Best Budget Tips for Traveling in Japan


Jan 16th, 2009, 06:57 AM
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Best Budget Tips for Traveling in Japan

Hi Fodorites,

We're the editors of the upcoming Tokyo and Japan guides. We've noticed that lots of people are asking about budget-friendly ways to travel around Japan on these forums, and we'd like to capitalize on the superb advice and provide similar guidance in our guides. The title of the section would be, "Budget Tips for Traveling in Japan." Some of you might have seen the posts about tips to beat the Euro for our European guides, and basically we're looking for the same in Japan. So, is it cheaper to rent an apartment instead of shelling out for a hotel? What do you think about splurging at recommended restaurants for lunch instead of dinner? Any advice on cheap ways to travel to far flung destinations like the outer islands of Okinawa? Is a Japan Rail Pass really a cheap way to travel? Are street stalls a great option for a quick, tasty, and cheap meal? Are set meals really a bargain? How about sight-seeing? Are there better times to go for better admission prices? Is the GRUTT Pass really a good deal in Tokyo?

As with the Beating the Euro tips, if your tip is used in the Japan or Tokyo guide you are eligible for a complimentary guide of choice (Fodor's of course).

We look forward to hearing from you.

Happy Traveling and thanks in advance!!!

Alexis and Stephanie
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Jan 16th, 2009, 12:16 PM
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If you only eat pastries or fruit and coffee for breakfast, head to a convenience store in the morning. Places such as Lawson’s, 7-11 or Circle K have a wide range of fresh and inexpensive foods.

When you first arrive in a town, head for the Tourist Information Center. They not only book local rooms, but will have a wealth of info on local festivals, exhibits and other free and interesting activities.

One of the best things about eating in japan is that most restaurants have plastic models of their food in the front window. Prices are displayed, so you can see if there’s something you’d like before you go in to be seated.

The basements of the big department stores are great for sampling and purchasing takeout food, especially at lunch time. If you want a sit down meal though, head to the higher restaurant flloros in the same Depato. There will be tons of restaurants, from budget to high end, and you can “shop” for your favorite from the window models.

Japan is a pretty safe country, so except for the largest cities, even the “bad” part of town is not usually unsafe. Makes looking for a budget hotel a lot less stressful!

If there are four of you traveling together, youth hostels can be an attractive budget option. Rooms are often set up for four people, so no sharing with strangers! We’ve found them to be very clean and usually well located.
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Jan 16th, 2009, 10:11 PM
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Our best budget experience was staying on Shiraishi Island. It is a very small island in the Inland Sea (take the ferry from Kasaoka) If you want an authentic Japanese experience this is the place to go.

We stayed in a minshuku (Amano Beach House) for the princely sum of 2500 yen per person per night. Do not expect any luxuries it is all very, very basic in terms of the cooking and bathing facilities, think backpacker/camper accommodation. However our actual sleeping arrangements were excellent - a beautiful tatami matted floor, futons, low tables and cushions to sit on and two shrines in the room. It is a very, very large room and we had it all to ourselves but I believe that during the summer you will be expected to share the bedroom with others.

To walk around the entire circumference of the island is 7km and it was fascinating getting a chance to see how the locals lived and away from regular tourist haunts, not to mention the beautiful views over the Inland Sea. We only met one Japanese person in our travels who had even heard of the island.

During the summer they do get Japanese from the mainland who come over for a beach holiday and there is a bar and a restaurant open.

We were there off season and had to bring all our food with us as the one bar and restaurant were both closed. Our minshuku came with a camp stove set up outside and we actually quite enjoyed the change of cooking ourselves some very simple meals as we had been travelling for some time by them.

As most of the locals have no English at all, Amy Chavez who runs the only bar on the island, will organize accommodation for you via her website at no cost.

We timed our stay on the island for the local festival which we thought would be fun to observe. However, instead of just observing, we were welcomed by all, regardless of the language barrier. Everyone kept trying to supply us with sake (from early in the morning) and we were invited to help carry the minshuku (portable shrine) on its journey. Unfortunately it poured constantly with rain on the day of the celebration so events had to be cut back but it certainly didn't deter the generosity of spirit that we saw amongst the islanders.

It may not come under the heading of "budget" but we thought the hidden gem of Takayama was visiting the Hida Takayama Museum of Art and was, to us, more than worth every cent we paid considering how much we enjoyed the experience

It is a purpose built museum which specialises in Art Nouveau and has works by Lalique, Galle, Tiffany and other famous glass makers. The Lalique glass fountain which used to stand in the Champs Elysee Arcade is magnificent and still in working order. There is also a Vieniesse Secession Room and a number of works by Macintosh of Scotland.

