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Why Is Japan So Expensive? (Top 10 Reasons)

Fujiyoshida, Japan at Chureito Pagoda and Mt. Fuji in the spring with cherry blossoms.

 

Traveling to Japan introduces you to a whole new group of people and their culture.

While you’re seeing the sights, eating the food, and learning about the culture, you’ll likely find that the country may be a bit more expensive than you expected.

Everything from traveling to Japan to staying in a hotel may take more out of your budget than you had planned.

With the Japanese yen valued lower than the US dollar, the prices might surprise you.

Here are 10 reasons Japan is so expensive.

 

Why Is Japan So Expensive? (Top 10 Reasons)

 

1. Stability

Shinjuku, Tokyo

 

For its entire history, Japan has had a very stable government.

There haven’t been any civil wars or other insurrections in recent history.

Because of that, Japan has been able to focus on its economy and other factors in the country.

While other countries wage war, Japan has mostly kept to itself and focused on its own policies and way of life.

Because of that, it’s quite a strong country.

This is different from countries whose governments regularly topple or get removed from power.

Whenever there’s a lot of political strife and rebellions, the economy and other aspects of the country don’t perform well.

That’s because the government isn’t there to keep watch and help its citizens.

It’s too busy defending itself from insurrectionists or terrorists.

The government might also need to put most of its funding toward its military instead of its people.

Because of this, the country doesn’t perform economically, which means it’s quite cheap to visit.

That isn’t the case in Japan where a strong and stable government and economy have allowed it to have a pretty strong currency.

The Japanese yen has consistently traded near the same value as the US dollar.

This essentially means that someone visiting Japan has about the same buying power in the country as they would in the United States.

If that individual has visited other countries with weaker currencies, then they may expect their money to stretch further than it does in Japan.

Japan is expensive because of its stable government.

 

2. Focus On Quality

Sony PlayStation 5

 

Another reason Japan is expensive is that they focus on high-quality goods and commodities.

Because they have a strong economy and government, they’re able to focus their funds on investments that make their cities incredible.

Since their economy is strong, their people receive decent pay.

That then allows them to afford high-quality items which improve their lives.

At the very least, the items make their lives a bit more efficient.

This, in turn, allows them to become more productive.

They can focus on their projects and make them top-tier quality as well.

There’s a reason some of the best electronics come from Japan, after all.

The country has a focus on producing high-quality products.

This is different from the United States which has a mix of both high-quality items and low-quality items.

Since there are always items that are cheaper somewhere on the market, it makes everyone used to cheap prices and cheap products.

When they travel to Japan, those cheap and low-quality items are still there, but they’re smaller in number and availability.

Instead, Japan prefers to focus its investments on high-quality items no matter how small or mundane.

Because of that, traveling to Japan might give some people sticker shock.

Japan is expensive because of its focus on high-quality products.

 

3. Island Nation

pushpin marking the Japan map

 

Japan is an island nation.

For much of its history, it preferred its isolation.

Because of its isolation, it mostly had to rely on itself for its economy.

This has allowed the country to develop far faster than some other Asian countries.

They had few trading partners in the country’s earliest years and had to grow or make the things that they needed instead.

While trade has opened up over the years, Japan still relies mostly on itself for its basics.

This has empowered it financially because if there’s a global supply chain problem or something occurring in the world that’s impacting trade, Japan is ready to stand on its own.

Since it already produces everything it needs to survive, it’s not impacted as much by global events.

This further makes it stable which makes its currency stronger and more expensive.

Great Britain is another island nation with a similar background.

It developed as quickly as it did because it had to grow and make everything for itself.

However, Great Britain, due to its proximity to other countries, involved itself in trade more than Japan.

That’s made it a little more reliant on others than itself.

Since Japan only needs to rely on itself for its goods, food, and other commodities, it’s in a position of financial strength.

Japan is expensive because its history as an island nation made it financially independent.

 

4. Travel Costs

Tokio airport view at the bottom of mountain Fuji

 

The main mode of transportation to Japan is air travel.

Because it’s an island nation, flying is the easiest and fastest way to get there.

While there are cruises and likely other ships that can get you to the island, they’re slower.

The problem with flying to Japan is that it’s a very long and very expensive flight.

The average price of a plane ticket to Japan is around $1,000.

