Getting close to the end of our time in Vietnam, I realized that I haven’t tallied up our expenses for Japan. The delay was initially due to waiting for charges, especially cash advances, to show up on the credit card. Then it was just lack of momentum.
All in, our 11 nights in Japan cost this family of five $1,630.16 Canadian.
That’s for everything. Flights from Boston to Tokyo, Tokyo to Kyoto round trip, all hotel fees we paid (only one night was a paid stay), all meals, currency conversion fees, activities and rail transport to get around the cities. That last one was by far our largest expense. Oh, and any miscellany as well. Check out the details below:
$897.75 – Transportation
$270.81 – Accommodation
$48.12 – Activities
$365.68 – Food & Beverage.
$30.19 – Logistics & Miscellaneous
$10 – ATM Fees
Generally transportation and accommodation costs are huge budget breakers, especially for a family of five. Even more so at destinations with low hotel occupancy limits. For the most part I nipped accommodation in the butt. But even though our business class airfare from Boston to Tokyo was a mere $331.24, we still had overall transportation costs of $897.75 for all five of us. This included $31.92 for five round trip economy tickets from Tokyo to Kyoto. And a whopping $534.59 for subway and bus tickets to get around.
We walked miles. Miles and miles. But we still had to rely on the subway system to see out of reach places. And especially for the hour-long trip to and from the Narita airport (which is no where near Tokyo).
I researched the Japan Rail pass that is available for out of country residents to promote tourism. This certainly would have cut down on the individual rail fares that we paid. But a seven day pass for the five of us was much more expensive (over $1,200) than what we ended up paying for all five of us for the entire 13 days of transportation that we needed and the transatlantic flights combined. So we certainly came out ahead.
Cabs are not really an option in Tokyo. The taxi fare from Narita airport to our hotel downtown Tokyo clocks in at over $240 one way.
Hotels are pretty expensive in Japan. I considered apartment rental sites like VRBO and AirBnB, but even they were pricey for the tiny abode you get. And most annoyingly, those private apartment rentals add exorbitant ‘extra guest’ fees, sometimes after just the first person. Why do I have to pay more for each person when I’m already paying a premium for a two or three room apartment with multiple beds?
In the end, I redeemed hotel points that we accumulated in the Starwood hotel reward program. I maximized the points by booking a four night award stay which made the fifth night of each stay free.
Sheraton Miyako Tokyo
We stayed at the Sheraton Miyako Tokyo hotel for our first five nights. We were obliged to book two whole rooms for the five of us. It cost us 80,000 Starpoints and ZERO dollars. The best part was the Platinum benefits we enjoyed at the hotel as Elite members. Room upgrade of course. Breakfast was complimentary each morning. Beverages and snacks were available all day long in the lounge. The lounge also had an extensive spread each evening at which we easily made a meal. And of course, the free alcoholic beverages were a huge bonus.
Those benefits saved us huge cash. Well, that’s debatable I guess because we wouldn’t have imbibed in Japan at all due to the excessive costs of alcoholic beverages. But huge value regardless.
Westin Miyako Kyoto
Our next set of five nights was at the Westin Miyako Kyoto. The Elite benefits were exceptional here as well. We only needed to book one room for the five of us and the hotel upgraded us to a suite with a separate sitting area. The hotel is more than a bit worn but charming nonetheless. The food and beverage options were excellent. And the hotel was set against a beautiful hillside with a wonderful view. In total, we redeemed 40,000 Starpoints for our five night stay. And it cost us ZERO dollars out-of-pocket.
One Night Paid Stay – Inevitable
We returned to Tokyo for our last night and paid $270.81 for the Sheraton Miyako Tokyo. This was just for one room. Imagine if we didn’t have points for the first ten nights. And yes, we did not declare all three of the children on this room reservation. There was plenty of room for all of us.
Other Budget Accommodation Options to Consider
I really wanted to hoard my points. It was difficult to part with so many. But the budget options were not appealing. In addition to apartment rentals, Japan has Capsule Hotels (literally a capsule, a tiny bit more roomy than a coffin), Business Hotels (for all the overworked businessmen), Karaoke Bars (rent by the hour after closing and sleep on a lounge chair), and Love Hotels (just ick). Ryokans were also an option but they are not budget at all. They’re Japanese style Inns that are often set in historical buildings and come with a full set dinner.
Points it was. Really great value Starwood hotels even though they put a big dent in my stash.
I was really surprised by this number. $48.12 for all the activities in Japan. It certainly seemed like we entered a lot of sites. I must have forgotten most of them were free. We paid $23.22 to enter Nijo Castle and $24.90 for the Monkey Park (including food for the monkeys).
Food & Beverage
All breakfasts and most dinners were taken at the hotel and were free. Somehow we spent $10.30 on beer and wine even though they were complimentary and much better quality at the lounge. Even though we only paid for one meal each day Food & Beverage still came to $365.68. We tried to curb costs by trying out budget dining options commonly recommended like taking out at the 7-Eleven (fat on a stick anyone?). Lots of locals do this and many stores even have a dining area off to the side. Though I don’t recommend it as it wasn’t very tasty. We loved the vending machine restaurants and the fresh entree selection at the full grocery stores. Proper sit down restaurants were a treat but quite pricey.
Logistics & Miscellaneous
$30.19 for all our miscellany.
This included $1.24 for a tube of crazy glue for my third FitBit piece of crap. The bit came off the band. Again!
$20.91 for three loads of laundry that we did ourselves at a steaming hot laundromat.
And $8.04 for a bottle of emergency sunscreen. Rookie mistake (by me). I forgot to put a bottle from home in the daypack before we left for an outing. You can’t go long without UV protection in a Japan summer.
This one annoys me. For the simple pleasure of accessing my own cash. Ten bucks for withdrawing cash at a foreign ATM (twice because I didn’t get the amount right the first time).
At least withdrawing cash is easy in Japan. Any 7-Eleven (and they’re everywhere) accepts foreign cards for a fee.
Japan is a cash based society. I knew this before but it’s astonishing that such a technology based location uses such an archaic system as bank notes. Major stores like 7-Eleven – cash only. Vending machines that take your food order – cash only. Large grocery stores, sit down restaurants, subway ticket dispenser – cash, cash, cash.
So I said $1,630.16 but all of the above adds up to $1,632.55. I went with the first number because I withdrew 700,000 Japanese Yen ($812.97 Canadian) from ATMs and used it for almost all our spending in those categories. The small difference is due to variations in the spot rate on the days I looked them up. Oh, and we had a few hundred Yen left that we gave to the kids at the airport. They came back with candy.
So there you have it!
Every single cent we spent on 11 nights and 13 days in Japan. Pretty good for a family of five in one of the world’s most expensive countries. If I don’t say so myself.