When it comes to choosing vacation destinations, East Asia ranks high on the most desirable regions for tourists. It’s here that you will find China, the 3rd largest country in the world. Also, East Asia is home to both Japan and South Korea, two of the region’s major tourist destinations.
Japan vs South Korea: Which is the cheapest vacation?
It is cheaper to vacation in South Korea than in Japan. When considering the average cost of crucial budget factors such as accommodation, local transport, food, and shopping, South Korea is the less costly destination.
Additionally, most services in Korea are available in varied budgets, even in major cities and towns. In Japan, however, the major cities and towns are way more expensive.
In this article, I have clearly outlined the average costs of your vacation in both countries by touching on the key elements. For comparison at a glance, I have also prepared a table. Further, find out the cheapest and most expensive places in Japan and Korea, plus tips to reduce your vacation expenses.
The Cost Of Vacation in Japan vs Korea
The overall cost of traveling to Japan or Korea is determined by the cost of specific aspects of your vacation. So, what is your budget? I have outlined the key areas of a vacation to either of the two countries to give you a clearer picture of how much money you should expect to spend.
Accommodation Costs in Japan vs Korea
Accommodation in Japan comes in a wide variety. Depending on personal preference and budget, you can stay anywhere from shared hostels and dormitories to high-end western or Japanese style hotels.
You will also find some rather unconventional accommodation like the Capsule Hotel which typically offers a bed, a television, a coin locker, and a shared bathroom.
Accommodation expenses may vary from $14 overnight to over $460 per person. On average though, you should have decent accommodation with about $45 daily.
The cost of accommodation is considerably cheaper in Korea than in Japan. This is the case whether you are considering hostels and budget guesthouses or the higher budget upscale hotels and resorts.
Accommodation in Korea ranges from $5 for hostels and shared rooms. Expensive hotels can charge you up to about $200 per night per person. On average, a decent room with a kitchenette, bathroom, WIFI and cable TV will cost you about $15 per day.
Transport Costs in Japan vs Korea
Did you know that Japan has some of the most punctual trains in the world? Generally, a train is never more than 36 seconds late. Yes, seconds!
When it comes to cost though, a train ticket in Japan is costlier than in other countries with a similar transport system. A single seven-day pass will cost you a whopping $275. A single day pass for both trains and streetcars cost about $15.
Cab fares in Japan start at around $3.50 to $6.50 per mile for a shared ride. If you prefer a private sightseeing taxi, the expected cost is around $45 for an hour. The price goes up by about 20% during peak and night hours.
Similar to Japan, the best means of transport for tourists in Korea is by trains, busses, and taxis. The country has an affordable public transport system that charges around $12.50 for a day pass. This ticket allows you to hop on and off trains and buses for up to 20 times daily.
Preloaded subway tickets cost around $1.20 for up to 6 miles. What I like most about this system is that once you are done with your trip to Korea, you can claim the remaining balance on the card.
Taxis charge around $1.25 for the first 2 kilometers (1.25 miles). Thereafter, every eighth of a mile will cost you about 10 cents. From midnight till early morning, fares increase by about 20%.
If you need a cab to drive you around for the whole day, take the Deluxe Taxis. These charge around $4 for the first 3 kilometers and 18 cents for every extra tenth of a mile.
Cost of Food in Japan vs Korea
Japan has one of the most unique cuisines that you will come across. To begin with, this island nation is best known for fugu, a highly poisonous fish. If it’s prepared wrongly, the dish can cause paralysis and even death – and it goes for about $120!
Well… not every meal is expensive like fugu. A typical meal in japan will cost you around $7. Such a meal consists of simple ramen, a dish made of wheat noodles and meat or fish broth. The meal also comes with green tea and miso soup, made from fish, water, and veggies.
What’s even more interesting is that in Japan, you can buy almost anything from a vending machine. The last time I was there, I bought sake (rice wine) for $2 from a machine.
Note: In the big Japanese cities, you may find or ask for an English menu. However, restaurants in the countryside usually provide menus written in Japanese. So, how do you order food in Japan? Read about English menus and tips including translation apps here.
When it comes to food, both Japan and Korea have almost similar prices. For example $7 in a local eatery will get you a great meal.