If you’re traveling with someone, then you can expect that price to double or even triple.

While you can find some discount tickets from certain airlines, you can also expect your journey to last even longer.

They’re usually discounted because the plane makes several stops along the way.

It’s the sheer distance that makes airline tickets so expensive to Japan.

If you’re traveling from the United States, then Japan is essentially on the other side of the world.

That’s a long distance for planes to travel.

They’ll need to stop off at a few airports to refuel.

Because the plane takes on several expenses during the journey, they have to split that expense with its passengers.

This becomes even more expensive when gas prices are on the rise.

Planes use jet fuel to stay powered.

If gas prices are high, jet fuel is also high.

Since the cost of keeping the plane flying is higher, ticket prices are also higher.

Another reason that traveling to Japan is expensive is the number of people traveling there.

Japan is a tourist destination with a lot of people interested in seeing the sights.

It’s also a place of business, so there are a lot of executives and their staff who travel to Japan frequently.

Japan also has a fairly large population.

It comes in 11th place for the world’s largest population at 125.71 million people.

Those people also use the airlines to go and come back to Japan from their various vacations.

Japan is expensive because getting to Japan is expensive from the start.

 

5. Train Prices

Japanese Shinkansen high speed train

 

Perhaps one of the main attractions every visitor wants to try when visiting Japan is riding the bullet train.

Japan has some high-speed trains that can allow you to travel across the island in a short time.

For those who are only visiting the island for a few days, riding the bullet train is a great way to see almost everything you want.

Of course, riding the bullet train is expensive.

Like in the United States, there are a few different costs depending on how comfortable you want your trip to be.

For standard tickets for a 7-Day rail pass, you can expect to pay around $260.

For tickets that give you reserved seating for a 7-Day rail pass, you can expect to pay over $300.

Your tickets become even more expensive if you choose to sit in the Green Car.

The Green Car is Japan’s version of First Class seats.

It features more leg room and more comfortable seating.

In most cases, it’s a good idea to pay the extra cost for reserved seating.

That’s because Japan doesn’t stop selling unreserved seating tickets.

They allow everyone on board with unreserved seating on a first-come-first-served basis.

Even if every seat is full, they’ll still allow passengers inside.

They just have to stand.

If you want to ensure that you have somewhere to sit, then you’ll want to take on the extra cost of reserved seat tickets.

Ticket prices are also expensive if you’re traveling during a holiday.

That’s because everyone is traveling during that time and using the trains.

Since there’s more demand for the train, the prices increase.

Japan is expensive because of its high-quality and efficient bullet trains.

 

6. Hotel Prices

Capsule Hotel

 

Another big cost that you’ll discover when visiting Japan is its hotel prices.

While you may be able to find a few cheap hotels outside of the major cities, by and large, you can expect to pay a high price if you’re staying in one of the cities.

Tokyo, for example, is going to have some of the most expensive hotels.

You’ll find that there are two styles of hotels in Japan.

There are traditional hotels that lean more towards Japanese culture and their expectations when staying at a hotel.

Then there are western hotels that lean more towards American and European culture and their expectations when staying at a hotel.

Western hotels tend to cost a bit more since Western visitors tend to expect more.

Mid-range hotels cost anywhere from $150 to $300 a night.

However, if you want the most comfortable and inclusive experience, then you want to stay at Japan’s boutique hotels.

These start, on average, at $400 a night and only go up from there.

The more expensive the hotel, the more services you usually receive.

For example, not all hotels make and deliver food to their guests.

If that’s a feature that you want, then you may have to pay more.

That said, Japan has some of the best hospitality in the world.

They’ll often bend over backward to satisfy your wishes.

In Tokyo, part of the reason that hotels cost as much as they do is how populated and busy the city is.

Since more people are staying in the city, and the city is a major place of business, it means more people are using its hotels.

With high demand for hotels and only so many of them, the prices surge.

Certain holidays also make hotel prices more expensive.

Japan is expensive because of its hotel prices.

 

7. Day Tours

Sensoji Asakusa Temple, Tokyo, Japan

 

One of the best ways to see Tokyo and understand its history is to go on a day tour.

For the entire tour, you’ll have an English-speaking guide take you around the city.

They’ll take you to traditional gardens, allow you to witness tea ceremonies, and go into the history of how the city came to be.

