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Last year, I wrote about a plan by the Japanese government to give away 10,000 free airplane tickets to Japan to boost its slumping tourism industry.

Unfortunately last week, the Japan Tourism Agency announced that the “Fly To Japan” project had failed to get funding in the Japanese government’s budget

While I’m really disappointed that I won’t be able to get to Japan on the government’s dime, I can definitely understand why the plan didn’t go through.

It might come across as a little insensitive for the government to spend so much money on free airplane tickets when there’s still so much that needs to be cleaned up and rebuilt in the Tohoku area. Not to mention that tourist money wouldn’t likely directly help earthquake and tsunami victims.

Alternatives Ways To Japan

If you had your little heart set on those free tickets to Japan, fear not! There are still plenty of ways to get to Japan if not for free, then very cheaply. If you’re really serious and determined about going to Japan, then there are tons of great opportunities out there for you. Here are some alternate routes of getting to Japan.

School

If you’re going to college or university, there are often very inexpensive ways of traveling abroad through your school, either through partnerships with other schools or through grants and scholarships. Even some high schools offer programs to Japan. If you can show that you’re eager and serious about learning, then your school will usually try its best to accommodate you.

Koichi and intern-turned-writer-extrodinaire John both went to Japan through school study abroad programs, and Koichi wrote a great guide a few years back on how to get a scholarship, which you should definitely read here.

JET

The JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Programme is a well-known and long-running program created by the Japanese government that takes native English speakers from other countries (mainly the US) and places them into teaching positions all across Japan.

The program requires you to have a university degree, but other than that there’s basically no teaching or language experience required.

Not to mention that JET is an actual job, meaning you’ll be paid for going to Japan. Pretty good deal, right?

WWOOF

Last year, I wrote about WWOOF, AKA World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. WWOOF is more of a working vacation than a leisurely visit, but you’ll nevertheless have a place to stay and food to eat in Japan. If you’re at all interested, there’s tons more information in the post (and comments!) here.

Make Your Own Way

Of course, if none of the above methods sound appealing to you, you can always try to make it to Japan with your own, hard-earned cash. This can be tough because it means that you’ll not only be planning everything from start to finish, but you’ll be be paying for everything too.

Fortunately visiting Japan on the cheap can be a lot easier (and more rewarding) than you might think.

Places To Stay

Going to Japan might seem impossible if you approach it thinking that you need to stay at a Hilton, but in reality there are tons of cheap ways to stay in Japan.

Hostels are always an inexpensive option, and should be a familiar concept to anybody who’s traveled on the cheap before.

There are also tons of online resources to help you connect with people who want to give you a a place to stay. Sites like Airbnb and CouchSurfing will let you find people who will let you stay at their homes.

And if you’re comfortable enough, you can look at what the homeless do in Japan. Last year Koichi covered how the homeless in Japan live cheaply, including staying in capsule hotels and internet cafés. Might not be the most appealing option, but it certainly does the job.

Where To Go (Avoid The Big Cities)

Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto are all great, world-class cities. I have nothing against them, but if you want to visit Japan cheaply, you should avoid them at all costs.

Because these cities are so great and popular, they’re usually pretty expensive. For that reason, you should gravitate away from the well-known tourist destinations and check out the many other cool and interesting parts of Japan.

Former Tofugu writer Nick did a whole series called “Off The Beaten Track” about visiting less well-known areas in Japan. You can check out all of the posts in “Off The Beaten Track” here.

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But really, the bottom line is that if you really want to go to Japan, there are tons of ways for you to get there. And believe it or not, there are even lots of people who want to help you out! You just have to know where to look.

I’m sure that there are many, many more groups and organizations that can help you get to Japan that I didn’t mention in this post. If you know of any more, please let us know in the comments so we can spread the word!

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EDIT: For those of you asking about getting cheaper airline tickets to Japan, check out Koichi’s post “How To Get Cheap Airplane Tickets To Japan” here.

  • Doug

    You should probably credit photos taken on Flickr. None of them are mine, but it’s the courteous thing to do, and could (theoretically) get the owner in trouble. 

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    I always link to the picture’s page on Flickr, which seems to be enough for most photographers.

  • Cute Bruiser

    There’s a possibility my school will pay for my airfare for a short study abroad. Unfortunately, I would be alone and I don’t feel comfortable (as a girl) staying with strangers; so aside from the “homeless” advice section, do you have any other advice for accomodations in Japan that would be cheap and appropriate for a girl travelling on her own?

  • Noonster

    This was a really nice article to read. I’ll be starting college this fall and one of my main requirements for my top choice colleges was that they had study abroad to Japan! I am so doing that it’s not even funny!!

  • http://spekkio.bandcamp.com/ HeySpekkio

    I wish I saw this post earlier, I would have chimed in with how I’m traveling to Japan for a week on less than 500 bucks, but I fear it may be too late for those interested.

  • http://spekkio.bandcamp.com/ HeySpekkio

    Actually, I’m not gonna be a dick and leave it like that (cliffhanger)! Here’s how I’m doing it (trip is in a few weeks).

