Big hotel chains can be expensive, but if you just need a comfortable place to sleep, try a business hotel. Usually near train stations in Japanese cities, these offer basic rooms at reasonable rates, often with weekend discounts. Likewise, if you’re thinking of staying in a traditional ryokan, ask about discounts for midweek stays. Booking websites can have good rates, but if possible have a Japanese speaker check the hotel’s Japanese website. You can often find the best rates there, often by booking far in advance or at the last minute. For more upscale hotels, have a Japan-based friend look for stockholder discount coupons at ticket reselling shops; these annual transferable vouchers issued to stockholders can get steep discounts at several major high-end chains.
If you’re planning a multicity trip, a JR pass will probably save you money. You can use it not only on the Shinkansen, but, for a surcharge, on overnight trains, saving a night’s accommodation. Using frequent flyer miles is another option; reward levels for domestic flights are usually 15,000 or 20,000 miles in Japan. Long-distance buses are a surprisingly comfortable way to travel between cities, with many offering slippers, blankets, and private curtained-off sleeper seats, and Japanese overnight ferries, with tatami mat sleeping rooms and onboard baths, are also good value. In major cities, one-day subway passes are useful, and in smaller towns renting a bicycle is a budget-friendly way to explore.
Cheap eats abound in Japan. There are the usual fast-food chains, but other options include ramen noodles (a student favorite), soba or udon noodle stands, and takeout bento lunches from department store basement food halls. The latter are often marked down after 7 pm. Convenience stores sell bento boxes and quick snacks like onigiri rice balls or nikuman steamed meat buns. You can always head to the city hall cafeteria for a dirt-cheap lunch; open to the public, these cafeterias are subsidized to ensure everyone in Japan has access to nutritious food.
Vintage kimonos are surprisingly cheap in Japan. At kimono resellers prices often start at ¥1,000. There are some used kimono shops in Asakusa in Tokyo and many in Kyoto. Antiques markets are a good place for interesting souvenirs. There’s an antiques fair at Tokyo Forum on the first and third Sunday of the month, and a bustling antiques market at Kyoto’s Toji temple on the 21st of every month. In department stores and electronics shops, ask about tax-free shopping for foreign visitors.