Travel tips for Japan Part 1: Transport & Hotels

First of all, I would like to say that traveling to Japan is safe. Yes some minor earthquakes are still happening, but Tokyo and south (Nagoya, Osaka, Kyoto etc…) no one is injured. Osaka hasn’t felt any of the quakes, not even the big one. If you’re planning to travel to Japan or looking at it. I encourage you to do so. Tourism is important to Japan’s economy and Japan still remains a beautiful, vibrant country. :cheery:

Where the transparent heart is I'll be concentrating my talk on. It's also the area not affected by the quake aftermath.

I’ve traveled a lot in Japan and mostly to the South so my talk about cities are all ones not affected by the quakes and tsunami. I’ve traveled more than most Japanese I’ve spoken to (which I always find odd). I’ve traveled nicely and I’ve traveled super cheap. So here are some rules for having a good traveling experience in Japan no matter your budget. However I’ve geared these two posts for more budget friendly.

You can travel in Japan and be very cheap! My last vacation I was able to spend only $250.00 on transportation and $200.00 on accommodations (4 nights in a hotel, one in an internet cafe, one nowhere clubbing all night in Osaka) for 6 days / 6 nights heading to Nagoya, Osaka, Kyoto, and Hiroshima. $450.00 for 6 days, that’s $75.00 a day for travel and hotel, which is extremely cheap!


Travel Methods, the good & the bad

Dusk view out of a train station in between Osaka and Nara.

There are three methods to travel from city to city in Japan: Shinkansen, bus and regular train

Shinkansen: They’re amazing. They’re also quite expensive. Osaka round trip from Tokyo will run you at least $400. However, they’re extremely comfortable. Lots of legroom, and the best way I’ve ever traveled from one city to another. It’s painless. You can even buy your tickets the day of. Recommended if you don’t have much time and if you’re going a long distance (such as Tokyo to Fukuoka).

Pros: quick & easy, relaxing travel
Cons: Expensive

Regular train: Regular train to another city is extremely long. I’ve done in three times: Nagoya to Osaka, Osaka to Hiroshima and Tokyo to Shizuoka. Nagoya to Osaka wasn’t long (about 3 hours) and the route goes up into the mountains so during the Winter you get to see fresh powdery snow coat little towns that dot the mountainside. It’s one of the most picturesque views I’ve seen in Japan.

Regular train is only doable if 1) you are heading to a nearby city like Osaka to Kobe, Kyoto to Nagoya or anywhere in that cluster. 2) you have a lot of time to spare, you might find yourself wasting a whole day in a train, transferring in small towns 3) your Japanese is good enough with directions, most train staff do not know the regular train from one city to another, so you’ll have to go part of the way, ask, go more, ask another train staff or consult a map. The more inside to the country you get, the less stations are in English.

However, regular train can be extremely cheap. It’s also a great way to see a lot of Japan that isn’t a big city. The geography, the different city complexes, the wealth of an area. When you pass by a town you can see so much.

I’ve purchased the Seishun 18 kippu, which is only available at certain times of the year. However it made traveling very cheap. It’s worth it if you are going to multiple cities, and you use it only during your days of city to city travel. I had a day left on the Seishun 18 kippu so I used one the leftover day to take a day trip to Shizuoka.

Buses: I’ve used buses twice. Once from Tokyo to Nagoya and another from Hiroshima to Tokyo. I’ve used Willer Express, which I’ve heard is the cheapest. Their website is in English and you can book next day. They have a range of buses that are quite spacious and two pieces of large luggage and a carry-on is okay. The buses take routine rest-stops are HUGE travel centers. The rest stops more like malls with millions of clean bathrooms. I got Starbucks in one.

I was really impressed with my bus experience. Travel from Hiroshima to Tokyo one way was 6600 yen. That is extremely cheap! Consider shinkansen tickets it would be 17560 yen. Almost 3x as cheap! It was a night bus where they shut off the lights and put curtains on the windows, I slept the whole way.

tl;dr: buses win for being cheap, especially if you’re only headed to one city

Simple ryokan in Kyoto. And my Big Toe (that always travels with me).