Typical Korean meals include japchae noodles made from stir-fried sweet potatoes. The dish is served with veggies and meat stews. If you like hot food, go for sundubu-jjigae, a spicy Korean stew made from tofu, mushrooms, and pork.
Away from the city center, Korean cities are lined with street food vendors, locally known as pojangmacha. In my many travels, I have found street food not only to be authentic and delicious but also a good representation of local cuisine.
For example, street carts sell tteokbokki, spicy cylindrical rice, and fish cakes. Other ingredients in the cakes include veggies and are served with a sauce made from sweet red chili. The great thing with street food in South Korea is that it’s always cheap with the highest price on the menu being around $3.
Shopping in Japan vs Korea
No trip is complete without a little shopping, even if it’s for souvenirs. In Japan, be sure to look out for their 100 yen stores, just like the dollar stores in America. Unlike in the US, the shops in Korea sell anything from jewelry to toys at less than $1. You can also shop in the 300 yen stores where everything costs around $2.80.
Other popular shopping outlets in Japan include Don Quijote which is known for quality electronics. There are also the Tokyo Hands department stores that sell affordable games, camping gear, and DIY kits of every kind, among other goods.
Tokyo, the capital, is famous with second-hand clothes and large shopping malls. Be sure to shop for clothes in streets such as Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Harajuku. Nakamise-dōri street in Asakusa is another popular spot for buying trinkets.
In this part of Asia, South Korea is known for better value-for-money shopping. In simpler terms, a dollar will buy you more in Korean markets than in Japan’s.
For the best bargains, there are several flea markets where you can shop for any household goods. One of the cheapest markets in the capital Seoul is the Seocho Saturday Flea Market. This is where you get the best bargains on clothes and shoes.
While the cost of goods depends on how good you are at bargaining, some items go for as little as 1,000 won (about $0.80). For ladies, you will get knock offs and designer second-hand bags at cheap prices.
Another market that you should visit is the Seoul Folk Flea Market. It is located in Seoul and it’s the largest street market in the country. It’s where I would recommend buying camping and outdoor gear. Also, if you are looking for quality leather goods, this is the place to get them.
Is Japan or Korea Cheaper for Vacationers?
From the above information, it’s evident that between Japan and South Korea, the latter offers cheaper vacation options. Whether it’s paying for services or buying stuff, prices in Korea are considerably lower and the businesses are more open to bargaining.
It’s also worth noting that if you are going for a 2 or 3 days vacation, the cost difference may not be very noticeable. However, if you plan to spend 10 days or a month in East Asia, the differences become more evident.
Now, just to give you a glance at what to expect during your vacation in these two countries, below is a side by side comparison.
Japan or Korea: Which Is the Cheapest Vacation
$14 – $460.
$5 – $200.
$15 – bus & trains day pass
$45/hr – deluxe cab
$2.50 – bus & trains day pass
$4 for 2.5 miles – private cabs
$7 – standard meal
$2 – vending machines
$7 – standard meal
$2 – street food
|Bottled Water||$2 – per day||$1.5 – per day|
|Shopping||100 & 300 yen stores
($0.90 – $2.80)
|1,000 won – flea markets
$2.30/glass of wine
$2.50/glass of wine
|Daily Average Spending||$200 – $250||$140 – $200|
The Cheapest and Most expensive Places in Japan and Korea
Visiting both Japan and Korea can get very expensive. But it can also be “affordable” depending on where you chose to do your tourist activities. So, what choices do you have? I have sampled places in both countries where you could have a great time within a small budget, and where you would have to dig deeper into your pocket.
Most Expensive Places in Japan
For starters, cities in Japan are more expensive compared to the countryside. Why is that? They are more popular with tourists, hence higher demand for services.
Tokyo tops the list of the most expensive cities in Japan and even more, in the world.
In Tokyo, you should expect to spend between $200-$250 per day (accommodation, food, drinks, attractions). Note that it is for the average tourist. Other Japanese cities with roughly the same spending range include Yokohama, Kobe, and Nagoya.
Notably, these are just examples, it is possible to spend way more in other cities in Japan based on your preferences. For example, if you choose to book yourself into a luxury hotel or beach resort, you could be looking at a nightly charge of anything from $200 to more than $1500 regardless of the location.
Admission fees to most places will cost you a few dollars, $2-$6. In fact, there are several places with free admission such as national parks, the Imperial Palace, and the Toyota Mega Web.