We were there on the weekend of the Takayama festival, so peak period, and I think I saw a total of four other people during our entire time there. To be able to wander around the rooms at our leisure without having to compete with anyone else was a luxury in itself.

What certainly does qualify as budget was the Hida Steak Sandwich that I had at the Museum Restaurant. It was sumblime and quite inexpensive, not to mention the view over the valley.

For other tips, have to second the recommendation to try out the food halls in the department stores. The variety of food is amazing.

Street food at the festivals were a great buy, although it might be a bit hit and miss as to whether you like it or not, when you haven't got a clue as to what it actually is. We were never concerned about the hygiene of the food stations or the possibility of food poisoning.

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Jan 16th, 2009, 11:43 PM
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Don't have breakfast at the hotel. As lcuy says, go out to a convenience store. But if you get pastry, I advise looking for one with a picture of the filling (e.g. apple) before buying as you might otherwise be surprised. Get pastry and fruit when heading back to your lodging to have it in the morning.

There is always a hot pot in your room with cups and green tea. You can pick up a jar of instant coffee at a convenience store if you want hot coffee when you get up.

Using a JR Pass is not a cheap way to travel, but it is a real bargain depending on your itinerary (especially if you get beyond Tokyo-Kyoto-Tokyo). Remember, this is a first rate train system: highly efficient, very safe, and comfortable. It is not cheap travel, not in price or quality.

To get to far flung destinations, or to avoid backtracking, get tickets that are specially priced for visitors. This is a cheap way to travel and these ticket rules give some flexibility. Please see my thread "Japan Domestic Airline Passes" at this link:

Japan doesn't have street stalls, exactly, not like Singapore or Penang. I did see a "food court" in the basement Yokohama station that is similar. Stalls, but not on the street.

Use priceline for Tokyo. Maybe other cities.

Use frequent flyer miles to get around Japan. The award levels are low, just 15K or 20K miles. Once, I flew from Tokyo to Sapporo, poked around Hokkaido a bit with JR Pass, and then flew from Sapporo to Hiroshima. The flights were on an FF award, open-jaw ticket. Then I used my JR Pass to get back to Tokyo, after a couple of stops.

You saved money by using hotel points for your stay? Don't ruin the bargain by having dinner in the hotel. Prices can be two to three times what you would find at an inexpensive restaurant.

A kaiseki meal is expensive. A ryokan stay usually includes dinner and breakfast. A few places offer the option of lodging without meals. The room without meals rate could be less than half the rate with meals. But a kaiseki meal is a cultural experience with its own customs and traditions. For that reason, to get full value, I recommend that the visitor get an understanding of what to expect in the ryokan room and of the service of the meal. has a good description of this.

Get beyond Tokyo-Kyoto-Tokyo. Prices drop when you get off of the well beaten path, especially for lodging. On my first trip to Japan I stayed at a nice hotel room in Matsuyama (Hotel Patio Dogo) that was twice as big and half the cost of my Tokyo hotel (Hilton). There is a lot of beautiful country in Japan and the people are a bit more relaxed outside of the megacities. Go to Kyushu.
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Jan 17th, 2009, 01:02 PM
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Forget the word "hotel" (unless it is preceded by "business") and learn the word "minshuku". Big hotel chains (Western or Japanese) can be expensive, but Japan also has "business hotels" that provide small basic hotel rooms at reasonable prices. A minshuku is a type of budget lodging and I am sure that fodors has a good description.
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Jan 17th, 2009, 01:39 PM
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Very interesting post!
BTW, the portable shrine you helped to carry is called 'omikoshi'.
o- is an honorific prefix, a polite way of calling something or someone.
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Jan 17th, 2009, 02:47 PM
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Alex, thanks for the correction. I will remember it for the future.
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Jan 18th, 2009, 05:05 AM
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An overnight voyage by ferry from Kobe or Osaka to Shikoku or Kyushu is an experience worth having. Not only is it the cheapest way to travel, but the real payoff is that your ticket provides sleeping space so you save hotel expenses too. As probably the lone tourists on board you'll be impressed at how dozens of people can bed down together on the raised onboard platform--like an improvised seagoing campground--yet carefully preserving each other's privacy. Ferries reflect the usual incomparable Japanese care in planning, scheduling, and organization. Decidedly a more-for-less travel opportunity.
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Jan 18th, 2009, 04:22 PM
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The Osaka Unlimited pass is outstanding value for money. This pass covers travel on the Osakan subways (not JR line though) and free or discounted entry to museums, restaurants and other tourist locations. With a little planning and an early start, it's certainly possible to save the price of the pass twice over over the two days of the pass.