Hotels

Business hotels: If you’re looking to stay cheap, business hotels are an excellent choice. They’re like a regular hotel, but with a smaller room. However they all have internet access (for free) and still come with the amenities of like shampoo and soap. In most cities you can have a room for 5000 yen ($54.00) a night.

Internet cafes: If you want to be super cheap, internet cafes are the way to go. Close to every major station there’s one offering a night course of 12 hours for around 2000 yen. However, most internet cafes keep their lights on and some also play music constantly. That, sleeping in a chair, and the noise of others around you might not give you a restful night. Bring earplugs and an eyemask! I do not recommend internet cafes for an entire trip. The internet cafe plus the fee of keeping your luggage in a locker during the day will end up being 3000 yen. Not too far away from a nice hotel.

The ever tacky love hotel Hotel Palau in Ikebukuro.

Love hotels: This is always a fun option. Something you can only do if you’re girl + guy or girl + girl only. The rooms are big, karaoke machines built into the tvs, giant bath tubs. However most night fees go for 6500 yen to 8000 yen a night. They also won’t keep your luggage, so you’re stuck putting it in a locker during the day.

Onsens: These are relaxing, but often quite expensive. It’s best to do this if you’re staying in a remote area, since meals are catered and the hot baths take up sightseeing time. I went to one in the mountains and enjoyed my experience.

tl;dr: use a business hotel, or for super cheap alternate between a business hotel and internet cafe


Booking Hotels

View of Osaka from Hotel Monterey

Recommended for those with little Japanese knowledge: You can actually find a lot of Japanese hotels on overseas travel sites such as Travelocity and Expedia. I’ve been satisfied with ones I booked on Expedia. Since I booked two hotels through Expedia at a time, they cut my rate of the second hotel by $10.00 a night.

If your Japanese is okay: You can play it by ear and book a hotel at a travel agency in Japan. Japanese travel agencies have a lot more hotels to choose from and can find you a better price. They are located inside major train stations in all Japanese cities. As long as it’s not the busy tourist season you can possibly get a cheaper hotel.

There’s the popular H.I.S travel agency, which many Japanese use. However I don’t recommend booking on-line unless you know the city you’re staying in. When I tried to book my hotel in Osaka from the website it was giving me places that were a 500yen train ride from anywhere I wanted to be. Saving 1000 yen on a hotel and then paying it to go back and forth by train to the area you like, is pointless.

tl;dr: use international sites, or be adventurous and pick hotels for cheaper after you arrive.

 

If you have tips or comments regarding your own experiences please comment about them so I can make this a better guide.  :hearts3:

Next up: Areas and Food – Which area is the best to stay in within each city and cheap ways to eat in Japan.

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24 Comments

  1. April 22, 2011 / 9:00 am

    Student hostels are cheap (around 35 euro for a night in Tokyo if I remenber well). Mine had a common kitchen (another way to save money is to cook your own meals), common baths and showers and was really clean. The worst thing was that male and female slept on different floors. I was with my boyfriend, so I was a bit pissed. But I finally experienced the tatami! You also had to share your room with unknown people that can be both annoyng and a good way to make new friends :D There were a lot of japanese people too.

  2. Maki
    April 22, 2011 / 9:05 am

    As long as you have a foreign passport and are on a travel visa, you can order a JR railpass to save on train costs. This is really helpful if you plan to use the Shinkansen a lot during your trip. It will also work on any standard JR line. These are best for people taking long trips (one-two weeks) and plan to take expensive rides on the Shinkansen. For example, last year I travelled between Nagoya, Osaka, Fukuoka, and Tokyo all in two weeks. The pass paid for itself after two Shinkansen rides :)

  3. April 22, 2011 / 9:18 am

    Thanks for the post! I didn’t realize business hotels were so affordable. I usually go for the dirt cheap hostels where it’s like 10 people to a room!

