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How much pocket money should I bring to Japan? (PART 2)
This is the second and last part of my post about traveling to Japan on a budget. I divided it because the first one became too lengthly and I do not want to bombard you with tips and information. Remember, this post was based on a true experience and you can definitely bring more money to Japan for a more luxurious travel. Then again, in my case, I have to make do with only 20,000 or $429.
Tip # 4 : Splurge on lunch, scrimp on breakfast and dinner
I imposed a 1,500 Yen / $12.2 budget for my own food every day (1,000 for lunch, 250 for breakfast, 250 for dinner). This 1,500 budget came from a Japan travel website and it says there that a person who is on a budget can set this limit but will still be able to taste majority of Japan's dishes.
I love Japanese cuisine because of its freshness, presentation and variety. It will be such a shame for a fan like me to survive on fast food alone while I was in Japan. Therefore, I reserved much of my budget to eat at restaurant during lunch because (lucky me) restaurants have discounts during lunch. They have lunch menus that are discounted only during lunchtime. I also downloaded GuruNavi which was very helpful in finding a cheap place to eat in because through the app you can search not only the location but the price range as well.
Food courts and ground floors of train stations became our favorite places to look for food. In these places, the food are not just cheap, they were freshly made as well. Because these places sell food for workers, these dishes are easy to eat and suits well with the budget.
My husband and I ate at Matsuya twice because food there was fast, cheap and delicious. For only 250 yen / $2.04, we had rice and meat and the serving was huge. We likened it to the Philippine's local "pares house". In addition, our greatest finds were not restaurants but shops in narrow streets. Most likely they will not have an English menu but as long as they have pictures in the menu, you are good to go.
Finally, my greatest money saver for food was eating Convenience Store food. Major names are 7-11, Family Mart, and Lawson. Personally, my husband preferred 7-11 most because they have more assortments in stock. Oh you will have a wonderful time surveying the aisles. There are full meals, salads, breads and dessert. Some branches were so big they looked like grocery stores already. Instant noodles and packed bread are particularly cheap in convenience stores. Those were our usual breakfast and dinner. For less than 200Y / $1.64, I was full already.
To save a little more loose change, you can maximize freebies from your hostel like cold drinking water, coffee and tea. During mornings, before we go out for a stroll, we fill up our empty water bottles so we do not need to buy one for the day. That is 110Y / $0.9 saved!
Tip # 5 Choose Transportation Passes wisely
In Japan, it will be such a joy to use public transportation because theirs are so sophisticated and very very efficient. Using trains and buses instead of riding the cab is a good experience in itself. Coming from a country with so many traffic jams and faulty trains, Japan was like mass transportation heaven to me.
Majority of Japan's railways and buses are operated by JR or Japan Rail and that includes the sought after bullet train or Shinkansen. A JR pass is very inviting because it offers unlimited rides in JR trains within designated days. Our itinerary will begin from Tokyo to Kyoto and the JR Pass looked like the most logical money saving pass we can buy. If you buy these passes, it can give you 100% convenience which is gold in a foreign country. But if you are financially challenged like me, you have to do the dirty work.
The cheapest JR pass costs Jpy 28,242 / $231 or Php 10,777. Oh I cannot possibly buy one, if I add this to my lodging expenses, I will be left with nothing! I read that the JR Pass is worth it if I ride the Shinkansen twice. Unfortunately, we will arrive in Narita Airport (Tokyo) but will leave at Kansai Airport (Kyoto) and therefore I will only ride the Shinkansen once. In addition, sight seeing in Kyoto will be easier via bus and the JR pass doesn't cover this. I had no choice but to manually compare prices for each transportation I will ride versus the cost of the JR Pass. And for my itinerary, I have concluded that I will save more money by buying day passes instead of the JR Pass for 7 days.
Daily passes are very helpful in terms of convenience and savings. (1) We managed to save by borrowing the Suica cards of my friend who went to Japan a few weeks ahead of us. Therefore, we need not buy these cards with a deposit of Jpy 500 each. (2) To reach the famous sights in Tokyo, we bought the Tokunai Pass for a day. This pass will give you unlimited access to the JR Yamanote Line which is a loop around central Tokyo. Remember, in order for this pass to pay for itself, you need to ride the Yamanote Line more than 4 times. We rode this line 6 times that day so we saved a lot. (3) I wanted to ride the night train for more savings but my husband wanted to try the Shinkansen. Of course I wanted that too. So, in order to save a few hundred yen, we bought Platt Kodama. This is a discounted ticket for Shinkansen Kodama with a free drink! It has to be bought a day in advance and you cannot be late for the train because it is only valid for that said ride.
In relation to transportation, my other tip is: "Do not panic with the ticketing machines". The machines are fast enough to accommodate everyone and no matter how many people you see in Japan, you will rarely see a line, so take your time with the ticket booth. Also, locals are very patient with foreigners and they will proceed to the next vacant booth if you are taking too long. Why am I saying this? Because, I wasted 250 by buying platform tickets I did not need only because I was worried I was pissing some Japanese off because I was taking too long with the machine. When I turned around, there was no line and no one was minding me. -___-
Tip # 6 Tap helpful locals for a free tour
Oh no, you are not supposed to ask a local in the streets to tour you around. This is done by special groups and you have to book months or weeks before your trip.
There is a language and cultural barrier I have to get through to enjoy Japan's culture. I find a trip to a temple empty without someone explaining to me why they do this or do that. Unfortunately for me, I didn't have money to join a tour. I do not want to burden my husband with it either.
Thank God and through travel websites and blogs, I found out that there are groups in Kyoto who tour visitors around the city for free. They do it for free because they would like to practice their English skills by touring guests around. I contacted two organizations and I was lucky that Good Samaritan Club was able to accommodate my request. The tour may be free but the guests will shoulder the entrance fees to the temples and the tour guide's lunch. This is still very cheap compared to joining a tour. The guide coordinated with me through email and they created an itinerary depending on your budget and your priorities (Eg. food trips over temples, etc)
Japan has so many beautiful places to visit. You cannot visit all of them in just a week. Kyoto itself has so many temples. As I am both limited by money and time, I choose the temples with the most activity and those with a unique characteristic. Temples almost look the same but the activities within them will make it unique, which will also let you experience the culture more.
Also, just take the time for a walk around the city to appreciate the current life in Japan - preferably at night. It is so serene and as a first timer in Japan, I will forever treasure the experience. I will definitely come back to the Land of the Rising Sun.
Expenses (in PHP)
(in JPY and USD)
Transportation (buses, trains, bullet train)
16,800Y / $138
Lodging (2 locations)
24,100Y / $ 197
Food (for 7 days)
9,500Y / $ 74
3,800Y / $ 31
Emergency / MIscellaneous
1,600Y / $13
55,297Y / $452