    1. American Airlines cut their required frequent flier miles for a
    roundtrip economy ticket to Japan by 50%. All flights must be made by
    the end of February. (Total is 30,000 miles, so if you’re lucky enough
    to have some, you shouldn’t miss this opportunity!). (http://www.aa.com/viewPromotionDetails.do?repositoryId=16329611)

    2. If you had no miles, like myself, you can sign up for this credit
    card
    (http://www.aa.com/i18n/AAdvantage/earnMiles/beyondTravel/creditDebit/citiVisa.jsp).
    If you spend 750 within the first month (pay your bills, you
    bum) you receive 30,000 miles.

    Do I need to elaborate here?

    That’s a free ticket. Both ways. Use couch-surfing, airbnb, or live homeless to get cheap room. Eat cheap if you have to.

    I’m crazy excited to go! P.S. the miles take a stupid amount of time to
    get into your account, so if you’re gonna try and tackle this make sure
    you’ll get them in time.

  • http://www.japaneseruleof7.com/ Ken Seeroi

    Great list.  I’d probably choose the JET option if I had to come here again.

    I’ve heard mixed reviews from people who have WWOOFed here in Japan.  I always thought WWOOFing would be a lot of fun, but apparently a lot of it depends on what kind of farm you’re on, and how the people there are.  You also have to accept that you’re working all day long in exchange for room and board, whereas if you got even a part-time job, you could probably make more money and have time to explore Japan.

    Recently I worked on a farm here, helping some friends of mine harvest soba, plant onions, and pick fruit.  (I wrote a story about it on my site.)  It wasn’t hard so much as crushingly repetitive.  Like at one point I just picked tangerines all day.  I mean, that was big fun for about 10 tangerines, and after that it just like, Jeez, will these things ever stop?  And, contrary to what Hashi said in his other post, I didn’t feel like it was very helpful for improving my Japanese.  No matter how many tangerines I talked to, I couldn’t seem to make any progress. 

    Unless you’re a farm boy/girl in your home country and really like that work, you might want to consider one of the other options.

  • http://www.japaneseruleof7.com/ Ken Seeroi

    I’ve stayed in youth hostels here, and I’d say they’re pretty clean, comfortable, and cheap, usually around $20 a night for a private room (although usually small).  It’s not uncommon to see women staying there by themselves.  It’s even cheaper if you stay in a dormitory-style room.  Check out http://www.hostelworld.com/

    I’d probably steer clear of internet cafes if I was a girl.  A few girls stay there, but it’s mostly a ton of guys.  Same goes for capsule hotels.

    You say you don’t want to stay with strangers, but you might want to reconsider and do a homestay.  You can usually choose the family you want to stay with, and I’m pretty sure you could even find a single mother with a child if that would suit you better.  It’s not a bad idea to live with someone who can help you do some simple things in the society when you first arrive, as opposed to doing everything on your own.

    If you’re staying for a couple of months or more, you could also check out a shared house like Sakura House.  It’s not uncommon for women to stay there by themselves.

  • susiep539

    I work for a company called Peppy Kids Club (search for iTTTi Japan) and if you don’t mind working with kids and following a fairly useless syllabus, it’s a pretty easy job for pretty good pay. I work about 10-20 hours a week for 250,000 yen a month. The catch is some really long commutes but it’s not the end is the world. And while you need a degree to get the normal visa, they offer jobs on working holiday visas too, which you don’t need a degree for.

  • Anselm D’Souza

    I know I’m a little late to the
    party, but I loved my time in Japan so much that I must share how I went there
    free of charge, on top of which I was paid, so that others may also benefit.

    This one is definitely more geared towards youth
    (high schoolers), but depending on the circumstances even young adults (and
    even older people) may go.

    Before I get into the how, I’ll briefly cover the
    what. 

    I was an air cadet in Canada (it’s like scouts or more
    accurately CAP in the states, essentially it’s a youth group involved with
    flying) and I went on a 2 week exchange through them, on the International Air
    Cadet Exchange (IACE, not the same as the travel agency), here is the website
    for the association which runs the IACE program: http://www.iacea.com

    Long story short, this organization is a
    collection of air cadet groups in a bunch of different countries, including
    Japan.

    It’s important to note that the criteria
    for selection and country assignment varies from member nation to member
    nation, and even within the nation. 

    The way it worked for me was that I had to go
    through a panel interview, a review of my cadet record and school grades. Then I
    was assigned a score, and then based on that score I was assigned a country to
    go to. It turns out that I scored high enough to have my pick, and I chose
    Japan.

    Just as the selection criteria varies, so too does
    the amount of financial support each country gives their participants. In
    Canada we’re lucky enough to have everything paid for (except the exchange
    uniform, but usually even that’s paid for) and by that I mean round trip
    airfare, accommodations, food and transportation, etc. In fact they even paid me
    a training allowance of $150 for the two weeks I was there. The only thing they
    didn’t pay were my souvenirs and incidentals (toiletries, snacks, junk food,
    etc.)

    But remember, depending on which country is
    sponsoring you, the financial support could be drastically different as each
    nation pays for the people they send abroad.

