June 21, 2024

Japan is on sale, and there is no better time to visit to take advantage of the value offered than now. The yen is the weakest it has been in 34 years; it’s weakened by about 50 percent against the U.S. dollar since the pre-pandemic era. Not surprisingly, tourism is booming. In March 2024, more than 3 million inbound tourists arrived in Japan, breaking a record.

As of press time, one U.S. dollar is equivalent to about 156 Japanese yen; five years ago, it was hovering closer to 100 Japanese yen. (It’s worth noting that currency exchange rates fluctuate frequently, so all conversions in this story were accurate as of the publication date but may be different at the time of reading.) Why is the yen so weak? Among the reasons is that “the interest-rate difference between cash money in Japan [zero percent] and the U.S. [around 5 percent with the best mutual funds or deposits] is … causing the yen to trade low,” explains Frederick Gundlach, a U.S. CPA and tax preparer currently in Narita, Japan.

So, how can you make the most of your travels in Japan? Now is the time to upgrade your hotel room, travel on the first-class green car on the country’s famed bullet train, and splurge on expensive meals. For instance, if you splash out for an elaborate sushi dinner with a 30,000-yen price tag, that is the equivalent of just under $200. In the past, the same $200 would have been worth only about 20,000 yen.

Shop till you drop

The deals are so good that travelers are purchasing suitcases in Japan to carry back all of their shopping, including knives, clothing, and accessories from fashion labels such as Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto. Many larger department stores like Isetan and Takashimaya and electronics shops like Bic Camera are duty-free, which means you can shop without taxes while traveling around Japan, not just at the airport before your return flight. Be sure to bring your passport with you, and look for the white-and-red “Japan. Tax-free shop” signs. Additionally, many department stores or electronics shops will give foreign passport holders a discount card at the information desk, usually for about 5 percent off, but sometimes more. After all of your shopping is completed, take your receipts to the duty-free counter in the department store and get the tax back: up to 10 percent, depending on what you are purchasing.

Japan tax-free shop sign above a guitar store

Look for the red tax-free shop signs to shop duty-free while out and about in Japan.

Hotel rates

Hotel rates for Japanese-owned hotels have not fluctuated much recently—and that’s a good thing. The Tokyo Station Hotel and Imperial Hotel Tokyo currently are in the 60,000 to 80,000 yen per night ($380 to $500) range, which is comparable to their rates before the yen weakened considerably, but the dollar equivalent is, of course, lower. But some other properties, namely international hotel brands, have tripled their rates as tourism demand has increased at record rates. The Aman Tokyo, for instance, is currently about 300,000 yen ($1,900) per night. In 2018, it cost about 110,000 yen.

For more budget-oriented travelers, however, Japan is a total bargain right now. Basic business hotels with small rooms and private bathrooms that are conveniently near major train stations start at about 7,500 yen per night, which is less than $50.

Train upgrades

A round-trip shinkansen bullet train to Kyoto from Tokyo is currently 26,000 yen ($165) or 38,000 yen ($240) for the first-class green car. Note that the price for the JR rail pass has recently increased, but it still poses a good value depending on how far one travels. The pass allows unlimited travel on Japan Rail trains, including shinkansen bullet trains. The basic seven-day JR Pass is 50,000 yen ($320); formerly it was 30,000 yen. The seven-day Green Car Pass is 70,000 yen ($445)—not a bad deal for a week of first-class bullet train rides.

Close-up of a bowl of ramen with a soft-boiled egg and chopsticks

When a bowl of ramen will only set you back about $6.50, it’s hard to resist.

Photo by Volkan Kacmaz/Unsplash

Meals at a minimum

Breakfast at a kissaten coffee shop with coffee, toast, and a boiled egg is about one coin or 500 yen ($3). A bowl of ramen goes for about 1,000 yen ($6.50). Add potstickers and an ice-cold beer, and the bill will be 2,000 yen ($13). Gundlach reminds travelers that “there is no tipping in Japan.”

Attractions and skiing

Tickets for the contemporary Mori Art Museum or the fine arts institute the Nezu Museum (both located in Tokyo) are 1,600 yen ($10). Entrance into the interactive digital art experience teamLab Borderless at the new Azabudai Hills urban village is 3,800 yen ($24), to get a sense of how much it will cost to soak up some culture in Japan.

For skiers and snowboarders, the renowned Niseko Village ski resort on the northern island of Hokkaido sells daily ski passes starting at 9,500 yen, a bargain at only $60. At Hakuba Valley in Nagano, the daily passes start at 8,500 yen ($55). Note that food at ski resorts is pricier than in the city centers, as are hotel rooms. But for some of the best powder in the world, it is still a bargain compared to, say, ski resorts in the United States that charge upwards of $100 and $200 for a day pass.

How long will the weak yen last?

Gundlach said he can’t forecast how long the yen will remain weak. But even if you aren’t traveling to Japan in the immediate future, you can still head to a foreign exchange office or a bank that exchanges currencies to buy some yen now; later, you can use it for on-the-ground expenses. With the weak yen, U.S. visitors can extend their stay for a few extra days, travel further, and explore more of the country. So, there’s no better time to visit Japan than the present.


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