However, there are places whose admission fee is on the higher side. Good examples include the Tokyo Sky-Tree which may cost up to $39 depending on your age and ticket type. The Robot Restaurant will cost you about $72. Disneyland goes for around $57.7 for adults and $38.1 for children.
Nevertheless, there’s always a way to spend less regardless of which city you choose to visit. More tips on how to reduce costs later in this article.
Cheapest Places in Japan
Away from the major cities, other cities provide you with equally good or even better services at a budget-friendly rate. In particular, you can get guesthouse accommodation at about $20 in Fukuoka. Would you like to have a taste of Japanese history and be less than 1 hour away from Tokyo? Then head to Kamakura.
In Osaka, you get to save on food and drinks. The food is not only better but also suits all budgets. I’m talking about food that costs $3-$6 alongside equally cheap all-you-can-drink deals from local taverns or izakayas. Other cheaper cities in Japan include Okinawa, Sapporo, and Kobe.
Like I mentioned above, some attractions come with entry fees below $10. These include Temples, museums, and amusement parks.
Most Expensive Places in Korea
Many cities in Korea are cheaper compared to Japanese cities. In Seoul, the capital of Korea, you can have varied rates for practically all your needs.
What do I mean? A luxury hotel can cost you between $100- $500 per night – yet, when you want to tighten your budget, you can head to areas like Dongdaemun, Myeong-Dong, and Itaewon within Seoul for rates below $10/night in hostels.
The same goes for other major cities in Korea such as Busan, Incheon, Daegu, and Daejeon. There is simply something for every budget.
In the Gangnam-gu district which is considered an area for the wealthy, you will require between $50-$250 for hotel accommodation per night. Resort destinations in Korea are the most expensive for tourists. The rates may go a little over the hotels in Seoul and Gangnam but still, cheaper compared to Japan.
Some of the most expensive admission fees include tickets to Lotte World Theme park at about $50, Ocean World at $38-$137 (depending on the package), and Everland Resort at $47-$73.
The average daily spending for a tourist in major Korean cities is between $140 and $200 (accommodation, food, drinks, attractions).
Cheapest Places in Korea
Like I have pointed out above, you can get great and affordable deals on almost everything all around Korea. That said, it is not even necessary to venture too far away from the major cities to enjoy yourself within your budget.
To have a great time away from the capital, though, you can go to Yongin for some souvenirs, Suwon for a taste of Korean culture, and Paju to spark your interest in reading. If you want to have your fill of authentic Korean close by, you want to be either in Ansan or Jeonju.
There are numerous free attractions in Korea. Great examples include museums, the world’s longest bridge fountain (Banpo Bridge Rainbow Fountain), and Bukchon Hanok Village. For attractions below $10, try Gyeonbokgung Palace, Mt. Namsan, Tongin Market street food, and N Seoul Tower.
Tips to Spend Less on Vacation in Japan or Korea
Whether you choose to travel to Japan, Korea, or both, it is possible to reduce costs, even if it is just a little bit. I have shared some tips that have worked for me over and over through my travels.
- Use buses or trains for popular attractions instead of private transport.
- Eat at local food joints or buy food from street vendors as opposed to tourist restaurants.
- If you are living in a hostel, cook your own food.
- Consider a capsule hotel in Japan (explained earlier) if you don’t need much space.
- If you plan to do several activities in the same location, look for combination packages – they are usually cheaper.
- Use Airbnb for cheap tours/events and for accommodation as well.
- Bargain for better prices especially in the markets. You will be surprised at just how many bucks you can knock off your budget
- Include lots of free or cheap activities on your vacation.
- Use Couchsurfing to meet new people and attend different events
- Avoid shopping in places that are designed to serve tourists as it’s likely to be more expensive. Instead, buy where the locals do their shopping. It’s often obvious where the locals do their groceries. You just need to have an eye open for it.
- Finally, avoid unnecessary spending by planning ahead and sticking to your budget
When it comes to going for a vacation, both Japan and Korea provide a great adventure. Actually, you should even consider visiting both given that you only need a little less than 2 hours to fly from one country to the other. However, if it comes down to trimming down the budget and you are just looking for the cheapest destination, Korea is cheaper than Japan.
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