Not only will the JR Pass get you on the shinkansen, but it will also get you on JR sleeper trains. Your pass will entitle you to a small enclosed space (not private though), and for a surcharge you can get a private cabin. You can save one night's accommodation by travelling overnight.
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Jan 19th, 2009, 12:49 AM
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1. Head to Harajuku on a Sunday afternoon for free street theatre. You'll see many girls dressed as as Goths and Little Bo-peeps. Elvis lookalikes will be rocking and rolling away in the nearby Yoyogi Park.

2. Choose those cheap set meals which come with a bowl of rice or order oyakadon (fried egg and chicken on a big bowl of rice) which is cheap and delicious and will keep you full for some hours.

3. Keep an eye out for free tissue packs (a la advertising flyers) being handed out usually around crowded areas.

4. Best value souvenirs are small mirrors, combs, purses, chopsticks and fans to take home. These can be purchased from stalls outside tourist attractions.

5. If you like beautiful fabrics or kimonos, get one from a vintage kimono shop. Japanese people do not wear vintage stuff so these can be had for a fraction of the original price. There is one in Tokyo off Omotesando and one in Kyoto not far from Tawaraya Ryokan.
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Jan 19th, 2009, 06:42 AM
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For a cheap dinner in Kyoto on a Friday and Saturday evening check out the street vendors that appear at dusk across the front entrance of the Kyoto Station selling all kinds of Japanese comfort foods either from carts connected to their cars or out of the back of their cars and trucks. You can have and authentic Japanese home cooked meal at a very reasonable price.

Always walk up and down the left hand side of the stairs in train stations and everywhere else in Japan for that matter so as not to upset the flow of pedestrian traffic

I find using your hotel points in the larger cities of Japan to be a fantastic return on your investment as the nicer 4 and 5 star hotels can be very expensive.

Always look right first before crossing a street

If you have any kind of gold, platinum or diamond status with Hilton, Hyatt, SPG, etc. Japan is the place where your status will be honored and actually mean something with free room upgrades and other special treats, usually without even asking for them

While in Tokyo, head to the Ameyoko Street Market located right in front of the JR Ueno station. There you will find a Bangkok style street market right in the middle of Tokyo. Everything there in the stalls is on sale and ready to be sold. You can find everything from freshest seafood’s to a can of spam, real Rolex watches to fake Gucci bags and EVERYTHING else in between.

If you are in Japan more than a week and are traveling by train get a SUICA card at a train station in Tokyo. It saves you time while on vacation and time is money. The SUICA can now be used in more parts of Japan other than Tokyo and will soon be used throughout the whole country.

Ooops, got to get back to work


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Jan 19th, 2009, 07:38 AM
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> Always walk up and down the left hand side of the "stairs" in train stations ..

I think he meant the "escalators". Even then it changes in Kanto area (Tokyo and surroundings) and Kansai area (Osaka - Kyoto, etc) as I noticed. What I notice every time I travel to Tokyo from Europe is they do the other way from what I used to, i.e. in Kanto, people stay on the left side of the escalator and let others pass on the right. Then, when I travelled to Kyoto the first time I was surprised they didn't do it like in Tokyo. They were doing it the "European" way.
kappa1 is offline  
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Jan 21st, 2009, 11:21 AM
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Hi everyone,

Thanks so much for these great tips! Cilla, thanks for the advice about the free street theater. Does anyone else have a favorite cheap or free entertainment option?

We also loved all the food, lodging, and transportation tips. Keep 'em coming! For instance, do bars in Tokyo have good drink specials (happy hour)? What kind of food can you expect at the street stalls?


Stephanie and Alexis

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Jan 21st, 2009, 01:42 PM
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Stephanie_B, not only do bars in Tokyo have Happy Hour drink specials, but some restaurants do as well. Probably the best deal is a specially priced drink and appetizer. E.g., in Tokyo we had cooked bits of liver on a skewer (if it has a Japanese name, I don't know it), sashimi, and beer/wine for ¥1,000 each. Or, in Kyoto, it was a Heineken beer and a salmon or tomato appetizer dish for ¥650. The hours are generally 5-7 or so.
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Jan 21st, 2009, 02:09 PM
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If a large hotel breakfast buffet lets you get by on two meals a day, look for a restaurant with a lunch special that continues until 5 PM or so. E.g., at a 5th-7th floor restaurant in the large Shin-Marunouchi building north of Tokyo Station. Last night we landed in one called "So Tired" at 4:30 PM, before an evening train to Osaka. Among other options was an excellent green curry chicken, with rice and soup, and coffee or tea for ¥1,000. Comparable in price to a bento on the Shinkansen. Amidst trendy mid-scale surroundings in a clean bright place we had a table by the window with a view towards the Imperial Palace as the lights came on in Tokyo.
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Jan 21st, 2009, 04:21 PM
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Happy hours, one of my favorite times of the day