  4. April 22, 2011 / 9:20 am

    Great advice! I’ve seen some night buses going from Nara to Yokohama, but those were around 9600yen, so I wasn’t so interested. But you make the buses sound so comfortable, I might try it..! :-D

  5. April 22, 2011 / 9:52 am

    This was really helpful~ I never thought travel to Japan could be so cheap!! Everyone I’ve asked about it before has always said how expensive going to Japan is, but that seems really doable compared to vacations to Europe :smiley:

    • Cat
      April 22, 2011 / 1:42 pm

      Tori,
      I was under the impression that America was expensive; than my cousin talked about pounds… I was like yeah… maybe $2.50 for a gallon of milk on sale isn’t that bad. I had wanted to go to the UK more than JP, but when I found out that JP was less expensive that soon changed. I don’t have much desire to go to the UK now, even if JP was just as expensive. There isn’t anything that truly appeals to me at some of their prices. JP has always appealed to me and it’s increasing; even post the Tsunami.

  6. April 22, 2011 / 11:38 am

    This is a really useful post!

    Last time I was in Japan, me and my friend took the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Osaka and purchased it a little cheaper with the Hikari Hayatoku Kippu discount. I can’t remember how long the whole journey was but it went by really quickly! Definitely worth taking this if you’re going TO the Airport to fly home. Our flight was scheduled from Osaka but we had been staying in Tokyo.

    I’ve also used the Willer Express bus service and would definitely recommend! They sometimes have discounts online too, so you sometimes find that you’ll be able to purchase a quality (posh lol) seat for the same price you would pay for a standard seat! We took the overnight bus from Kyoto to Tokyo and the journey was again, really quick, as you can sleep etc. The rest stops are GREAT. Huge bathrooms like you said, and great for getting snacks and drinks!

    Midnight buses are great if you have lots of time to travel (The journey was roughly 7hours) and aren’t too fussed about seeing much scenery! One slight con of midnight travelling is that there is only the bathrooms and a small conbini open at such a late hour so you have to rush if you want to get some of the nicer leftover snacks! Eek! Sorry for such a massive comment, but thanks again for this post!

  7. Cat
    April 22, 2011 / 1:37 pm

    Wow, I LOVE YOU!! :heartshake:
    I have a few questions if you have time.

    1. Luggage on the Bullet Train?
    I heard that if you are traveling that it’s not wise to have a big suitcase/more than one because there isn’t a place to store it.

    2. Luggage, what size/style do you recommend?
    I’ve heard wheels are not a good ideas as well.

    3. Are there lockers for luggage everywhere? How big are they in size?

    4. Can you get by alright with just knowing Kana?

    I can’t wait for your next post!!

    :smiley: :cat: :stepup: :hearts2:

    • Mitsu
      April 22, 2011 / 1:47 pm

      1. You can store it above, but carrying more than one is a pain. Usually traveling around Japan is best to do with one big suitcase and a carryon (messenger) that you can use as a purse or keep a small purse in it.

      2. I think Japanese style luggage is amazing. Hardcase with 360 rollers. They’re so great and reasonably priced.
      http://universal-doll.com/?p=16 is mine and discussing packing.

      3. Only in train stations usually or outside of them. Not many for bigger suitcases. Store in the morning or you’re in trouble.

      4. Depends what getting by means. Shinkansen and hotels yes they’ll be someone who knows English. Other places not so much.

  8. April 22, 2011 / 2:43 pm

    Such a useful blog! Thank you very much for this :hearts:

  9. April 22, 2011 / 7:00 pm

    A great post with some really useful advice. It is still safe to travel to Japan and I hope many more people will continue to do so. I highly recommend the business hotels in Japan as they are a cheap budget style of accommodation. Look out for the Toyoko Inn chain located all over Japan as they are cheap but good.

    Japan Australia

  10. April 22, 2011 / 7:32 pm

    Great poSt!!! Can’t wait for more!!

