Can I visit Japan in cherry blossom season on a budget?

Once a month I like to help people book their perfect holiday for cheap and in this edition, it was all about Japan and cherry blossom season!

Keep scrolling for how I pieced together the whole trip or you can jump to the right section for you:

THE REQUEST

I was asked by Amy to help with:

  • Japan
  • End of March
  • Cherry blossom season
  • 2 people
  • Flying from Manchester
  • 2 weeks
  • £1500 each

As someone who has visited Japan in cherry blossom season and booked it all pretty last minute – not advised, by the way – I know that this can be done!

Cherry blossom season is always super popular – with both tourists and natives – and Tokyo usually starts flowering in March. You can check out the exact timings for Tokyo and other cities here.

A word of warning!
The cherry blossom in 2019 came early so just be aware it's not an exact science - but there's still plenty to see and do in the country whether you catch the flowering or not!

For our trip, I was so lucky as I found our flights for just £258 (ridiculous, I know!) and so the first hurdle is gonna be getting Amy to Tokyo on a budget…

So, let’s crack on.

FLIGHTS

If you’re after flights for yourself, I’d recommend checking out my cheap flight guide but hopefully my past search for Amy will give you an idea for kind of costs to expect.

The following search was done in December 2019 looking at travel in April 2020. No comments on the fact that this trip wouldn't have been possible due to the pandemic, please... 😬

So, as Amy wants the end of March, it does make things a bit pricier (it’s getting close to Easter!) so as a quick aside, if she could fly between Thurs 12th – Fri 27th March, she’d pay £133 each less.

But anyway, onwards!


Manchester to Tokyo
Tues 24th March to Tues 7th April 2020
Nippon Airways / Swiss Air
£670 each

£670 may not seem a great price initially but actually, according to the stats on Google Flights, it’s not too shabby at all!

There is also a £469 flight on the 29th March yet the connections are a total horror show. But… I guess an option if you love flying and long layovers???!

What about other UK airports?

Alright, alright, I suppose I can help a few others out as well.

London to Tokyo
Tues 24th Mar – Tues 7th April
Air China
1 stop 
£402 each

This fare involves short layovers in Beijing and Chengdu.

If you want a direct flight, it will set you back £933 each!

Edinburgh to Tokyo
Tues 24th Mar – Tues 7th Apr
KLM
£746 each

 It does involve a 19 hour layover in Amsterdam on the way out but it’s timed really nicely for you to enjoy an evening there and get up with loads of time for your early afternoon flight.

Inverness to Tokyo
Tues 24th Mar – Tues 7th April
KLM
1 stop 
£707 each

Another long layover in Amsterdam on the way out but again, a nice excuse for a quick trip there too!

 

Cardiff to Tokyo
Tues 24th Mar – Tues 7th Apr
KLM
£784 each

Once again, a huawge stopover in Amsterdam but with that much time, make a trip out of it!

Top tip
With flights with one stop or more, it's always worth searching the flights separately to see if you can save more money by doing it yourself. However, in the case of these KLM flights, they're all more expensive that way so definitely stick with costs above!

RAIL PASS

Normally I’d move onto accommodation but for exploring Japan, the rail pass is a very important component.

 

What is the Japan Rail Pass?

The Japan Rail pass – also known as the JR Pass – is a special discounted ticket available for tourists.

It offers unlimited travel on trains operated by Japan Railways Group and includes the high-speed service known as the Shinkansen, or the Bullet Train.

TypeJR Ordinary PassJR Ordinary PassJR Green Pass
(First Class)
JR Green Pass
(First Class)
DurationAdultChildAdultChild
7 day£200£100£268£134
14 day£319£160£433£217
21 day£408£204£563£282

Prices correct as of December 2019

Where should I buy my pass from?

If you’re outside Japan, the easiest way to buy your pass is online. There isn’t one website but instead a bevvy of third parties that sell on the passes.

I went with Japan Travel Centre because they offered free UK delivery and the option of picking up the passes the same day from their London office.

Can you get money off a JR Pass?

I searched high and low and found that most third parties offered very similar pricing though it may be worth checking Klook which, at present is showing slightly higher prices than above but sometimes the site in general offers discount codes.

Should Amy get a pass for 7 or 14 days?

For a two week trip, I think 7 days feels too short and 14 feels too long!

If you’re trying to save money, think about doing a stint in Tokyo either side of your travels (that’s what we did!) so you can go for the 7 day pass.

However, I’m going put Amy down for the 14 day pass just so she’s got more options.

Top tip
You cannot reserve seats on most trains outside of Japan so make sure you head to a travel centre when you arrive to get a seat! If you're travelling at peak times, it's definitely worth doing this. More details are here.

ITINERARY

There are loads of great two week itineraries available online – one of my fave things to do is to look at a professional tour and then try to recreate it – but for the purpose of this challenge, I’ll be following this:
Two Week Itinerary

25th – 29th Mar / 4 nights / Tokyo
29th Mar – 1st Apr / 3 nights / Kyoto
1st Apr – 3rd April / 2 nights / Hiroshima
3rd April – 5th April / 2 nights / Osaka
5th – 6th April / 2 nights / Tokyo

ACCOMMODATION

 As Amy’s flight arrives in a day later, we actually need to find 13 nights accommodation for this trip. Given that the total for flights and a rail pass is already £931 each (jeez) this means we have £519 each left for places to stay.

That’s just £43.67 a night each.

Can we do it?

YES WE CAN!

Things to know before booking accommodation

A good way to keep to budget is to change accommodation every couple of nights or so.

This allows you to explore new areas, work around a hotel’s busy availability calendar and also save money on some nights and splurge on others.

Due to this, I’d also recommend packing light. I actually only took my 45L Patagonia rucksack and James took a small wheelie case and a backpack. It can be done!

Please be aware that Japanese rooms are generally MUCH smaller and if you’re staying in an Airbnb, it can feel pretty basic if you’re on a budget, but it’s a great insight into how many live in the city.

Also, make sure you check out some pod hotels because they are AMAZING/BIZARRE AF.

I’ve done some searching for you to show what kind of places you could book for your Japan trip – cherry blossom season or not.

Tokyo

Places I've stayed

From £15 a night each

From £58 a night

Alternative options

Kyoto

Places I've stayed

From £18 a night each

The Millennials has got to be one of my most favourite places I’ve ever stayed.

Think pod hotel with boutique vibes. You can check out my full review here.

They’ve also opened up The Millennials Shibuya in Tokyo.

From £15 a night

If you want to feel like you’re in a Black Mirror episode, this is the place for you! I’d recommend this for only one night as you do have to fully check out each day.

At present, the Kyoto 9h is closed however 9h Asakusa and Shinjuku in Tokyo are both still open. 

Alternative options

Hiroshama

Places to stay

Osaka

Places to stay

From £22 a night 

From £29 a night

Phew!

So much for only choosing one hotline a week to save time – I think that was the most epic holiday search I’ve ever done!!

But I hope it goes to prove that Japan definitely can be done on a budget EVEN when the flights are coming through pricey.

I hope that helps Amy and whoever else is planning a Japanese getaway!

Wanna say thanks?

If I’ve helped you out, or you fancy getting access to more perks (and more holiday hotlines!) then you can also support me over on Patreon for the price of a really average coffee once a month.

Also, make sure you’re following me over on InstagramTwitter and YouTube.

Sign up to my Patreon

From £2.00 to the top level of coming out for beers (!) If I’ve helped save you a bit of cash on a holiday and you can help with any of my running costs then I’ll reward you with extra content. See what options we have here!

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