Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Friday, June 28, 2013

Japan, ain't as expensive as it seems: Travelling on a budget.

When people think of Japan as a holiday destination, what strikes up? Hefty costs? Expensive place for a holiday? To be avoided by the budget friendly? Well... that may technically be true, if you're comparing Japan to places such as Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan; you get my drift. In fact, it doesn't help that a 2013 ranking by CNN has 2 of Japan's cities top the charts at 1st and 2nd places (http://edition.cnn.com/2013/02/04/travel/cost-of-living-2013). That said, traveling to Japan for a vacation can be made budget-friendlier with the help of some planning and effort.

First off, if you're intending a budget-friendly holiday to Japan, avoid travel agencies. I've spent a large part of my life traveling with packaged tours by agencies and it ain't fun, nor cheap (forced by family circumstances). These fellas need to feed their staff as well, and yup, that says it. Guides need to earn their keep too, and much of it comes from sales commission, so be prepared to spend copious amounts of time at places where they'll earn commission and you'll lose your stash. If you're not into purchasing stuff, then it's worse as you're wasting your time away when it could be better spent at some other random attraction which would make traveling more meaningful.

A large part of the costs of traveling abroad comes from the air ticket. Source for the cheapest airline available. Websites like ZUJI collate information and present it to customers, allowing for comparison. Well of course ZUJI isn't the only site and more links are available at the sidebar on the right. Personally for me, sites like ZUJI only serve as a gross estimate, an indicator of sorts. I'll take the extra mile to search up these carriers to see if special promotional fares are available. It helps to be aware of these special promo fares when they're available. Likewise, promotional fares are also available for budget carriers so that will save you quite a bit. Trust me, the extra effort might snag you a really good deal, and you may end up flying to Japan for less than what you had expected.

Next, accommodation. Although Tokyo is ranked 1st in the list of expensive cities, I found staying in Tokyo to be reasonable. I could get by a night for about 3000 yen (however that translates into your country's currency), and if you're traveling in a group, you could probably get it at about 2500-2800/person/night. Anything cheaper would come in the form of couchsurfing or perhaps staying with a friend. Otherwise, you could try Airbnb, but I haven't personally tried that yet. For me, I had managed to snag a stay with kimi-ryokan for what I considered an extremely affordable price. Despite the small size of the room, it was more than sufficient for me. Furthermore, the rustic charm of staying in a ryokan in Tokyo got me all pumped and excited, and I will definitely be dropping by again. And guess what, kimi ryokan is nicely situated in Ikebukuro, which translates into a mega plus point. For those who don't know what the hype about Ikebukuro is, well... its a nice place I must say. Lots of stuff, pretty convenient, pretty nice at night... You'll probably have to go there to find out, after all, to each his own. Otherwise, you can also consider Kangaroo Hotel (regardless of the name, it's a nice place I must say). I was there one summer for several nights and if you've ever heard of the Sumida River fireworks festival (which is held every summer), Kangaroo's a good choice to lodge in. Its near the river, and of course, Asakusa shrine, which in my opinion, is a must visit in Tokyo. Perhaps I should also mention that Kangaroo Hotel is situated near the Tokyo SkyTree, which provides excellent panoramic view of Tokyo city, ousting the previously famous Tokyo Tower.

Outside Tokyo, staying in backpackers' lodges and hostels would do your pocket good, and in the various places I've stayed over, I've been more than satisfied (if you searched enough, there are hostels that provide private rooms to guests as well; and of course, economics of scale: more people = cheaper stay). J-Hoppers is a great place to start. Besides, for those traveling alone, staying at a lodge/hostel allows you to interact with the other guests, which in my opinion, makes the trip ever more fun.

Transport within Tokyo. As a tourist, your best bet would be the unlimited metro pass which is made available at Narita Airport. If you land at Haneda Airport, I'm sorry but you won't be able to get that. Instead, you'll have a different type of metro pass. In my opinion, the one at Narita is better as it serves more lines than the one available at Haneda, but well...... just your luck then! Within Tokyo, the 2 main modes of transport you should use are: trains and legs. Getting the unlimited pass (whichever one of those) would definitely save you quite a bit on your transport expenditure.

Transport out/side of Tokyo. If you're feeling rich, you can get the JR rail pass, which is available in 7/14/21 days of unlimited JR train travels. But do check out carefully as to what sorta trains you can ride on. I believe certain night-trains are off limits. Alternatively, you can also consider traveling by bus. Willer Express is pretty good, and they have a special packages as well, which could definitely save you some precious ka-ching! For me, I got a 3-day pass at 10,000 yen, and spent it on night buses and that saved me those nights of accomodation (traveling to 3 different cities on 3 night routes = saving 3 nights of stay!). Sounds like good way eh? If you're in places like Osaka, do get the special tourist package as well. Gives you discounts on attractions, and unlimited intra-city train rides as well. If you're in Kyoto, such great discounts ain't available. But you can always purchase the unlimited bus ride ticket (for a day) at 500 yen. One other thing, if you're flying to Japan via All Nippon Airways (ANA), you are eligible for a Visit JAPAN Fare, which offers domestic tickets at 13,000 yen per sector, up to 5 sectors. Otherwise, a regular domestic flight in Japan's gonna bite you hard. So this could be considered when booking an international flight into Japan.

Food. Cheap food is available everywhere. You've just gotta find them. You can always grab a bowl of gyudon (beef bowl & rice) for roughly 240-280 yen. Likewise, the convenience stores sell nice warm meals ranging from 300-1000 yen depending on how much of a splurge you are. Onigiris make great breakfasts and are pretty cheap as well. If you're in a rush for time (either to catch a train/bus or just rushing your day), the handiness of the onigiri makes it a top choice (to walk and eat). Ramen and curry rice could cost you anything from 750 yen and above, but they tastes heavenly as well. Markets in towns/cities near the sea could offer you seafood at a nice price as well (for all you sashimi lovers). Street bites like yakitori (Grilled Skewered Chicken) or takoyaki (Octopus Balls) come pretty cheap as well.

With the basics settled, the rest is all up to your own planning. Need help? Try Japan Guide. It's pretty comprehensive, covering most aspects of traveling in/to and around Japan.

As a reference, my average daily expenses in Japan hovered somewhere around 8000 yen/day, and that included transport, accommodation, food, attraction fees and the occasional (once per 2-3 days) splurges on redundant pleasures such as having cheese cake and tea in uptown cafes and restaurants, beer and snacks at local izakayas,  and some souvenirs. For the budget conscious, do away with those excessive indulgences and it'd probably be slightly cheaper. Of course, do note that my airfare wasn't included in the 8000 yen/day average, but well, the longer you spend in Japan, the cheaper the air ticket becomes on average yea (or if by sheer luck you happen to win tickets to Japan)?

Otherwise, enjoy Japan, a country that offers so much at an affordable price if you do it right.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Strength.

Found the strength to carry on.

In this concrete jungle, you bloomed.
Against all odds, you bloomed.
You, just you, stood strong against the walls of artificiality.
You, just you, stay strong and beautiful even as the world deprives you.
For you, just you, may one day find hope in that tiny crevasse;
Like this flower did.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Living Dolls

If i can touch your heart, i can tell how you feel... (Taken at Otaru, Hokkaido)