This page is meant to serve as a reference and resource to participants in the NanoJapan program and is based on past program participant experience. Where applicable we have highlighted the special discounted rates/travel options available to foreigners in Japan.
Good overviews of costs in Japan can also be found at the following sites:
Upon arrival abroad one of the first items that you will purchase is a Suica & N'EX card. This special discounted card is only available to foreign passport holders and provides a one-way tickets on the Narita Express train for travel from Narita Airport to major subway stations in Tokyo.
This is also a SUICA card which can be used for subway travel in Tokyo and many other metro areas in Japan. The card comes pre-loaded with JPY 500 deposit and JPY 1,500 in SUICA card credits and is re-chargeable so you can easily add money to this card as needed. Immediately prior to returning to the U.S. you can turn in your SUICA card to receive back the JPY 500 deposit or you can keep it as a nice souvenir of your time abroad.
For travel back to the airport from Tokyo at the end of the summer you will have to purchase a separate one-way train ticket from any major subway station in Tokyo. You can travel on the Narita Express or one of the many other train lines between Tokyo and Narita Airport. The estimated cost is JPY 3,000.
One of the most convenient aspects of spending your summer in Japan is Takuhaibin or baggage delivery service. From any major airport, hotel, and most convenience stores you can easily send luggage or packages to any doemstic destination in Japan. This makes traveling on subways and trains in Japan much easier as there is limited large luggage storage available. It is also difficult to travel with large or very heavy bags on subways or trains in Japan as there is typically only one elevator at each station that may not be very convenient to reach and sometimes there will be no escalators available. Most students find it difficult to lug heavy suitcases up or down four or even up to six flights of stairs depending on which train line you are taking.
When you arrive at Narita Airport you will be asked to use the baggage delivery service to send your large suitcase/s to the hotel. These will arrive the next day so you will need to plan ahead and have a change of clothes and basic toiletries packed in your back-pack or carry-on bag. You will also likely want to use Takuhaibin to send your large luggage to your research internship site. When leaving Japan you can also send your large suitcase/s directly from your research internship site to Narita Airport as at least 48 hours prior to departure. The airport counters will also typically store/hold your bags for up to one week so this is a good option if you plan to spend your last weekend traveling in Japan and don't want to be burdened with large or heavy luggage.
The estimated cost to send on suitcase (80 cm x 40 cm x 30cm, less than 25 kg) using Takuhaibin is:
During the three-week language and culture orientation in Tokyo and during the Pre-Departure and Re-Entry period your hotel lodging costs are covered by NanoJapan. During the research internship period you will use your NSF stipend to pay for your housing costs and these will vary based on your research internship site. For more information see our While Abroad - Housing in Japan page.
During the three-week orientation in Tokyo your daily breakfast is included but you will be responsible for purchasing lunch and dinner on your own. We recommend inexpensive lunch sets at area restaurants as it is typically cheaper to eat your largest meal at lunchtime. In the evening most students purchase inexpensive o-bento boxes from nearby convenience or grocery stores.
During the research internship period most students will have access to kitchen facilities and can save money by grocery shopping and preparing meals on their own. You can save the most money by shopping at night when most grocery and convenience stores discount o-bento boxes and other prepared meals.
For more information on food and meal options in Japan see our While Abroad - Food in Japan page.
In addition to the Suica & N'EX card foreign travelers in Japan also have access to a wide range of discount travel options. Before making travel plans it is also a good idea to speak to the other students in your lab about the best routes and any special discounts or rates that may be available. Since they are students too they will often know of the best travel deals in your area.
Japan Rail Pass: Most NanoJapan students will want to purchase at least one Japan Rail Pass to use during your summer in Japan. These one-week, two-week, or three-week passes enable you to unlimited travel on most Shinkansen or JR Train lines throughout Japan or the region the pass was issued for. Depending on where you research host institution is located a regional pass may be more cost effective than the full Japan Rail Pass so be sure to check with the NanoJapan alumnus who was at your lab last summer for their recommendation. Some of the options include:
Prior to purchasing a Japan Rail or Regional Japan Rail Pass we encourage NanoJapan participants to speak with the student who was at your lab last summer for their recommendation on which pass/es will be most useful given your location and preferred travel plans.
Other Discount Rail Passes: While Japan Rail Passes or Regional JR Passes are a great option in many cases they may not be the most economical or flexible option. There are also many other discount rail passes and tickets that you can choose from including those highlighted below:
Highway Buses: For students or travelers on a tight budget highway buses are a great option. Overnight highway buses can save you even more as then you do not have to pay for lodging that night. Bus routes can be found throughout Japan and students in Tokyo, Sendai, Kyoto, and Osaka have used highway buses to travel to/from their research lab and Kyoto for the Mid-Program Meeting for roughly 1/3 the cost of express train travel (Shinkansen). Costs range depending on route and travel times. Seat reservations are necessary so purchase your ticket at least 24 hours in advance from a highway bus ticket office or travel agent. In Tokyo highway bus tickets can be purchased at and buses depart from Tokyo Station and Shinjuku Station.
