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