  11. April 23, 2011 / 12:37 am

    :yayyay: omg I’ve been looking for a post like this for a while now! since I’m coming to Japan in about a month now, I’ve had so many questions when it comes to transportation and such. I know where I’m staying in Osaka, luckily because I’ve stayed there before and know the area pretty well, but your advice is really appreciated with this post! :hearts:

    I’m the kind of person that doesn’t mind the cost of paying big bucks if it means getting to my destination in a short amount of time. I’m really impatient, so I don’t mind paying a lot for using the shinkansen… although it is troublesome if you’re on a budget (like I am right now but lolol I hate waiting!). 175+ is ridiculous though, I definitely wouldn’t pay that haha :worries: i checked out the website for the bus you used, and sadly it doesn’t have routes that i’m going to be using (or at least I tried to input it!).

    I’m staying in the Nagoya area for most of my stay, so I’m hoping that I can find cheap ways to get around :korila:

    I’ll definitely look back at this!! thanks for such a great post, as usual :heart:

  12. April 23, 2011 / 11:27 am

    This is really helpful! I’m glad you made this post. I’ve always wondered about the business hotels, because they would be my preference when I’m not staying with a friend.

  13. April 23, 2011 / 5:51 pm

    Thanks for this very resourceful post! :hearts3: I’m planning on going to Japan next summer (Tokyo, Osaka probably, and Okinawa) so this was very helpful for me to read. :up: Especially the part about alternating between a business hotel and a internet cafe, very thrifty.

    I know you’re not covering the Okinawa prefecture/region in these posts, but it would be a great help if you could answer a few questions for me. :worry:

    1. How do most people in Japan get to Okinawa from the mainland? Do they take a ferry bus, an airplane, or is there a bridge spanning across that the shinkansen or another train passes through?

    2. What am I looking at for a price range of travel costs? From say Osaka or something.

    3. In a place like Naha I’m sure there are lots of internet cafes, business hotels, and the like. But what about other major (but smaller) cities such as Ginowan, Urasoe, Kadena, etc? Yashima and Ishikawa as well, since I plan to be at ocean expo park a couple days and I’m not sure what I’m going to do for accommodations :worries:

    Sorry if I got the wrong city names, I don’t know their Japanese names very well, just Okinawan (Like Naafa and Jinoon >_<)

    Thanks so much! :hearts:

    • Mitsu
      April 24, 2011 / 12:14 pm

      I’ve never been to Okinawa, it’s just been too expensive when I’ve had travel time. So I can’t be of much help.

      1. Airplane.

      2. A lot. Okinawa is an expensive place and considered a luxury destination even for Japanese.

      3. Do not expect smaller cities to have such things. Although you can look up online to see if smaller cities do.

  14. April 24, 2011 / 12:16 am

    hiya, i thought this was a pretty good post for noobs!

    let me add a little info of my own…

    for regular trains, you can use http://www.hyperdia.com they have an english version of the site, and you enter your departure station and your arrival station and it will give you a bunch of alternative course you can take, with the times and all. if you speak no japanese, just print it out and you’ll know at which stations you’re supposed to change trains and all that.

    for buses, i’ve always used JR buses and they’re quite cheap and comfy too. although i would STRONGLY ADVISE not using the bus whenever there is a public holiday in japan. traffic is insane. one time i took the bus to get myself to tokyo at the beginning of Golden Week and it too 7 HOURS instead of the usual 4 :/ also one time i returned from a 3-day weekend and it took 6 hours. but yeah, if you’re just going on a random day or normal weekend, it’s fine.

    rakuten has an english website for hotels. and if you can speak a bit of japanese, i suggest using http://www.jalan.net . even if you don’t, you can use an online translator to understand most of the stuff. you need to create an account, but prices of rooms are usually MUCH cheaper than on regular tourist websites, even the hotel’s own website. i always use jalan. also, like so many other things in japan, you can accumulate points everytime you book, which you can use to reduce the price of your next reservation of a couple hundred yens, which is always nice. oh and you don’t have to pay in advance with your credit card. you just make your reservation and pay when you get to the hotel.

    also, major train stations will usually have “cheap ticket shops” near them, where you can buy shinkansen tickets for cheaper than normal. for example, a one way ticket from my city to tokyo is about 8000yen, but if i buy it at the cheap ticket shop, it’s 6900yen. that’s quite a bit cheaper so i always buy mine there. plus, the tickets i get at my shop are good for any hikari or kodama train for a period of 3 months!! (not all cheap tickets store sells this kind though… some place they will sell you only for the specific day you are travelling).

    well, that’s all. i hope that can be helpful to your readers too! i really hope people keep on travelling to japan. it would be such a shame if they didn’t because they’re afraid…

  15. Dorrie
    April 24, 2011 / 11:27 pm

    Hey girl,
    Popped over ’cause I noticed it on your twitter!

