Money Diary (Japan travel edition): #4 What we spent during 9 days in Japan (Tokyo and Tohoku region)

We spent about 9 full days in Japan (plus the morning of our flight out). This trip was significantly more in peak season that I am used to, as it coincided with the Tohoku region’s cherry blossom forecast. As always, we buy too many souvenirs from Japan.

We exchanged some cash beforehand at AU$1 : ¥78.5139. We withdrew cash in Japan to top up, from 7 Eleven ATMs, which were the second ATM I tried with our Citibank debit card (one of the two most popular debit cards in Australia for overseas ATMs). Mizuho Bank ATM quoted me ~8% worse value than 7 Eleven, which came out ~1% within the global market rate so I just relied on 7 Eleven ATMs from thereon, since they’re everywhere anyway.

All costs in ¥ or the exact AU$ charged (or both), for TWO PEOPLE.

Pre-trip

Airfares – Royal Brunei Airlines: 2 x $739.31 = $1478.62
JR Tohoku pass (choose 5 days): (¥19,000 when purchased outside Japan, but realistically the travel agents will set the price themselves). 2 x $244 = $488
Data SIM for 30 days: 2 x $39 = $78
Hotel – The Knot Tokyo Shinjuku (3 nights): $545.41
Hotel – Hotel Vista Sendai (2 nights): $208.49
Hotel – Montein Hotel Kitakami (2 nights): ¥16,600 = $214.78
Hotel – Art Hotel Hirosaki City (1 night): ¥38,880
Hotel – Hotel Ryumeikan Tokyo (1 night): ¥23,000 = $294.23
(Total cashback for four hotels except Hirosaki = $46.36)
Tickets for Teamlab Borderless: 2 x ¥3,200 = ¥6,400 = $80.73

The hotel and price in Sendai is more typical of what I am used to in terms of excellent location, compact yet clean rooms and price. The Shinjuku hotel was excellent but a bit far from the station. I would trade the size of the room for better location in an instant, but April is peak season so I had to make do and pay a bit more than I am used to for Tokyo and slightly worse location. It wasn’t bad though, and I’d prefer this location in Shinjuku than to not be near Shinjuku. The Hirosaki hotel was right next to the station but absurdly expensive. Welcome to the sakura festival in one of the top sakura locations in Japan! It was the most stressful finding a hotel in Hirosaki. The city is not that big and populous. The hotels there are on the old side and not too tourist-friendly (difficult to find smoke-free hotels). I would not have considered this hotel given its ratings if it wasn’t the only non-smoking option left in the city. The price was still ouch though.

Some transport prices may not be exact as I noticed sometimes IC cards gave ¥1-5 discounts on actual actual fares. All fares were retrospectively calculated. I’ve tried to categorise souvenirs clearly as things we bought to bring back for ourselves or other people (although this gets muddy because we did bring lots of snacks from convenience stores back home for ourselves/others). We are used to doubling or tripling our luggage with shopping because we buy so much in Japan! I think our luggage weight at least doubled.

Day 1 (Tokyo and Takao-san) *JR Tohoku pass*
Narita Express to Shinjuku: covered with JR pass
Lunch (tempura soba and tendon at Tenya Tendon): ¥1,440
Vending machine (drink): ¥150
Train to Takao-san: covered with JR pass except one stop, 2 x ¥130 = ¥260
Cablecar roundtrip: 2 x ¥930 = ¥1860
Tickets for Monkey Park: 2 x ¥420 = ¥840
Goshuin: ¥300
Vending machine (drink): ¥170
Train to Shinjuku: covered with JR pass except one stop, 2 x ¥130 = ¥260
Dinner (skewers izakaya at Kushiyaki Bistro Fukumimi): ¥6,778
Drugstore (lip balm): ¥306
Convenience store (salad, fruit, snacks): ¥678
Total: ¥13,042

We started our time in Japan around midday by the time we’d got into the city from the airport and dropped off our luggage at the hotel. We had a quick lunch at a chain restaurant before heading off to Takaosan. I got my first goshuin of the trip and had to pick up a lip balm from the drugstore back in Shinjuku because I lost mine on the flight. Every night we go on a conbini crawl as I try to stock up on vegetables/fruit and T tries to eat as much ice cream and junk food as possible (not that I don’t also join the junk food party). Typically a non-snacker, he turns into a different person in Japan! The other category that I spend a lot in is goshuin (also here), which I will categorise separately.

