Most companies worth their weight in goods and services are trying to funnel as much of the vast world of currency as they can in to their bank accounts. And in the red corner, you, the challenger, are trying to keep as much of your hard earned up your sleeve as possible. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. You want to save money. This is especially the case when you travel. Japan is no different…
While Japan can’t compete in terms of affordability when put up against some other places in Asia, that doesn’t mean you can’t save a dollar or two and make it a very affordable visit. Of course, Japan would still have its magnetic appeal (for me, anyway) even if travel was exorbitant, so the fact that it isn’t makes it an irresistible bonus.
There’s another bonus too; you’ll find a better experience…
Sure, if your wallet knows no boundaries and you’re all about the 5 stars, then you’ll probably be eating at the best Michelin starred sushi restaurants in Tokyo (and while we’re on that subject, if you haven’t watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi, perhaps you might want to – pretty sure it’s on Netflix). But what this life of luxury doesn’t afford a visitor is the opportunity to see more of the “real Japan”.
When you’re at home battling the daily grind, you look for bargains, right? Well, Japanese people are certainly no different. Then there’s backpackers and those who call themselves “travelers”. All of the above are trying to squeeze the most out of their wallets. Adopting a similar approach and watching where your money goes will soon get you accustomed to the ways of the land, meeting other travelers, and meeting locals. Isn’t that why we visit a place?
By the above logic even Bill Gates could benefit from trying to save a buck (and if you are Bill Gates; ever thought about starting a new charity in my name?). So, here’s 5 ways to do exactly that while in Japan…
1 Timing is Everything
One of Japan’s major draw-cards for many people is Cherry Blossom season (roughly March – May, depending on location) and so it only makes sense that prices are a little higher for certain things around then. Also, there’s the fact that Golden Week coincides. The last week of April and the first of May will ensure that the usually pleasurable act of being a tourist turns in to a jostle for hotel rooms and restaurant seats – and yeah, it’s not going to be cheap. Perhaps especially in Kyoto.
So, the first tip is to avoid this time of the year unless you really must see the sakura in bloom.
All in all, peak seasons are fall and spring. Traveling anywhere in winter (except the northern ski fields or Hokkaido) will be cheaper, as will the humid “rainy” season of the summer months.
2 Get Yourself a Rail Pass
You must buy a Japan Rail Pass before you get on the plane to Japan. It’s most certainly a good idea.
Public transport is next-level in Japan. Whereas the shinkansen (bullet train) can be something of an experience for a foreign visitor, the convenience of the punctual local train system is the real hero. Buses are another option for saving a buck and potentially meeting other travelers.
Taxis should be avoided at all costs. And by “all costs” I must emphasize the cost part. Taxis are a good option if your objective is to die in poverty before your vacation runs its natural course.
3 Eat Well, Eat Cheaply
Sure, Tokyo has more Michelin stars than any other city on Earth but beyond that there truly are some fantastic places to eat in Japan. Perhaps the best thing about that is that the general standard of cuisine is very high.
Follow the locals. It’s really quite affordable to eat out in Japan (I appreciate this because I’m from Australia where you might have to mortgage your house to take the family out for a meal). If you do a minimal amount of research, you’ll find your way to a ramen restaurant that will get your stomach filled for under ¥500 (about US$4.50 at the time of writing). Then there’s the similarly cheap soba or kaiten sushi options, among others.
Having said all of that, I’d be heading to an izakaya for all you can eat or drink…
4 Remember This Word; “Konbini”
Unlike other countries where a convenience store might only be moderately convenient, thereby only partially living up to the name, convenience stores (or “konbini”) in Japan are the absolute business!
Yeah, they’re basically either 7-Eleven or one of the competitors (Lawson, Family Mart) but perhaps it’s this competition which increases the convenience. Or maybe I’m embellishing because of the familiarity factor a konbini offers. It matters not – it’s cheap and you can find what you’re looking for.
5 Stay in a Capsule Hotel. Do it!
You’ve probably seen these things featured somewhere on one of those stereotypical “weird Japan” videos. The fact is, however, that capsule hotels represent two of Japan’s best qualities; pragmatism and convenience.
It’s the opportunity to have a Japanese experience. The bonus is that it will save you a buck.
A night in a “kapuseru hoteru” will probably make you feel like Elon Musk has selected you to be among those who first colonise Mars – you’re now settling in to your sleeper pod for the long trip ahead.
Traditionally marketed towards businessmen who require nothing more than a place to sleep and shower, capsule hotels have come a long way since their 1979 inception in Osaka.
I can tell you from experience that they are surprisingly comfortable and have everything you need or want (TV, WiFi, etc). The bathing arrangement is a communal affair and there are a few little things you might like to know before you go. The rules and practices when visiting a capsule hotel perhaps require their own article, but for now, you can find the ins and outs here.
In my experience, prices have been around the ¥4000-5000-mark which is obviously way cheaper than a regular hotel. Again, paying less to find the Japan you came to see sounds like win/win to me.
If anybody has any tips to add, please feel free to comment. I’m sure we could all benefit from a little more money-saving knowledge and experience!