Visiting Japan on a Budget



I'm back! This post officially marks the end of a hiatus and the beginning of a new weekly series on the blog. I have decided to upload travel-based posts every Monday up until my trip to Japan late April. I've been feeling very meh about this trip, and I felt like this was one excellent way to kick my butt into gear and get myself amped up for this short holiday. Yes, I know, it's very unusual for someone to not feel excited about going on a holiday, but when you've been as stressed, frustrated and depressed as I have been over the past few months, then it happens.

There are a lot of misconceptions about Japan being an expensive country, but I'm here to tell you that it is not so. In fact, compared to Australian cities, *cough Sydney cough*, I find it cheaper. The way of living in Japan is quite low, which is why visiting the country does not have to dig a well into your bank account. I'm here to show you how to make the most of your trip to Japan and have plenty of funds left over to stock up on Kit-Kats. Don't get me wrong, I know this is not a travel blog, but that's only because I don't get to travel half as much as I'd like. But, considering how traveling is part of a lifestyle, I thought it can't hurt to write a few travel posts.

Food:
I am obsessed with Japanese food, it is no joke. My mouth drools at the prospect of eating it three times a day, for seven days straight while I'm living it up in downtown Tokyo! The best thing about eating food in Japan is that you can get food that is both cheap and delicious. Japanese chefs take pride in their cooking, hence why no matter where you go, or how much you spend, they will all taste amazing. This doesn't apply for Western or European food in Japan though, and I still cringe whenever I remember the spaghetti bolognaise I ate one time *shudder*

If sushi trains are your thing you'll be able to find a homely, yet authentic, restaurant at or nearby your train station that sells them at 108 yen per plate, ($1.20 AUD), which makes them less than half the price per plate at sushi joints in Melbourne. A hearty bowl of rice with toppings, can cost you anywhere from 400 to 600 yen, sometimes a bit pricier if you're craving something more premium. One popular rice-bowl chain is Yoshinoya, which is really good value for money. You can also look forward to steamy hot bowls of udon at train stations for about the same price. Also, small hole-in-the-wall places are great for quick and delicious eats on the go.

Another good tip for super cheap eats is to buy meals from convenience stores aka konbini where you can get bento boxes, rice balls and other fresh food at a low cost. If you're keen on making your own food, however, then I suggest going to Lawson 100 for the ingredients - everything is priced at 100 yen, which is roughly $1. I personally haven't been to one yet, but most 100 yen stores are awesome.


Transport:
If you're planning on visiting multiple cities, consider whether you want to go for speed and comfort, or cheap and... uncomfortable. The bullet train (shinkansen) can get you from one city to another quickly but it isn't cheap, so you might want to consider getting the Japan Rail Pass. It gives you unlimited travel on all JR-owned trains and buses, as well as a ferry. Use HyperDia to decide whether the pass breaks even or works out to be even cheaper than paying for individual tickets. One catch though- you must buy this pass outside of Japan, as it is only available for foreign tourists, and you must have it before you enter Japan. So, if you do plan on going this route, buy the pass early.

If you're pinching pennies like Scrooge McDuck, then overnight buses are the way to go. They can cost anywhere from a third to half as much as the bullet train, but it has the benefit of counting as one night of accommodation. This website, Willer Express, lets you look at buses with varying degrees of comfort, travel times, and prices. I recommend the ones with the toilets, because even though there will be some rest stops along the way, the toilets are always occupado, and you will be left with the squatting urinal. It's really not fun or easy to use, especially at 4am where your brain is too fried to deal with this crap (geddit? ha!).

Inner city travel is priced by distance and requires either a Pasmo (1500 yen) or a Suica (2000 yen) card that you can top up during your stay. These cards include a refundable deposit of 500 yen, and either 1000 or 1500 yen in credit, respectively. Suica is owned by Japan Railways, so if you have the JR Pass, then Pasmo is the way to go for private networks. Otherwise, either card works on both private and JR networks, and you can even use them on vending machines too. They can be returned at the end of the trip, with a 210 yen fee, for a refund on any leftover credit as well as the initial deposit.

Accommodation:
I just want you to know that you can book 2-Star hotels in Japanese cities without compromising on comfort or quality, as the Japanese are very passionate about good customer service and cleanliness. You just need to book early, especially when you're visiting the country during peak periods such as April or October. My favourite 2-Star hotel was the Smile Hotel in Asakusa, because the room was lovely and cheap, the staff were amazing, and they kept replacing the used slippers and toiletries. So, 2-Star hotels, yes, hostels, a big fat no. They're miserable.

When I go to Japan next month, we're renting private apartments in Osaka and Tokyo through Airbnb, for a number of reasons; a, because this trip was decided last minute and is during a peak period, so there were no hotels available in our price range, and b, we weren't keen on sharing a dorm with others, let alone stay at a hostel, so that was that. Reviews for Airbnb rentals are extremely honest, so I take that into consideration when looking at a place. Renting private Japanese homes also give you the opportunity to walk in their shoes, so to speak, and if you're lucky, the host will be happy to spend some time with you and take you off the beaten path.

So that concludes my insight into Japan on a budget, and I hope this helps you as much as it helped me then, and will help me again next month. All of this is based on my own research and experience. The Suica and Pasmo cards were barely making an appearance the last time I was in Japan, so this is an entirely new experience for me. If it's anything like the Myki, then this trip will go much more smoothly than the last. I kid you not, we were stuck at a station in Chiba for over an hour, on day one, because we couldn't understand how to get our tickets through the dratted machines, and none of the station staff spoke any English. A lovely American local came past, saw us, and then thankfully taught us how to use the machines. Lady, if you're reading this, thank you so much!

Do you have any other tips for traveling to Japan on a budget? Do you have any favourite places that you loved visiting in Japan?

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