Japan is a rich country – in culture, history, culinary, technology and entertainment. To be in the country itself is already an experience for the books. I wouldn’t be surprised at how many blogs have been written about how much less they spent for x number of days in Japan. My take though is different.
As I have been there twice (March 2015 and June 2016), in both occasion as a tourist, but one with a strict budget, and the other with a little bit of allowance for the spurs of the moment, and to indulge, I can pretty much compare both experiences.
It’s entirely up to you which one you’d like, but let me give a few points of comparison.
I – FOOD
When it comes to “tipid tips” on food, I have a lot, as I did exactly that the first time I was there. I had a lot of “baon” from the Philippines for breakfast and snacks so I’d only have to eat outside once a day. We bought microwavable food from the “kumbini” (their convenience store) for breakfast and dinner and only ate at restaurants for lunch during tours.
It is not bad at all since most convenience food taste really nice usually ranging from JPY 200-300 (PhP 90-130, US$ 1.95-2.93) per order while the rice at JPY 170 (PhP 70, US$ 1.66). A complete meal is about JPY 400-500 (PhP 180-230, US$ 3.904.90). If you buy closer to their closing time, you can even get a 20-30% mark down on the food as everything gets thrown after the set “expiration date”. I also brought a bottle of water wherever I went, and refilled whenever possible as their bottled water costs JPY 100 (PhP 46, US$ 0.98) and much more in Tokyo Disneyland.
The second time I went there, my partner – who happens to be a big foodie and a ramen lover, and I had to try ALMOST everything out. From ramen, to katsu, udon, matcha, curry, desserts, street food, with the exception of sushi and its family. Of course, it comes with a price. Like, a matcha parfait that costs JPY 950 (PhP 434, US$ 9.27), or a scewered marinated squid at JPY 600 (PhP 275, US$ 5.85).
Mary and I will launch “Footloose Felines” – a branch of the Footloose Tomcat site that talks about food, and our first article will be about the flavors of Japan. Please watch out for that.
Bottom line – how do you want to experience Japan? Do you want to try out the authentic ramen? Experiment on Eel and Nori? Try the rotating sushi? Find out what you want to eat and where, and work your budget up. As for us, it was definitely worthy of every Yen we spent.
II – TRANSPORTATION
While it is a must to ride the Shinkansen while in Japan, it may not be the most cost-effective way to get around Japan, especially if you’re only staying in one general area – like Tokyo. However, if you’re headed to Osaka / Kyoto, then consider getting a Japan Rail Pass before leaving your country of origin.
Taxi is definitely an expensive alternative. So if you can walk, walk. Unless you have big luggages and / or your feet are already swollen – like in our case.
Most locals either have their cars, or bicycles to get them around. Should you choose to commute via train everyday for a week, please prepare your feet. Mine got swollen at the end of each night.
Going back to the JR Pass, it allows you to use all JR line trains unlimited in spans of 7, 14 and 21 days. This is only available to foreigners before they enter Japan so please coordinate with your local provider. The 7-day regular pass costs JPY 29,110 (PhP 13,390, US$ 285). It cuts your travel time of about 8 hours via highway buses to 3 hours from Tokyo to Osaka via the Shinkansen covered by the JR Pass.
As for us, we chose to take the highway bus going to Osaka and coming back to Tokyo. It saved us 2 days’ worth of hotels and Shinkansen fare (bus can range from JPY 4500 to 7000 per way per pax compared to the JPY 14,000 Shinkansen) but we had to sleep on the buses on the road.
Next time we go though, we promised to allot enough allowance for a JR Pasa as we plan to go to other places again like Fukuoka, Nagoya, Hiroshima and Kobe, if possible.
III – ACCOMMODATION
Check in at a hotel or book a location via airBnB? It all depends on what you want out of your stay, how flexible and open-minded you are about being housemates with other travelers, and how important being pampered is for you.
The cheapest hotel I saw in the Tokyo area was for about PhP 8,000 (US$ 170) a night for a standard room for 2. The price can go as high as PhP 31,000 (US$ 638), depending on location and season. This includes (usually buffet) breakfast, en suite bathroom and the usual services and amenities available to a hotel.
AirBnB however is your DIY-style accommodation in the world. You get there by yourself and is oftentimes not easy to locate (while hosts give you instructions, it is not easy to commute around a place you’re going to for the first time, add the weight of the backpacks and luggage you’re carrying). You carry your bags all the way to your room, check yourself in and out, and share bathrooms with other guests. BUT! If the price is right, right? The airBnB rooms we rented in Osaka and Tokyo ranged at about PhP 2,500 (US$ 53) per night for 2.
Big difference, right? If you’re smart when selecting your host, there shouldn’t be a problem. Some tips include: (1) reading the reviews of the host and his property, (2) avoid properties with negative feedback, (3) consider the location and proximity to train stations and google the area in general for whatever concerns you – ghosts? crime rate? , (4) the host should respond to your queries within hours – if he doesn’t, chances are, he would be difficult to reach when you encounter problems while in his property as most hosts do not have a chance to personally “meet and greet” you, (5) the host should be able to communicate in English – it would be a hassle if they didn’t.
Is it safe? Both times I went to Japan, I’ve been on AirBnB rooms. That makes 3 hosts. One, I and my friends personally met, two of them, I never even saw. Never encountered any problem except for intermittent wifi connectivity issue which was fixed by the time we got back from the day’s tour.
The experience? It varies.If you’re staying at airBnB, you cannot be dependent. You have to know how to turn things on or off (you don’t have a front desk to call when you can’t turn the AC on lol), microwave your own meals, wash your own plates / tumblers, cook your food if you need to, boil your own water if need it for coffee or tea.
IV – PURPOSE OF TRAVEL
Why are you there? Are you there on a laid-back vacation? Are you there for daily tours? Are you traveling with kids? Ask yourself these questions before deciding. As for me. There was no need to ask as I was dead-set on getting AirBnB from the get-go, no decision-making was ever done. More so, we only had to decide on which airBnB property to book based on the tips / considerations I mentioned above.
All in all, whether you are within a budget or not, the best way to enjoy Japan is to just let it take over you. Leave your “pinoy” troubles behind, forget about work a for a week or so, and just enjoy. You won’t be in Japan often to waste each moment. Eat, drink, live, commute, breathe, sing Japan. Once you experience Japan Mary, Jons and myself, guarantee, you would be left wanting more.