I recently got back from a 6month trip beginning in India and meandering overland, dipping southwards a fraction before ending in Japan for the final league of the journey.
My pre-japan planning was at best confused. It was hard to imagine, spending 5 months previous living generously on less than £10-15 a day, through dusty capitals, back water towns and high alitude encampments, that at the end of it I would be having to wizz around japan on the most state of the art trains, and spending the same money on a bed in a busy dorm room than I would an entire week in other places.
The reality is however, that Japan is not as expensive as it seems most people tend to insist on it being, and YES it is possible to survive on a reasonable budget if you stick and plan your trip before you get there. Japan is most certainly cheaper to live than most other western countries.
To address the frequently asked question, which I myself asked and asked on so many numerous occassions, is the Japanese Rail Pass value for money? and is it a must?
It made me sick to death of article after article of people saying how this is the only way to travel! IT ISN'T! and most independent travellers I spoke to agreed.
What seemed to be the case, was that after purchasing the travel card you had to then use it within the number of consequetive days after you took your first journey. People I met seemed to say that they felt they were wasting their money when spending a few days seeing the sights of a place, and felt that in order to get their moneys worth had to keep wizzing around the country. By all means, i'm sure this will suit some people, but for budget travellers, this is what I did:
Certainly consider catching buses around the country instead of the rail pass. www.123bus.net is an exceptional idea. Picking departures over night not only includes your travel but saves you a nights accommodation if you don't mind roughing it.
Tokyo - Hiroshima (8hrs) cost me £28
Hiroshima - Kyoto cost me £15
With regard to eating, do if you can sus out the 100yen lawson stores, where you will be able to eat bento boxes, noodles and pick up cans of beer at very low prices. Similarly, if eating out, try to drop in noodle bars where you purchase your meal ticket from a machine before handing it to the cheif.
Regarding accommodation, when in Tokyo I highly recommend the 'Asakusa Smile' in Asakusa. It's exceptionnaly cheap for dorm accommodation in the capital, a really nice part of the city, very clean and comfortable and very close to the metro systems.
How about a manga cafe? I orignally snubbed the idea when I read about them, and laughed at the quirkiness of the idea. It wasn't until when I went to check in at my hostel in Hiroshima that I found out that they had overbooked my reservation, and after a tiresome night on a bus, found the idea of sleeping rough non to appealing. Instead, I sought out a Manga cafe.....and it was amazing!!!!!! Highly recommend it. Very cheap, you have to wait until after 11pm for the cheap deals, but hiring your own computer room, with comfy reclining chair, internet, ps3s, all the drinks you can have (including hot chocolate and soup) for only £10! AMAZING!
I hope this helps some travellers out there, particularly those considering doing it on a budget. I'm sure some people may disagree, and by all means, if the costs and hassle of arranging buses out weigh the JPRC then you know what to do, it's simply putting another consideration on the table.
I have got other tips for those on a budget, so please do message me as I seem to have gone on quite a bit in this topic!
Anyway, happy travelling. Japan truely is an amazing country, the people, the culture, the food....everything is incredible! I just wish I could be out there travelling again.