokyo with the Shinkansen (Japan’s high-speed train). A one-way ticket will set you back around 10,000 yen (US$92), varying a little bit depending on which train you take. The fewer stops the train makes along the road, the more the train journey will cost, but around 10,000 yen one-way is to be reckoned.
What does the accommodation cost in Japan?
There is a wide variety of different accommodation options in Japan. Ranging from the famous capsule hotels to luxury international hotels, and everything in-between.
Staying at a capsule hotel costs around 3000-4000 yen (US$27-37) per night. There are cheaper and more expensive capsule hotel options depending on condition and location.
So-called business hotels are a bit simpler compared to regular hotels, often rather small rooms and only the most basic utilities. Can be found from 5000-10000 yen (US$45-90) per night. An ordinary hotel cost from 8000 yen (US$73) and up, depending on location and level of luxury.
There are also hostels in Japan with classic layouts, own room or shared room, from around 4000 yen (US$37).