Day 2 (Tokyo and Kamakura)
Vending machine (drink): ¥140
Train to Kamakura: 2 x ¥920 = ¥1840
Convenience store (onigiri): ¥120
Bakery (2 breads): ¥480 (?)
Taxi: ¥1000
Tickets for Hokokuji: 2 x ¥300 = ¥600
Goshuin: ¥300
New goshuin-chou + goshuin = ¥2200
Tickets for Hokai-ji: 2 x ¥200 = ¥400
Goshuin (3): 3 x ¥300 = ¥900
Sakura mochi: ¥200
Lunch (soba at Fukuyu Soba Bar): ¥1836
Tickets for Hase-dera: 2 x ¥300 = ¥600
Goshuin: ¥300
Tickets for Kotoku-in: 2 x ¥300 = ¥600
Goshuin: ¥300
Souvenirs (2 small face towels): ¥1200
Goshuin: ¥300
Vending machine (drink): ¥130
Train to Shinjuku: 2 x ¥920 = ¥1840
Reserving Narita Express for airport: 2 x ¥3210: ¥6440
Dinner (skewers izakaya at Yakitori Nanbantei): ¥7123
Souvenir (2 alcohols from Bic Camera): ¥2364
Drink (alcohol from Bic Camera): 2 x ¥110 = ¥220
Souvenir (T-shirt from Uniqlo): ¥1065
Souvenir (insulated Tiger drink mug from Bic Camera): ¥1998
Convenience store (snacks): ¥588
Convenience store (ice cream): ¥500 (?)
Total: ¥35,584

We started our day an hour later than I had hoped, so I decided we would take a taxi to the first site in Kamakura instead of walking to help make up some time. It is such a temple and shrine town that we had to not visit many temples and shrines (and not get goshuin) so we could actually complete the itinerary. We like walking everywhere and visiting ALL THE TEMPLES AND SHRINES so this one day ended up not being enough time for us, since shrines and temples can start closing around 4pm. We will need to revisit. For lunch we had Yamagata soba, which T loved but I didn’t. I got my second goshuin-chou (book) at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu because the book was so pretty and I only had a few pages left in my old book, so I bit the bullet. I later realised the book is slightly bigger and in retrospect I would have preferred all my books to be the same size. Goshuin at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu also cost a premium – ¥500. Back in Tokyo, we picked up some alcohol to bring back. I also picked up the Tiger mug that was on my shopping list (half the price of what it would cost me in Australia/online). I think we both discovered the Haagen Dazs crispy ice cream sandwiches that night – they’re amazing.

Day 3 (Tokyo)
Vending machine (drink): ¥140
Goshuin: ¥300
Lunch (okonomiyaki at Kotegaeshi Okonomiyaki): ¥2764
Goshuin: ¥300
Metro: 2 x ¥200 = ¥400
Souvenirs (2 plush toys and 1 toilet cover (LOL) from Pokemon Centre DX): ¥6900 (tax-free)
Metro and train: 2 x ¥500 = ¥1000
Dinner (tonkatsu at Tonkatsu Wako): ¥3150
Tickets for teamlab Borderless: pre-purchased
Train and metro: 2 x ¥580 = ¥1160
Convenience store (cake, ice cream, chips, drink): ¥667
Convenience store (Kit Kat, purin): ¥313
Convenience store (sweets): ¥103
Total: ¥17,197

We just wondered around for most of the day. I checked out like ten consignment stores and then we spontaneously decided to go to the Pokemon Centre DX in Nihonbashi before heading to Odaiba for an early dinner. I heard Borderless is least busy around dinnertime so I was aiming for 6pm. When we returned to our hotel, we went on a conbini crawl for snacks for that night and to eat on the shinkansen the next day.

