It was in high school when I first thought of visiting Japan, inspired by the anime I was obsessing about. Many years later, while working as a professional journalist, Japan still continued to haunt me.
One fine day, a friend called me up asking if I could join him on his next trip to the land of my dreams. Having been to Japan before, he told me tales of traveling the country on the cheap as well as the availability of seat sales. After some hesitation, I decided to just go for it. After all, it’s Japan!
Looking back, I now realize I could have planned that first trip better. Having visited Japan two more times after my initial trip four years ago, I’ve come to learn that traveling Japan doesn’t have to be expensive.
So if you’re planning to go there soon and it’s your first time, here are some tips that might help you stay in Japan within your budget:
Before saying yes to a friend, take time to consider your financial situation, the person/s who will be with you, and the amount you are willing to spend for the trip. Set a budget. Do your research.
Trips, especially overseas, cost a lot of money. If you’re not familiar with Japan, you will find everything there quite expensive. But if you know where to buy things cheap, you’ll be able to stick to your budget or even be amazed by how much you were able to save at the end of your travel.
Also, make sure to visit Japan during your preferred season so you can fully maximize your stay there.
Decide on which areas you want to explore as well as how many days you plan to stay in those locations. This way, you can allot a certain budget for your entire stay there. A little research will also help in letting you know when the season changes.
The public transportation in Japan is so efficient that you’ll find it easier, and cheaper, to take the bus or train when going from one place to another.
Planning to stay just within Tokyo, Nagoya or Osaka for less than a week? If so, you might not need to purchase a 7-, 14-, or a 21-day Japan Railway (JR) Pass unless you’re the type who prefers not to walk.
Get a prepaid travel card instead available at any train station in the abovementioned cities. Choose from either the SUICA (valid up to 10 years) or PASMO card. What’s cool about these prepaid commuter cards is that you get to keep them as a souvenir or you can give them to a friend who has plans of going to Japan after you.
However, if you are thinking of traveling to several cities and regions in Japan, the JR Pass is most ideal. Just be prepared to shell out more than P10,000 for a 7-day pass. A cheaper alternative is taking a sleeper bus. Make sure you have booked a hotel prior to reaching your destination.
With the JR Pass, my friend and I were able to travel overnight from Osaka to Fukuoka and Kyoto and back again to Osaka via the Shinkansen, Japan’s famous bullet train.
Use the Traveloka App to search for affordable hotels in your chosen city. You will find that the cheapest accommodations in Japan are capsule hotels or hostels. If you just need a place to rest during the night, capsule hotels are highly recommended. Most of them offer separate floors for men and women. A few either accept only males or females.
Friends who have been to Japan should know a few tourist spots where you don’t need to pay for any entrance fee. Don’t be shy to ask them for some tips. If all else fails, there is always Google.
Tourist attractions in Japan like their famous castles, towers and some museums require an entrance fee. Most temples are free to visit and some might be located just near your hotel, so by all means ask around.
In Tokyo, you can stop by Ueno Park for free. Expect a crowd if you go there in the springtime, when cherry blossoms are in full bloom. Meanwhile, fans of the anime series Gundam might find pleasure in taking a selfie with the life-size statue of the cartoon character for free at DiverCity in Odaiba, a popular shopping and entertainment district.
More money tips? Make a list of the tourist spots you plan to visit. If most of your choices require an entrance fee, choose the ones that you really can’t miss. They should be easily accessible, too. You can always visit the rest on your next visit to Japan (think of it as your motivation to save up more when you return home from your trip).
Don’t be discouraged if you’ll end up having only a few places to visit after you’ve finalized your list. In Japan, everywhere you look is a destination in itself, even the location of your hotel and its surrounding areas. You don’t even have to pay a cent to enjoy those views.
Food will sure take up about half or more of your total budget. A good tip here is to purchase drinks, chips, or candies at supermarkets than at convenience stores or kombini.
Bentos or lunch boxes Japanese-style will be a godsend if you find food at restaurants to be way over your budget. I’ve noticed that some supermarkets lower the prices of their bentos every half hour or two hours before closing time.
Don’t be deceived by Japan’s vending machines. Items there may look cheap but they can actually do serious damage to your budget when you frequently purchase from them.
Only buy from vending machines when it’s really an emergency (like when you’re really thirsty) or if you know the item being sold can only be found there (like that half a liter of Yakult). Look for “one-coin” drinks or 100-yen items.
So there you go. Just remember that even if you’re on a tight budget, do take lots of photos, explore the culture, and just enjoy your trip.
Carlo Suerte Felipe
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