Having visited Japan for the first time there are some things I learnt that will save me money for my next trip to the land of the rising sun.
Dorm beds in hostels are very clean compared to most other countries I have stayed in and easily available in all major Japanese towns and cities. Why not save some money and meet new people at the same time. When I visited Kyoto in February my bed in a 10 bed mixed dorm cost me only 1,000 yen per night (roughly $12USD)! The hostel was located right in the center of Kyoto. A bargain compared to $100+ per night hotel rooms.
Vending machines are your friend. Do not shy away from drinks and food obtain from vending machines. Vending machines are a common source of sustenance for many Japanese and even foreign travelers such as myself. For $1.50USD you can obtain a hot can of coffee or tea (yes in an aluminium can!) and for less than $3.50 you can obtain a freshly prepared noodle, rice and meat dish with complementary cup of green tea. The food does not come from a vending machine, you just order from a vending machine and give your ticket to the waiter. Simple!
Walking is free and keeps/makes you healthy! I was a little out of shape prior to my Japanese adventure, however, after two weeks of walking almost everywhere for 6+ hours a day I lost weight, slept well and saved over $100USD on train and bus tickets. Tokyo may be a large city, however, it is mostly flat and main roads connect the various areas. Be brave and walk to a few different areas per day. Catch the Tokyo Subway back to your accommodation if you have to. You will still save a lot of money as each trip between train/bus stations costs 200 yen 0r more ($3USD) each time!
Most of the temples, shrines and museums are free… the ones that aren’t free are usually the same as the free ones. You aren’t missing out on much by avoiding the temples/shrines/attractions that charge an entry fee. Most of the best places are free and the paid ones look the same or similar. A few exceptions… Nijo Castle, the Golden Pavilion and Sanjusangendo Hall in Kyoto charge 600 yen each to enter (approx. $8USD) and should not be missed. Most of the rest, not worth entering if they charge a fee.
Convenience stores 7/11, Lawsons and SunKus are your friends! Anything that you cannot obtain cheaply from a vending machine, hostel kitchen or roadside stall can be obtained at low cost from one of the above stores. In the main cities of Japan these convience store chains are located every couple of blocks and offer many interesting drinks, snacks and cheap meals to keep you going between tourist attractions. For as little as 100 yen ($1.20USD) you can obtain a healthy rice and seafood based meal or snack depending on how hungry you are. Awesome!