Day 4 (Sendai) *JR Tohoku pass*
Convenience store (breads and onigiri): ¥386
Shinkansen to Sendai: covered with JR pass
Lunch (gyutan at Rikyu): ¥3564
Goshuin (2): 2 x ¥300 = ¥600
Souvenirs (mug and tumbler from Starbucks): ¥4104
Dinner (izakaya at Aburiyajubey): ¥6166
Snack (?): ¥432
Snack (Hyotan-age): ¥250
Snack (shu-pie at Papa Beard): ¥170
Snack (mochi): ¥200
Snack (Hokkaido milk cake): ¥290
Coin laundry (wash then dry): ¥300 + ¥300 = ¥600
Convenience store (2 ice creams and bananas): ¥1002
Total: ¥17,764

We had the afternoon to wander around Sendai after checking in and trying gyutan (ox tongue) at the famous Sendai chain, Rikyu. I didn’t really like thick cut gyutan the way it’s done in Sendai, so we didn’t eat any more during our stay. I picked up the Sendai Starbucks mug in the new design (I absolutely prefer the old design for regional tumblers – the new series is kind of awful, but I’ve never been to Sendai so I can’t get the old ones anymore…) and the new Starbucks “Japan” mug because it’s so pretty. After dinner (our only bad meal for the whole trip), we ate a bunch of cool food in the train station and went back to do laundry at the hotel (with ice cream, of course).

Day 5 (Sendai and Matsushima)
Train to Matsushima: 2 x ¥410 = ¥820
Snack (curry bread at Pensee): ¥300
Matushima Bay ferry (with upgrade to green car): 2 x (1500 + 600) = ¥4200
Lunch (Seafood at Nanbuya): ¥5700
Tickets to Zuigan-ji: 2 x ¥700 = ¥1400
Goshuin: ¥300
Tickets to Entsu-in: 2 x ¥300 = ¥600
Goshuin: ¥300
Snack (fishpaste skewer): ¥200
Souvenir (grilled garlic): ¥540
Snack (regional sakuranbo Hi-CHEW): ¥150
Toll for crossing to Fukuua Island: 2 x ¥200 = ¥400
Train to Sendai: 2 x ¥410 = ¥820
Dinner (ramen at Misoichi): ¥2100
Souvenir (regional gyutan Pretz): ¥600
Souvenirs (amazake dango, 2 umeshu): ¥1016
Snack (sakura doughnut at Mister Donut): ¥129
Souvenir (lightning cable from Tokyu Hands): ¥1836
Souvenirs (stainless steel Tiger drink mug and soup/food mug from Yodobashi Camera): ¥4670
Convenience store (ice creams and fruit liqueur): ¥1030
Vending machine (drink): ¥110
Total: ¥27,221

I was informed by the Internet that upgrading to green/first class on the ferry of Matsushima Bay would be worth it as you are able to go outside on the deck. I found a Hi-CHEW I’d never seen before and T managed to sneak in a packet of grilled garlic because he is a garlic monster (the verdict is he wishes he brought back ten more packs…). Back in Sendai, we started getting serious about souvenir shopping. T says he got the lightning cable despite it being expensive because he has for years been particular about a certain cable length and will try any that he stumbles on in a quest to find a good quality one. I picked up a second Tiger mug and also a soup/food thermos even though I don’t need one (I prefer this one and have been using it though).

