Exploring Japan on a Shoestring
Japan is a beautiful country, full of exciting cultural phenomena and natural beauty. Bursting with elegance and charm, anyone and everyone should jump at the chance to explore this island. However, the cost of living is high, and many people are deterred from venturing to the stunning beaches and exciting cities of Japan for fear they will spend their entire travel budget in one country. The good news is that Japan’s expensive economy is, in part, an illusion, and it is definitely possible to travel in Japan on the cheap.
Traveling to and from Japan is an expense that can’t be avoided; the best flight deals can be found on STA travel, so be sure to check out the STA website before booking a trip. Budget airlines often list low-cost flights that include a stopover. Be sure to select a flight that stops in South East Asia, as opposed to Europe or the USA, as the costs of accommodation and travel during the stopover will be minimal.
Travel within Japan can be exceptionally pricey. Hitchhiking is not common in Japan, especially for women, and most drivers will not pick up pedestrians. The organized hitchhiking site, ‘Blah Blah Car,’ does not operate in Japan, as locals do not choose to use the service. Train and bus travel are the only real options for travelers, and these can prove very expensive. In order to get the best deal for trains, arrange for the longest and dearest journeys to occur within a three-week period, and purchase a three-week train ticket for approximately £100, or $150. Any intercity travel will cost a third of even half of this price.
Domestic flights often work out cheaper than train and bus travel, even when booked last minute. The two main providers are Blue Star and Peach, both of which offer cheap, direct domestic flights between major Japanese cities.
Accommodation in Japan varies immensely, and budget accommodation can be found even in Tokyo. Youth hostel prices are equivalent to those found in Western Europe, but be sure to check out local capsule hotels, as these can sometimes work out cheaper than a dormitory bed in a hostel. A capsule hotel is more private than a youth hostel, although the sleeping pod can trigger mild claustrophobia. ‘Airbnb’ also operates across Japan, especially in tourist cities such as Tokyo and Kyoto. Be aware that many Airbnb hosts in Japan offer a room in their private homes, as opposed to an entire property, and travelers are essentially short-term lodgers in this situation.
Budget accommodation in Japan can also serve as a cultural experience. Spending the night in a twenty-four hour manga café is not the most comfortable experience, but it is certainly a cheap and interesting experience. Pop-Eye Manga is a chain café that can be found in most Japanese cities, offering 5 and 10-hour overnight packages. The sleeping arrangements vary; the cheapest option consists of a reclining chair in a public space. A slightly more expensive package consists of a private booth with a foamy mat floor and cushion. Be sure to wear warm clothes, as blankets are not provided.
Another option is to rent a private karaoke booth for a night. This is usually only a cheap option for small groups, and is not the most comfortable sleeping arrangement. Karaoke booths can be rented by the hour, and it is common for locals to sleep over, as most trains stop running at midnight.
Eating in Japan does not have to be expensive. Eating foreign food, for example, American or European dishes, can be exceptionally pricey. Local food, however, is usually very reasonable, with a bowl of pork ramen costing approximately 600 Yen, equivalent to £3 or $5. Look for small restaurants away from tourist areas; many local restaurants will not have English menus, so it’s worth researching the names of typical Japanese dishes before venturing out. In order to experience an array of Japanese food, try buying snacks from the deli counter at a supermarket. Checkout assistants often offer to microwave food behind the counter, and provide napkins and chopsticks.
Alcohol in Japan is expensive, with the exception of beer and lager. Finding a bar that serves wine or spirits can be a challenge, even in big cities, although Japanese rice wine, sake, is usually available in tourist areas. Travelers who enjoy getting drunk might consider pre-drinking before enjoying a night out.
Volunteer exchange programs are always a good way of exploring a new country. ‘Woofing’ and ‘HelpEx’ have a lot of opportunities across Japan, while ‘Workaway’ provides a small number of work placements. These sites provide the opportunity to work roughly 25 hours per week in exchange for food and lodging. The voluntary work in Japan is often service based, with opportunities in Guest Houses and Language Cafes being the most prevalent.
Tourist attractions in Japan range from famous temples to cat cafes, and are not typically expensive outside of Tokyo. It is worth remembering that small, local temples are free to visit, and are just as fascinating and beautiful as the large, famous ones. Exploring fashionable districts such as Harajuku, Tokyo and Amerikura, Osaka, is akin to watching a street fashion parade, and can be enjoyed for free. Equally, Japan’s natural wonders, its magnificent mountains, beautiful beaches and animal habitats, are free for anyone to explore.
Japan is a wonderful place to travel; the people are kind and hospitable. The culture is both elegantly antiquated and technologically advanced, causing a striking and memorable balance that renders any trip to Japan a fantastic experience.