    As someone who’s become a little bit intense with cheap traveling for shows let me cut down the ways I do it– although I’m not big with the actual touristy part.

    As opposed to using buses like willer- I found for almost the same price I can take nicer buses with JR or VIP Liner depending on when you book them. I prefer 3 seat type buses with toilets as I’m picky but if you get the JR buses more then 21 days before the departure date you can get big savings. The buses I take to Nagoya on JR are normally 2000 yen, and include a bathroom. It’s really not very beatable. Oh, and when I go to Okayama I take ryoubi buses which are just for the okayama area to other places.

    Most buses between Nagoya-Osaka are about 2500-3000, shinkansen is about 4000 for kodama if you get the ticket with the kodama puratto from JR tokai tours office. I just had a friend from Osaka talk to me about the urban liner by kintetsu umeda station and nagoya. It takes two hours– so an hour more then the shinkansen, but an hour less then the bus and face value is 3000-something yen. However!~ right outside of umeda station there’s a bunch of ticket resale shops that you can buy a voucher for them for 3000 yen– they’re called 金券ショップ in Japanese.

    If I’m going to buy Shinkansen tickets I also buy them from ticket shops as they save quite a bit. For even normal nozomi vouchers you save money. The last time I took a shinkansen to osaka and did this it was 12,800. Still not cheap but if you need a time crunch to get there it’s good.

    Anything further then Osaka (including KOBE) — FLY. It’s cheaper than the Shinkansen. If you use things like Skymark you can get tickets for around 10,000 yen one way. If you use JAL or ANA they normally have round trip + hotel packs for reasonable. I was looking at ones for Osaka some weekends and they were like the price of just shinkansen normally round trip. Aroun 22,000-24,000 yen. Some as cheap as 20,000. Which means you’re pretty much getting your hotel for free.

    If I take the bus and get a hotel alone I use Rakuten-travel. I know they have an english website but the Japanese gives you better deals. HOWEVER, if you’re looking for expensive/nice hotels check their own websites too because sometimes the Japanese webpages are more expensive then the English ones. XD;

    Anyways, sorry for taking up so much space! XD

  16. April 24, 2011 / 11:32 pm

    Thank you so much for this! I know you mentioned having stayed at a ryokan, but you didn’t go into much detail. Do you recommend it? I’m going to be staying at one when I go next month and it’ll be my second time, but my first time having picked one out myself, etc. Do you have any tips on them? My boyfriend is coming with me and he speaks NO Japanese, so we made sure we chose one that speaks English, lol.

  17. April 28, 2011 / 6:08 am

    Very good post… Questions asked by Cat are very helpful. :busy:

  18. ilusuens
    April 28, 2011 / 8:07 am

    wow! great post! im thinking of going japan. hopefully i can go (: just tt im kinda surprised the yen is so strong right now ): its like if i go there my money will be divided by half D: less for shopping… urgh

  19. April 28, 2011 / 11:19 am

    AWESOME post!! Showcasing your vast knowledge, girl :) I’d only add that sometimes you can get cheaper rates at hotels direct from them, rather than through booking agencies. Since I don’t know Japanese (yet! I start Saturday!) I used google translate. It really is a great tool for interpreting Japanese hotel and other websites.

  20. alexis
    December 30, 2011 / 10:45 am

    I would like to know how much in all it would be to travel from istanbul turkey to tokyo japan? :( because me and my bestie guy friend are planning to go there after art college to start our own manga! :love:

    • Mitsu
      December 31, 2011 / 2:32 pm

      Sorry but I wouldn’t know. The best way to get to Japan is do the drive and research then you can understand how much effort it takes living in another country when you do the prep work.

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