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Japan on a Budget

One of the most surprising things about Japan was that, contrary to popular belief, it's not such an expensive country to visit. Overall, it turned out to be very similar to the cost of travelling in Europe, with meals and food being much cheaper. In fact it's quite common to hear Japanese people who have been to Europe complaining about the high costs of travelling in Britain.

One of the biggest costs in Japan is long distance travel, though again, it's not really any more expensive than a lot of European countries and buying a Japan Rail Pass makes it very reasonable if you plan to embark on even a few journeys in the country. Local travel in towns and cities is not particularly expensive and all the transport systems are very fast and efficient, although Tokyo's metro and rail map is terrifyingly complex unless you really know where you're going - even the locals get lost!

Another major cost is accommodation, but even here prices have dropped considerably over the last ten years or so. This, together with the fall in value of the yen means that, once again it isn't really any more expensive than Britain or other major European countries. A bed in a youth hostel or a capsule hotel costs around ¥3000 (€21) a night and a cheap business hotel or guesthouse might be around ¥5500 (€39). Buying or renting property, however, is still very expensive, especially in Tokyo, where simply renting a car parking space outside your house can cost ¥40,000 (€285) a month.

Food in Japan, like elsewhere in Asia, is remarkably cheap. It's easy to find a bowl of noodles for ¥300 (€2), a filling meal for ¥700 (€5), or you can fill yourself up in a cheap sushi bar for around ¥1000-¥1400 (€7-€10). Many restaurants often have lunch specials, and these are the best times to try somewhere more expensive. Another good option for lunch is a bento, or Japanese lunchbox, traditionally consisting of rice, fish, or meat, with one or more cooked or pickled vegetables - they tend to be very tasty and good value, especially if you're heading off on a long shinkansen trip. If you're really trying to eat cheaply there are 24hr convenience stores on almost every corner where you can buy a cup noodle and there's usually a flask of hot water to fill it from on the counter.

Going out drinking in Japan is generally expensive. A pint tends to cost ¥700 (€5) and upwards, but a beer in a supermarket is only about ¥200 (€1.50). One thing to be aware of is that some of the nicer bars will hit you with a ¥500 service charge, even if you've only dropped in for a small beer - this tends to be obvious when the 'free' sushi arrives shortly after you've sat down!

Electronics tend to be cheaper in Japan, partly due to the low 5% sales tax and the fact that a lot of them are manufactured in the country. It's worth knowing the price of whatever you're shopping for back home as sometimes there isn't much difference, but the biggest temptation to buy something is because of the selection of new models that won't turn up in the rest of the world for months - if ever. Often warranties are Japan only. Western goods, and especially designer items tend to be more expensive.

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