It’s hard to ignore the idea of travelling to Japan. You can toss it aside, lock it up and try your best to forget about it, but eventually the thought always comes back; seeping in through the cracks, before settling back down in its rightful place on the forefront of the imagination–and really, how could it not? Japan is a country of whose existence we’re reminded on a daily basis. Advertisements routinely tote the latest “deal” for getting to Tokyo, and the products of Japanese culture are inescapable. Even if you don’t know anything about the nation, there is a good chance that you regularly encounter sushi, anime or video games, all of which have either been invented by Japan, or heavily influenced by Japanese design and innovation.
Unfortunately, for most people I know, the idea of travel is heavily associated with wealth. Now I’m not completely ignorant to the fact that travel costs money, but I firmly believe that if you plan well and travel smart, there’s a good chance your airfare will be the most expensive part of your trip. With that thought in mind, let’s take a look at four tips that will make travelling in Japan far easier on your budget.
Japan is a very rural country and towns and cities pop up at an alarming rate when driving. This means that along non-interstate roads, the speed limit constantly fluctuates between slow and painfully slow. Even along some highways, travelling a few hundred kilometres can take the better part of a day. The alternative here is to take the interstates, which, to my knowledge, are mostly (if not all) tolled and can quickly accumulate a very unappealing price tag. Despite their shortcomings, cars still have their uses. The bright side of a personal vehicle is that they allow you unrestricted access to even the most remote locations, pending a roadway exists.
By far, it seems the most popular alternative to having your own car is to purchase a JR (Japan Rail) Pass. The passes come with varying lengths of validity (ranging from a few days to three weeks) and are only available to be purchased ahead of your arrival in Japan. If you plan on moving around a lot, this is an affordable option since the passes will pay themselves off after enough usage. This is not to say, however, that JR passes are cheap–a large downside being that buying a pass could easily have you focusing more on getting your money’s worth than seeing the country. Luckily, if you are planning on staying in one region of Japan, such as Hokkaido, Kyushu or Eastern Honshu for example, you can buy a regional pass which is significantly less costly.
If you’re not looking to move around very much, or you intend on a few infrequent bouts of long distance travel, there is a third option which is best suited to your itinerary: The Bus. I never actually got to see one myself, but from what I understand, the major bus lines are cheaper than the trains over long distances. Albeit slower, bus routes crisscross the country and are comfortable, reliable and affordable. Further to the benefit of bus-goers (as I have learned from blogger Marion Chan–who you can read here) are the night busses, which, I am told are well-built for sleeping. This is a great aid to any budget, since an overnight journey allows you to save on accommodation.
2. Eat From The Grocery Stores
Restaurants in Japan are typically well-priced and enjoyable, but more affordable are the take-away meals you can find in grocery stores. Much like the delis in our own grocery stores, Japan offers a wide array of foods to choose from, ranging from sushi to fish cakes and everything in between. Inexpensive as they are, take-away meals become even more of a deal once they have reached a certain amount of time on the shelf. There are staff who, at regular intervals, record how long each food item has been on display, and either remove the item or discount it accordingly. This regulation means that if you arrive at a grocery store just after 6:00pm, you can find all kinds of delicious, typical Japanese foods at discounts of up to 80% off.
3. Go For A Walk
Another awesome benefit of Japan is that absorbing the culture costs very little money. Although there are temples and castles which will charge admission fees, the best views of these sights are often found on public land, meaning that amazing photo opportunities will rarely cost you anything.
A very charming feature of Japan is how common it is to happen upon an ancient Shinto or Buddhist temple while walking amongst modern skyscrapers and office towers. Sadly, this was not intended by the Japanese people, and can mostly be attributed to the massive bombing runs performed by the US during World War II. Not including the two atom bombs, these airborne assaults could flatten most of a neighbourhood, but would always leave some buildings standing. Regrettable as they were, these attacks led to the current mixture of old and new in Japanese centres. Ambling down the now prosperous and peaceful streets of Tokyo, it’s worth wondering what the city would have looked like 80 years ago.
4. Check Out The Love Hotels
It’s more than likely that when travelling, the largest part of your expenses will involve accommodation. Japan is no exception to this rule, but with the diversity of hotels on offer, sleeping can become a cultural affair worth your money, as opposed to a costly necessity. Of the various kinds of accommodation, we found the most convenient to be the love hotels. Designed for young lovers lacking privacy and parents in need of a date night, love hotels function across the country (and more recently, the world) as discrete locations to… well… have sex. Meant for short visits, rooms are often incredibly affordable and can be booked for varying time periods ranging from a couple hours to an overnight stay. Complete with all the amenities of a three or four star hotel, these rooms can cost less than half the price of a business hotel or traditional ryokan.