Budget-friendly family travel in Japan
Want to take the kids to Japan but worried about the cost? Don't be! Check out these yen-stretching tips and start planning your family holiday!
- June 2018
- Updated July 2023
With its friendly people, efficient public transport and fascinating culture, Japan can be a great choice for a family holiday. Not only is it a colourful and effervescent destination, it's also different enough to actually feel like you’re experiencing something new.
By the way, Japan’s reputation for being madly expensive is exaggerated. Like anywhere, it can be, but with a few tricks in your backpack, you can make those yen last.
Seek out free attractions
You don’t have to fork out admission for many of Japan’s major attractions, which is a big plus when you’re travelling on a family holiday. There’s always something to see at Tokyo’s huge Yoyogi Park, whether it’s cherry blossoms, beautiful lakes, or the famous rockabilly dancers who gather there on weekends. Take a train to Nara, where the resident deer of Nara Park will charm the whole family. Visit amazing temples around the country (Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari shrine is a very photogenic stop), check out the cherry blossoms, or take in the sky-high views at Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. Teenagers will love the colourful street style and creative vibe of Harajuku (Tokyo) and Amerikamura (Osaka).
Keep it cheap and cheerful at meal times
Sure, you can splash out on fine dining in Japan, but there’s really no reason to spend mega-bucks on meals here. An easy way to stay within budget is to stock up on quick bites at a convenience store (known as a conbini - like a 7–11 or Lawson). Train station and department-store food halls (depachikas) also offer a dizzying array of carefully prepared food to go; department stores often have outdoor seating on the roof, where you can eat your spoils. (FYI: eating as you walk around is considered bad manners.) Street food is a yen-saving move – Osaka, in particular, is famed for it. Snack on takoyaki (fried octopus balls), taiyaki (fish-shaped sweet pastries), okonomiyaki (savoury pancakes) or green tea ice cream. Many restaurants offer lunch specials, which are great value. What’s more, Japan doesn’t have a tipping culture, so you don’t have to factor that cost in.
Time it right and avoid high season
One way to keep it cheap right off the bat is to avoid travelling in high season – those most popular months when the crowds are flocking to see the cherry blossoms, the autumn leaves or some other major event. Demand is high, with prices to match. If you can let your schedule slide a little, look at May, with its lovely late-spring weather, or December to January – good for skiing and snow monkey spotting!
Go to the snow
Speaking of snow, Japan is renowned for its great skiing. Many of the country’s ski fields are dotted across the main island of Honshu and the northern island of Hokkaido. Rusutsu, in Hokkaido, is perfect for a family holiday. Just two hours by bus from Sapporo, this purpose-built resort has everything you need – accommodation, entertainment, fabulous ski runs, English-speaking ski instructors. Plus, there are ski-in-ski-out options if you’re not staying there. Mind you, it might be hard to get the kids on the slopes once they spot the snow monkeys hanging out in the nearby hot springs, their fluffy heads getting peppered with snow...
Take a tropical detour to Okinawa
Nicknamed the ‘Hawaii of Japan’ for its tropical climate, lush nature and beachy charms, Okinawa makes an excellent addition to any family holiday itinerary. Not only is it a bit cheaper (and more laidback) than mainland Japan, it’s got major kid-friendly appeal. Comprised of around 160 islands, Okinawa’s aquatic activities – swimming, snorkelling, whale-watching and more – are practically endless. Out of the water, there are loads of ancient ruins to explore, and adventures to be had among the mangroves and forest of Yanbaru National Park. Eating out doesn’t have to break the bank, either: the street food is famously tasty and the tropical fruit is downright next level. In fact, the pineapples are so good, there's even a theme park dedicated to them!