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Archive for the ‘Japan’ Category

Japan on the Cheap: How much?

I just calculated the definitive cost of this trip. For 2 weeks of food, lodging, modest entertainment and transportation, it cost each of us about 82 000 yen. That doesn’t include our airfare, obviously. Save maybe 3000yen or so, I can imagine how you could further reduce the costs. Our biggest “treat” was a day long sumo tournament for 2000yen or something like that. But could you honestly say no to watching a live sumo tournament in Tokyo? No.

If a restaurant has a machine to take your order, chances are, you can afford it.

If a restaurant has a machine to take your order, chances are, you can afford it.

To accomplish our outrageously cheap goal, you’ll need to like walking, cook all breakfasts and occasional suppers at the hostel, take midnight buses twice and get lucky with accommodations. People will say that to save money, you need to buy a JR pass (Japan Rail passes lets you make unlimited train travel on JR owned rails). We found the JR pass to be unnecessary for what we were planning on doing. Since we stayed in one city at a time over fairly long periods, we hardly used the rails (Kyoto/Nara and Nara/Osaka). Plus our biggest amount of traveling (Tokyo/Kyoto then Osaka/Tokyo) was accomplished via midnight bus, which also saved us one night’s accommodations. I’ll tell you now though, the bus ride won’t provide you with a good night’s sleep, it’s small, cramped and loud (they turn on the lights and announce the pit stop every 3 hours), but it’ll save you a couple bucks. If you want to cover a lot of ground and see many cities while you’re in Japan, get the JR Pass, if you don’t mind relaxing in a few cities and digging it, then don’t bother.

Delicious AND cheap!

Lunch for under 800yen. Delicious AND cheap!

Here’s another tip; when you go to a city, check out the volunteer tour guides. The one we got in Nara was super friendly, informative and it’s nice to talk to a local. Also, don’t go to bars. You’ll spend so much money and you might not even talk to a Japanese person. You can drink in your own country when you get back. Try drinking and talking to people at hostels, you’ll meet interesting folk, sometimes even nationals. Of course, this advice only applies if you’re on a super tight budget. If you have a bit of money, by all means, go to bars. I’m just giving advice for if you’re super cheap.

The reason for our extreme thriftiness was that we didn’t bring enough cash and I got scared of running out before we left. I had my VISA (always bring a credit card, if only just to book things online) with me, but I was as a last resort. Moral of the story, make sure you bring lots of cash if you go to Japan. You’ll need it.

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Here’s a review of the places we stayed in Japan. These places are pretty much the cheapest spots you’ll find. They’re also fairly well located. I mean, if we stayed in them, you can stay in them.

Tokyo

Khaosan Annex Tokyo Guesthouse: This was our first guest house. There are two Khaosan guesthouses in the Asakusa area, so make sure you know where you’re booked. I made that mistake. The staff are super friendly, the facilities are clean, there’s a cool hangout lounge on the ground level with free internet (a big deal when you travel on the cheap). We stayed in their 8 bed dorms, 2 bed bunk room and capsule rooms. They were all pretty good. In the 8 bed dorm, each bed has curtains so you have a bit more privacy, the 2 bed bunk room is small (as you’d expect) but since you’re there just for a bed, it doesn’t really matter and the capsule beds are like the bunk room only in wooden boxes with wooden sliding doors on the side. There’s so much to see in the area too. It’s a really great spot to get your bearings and figure out what to do. People at the hostel will also give you great pointers (a sumo tournament in our case).

The 2 bunk bed room

The 2 bunk bed room

Real Capsule Hotel: I don’t know the actual name of this place. All I know is that it was 3000yen a night, it offered a taste of the future and it’s on the street between Asakusa station and the river. Rows of molded plastic capsule beds with a little control module for your radio, alarm and tv. This is the future my friends! When you check in, they give you a toothbrush, soap, single blade razor if you want to rip up your face, linen AND pajamas. Actually, I only ended up staying there because I made a mistake with the booking for our last night in Tokyo and I only had one bed booked (not the first time that happened), but staying there was something I wanted to do anyway, so I didn’t mind. Oh, and if you’re over 190cm, you might find it a bit cramped.

FUTURE!

FUTURE!