Discount Air Travel: While regular airfare for domestic flights remain high, a wide array of discount offers has made domestic air travel very attractive and competitive in recent years - especially for foreigners. Most of these passes must be purchased prior to departure for Japan from a travel agency, airline office, or applicable website.
NanoJapan participants at Hokkaido University should consider purchasing one of these passes as it will be the most cost effective way to fly to/from Tokyo, Hokkaido, and Kyoto. Participants will be notified of their international flight itinerary and airline in April so that there will be adequate time to purchase the appropriate pass.
Some of the options include:
One of the most intresting aspects of living in Japan is the wide range of clothing and styles of dress you will see in different areas of Tokyo. From Shibuya-style to Harajuku-style there is a wide range of styles of fashion in Japan that you can purchase in the many small clothing shops and stalls found in many areas throughout Tokyo.
However, if you just need to purchase a new shirt or pair of pants there are a number of other options available. Higher-end clothing can be found at numerous small boutiques or department stores but for students on a tight budget there is no better place than Uniqlo. However, the availability of larger size clothing or shoes may be limited so plan ahead if you need these sizes.
Laudromats are widely available in Japan and there is one just one block away from the Sanuki Club hotel in Tokyo where you can wash clothes during the three-week orientation. During your research internship you may have laundry facilities in your housing or dormitory or can ask your housing manager where the closest laundromat is located. Costs for one load of laundry is typically 300 JPY per load for the washer and 100 JPY for each 10 minutes of drying. Dryers are especially hot in Japan though so be sure to check your clothes frequently.
You can purchase laundry soap and dryer sheets from vending machines in most coin laundromats or at 100 Yen Shops or discount department stores like Don Quijote. You may also be able to hand wash some items but be sure to check your housing rules first and some dormitories or guesthouses do not allow this or have special sinks/drying areas that you must use.
No matter what you need to buy you can likely find it at one of the many 100 Yen Shops found throughout Japan. The equivalent of a Dollar Store in the US (though with much higher quality merchandise) these stores offer everything from tableware, kitchenware, tools, gardenware, stationary, household goods and cleaning supplies, some food stuffs, personal care and toiletries, and toys or games. They are also great places to buy inexpensive, yet fairly high quality, Japanese souvenirs or gifts to bring back home with you.
Electronic goods can be easily found throughout Japan and the newest models are available here months or even years prior to availability in the U.S. However, some electronics can only be used in Japan since they are region-encoded or have displays/menus that are only available in Japanese. Stores such as Yodobashi Camera typically have a section specifically for products that can be used overseas and also offer duty (tax) free shopping to foreign tourists for purchases of over 10,000 JPY in one day at one store. Duty free shopping requires that you show your passport so be sure to bring this with you and ask a sales associate for help in making a duty free purchase.
At some point you will likely need to get a haircut or trim while you are in Japan. Many large train stations have places where, typically men, can get quick, inexpensive haircuts for about JPY 1,000 such as QB House. Women may prefer to go to a salon and costs range greatly depending on the salon. For more on getting a haircut at a salon in Japan click here. Regardless of where you go you will likely feel more comfortable if you can bring a Japanese friend or someone from your research lab along with you to help translate if needed.
Japan is also a great place to try out a range of other spa and massage treatments and you will see advertisments for spas such as Relax Body Spa throughout Tokyo. While their menu of spa choices may be available in English spa staff will likely only have very basic English language skills so you will need to use your Japanese language skills if taking advantage of these services. Nail art is also increasingly popular in Japan and you can find small nail salons in most large cities including one in the mall attached to Narita Airport.
There are wide range of things to do in Japan ranging from additional Japanese language study, special classes like kendo,festivals and other special events, hot springs (onsen), shopping, karaoke, and much, much more. If you can think of it you can likely do it in Japan. We encourage NanoJapan students to share their interests with their Japanese friends or fellow lab groups members and don't be afraid to ask them for recommendations of things you can do in and around your local area. Many activities may be free or inexpensive and you might also be able to take advantage of the university library, gym, or student clubs at your research host institution.
The Japan National Tourist Organization has also created some very helpful Practical Travel Guides for many cities and regions in Japan that give you a better sense of what types of activities, toursit sites, parks, festivals, and other events you can find in and around your local area. Japan Guide.com also has City Travel Guides for almost every tourist destination in Japan and is an excellent resource when looking for things to do on the weekends or during your free time.
Participants should also review the NanoJapan Student Guide to Japan which highlights some of the most memorable activities alumni participated in while in Japan. You can also speak with the NanoJapan alumnus who was at your research host site last summer to see what recommendations they have on inexpensive but fun things to do in and around your local area.