Backpacking in Japan: Guide + Tips for Beginners! [2024]

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Backpacking in Japan: Guide + Tips for Beginners! [2024]
Interested in skipping the guided tours and looking to embark on your own adventure? This ultimate travel guide to Japan might just be the one you need to discover your top hidden destinations.

Laura is a freelance writer with experience of minimalist and vegan travel. She has backpacked and performed as a singer in exciting locations such as Thailand, Menorca, Fuerteventura, and Lapland. Laura seeks to pass on her knowledge to new and experienced travelers through her stories and recommendations.

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Japan is a backpacker's paradise, with ramen in every corner and hostels in most locations. In this travel guide, I'll be taking you through all you'll need to make your backpacking trip to Japan one in the books!  

Are you dreaming of visiting Japan but are limited by your bank balance? What if I told you that you could plan a trip to Japan on a budget? Discover hidden gems, buddy up with the locals, and immerse yourself in Japanese culture on your travels. You can do all this without spending a fortune by backpacking across Japan! 

This article covers the best tips for planning a backpacking trip. I'll also dive into some of the backpacking trails Japan is famous for. Grab a pen, and let's start planning your Japan adventure!

How to Plan a Backpacking Trip to Japan

You may be thinking, "Isn't Japan one of the most expensive places to travel in the world?" Japan's technology sector and thriving tourism make it the third wealthiest country in Asia. However, it can still be a budget-friendly travel destination. 

With some inside knowledge from my handy Japan tourist guide, you can enjoy everything Japan has to offer without breaking the bank. Japan has many affordable hostels and guesthouses that offer a more authentic experience. You can also join locals for free activities and festivals!

Before you travel, gaining a basic understanding of Japanese culture and language is a good idea. You can also keep a Japanese phrasebook on hand during your trip. Some basic phrases could help you build relationships with locals and give you access to insider knowledge.

Do your research beforehand to identify the best options for your travel budget and itinerary. Remember to also look up Visa requirements and travel insurance when planning your trip.

Budget Planning

Before you start daydreaming about lounging in hot springs and slurping noodles, you'll need to decide how much you want to spend. Backpackers should budget 3,000-6,000 yen, or $20-40, per day to cover food and other expenses. Check the exchange rate before you travel to get the most from your money.

It's also helpful to decide which areas of Japan you'd like to visit so you can research accommodation and transport options. Some of the most popular backpacking destinations in Japan include:

  • Okinawa
  • Tokyo
  • Nagasaki
  • Hiroshima
  • Osaka
Hijemi Castle, Osaka, Japan
Photo by Pixabay

Planning your flights, accommodation, and transport will be easier once you decide where to visit. You can research museums, galleries, and other tourist attractions to get a feel for admission prices and work them into your budget. 

Most restaurants and shops only accept cash. Your bank or travel shop should be able to order you some Japanese currency if they don't have any in stock. Get your yen before you travel to avoid higher exchange rates while preventing awkward interactions in shops. 

Don't worry if you forget to buy currency before your flight, there are plenty of places to pick up yen on your travels, including the airport and local ATMs. 

Pack Light and Save Money

Try not to get too excited by expensive backpacks and gadgets that could deplete your precious Japan travel budget. Carrying all your possessions in a backpack can be stressful if you bring unnecessary items. 

Follow this ultimate backpacking packing list to ensure you've got everything you need for your trip. Some essentials you'll need are:

  • Smart and casual clothing
  • Cash and credit/bank card
  • Japanese rail pass
  • Hiking boots
  • Suica card (for train fares)
  • International driver's license

Japan has four distinct seasons that make it easy to plan your wardrobe. The best time to visit Japan is between March and May, when the climate is cool, and the cherry blossom season is in full swing. It's best to avoid packing tank tops and shorts to remain respectful as you travel through Japan.

Remember that you'll be slipping your shoes on and off frequently, so pack some sliders and socks to stay comfortable. Keep your clothing and toiletries organized in handy packing cubes for easy access at airports and hostels. Packing an eye mask is also a good idea for shared accommodations.

Best Backpacking Trails in Japan

Japan is famous for its mountain ranges and spectacular landscapes. One of Japan's highest and most sacred mountains is Mount Fuji, which is open to backpackers in July and August. Depending on your budget, you can choose a multi-day hiking experience or a private guided tour

By booking a Japan Rail Pass, you can travel at your own pace and save money on train tickets. A 3 or 4-week itinerary is possible for backpackers who plan and pre-book their activities.

Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park
Photo by Pixabay

Kamikochi-Yari-Hotaka Circuit

Fancy a beer at the top of a mountain? The Kamikochi backpacking trail covers rugged terrain and challenging climbs, but with plenty of pit stops along the way. Backpackers can rough it in a tent or enjoy the sunset from a Yarigatake sanso hut at one of the many rest stops.

Many of the routes on this circuit can be broken up into multi-day hikes to suit different skill levels. However, this is not one for the faint-hearted. The Kamikochi-Yara-Hotaka circuit is the ultimate experience for thrillseekers and adventurers. You'll explore the Japanese Alps across knife-edge ridges and glorious alpine trails.

You can follow a 3–4-day itinerary starting in Kamikochi. The circuit takes you across mountainous terrain with stunning views and Japanese hot springs called onsens. The route features two of Japan's tallest mountains, so be prepared for an exhilarating climb! A map and plenty of snacks are essential.

Shikoku Pilgrimage

The famous Shikoku Pilgrimage route follows the footsteps of Kūkai, also known as Kōbō Daishi. Kūkai was a Japanese Buddhist monk and founder of the Shingon School of Buddhism. The route includes 88 temples across four of Japan's most beautiful islands.

The Shikoku Pilgrimage route includes some of Japan's many beaches, perfect for swimming and relaxation. You can also explore Kochi, one of the cities on Shikoku Island. The best time of year to go on the pilgrimage is when the weather gets warmer between March and May.

Start Your Japan Backpacking Journey!

Japan is the perfect place for backpackers who want to travel on a shoestring budget. Whether you're saving money or splashing out, you'll find plenty to do at every location. 

Make a list of all the places you'd like to see, so you don't miss them on your travels. To get the most out of backpacking in Japan, plan your trip with Pilot!

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Written by:

Laura is a freelance writer with experience of minimalist and vegan travel. She has backpacked and performed as a singer in exciting locations such as Thailand, Menorca, Fuerteventura, and Lapland. Laura seeks to pass on her knowledge to new and experienced travelers through her stories and recommendations.

Read more about this author
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