Kyoto

J Hoppers Kyoto: This was our first hostel in Kyoto. I booked it because it was the cheapest of the well reviewed ones over on Hostelworld. J Hopper’s is a nice place. When we were there, the other boarders weren’t too much into socializing in the lounge, but it was ok. The staff are really friendly and things are clean. I’d recommend staying here if you can’t spare 500yen to stay at…

K’s House Kyoto: Wowee. This place was good. It’s super modern and surprisingly spacious. They’ve also got a little fleet of bike for hire. As I mentioned before, bikes in Kyoto is the best thing ever (easily my favorite part of the trip). There’s a little bar attached to the hostel and they’re very well located. At night there’s a guy called Tomo that works there. He speaks like 5 languages and he’s so friendly. If you’re in Kyoto, you should sleep here. It’s great.

Nara

Nara Tree: For our two nights in Nara we decided to switch gears and stay at a more traditional guest house. Ok. Here’s the thing about Nara Tree, and keep in mind that it might change in time because they were just recently opened, but staying at Nara Tree is like staying at your buddy’s house. Your buddy that really really like Japan. It’s not as professionally set up as the other hostels. You’re staying in a house with the top floor converted into rooms, the owners live downstairs and it shows. I don’t regret we stayed there, it was a nice change of pace to hang out in a living room and watch Japanese animation, but I don’t think it’s for everyone. Personally the lack of professionalism bugged me for the first night, but then it was fine. So, yeah, it’s a cool place if you’re going to be in Nara, but just keep my advice in mind.

Our beds.

Our beds.

Osaka

J Hopper’s Osaka: Our one night in Osaka was spent here. It’s a nice place, it has a great location maybe 15 minutes away from Osaka station on foot and the staff is very friendly. There’s a cool rooftop terrace from where you can see Osaka, so that’s nice. I think it’s an ok spot. Not amazing (it’s possible that this lukewarm review is because I didn’t really dig Osaka too much), but not bad by any means. I’d recommend staying there if youre in Osaka, but don’t book for more than 2 nights. There’s just not that much to see in Osaka (unless you’re really into shopping).

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Japan

On Saturday January 17th, around 7pm, I went to a bookstore in Seoul to buy the Lonely Planet guide to Japan, later that night, at around 11pm, I booked a hostel room for Sunday. This, along with buying an airplane ticket and exchanging some money one week before was all the planning that went into my two week trip to Japan.

Real life sumo match!

Real life sumo match!

On Sunday January 18th, my friend Greg and I arrived to Japan terrified (well, I was terrified, at least). We were in a foreign country with no planning. All I knew about traveling in Japan I read on the bus to the airport and on the airplane. Because of lousy exchange rates and last minute planning, I knew this trip would be expensive. I also figured it would be pretty bad because we didn’t know what to see. Thankfully, my outlook changed as soon as we got on the metro for Tokyo. I started talking to a Western lady sitting next to me and soon we were talking to a Japanese lady to my left. The Japanese lady helped us with directions and gave us a few good Japanese words to help us. Interestingly, we met with Western couple a few more times over the next few days purely by chance. They were a very nice, well traveled couple heading to Bangkok for a wedding.

A beautiful temple by a pond in Kyoto

A beautiful temple by a pond in Kyoto

Our time in Tokyo, our first stop, was mainly split between visiting the Asakusa area and checking out a real-life sumo match. Imagine that! We just happened to be in the right neighborhood at the right time to see a tournament that happens three times a year! The Asakusa area is really beautiful. There’s a good mix of what you’d expect in a large Japanese city without it being overwhelming. Temples, parks and lakes on one end and neon, markets and high-rises on the other. It’s all there.

The largest wooden building in the world is in Nara. It houses the largest indoor Buddha in the world.

The largest wooden building in the world is in Nara. It houses the largest indoor Buddha in the world.

After staying in Tokyo for a few nights, we decided to head to Kyoto for a bit. Taking the overnight bus because we didn’t buy a JR pass (passes that allow unlimited rain travel for a set period of time, but we were too last minute and they’re very expensive) and to save on one night’s accommodations. We got in at 6am, tired and disoriented to a drizzly Kyoto. Our original intent was to stay in Kyoto for 2 nights, but we ended up stay for 4. Kyoto is amazing. For a huge city (1.5 million people ), it has somehow kept its charm without compromising its functionality. For me, the best way to explore this city is on bike. Since it’s mainly flat, you can cruise around all day, check out temples and markets, and not be too tired at night. I realize this is starting to sound like a travel book pitch for Kyoto, but I can’t overemphasize how great it is.