Day 6 (Sendai, Yamadera, Kitakami) *JR Tohoku pass*
Convenient store (2 breads and 2 onigiri): ¥493
Train to Yamadera: covered with JR pass
Goshuin (3): 3 x ¥300 = ¥900
Tickets for Yamadera: 2 x ¥300 = ¥600
Goshuin (8): 8 x ¥300 = ¥2400
Lunch (soba at Enzou): ¥2780
Souvenir (wooden plate): ¥700
Train to Sendai: covered with JR pass
Souvenirs (2 boxes of seafood senbei): ¥2376
Souvenir (lotion toner from Matsumoto Kiyoshi): ¥799
Souvenir (tamagoyaki pan from Tokyu Hands): ¥4622
Souvenir (T-shirt from Comme des Garcons): ¥7344
Dinner (tonkatsu at Saboten): ¥3881
Convenience store (drink): ¥129
Shinkansen to Kitakami: covered with JR pass
Shuttle bus to hotel: complementary
Convenience store (ice cream, purin, bananas, Starbucks coffee, onigiri, bananas): ¥1023
Total: ¥28,047

We got an absolute tonne of goshuin at Yamadera!!! I picked up a cute leaf-shaped wooden tray/plate made in Takaoka to hold trinkets in. We returned to Sendai for a few hours of speed shopping because we still hadn’t really made a dent in our souvenir shopping. We picked up these impressive seafood senbei for family and I finally decided on a tamagoyaki pan, which was on my shopping list. After arriving at our hotel in Kitakami, we immediately set out to find the nearest conbini!

Day 7 (Kitakami)
Laundry (wash then dry): ¥500
Goshuin (2): 2 x ¥300 = ¥600
Lunch (takoyaki and yakisoba): ¥1070
Dinner (shabu shabu at Porco Blu): ¥6480
Convenience store (bread and drink): ¥491
Convenience store (onigiri, ice cream, drink, warabimochi): ¥558
Total: ¥9,699

We had a late start and also did laundry since it was raining heavily. The town was smaller and quieter than I expected and there was almost no option for lunch so we had a quick lunch in a tiny cafe that seated four people and the store-lady literally made one serve of food ready for customers. She actually couldn’t give me what I ordered because she didn’t have enough takoyaki, haha. We were able to enjoy one of the top cherry blossom spots in Tohoku all afternoon. After some difficulty finding somewhere for dinner, we ended up at a shabu shabu restaurant. It was super fancy and we had a huge private booth to ourselves. The food was great and we were stuffed! THat doesn’t mean we didn’t do a conbini crawl for more snacks and stuff to eat during transport the next morning.

Day 8 (Hirosaki) *JR Tohoku pass*
Shinkansen and train to Hirosaki: covered with JR pass
Bus: 2 x ¥100 = ¥200
Chicken skewers: ¥500
Squid skewer and pork skewer: ¥1100
Sanshoku dango: ¥200
Goshuin: ¥300
Tickets for Hirosaki castle: 2 x ¥310 = ¥620
Souvenir (Hirosaki castle postcards): ¥424
Bus: 2 x ¥100 = ¥200
Dinner (izakaya at Izakaya Tsugaru’s Liquor Worm Watami): ¥5108
Souvenirs (face cleansers, oil cleansers, face masks, mascara, lotion toner from a supermarket/drugstore): ¥19965
Convenience store (pickles, drink, ice cream, Hi-CHEW): ¥571
Total: ¥29,188

Hirosaki was crazy busy! We headed straight for the park and ate some overpriced (and not very good) skewers from the food stalls, and a not-quite-defrosted dango (I was terribly sad by this). We went into the Hirosaki Castle keep, which was priced unusually. I don’t think I’ve ever paid for a temple, shrine, castle, garden etc that wasn’t a denominator of 100 in Japan. We had a fantastic dinner at an izakaya, trying a bunch of local (Aomori) specialty cuisines. We definitely over-ordered and it was still so cheap! Since it was still early, I convinced T to go to Mega, which I saw was a huge drugstore/supermarket. I went to town on face masks (for myself and my Mum) and stocked up on longtime favourites that I usually pay two or three times more for. I only bought three or four of each item but I bought out the stock for each product! To end the night, I wanted pickles and T wanted ice cream, and while I was at it I also found a Hi-CHEW I’ve never seen before.

