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10 Best Budget Tips for Traveling in Japan


Even in these difficult economic times, far-away destinations are not out of reach. We were curious to hear what our community might say about frugal travel to Japan, a place that is as full of fascinating sights and sounds as it is expensive. Here is a collection of just a few of the many tips shared during the conversation, from visiting an out-of-the-way island in the Inland Sea to deciphering the pastry labels on convenience store breakfasts. If you’ve got a tip to share, we invite you to join the conversation in our forums.

1. Eat at depatos

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 floors 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. –Icuy
Read our reviews of Tokyo’s department stores

2. Look into getting a goodwill guide

Many of the larger cities have websites where you make contact to arrange it. (We used the Jellybeans group in Kyoto). They are local residents who will personalize a tour of their town for you at no cost, but you do have to pay for any entrance fees and expected to pay for their lunch. The opportunity to simply be able to converse and get to know a lot more about Japanese life is priceless. –shandy

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3. Get beyond Tokyo-Kyoto-Tokyo

Prices drop when you get off of the well beaten path, especially for lodging. A nice hotel room in Matsuyama (Hotel Patio Dogo) can be 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. –mrwunfrl

4. Know the many types of Japanese lodging

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. –mrwunfrl

5. Visit Kyushu

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. –WillJame

6. Don’t buy the first kimono you see

If you like beautiful fabrics or kimonos, get one from a vintage kimono shop. Vintage stuff isn’t as popular as it is here, 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. –Cilla_Tey

7. Find authenticity in out-of-the-way places

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. –shandy

8. Don’t have breakfast at the hotel

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. –mrwunfrl

9. Get the Osaka Unlimited pass

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. –Sydney2K

10. Find good street markets

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 seafoods to a can of spam, real Rolex watches to fake Gucci bags and EVERYTHING else in between. –hawaiiantraveler

Thanks to all who contributed! You can find these and more tips on the complete thread over in our Asia forum.

Photo Credit: istockphoto / Chic Workshop

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