Day tours usually last eight hours and include a meal or two.

They’re also usually held in groups of as small as 10 people.

The problem with day tours is that they can become quite expensive.

The average cost of a day tour in Tokyo is $250 to $300.

There are a few reasons for this.

The first is the guide.

Since you’re in Japan, not everyone speaks English.

They speak their native language of Japanese.

It’s important to remember that you’re a minority in Japan.

Guides have to receive training to speak English fluently.

They need to be able to communicate effectively to their guests since that’s what they’re paid to do and expected to do.

That sort of education comes with a cost.

English isn’t an easy language to learn, let alone speak fluently.

Those who can speak both English and Japanese are highly prized and small in number.

Because of their scarcity, they’re able to ask for higher wages.

The tour is also expensive because it usually includes food.

Some tour lines will provide the food while others will take you to a restaurant and allow you to fend for yourself in paying for it.

Finally, day tours are expensive because you’re seeing some of the best sights in Tokyo.

Other tourists who aren’t part of the day tour likely won’t learn or see some of the things that you will.

Since you’re getting a bit of an exclusive on the city and its history, you pay for that special treatment.

Japan is expensive because its day tours are expensive.

 

8. Food Costs

Mix of Japanese food on restaurant table

 

Another big expense you’ll find in Japan that makes the country expensive is its food.

Food in Japan is expensive because it’s usually high-quality.

The country pays its farmers well, which means the cost of food is higher.

They focus on high-quality food over low-quality food.

There’s also a push towards more sustainable farming practices which further adds costs to farming.

That also makes the food more expensive.

Perhaps one of the best things that Japan has a reputation for is sushi.

If you want the best sushi in the world, then you need to go to Japan.

Their chefs know just how to prepare it.

The quality of fish is also very important.

All these things together with the authenticity of Japanese cuisine lead to some incredible experiences.

However, it also becomes very expensive.

You can expect to pay around $50 to $100 on food a day.

For families, that amount becomes even more expensive.

Food costs, restaurant costs, and other expenses all make your meals far more expensive in Japan than you might have planned.

Restaurants also don’t use tipping services.

They pay their waiters and waitresses livable wages.

Tipping is sometimes even considered rude.

This means you’re going to be paying a higher amount for your service, too.

Japan is expensive because of the expense of your meals.

 

9. Drinks

Pouring sake into a sake cup set

 

In most cases, drink prices are comparable to what they are in the United States.

The main expense comes from drinking sake.

Sake is a liquor made from rice that’s native to Japan.

While it’s relatively cheap to make, it’s considered a delicacy for visitors.

Part of that is because the best sake comes from local brewers.

The price of sake usually starts at $8 but it climbs from there based on its quality.

Like any vineyard or whiskey brewer, if you go to one that is well-known in the community, you can expect a higher price.

Another reason sake is expensive is that the Japanese know that it’s something tourists want to try.

While you can likely get sake in the United States, it isn’t quite the same as drinking it from a local brewer.

That experience is something they charge you for.

Japan is expensive when it comes to drinking sake.

 

10. Ryokan

Ryokan traditional Japanese accommodation

 

If you want the best experience in Tokyo or anywhere else in Japan, then you should consider staying at a ryokan.

A ryokan is a family-run inn.

It usually accommodates one or two guests.

You stay at a Japanese traditional home complete with paper walls.

The family takes care of your needs and even serves a traditional kaiseki dinner to you.

This is a multi-course meal that usually consists of several traditional homemade dishes.

Some homes even have a hot spring where you can relax after all your sightseeing.

Staying at a ryokan is usually the most expensive option in Japan.

Some families offer cheaper rates starting at $80 a night, but it’s easy to find others who have far higher rates than that.

The higher amount that you pay, the more services they usually have.

Most stay at a ryokan to experience traditional Japanese culture.

It’s a great way to understand the people, appreciate their history and food, and have a unique experience all in one.

Japan is expensive if you choose to stay at a ryokan.

 

Conclusion

Japan is a tourist destination offering experiences that you can’t get anywhere else.

However, due to its strong economy, the prices in the country are usually comparable to the United States if not higher.

Most travelers find themselves having to pay more for food, lodgings, and entertainment due to the higher costs associated with tourism and city living when visiting Tokyo.


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