Congratulations on completing your first Japanese lesson! You deserve a reward for that.
Saving more money on your trip to Japan is always welcome. With that in mind, here are five of my best ways to shave the most money off the cost of a trip:
1. Save on the hotel.
The hotel costs add up the quickest since your nightly rate is multiplied by however long you stay in Japan. Even in Tokyo, it's possible to find cheap hotels or student hostels. You'll feel like a backpacker, but it's a great way to go cheaply.
Check Konnichiwhoa's cheap Hotel Deals to see if there's anything cheap for the time you want to go.
If there isn't, try our favorite reservation sites. The JNTO is particularly good for hostels and the like.
My personal record is 2,800 yen per night. The room was tiny and the bath was shared, but it was great for a college trip.
2. Save on the flight.
You can knock off several hundred dollars in one fell swoop if you book your flight cleverly.
Like we mentioned on the Planning page, Japanese travel agencies will have what are called 'deep-discount' tickets that airlines themselves don't publicize. They'll acquire fewer frequent flier miles but they'll be cheaper than the airlines' own prices and they'll frequently go on sale.
3. Save on trains with (or without!) a JR Pass.
The JR Pass is an unlimited-use train pass that lasts 1, 2 or 3 weeks. There's a simple test for whether or not you need one:
If you are traveling out of Tokyo on a bullet train, you should get a JR Pass. It's a complicated process, so pick one up in your home country before you leave.
4. Eat and shop at low-cost places.
Need sushi? A conveyor belt sushi shop could have you in and out, stuffed full of good sushi, for about $15.
Need a quick snack? Try Lawson 100, the discount version of the popular convenience store that lowers prices because of deflation.
Need a beer? Try a standing bar, where you could pay as little as $3 for a full draft Japanese beer because the bar can save money on space.
Need cheap tourist activities? Skimp on the expensive national museums and do temples instead. They're much cheaper and very often free. Besides, the museums often have lots of Western art, and you came to Japan to see Japan.
Avoid department stores - Japanese full retail price is often much more expensive than the same store overseas. I once saw my own $12 t-shirt on the rack at Tokyo's only Banana Republic. It was selling for $86. That's an extreme case, but you get the point.
If you want Japanese fashion, shop at Uniqlo.
5. Extreme saving: the Seishun Ju-hachi Kippu
The Seishun Ju-hachi Kippu, also known as the Seishun 18 Ticket, is a massive student discount that's only available in July, August and December (to line up with various national holidays). For 11,500 yen (roughly $140) you get five days of unlimited travel that does not allow fast trains, so you travel much slower. That's the price you pay for the crazy discount.
Here's a quick comparison for a trip from Tokyo to Kyoto:
Time: 2 hours
Price: 13,000 yen (one way)
Time: 9 hours
Price: 2,300 yen (one day of the pass)
You can also split up the pass and give five people one day of unlimited travel. There are also regional passes that have similar offers to get around smaller areas of Japan, such as the northern Hokkaido island.
If you're seriously considering a Seishun 18, read the Wikitravel page for the ticket for full details.