As stated above most happy hours in Japan is from 5 pm to 7 pm. Many Izakaya have them throughout the country. In Shinjuku's Kabuki-cho area a lot of the Izakaya will have their workers standing outside their establishment's screaming at the top of their lungs what is on special for the happy hour that day.

So if you are walking through Kabuki-cho around 5 in the afternoon and happen upon a person screaming in Japanese and motioning you into the bar, you'll know what they are doing.

The only place in Tokyo which is famous for its Venetian style "pub crawl" is Roppongi as it's the only place with such a concentration of Izakaya in one area. This "pub crawl" has been reported elsewhere on the internet before

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Jan 21st, 2009, 04:29 PM
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sorry posted too soon, here is the pub crawl

1. Hard Rock Cafe (4:30pm)
What is there to say? It's the earliest happy hour in town. Rock on.
Happy Hour: 4:30-6pm Mon-Fri, all drinks two-for-one.
Address: 5-4-20 Roppongi.
Tel: 03-3408-7018.

2. The Celt (5pm)
Though this sister bar of Paddy Foley's is just about the same in every respect, somehow we still like it better. A little tinier and cozier, perhaps?
Happy Hour: Half price Bud and cocktails every day, 5-7pm.
Ladies Night: Thu all night, half price everything.
Address: 5-5-1 Roppongi, ROI Bldg B1.
Tel: 03-3423-2250.

3. Paddy Foley's
Along with The Celt, Roppongi's Irish destinations of choice. Guinness, Kilkenny and all the trimmings.
Happy Hour: Half price Bud and cocktails, 5-7pm daily.
Ladies Night: Thu all night, half price everything.
Address: 5-5-1 Roppongi, ROI Bldg B1.
Tel: 03-3423-2250.

4. La Fiesta
The happy hour is criminally short but the food is awesome-the best Mexican fare in town. A little on the pricey side, the servings are moderate, and no freebies-you even pay for chips and salsa. We still don't care. It's that good.
Happy Hour: 5-6:30pm daily, drinks are "cheaper" (their words, not ours).
Address: 3-15-23 Roppongi, Roppongi Hanatsubaki Bldg 2F.
Tel: 03-3475-4412.

5. Hub
Ubiquitous chain pub with great drink deals that change daily.
Happy hour: 5-7pm daily. Cocktails JY180-480, Asahi JY250, Bass JY300, wine JY300. Chips and beer set JY500, chicken and beer set JY500, Fish, chips and beer set JY600.
Address: 4-9-2 Roppongi, Haiyuza Bldg.
Tel: 03-3478-0393.

6. Tokyo Sports Cafe (6pm)
One-stop shopping-widescreen TVs, electronic darts, pool, board games, food and drink. Live and recorded sports.
Happy Hour: 6-9pm daily. All drinks JY500.
Ladies Night: Every Tue; all drinks JY500 all night.
Address: 7-15-31 Roppongi, TSK CCC 1F.
Tel: 03-3404-3675.

7. Bamboo Cafe
Not being in Roppongi makes this the perfect Roppongi place, with good Indian food, incomparably corny Indian music videos and killer cocktails (try the Goa Trance to really get your evening going). A sobering walk (or short cab ride) west of Roppongi Crossing.
Happy Hour: Nama beer JY350 from 6-8pm Mon-Thu.
Address: 1-8-4 Nishi Azabu, Iida Bldg 1F.
Tel: 03-3404-9988.

8. Quest
Top darts spot with a comfortably long happy hour and a big screen for sports events, Quest should be well up there on the list, making up for in atmosphere what it lacks in decor.
Happy Hour: Mon-Sat 6-9pm, Sun 7-9pm. All drinks JY500.
Address: Nakano Bldg 2F, 5-8-3, Roppongi.
Tel: 03-3408-6077.