Day 9 (Hirosaki, Tokyo) *JR Tohoku pass*
Tickets for Saisho-in: 2 x ¥300 = ¥600
Goshuin: ¥300
Souvenir (2 alcohols): ¥1080
Bus: 2 x ¥100 = ¥200
Convenience store (2 breads): ¥273
Snack (hanami dango): ¥140
Convenience store (onigiri): ¥140
Lunch (2 ekiben): ¥1810
Vending machine (2 drinks): ¥320
Train and shinkansen to Tokyo: covered with JR pass
Souvenir (stovetop grill toaster from Tokyu Hands): ¥2462
Souvenirs (3 different packs of Tokyo Bananas): ¥2541
Souvenirs (6 different packs from Kit Kat Chocolatory): ¥4266
Dinner (Beer Hall): ¥3596
Convenience store (sweets): ¥103
Convenience store (lollies, chocolates, ice cream): ¥625
Total: ¥18,456

We walked around the city and visited over 20 or 30 temples. Sadly I was only able to get a goshuin at one major one. By the time it was midday, we were near Hirosaki Park again. We went to the visitor centre to use the bathroom but also left with two bottles of ringo-shu/apple liqueur (Aomori is famous for its apples). Back at the station, I found hanami dango that I was really craving after the terrible one from the previous day (it was divine!). We’d decided to have a late lunch on the shinkansen so we picked up two ekiben to share. Back in Tokyo at 6pm, we checked into our hotel and started a night of frantic shopping by 6:30pm. We had a lot of stores we needed to visit before they closed in a few hours. I found a stovetop grill toaster (on my shopping list) and T decided to pick up a box of Tokyo Banana to share at work and we got two small packs in different flavours for ourselves. We also visited the Kit Kat Chocolatory since T is serious about collecting his Japanese Kit Kats. The Chocolatory is incredibly premium these days. You can pay some $20 for small box of containing three small sticks of single origin volcanic something-or-another chocolates. That’s so different to a few years ago when the Chocolatory first started! He got some Kit Kats to share at work, and picked up three things that he didn’t already have. After a late dinner, we tried to run down our IC cards on snacks and ice cream so the balance would be closer to 0. I’ve kept my IC cards for many years (for subsequent trip) but I prefer to keep a minimal balance on them in case I lose them or they become nonfunctional.

Day 10 (airport day)
Convenience store (drink, bread, banana): ¥378
Convenience store (2 onigiri, Kit Kats): ¥400 (?)
Narita Express to airport: reserved and purchased on day 2
Souvenirs (2 tumblers from Starbucks): ¥3596
Souvenirs (2 eyeliners and 2 stockings from Matsumoto Kiyoshi): ¥3500 (tax-free)
Souvenirs (3 different packs of Kit kats): ¥3680 (tax-free)
Total: ¥11,556

We had a late morning flight and got up super early. On arriving at the airport, I popped into the Starbucks and found an airport exclusive tumbler, and the new series Hiroshima tumbler, which is incredibly beautiful and I couldn’t not have it! Once through customs, I finally found one of my favourite eyeliners at Matsukiyo. I saw the brand of stockings I’ve been buying on every Japan trip but they had different lines. I grabbed two to try as I figured they must not make my exact one anymore. Unfortunately we found more Kit Kats T didn’t have at another souvenir store and had to buy them (including the premium Tokyo Banana with Feuilletine Kit Kats!).


*JPY estimates are based on 1 AUD : 78.5 JPY for simplicity

Sightseeing is relatively cheap in Japan for exploring nature and temples/shrines. The majority of the sightseeing costs we had were the Matsushima ferry and Teamlab tickets. Once again, food was the real winner. Despite eating all the food and drinking every night, eating out and snacking only cost ~¥4500 or ~AU$58 per person per day. The real cost would probably be lower as we really didn’t need to eat that much convenience store junk food, and some of it might technically be “souvenirs” as I brought them home. Unsurprisingly, we spent a lot on goshuin and shopping/souvenirs – 18%! Here’s everything we hauled back… *hides*