    The program once in Japan is determined by your hosts,
    the native air cadet organization. Let me tell you that if you get Japan, you
    won’t be disappointed with what you do, I compared experiences with fellow
    Canadians who went elsewhere and Japan was easily one of the best. 

    |I know it’s a lot to read, but if
    you’re able to go on this program you’ll thank me. We’re almost done J|

    So first, see if your country has an
    air cadet program that is a member of the IACE association (see link above).

    Next, see what the air cadet organization’s
    requirements are for IACE, as well as check IACE’s requirements on their site.

    This is important as I mentioned above that they checked my cadet record as
    part of the qualification process, so this means that you may need to join
    early to build up a good history (most cadet programs are wonderful in their
    own right and shouldn’t be seen as a necessary evil to get to IACE).
     Also, the
    different organizations will have different age limits, and IACE usually
    requires you to be at least 17.

    If you’re too old to be a cadet, see if you can
    apply to go as an escort officer (chaperone), this is the option for the older
    people. Again though, it usually requires that you have a history as an
    officer in the program before you qualify. It’s best to check with your local
    organization for further details.

    Lastly, I kind of alluded to it earlier, but also
    note that this program isn’t only limited to Japan, it allows for exchanges
    with any of the member nations. However, as it is an exchange, unless your
    country is accepting cadets from a certain nation, chances are slim that you’ll
    be able to go to that nation on exchange.

     

    Best of luck, and enjoy Japan
    regardless of how you get there!

  • http://twitter.com/Mashimaro77 Dejiko

    I stayed at Oosaka very cheap, the hostel I stayed(Hotel Sun Plaza II) at had private rooms, and little individual shower rooms, and hot water boilers for your cup noodles on the main floor. It was only about 20 bucks a night,me and my friend stayed in the same room for only 30! There was plenty of cheap hotels in the area, even one that was way cheaper than the one we stayed at, only 10 bucks a night! So you don’t have to avoid Oosaka, just get a hotel in the slum Nishinari!lol

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_YD52TTNKRJYA4FIWZ6UWRZMPHI Esther W

    I know how to travel to Japan cheaply as someone who is single by going to hostels and all but how do you travel cheaply with 5 children?

  • Shihab Cp

    i am a 35 years old indian man. can i go to japan as in any visa options.. anybody can help me ?

  • i toss lemons

    My older sister had a job that transfered her to japan and she stayed there for 2 years. her job paid for everything except stuff that she wanted to buy like clothes etc. I was so jealous!

  • HelenMM

    Which sites should one visit to find tickets at the prices you say are available? And what dates are the ones you speak of that are cheapest for travel? I am traveling from Canada.

  • http://twitter.com/Rayuta Saul Nieves

    Need more info on this or can u provide us with ur travel agency??? thanks

  • Sonny

    Well, since I just came back from Japan, I have to disagree with the Tokyo/Osaka statements. Go there, unless you’re only able to afford couch surfing or hostels. I used agoda hotel search services and found *very* nice hotels there for 45 to 65 a night. No joke, I stayed in the *heart* of tokyo for 4 nights 240.00, and that was a 2 twin bed room, it was plenty big At the Ohedo hotel in Ikebukuro, that’s 2 short train stations from Tokyo station, 3 train stations from Akihabara (if you go to tokyo, you *will* go to Akihabara). . It’s not fancy, but all I do is sleep in the room. The other 18 hours I’m out and about. Many many places like this everywhere, Osaka, Nagoya, Kyoto, just use agoda and check.. no, I do *not* work for agoda or in any way associated with them. And! I booked my rooms only a day in advance, twice I made bookings same day! Also, I booked my flight from April 3rd, to April 21st, 818.00 round trip. Right now, for June, July, August, nothing less than 1000.00 So I don’t get that part of what he said either. I got to see sakuras in full bloom in many many cities. 52.00 a night in Tajimi *during* their huge pottery festival, 54 a night in Osaka. Small room, 16th floor, and even lived through the large earthquake that hit at 5:20 the morning of the 13th! Scary as hell though. Don’t bother booking a room in Takayama during April or August, that’s Japans largest festival, rooms are booked, and even if you can find one you’ll pay through the nose. Trains are full too, standing room only. Stay in Tajimi and stand on the train. =/ Nagasaki was bout 45, nice place again small, but just sleep! I don’t know how anyone can make such blanket statements like this guy has. Very cheap hotels *can* be found in any major city as long as nothing big is going on in the area…

  • http://twitter.com/KTownsNative Raven♠Morand

    there are also hostels in Tokyo and other large cities, though they tend to be out of they way. If you want to go to Tokyo for cheap, it’ll take some planning, but it’s possible!

  • hassn

    i want to go japan permanently so waht can i do??

  • hassn

    i want to go japan as student and need part time work for my expense??
    so waht can i do…….. tell me about differant routes or ways

  • mattbaxterz

    Great article! But I still think it is perfectly possible to travel and live cheaply in a city like Tokyo. I have been doing it for 5 years! Websites like Cheapo Japan and Tokyo Cheapo will show you how! :D

  • Joey

    My wife and I need to find a way to get to Kagishima so our son can meet his grandparents. Too expensive. There has to be a way to get discounted tickets