9. Pint's Sports Cafe
A more orderly, tidy kind of sports bar, Pint's nevertheless has all the requisite accessories - pool, darts and foosball to make up for its slightly poor happy hour selection.
Happy Hour: Mon-Fri 6-8pm, Sat 6-9pm. Pitcher of beer JY2000, cocktails and shooters JY500 (not including "top shelf" drinks).
Address: 5-31-1 Roppongi, No. 2 Bldg 3F.
Tel: 03-3408-1134.

10. Trading Places (7pm)
Mostly a suit-and-tie crowd, watching sports and puffing on the occasional cigar. Friendly bartenders make this an easy place to lose your work worries, if you ignore the ticking clocks on the wall: New York, London and Tokyo. Tick tick.
Happy Hour: 6-8pm Mon-Fri.
Ladies Night: Thu, all drinks half price.
Address: 5-16-52 Roppongi, Imperial Roppongi Forum Bldg B1.
Tel: 03-3589-2442.

11. Propaganda
Destination of choice for the male suit crowd.
Happy Hour: 6-9pm daily, all drinks half price.
Ladies Night: Wed, all drinks half price.
Address: Yua Roppongi Bldg 2F, 3-14-9 Roppongi.
Tel: 03-3423-0988.

12. Dusk Till Dawn
A refreshing kind of place with a terrace and balcony spitting distance (don't you dare) from the throngs on the main street below, and fine happy hour prices.
Happy hour: Mon-Sat, 6-9pm. Bottled beers, Kilkenny and Guinness JY600. Sapporo and others JY400.
Ladies night: Every Wed.
Address: 3-13-8 Roppongi, Zonan Bldg 2F.
Tel: 03-5771-2258.

13. Rock Bar Sister (8pm)
Bring some ear plugs (or your own tunes, they'll play them for you), 'cos if you don't mind the noise, those prices are mighty fine.
Happy Hour: 7-9pm, all drinks JY300.
Address: Tamagiku Bldg, 4-8-9 Roppongi.
Tel: 03-5474-5605.

14. Geronimo
This stalwart shot bar on Roppongi Crossing is an old fave, and as such has plenty of regulars. If you go wearing a suit, keep an eye on your tie if you don't want it to become part of the wallpaper.
Happy Hour: 7pm-9pm daily. Beers JY400. Shots, spirits and cocktails JY500.
Address: 7-14-10 Roppongi, Yamamuro Bldg 2F.
Tel: 03-3478-7449.

15. Mogambo
This jungley (decor not music) pub is Geronimo's sister bar and follows the same happy hour pattern. A groovy little place, but somehow lacking the je ne sais quoi of its elder sibling.
Happy Hour: Beers JY400, shots, spirits and cocktails JY500, 7-9pm daily.
Address: 6-1-7 Roppongi, Osawa Bldg.
Tel: 03-3403-4833.

16. Hideout (9pm)
If you go before things start hopping, this is a really quiet, comfortable basement, er, hideout. Movies on the widescreen, electronic darts and a sign announcing "No tap water." Whether this means they stick to the mineral variety or you shouldn't ask for water, we're not entirely sure. The "Cuban cigars available" sign is much more straightforward.
Happy Hour: 6-10pm daily, all drinks JY500.
Ladies Night: Thu, two-for-one drinks all night long.
Address: 3-14-9 Roppongi, Yua Roppongi Bldg B1.
Tel: 03-3497-5219.

17. Wall Street Lounge
Here's a concept we can live with: every night during happy hour play Toss the Boss-flip for your drink; if you win, drink for free, if you lose, pay regular price.
Happy Hour: 6-10pm daily, all drinks JY500.
Pappadum Frenzy: Thu 7:30-11pm, JY2500 all-you-can-eat Indian food (including real Basmati rice) prepared by a chef from Delhi.
Ladies Night: Fri, Latin house night, drinks JY500 all night.
Address: 3-15-24 Roppongi, #2 Togensha Bldg 2F.
Tel: 03-3478-7659.

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Jan 21st, 2009, 04:58 PM
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There are many cheap places to eat in Ginza. An area full of little stalls is near the train station under an arch. It is bustling with locals.

A favourite tasty street food of mine is fried oyster balls.
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Jan 23rd, 2009, 10:48 AM
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Cilla--are fried oyster balls like Rocky Mountain Oysters? If so I may have to skip those on my next trip to Japan.

Thanks again everyone! If you've got more tips keep sending them my way!
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Jan 23rd, 2009, 11:01 AM
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> fried oyster balls

I am curious, was it really oyster? Never heard of it (not that I know a lot ...). Maybe that's a very local thing, even at only one stand or two? Oyster culture is a specialiy in Hiroshima area so I could understand if they make that there but you had that in Ginza (Toyko) you say.
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