One of the many deer found in Nara

One of the many deer found in Nara

After our stay in Kyoto we took the train to Nara. This smaller town 1 hour from Kyoto doesn’t offer as much but it has plenty of charm, nature and historical value. Nara was Japan’s first capital city and is now overrun by deer. Seriously. There are deer everywhere. If you like deer, a relaxed Japanese city and nature, Nara might be your place. We took a free tour of the city for our first day there (there’s really only one day of stuff to see) and on the second, we hung out with our tour guide and her friend. That was one of our main objectives in Japan; to hang out with Japanese people. So that was super cool.

The castle in Osaka.

Part of the castle in Osaka.

After Nara, we went to Osaka. I’m not really sure why we went. Personally, I wanted to see a friend from University, but that didn’t happen. Instead, we hung out with two guys from Kuwait and their Japanese friend, so it was fun all the same. While Osaka has a really nice castle and is a great place if you want to do some shopping, I doubt I’d go again. I’d recommend spending more time in Kyoto instead, but that’s just me.

Cosplay in Harajuku

Cosplay in Harajuku

Finally, after touring those three cities, we went back to Tokyo for our last 2 nights. Taking the midnight bus again, we got to Tokyo on Friday morning. Our last days were pretty relaxed. Basically hung out with my Japanese friend on Friday and Saturday and then on Sunday, before leaving, we went to see cosplay in Harajuku. Cosplay makes me super uncomfortable. Cosplay is short for costume play and is when people dress up in elaborate/fantastic outfits, hang out and pose while people take pictures of them(that’s how I’d describe what we saw). It was neat and I’ll admit some of the costumes were really good, but for whatever reason, people dressed as sexy goth vampire bopeeps makes me feel a bit strange.

Even on a rainy night, Shibuya Crossing is quite a sight.

Even on a rainy night, Shibuya Crossing is quite a sight.

Anyway, that’s essentially what we did for two weeks. It was great.

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Quick Update from Japan

This will be a short update; sort of like an abstract for future posts.

So I’ve been in Japan for 10 days now and I’m loving it. I’ve met a very colourful cast of characters ranging from two “Coming to America” type guys from Kuwait to one impossibly mellow hostel owner. Overall though, my biggest observation is how expensive Japan can be for travellers. We eat three meals a day, sleep in hostels and that’s pretty much all we do and still we manage to spend 60 or 70$ per day. I don’t understand!

I’m coming back to Korea Sunday, which I’m excited for since I’ll be able to feel not like a poor person, but I’m a bit sad at the thought of leaving Japan. It’s a really beautiful country. The people we’ve met have been really cool and the places are just amazing. I’m seriously considering working here…

Until now, we’ve been in Tokyo for the better part of a week, Kyoto for 4 night, Nara for 2 nights and Osaka for one night. We’re back in Tokyo for 2 nights after taking the midnight bus from Osaka. I’m meeting up with my Japanese friend I met at French camp today, but besides that, it’s pretty much a mystery.

I feel like I’m just rambling at this point. There’s so much to say! Stay posted!

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Tripping across the sea

On Sunday I’m going to Japan. I’m excited. Two Sundays ago, at supper with friends, my friend Greg and I determined that we both had time off at the end of January and we both wanted to go to Japan. So that’s what we’re doing. We got tickets for a good price through United and we’ve taken a look at what to do over there with the help of some friends. We’ve gotten multiple entry added to our VISAs so we’re allowed back in the country. We’ve even gotten some money converted to Yen to get on our feet once we arrive.

That’s as far as we got.

I can’t honestly make any prediction about this trip because I don’t know what we’re going to see/do. All I know is that I want to see crazy Japanese things. Things that you’d only see in Japan. Besides that though, nothing.

This is pretty much just to say that for the next little while, I’ll be switching to stock posts. I doubt I’ll be updating from Japan since we’re gonna be traveling at a thrift level bordering the ridiculous and internet access tends to cost something. As a side note, from the research I’ve done, Japan is retarded expensive, well, by Korean standards at least. I can’t wait to see how much it’ll end up costing. Oh well, I’m not a student anymore, I can treat myself.

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