Japan – Cost and Useful Information  

The land of the rising sun is an interesting mix of ancient culture and space-age technology, it’s amazing how Japan can hold on to its long history while being at the forefront of modern advances, it really is one of the most unique places in the world. It’s no wonder Japan is right at the top of most people’s bucket list.

Costs:

We found Japan to be an expensive place, especially for eating out, we stayed in a few hostels and cooked a few meals ourselves, we also used 7/11 and Lawsons (convenience stores) a lot, the ready meals were pretty good.

Our average daily spend was £76 including accommodation, transport etc, the only thing not included is our international flights. Like everywhere, if you’re staying in dorm room you’ll spend less than we did on accommodation. Transport was around 45% of our spend, see ‘Getting Around’ below for more info.

You can save a lot of money in the 100¥ stores, where everything is 100¥. They come in handy for things like sunglasses and travel essentials.

Getting Around:

We used the JR pass for almost every journey whilst in Japan, there are hundreds of blogs out there describing how to order, collect and use the JR pass in a lot more detail than I’ve included below but here are the basics:

• You can only use the pass on a tourist visa,

• You must order the pass BEFORE your travel to Japan,

• You will receive a voucher by post that you then transfer for the JR pass while in Japan,

• You can take most train journeys for free (those not included are clearly listed on the pass) and there is no need to book anything,

If you want the complete ins and outs of how it works click HERE, but it really is incredibly easy, the voucher sent by post contains all the information you need, and the staff at all train stations speak English and go out of their way to help you.

Cost for the JR pass are below: at first, they seem expensive but your almost guaranteed to save money, buying individual tickets is super expensive plus the JR pass gives you ultimate freedom.

7 day pass – £195

14 day pass – £311

21 day pass – £398

Internal flights in Japan are expensive and often unnecessary, the trains are faster and cheaper.

Language:

Most Japanese people speak great English, as usual its polite to learn a few basic words but you’ll get by fine if all you know is hello and thank you. You’ll probably be approached by dozens of school kids during your visit, they’ll all want to practice their English skills on you, use this as a good opportunity for restaurant recommendations etc., the kids will love that you’re interested.

Visa’s and Vaccinations:

If your traveling on a British passport, you can get up to 90 days visa free in Japan. There are no vaccinations required for Japan.

When To Visit:

Japan has very distinctive seasons, Summer is wet season, for the best weather try to schedule your visit during Spring or Autumn, especially if you want to see Mt Fuji which is completely covered by clouds and not visible during the Summer and closed to hikers during winter.

Dress Code:

Expect to see some pretty wacky outfits in Japan, it really is a place where anything goes. Don’t worry too much about covering knees or shoulders (as long as you’re not walking around in a bikini top you’ll be fine) but do expect to take your shoes off when entering most temples, a few hotels and even some restaurants and shops.

Our Itinerary:

Click HERE to read our full 3 week itinerary, it can easily be condensed into 2 weeks and I’ve included the highlight for anyone on a 1 week or less itinerary.

Money:

The currency in Japan is the Japanese Yen (¥) or JPY. Credit/Debit cards are widely accepted, and the ATM’s are generally free, there one in every single convenience store. Exchange rates (as of September 2018) are below:

£1 (GBP) = ¥147.18

€1 (EUR) = ¥130.82

$1 (USD) = ¥111.92

I hope you this helped you plan the perfect trip to Japan, let me know if you have any questions.

Ashleigh xx

Japan – Our Itinerary

We spent 23 nights in Japan, it was the last stop on our 12-month Asian adventure, so we crammed in as much as we could, knowing that we could rest as much as we wanted too when we got home.

Osaka (3 nights), a really good place for your ‘introduction’ to Japan, slightly calmer than Tokyo and cheaper than most other places in Japan.

Hiroshima (2 nights), I didn’t have a clue what to expect, I certainly wasn’t expecting such a beautiful little city. If you only plan on seeing the WW2 memorials then you can easily do Hiroshima in a day trip, getting the 1st and last trains from Osaka or Kyoto.

Kobe/Himeji (2 nights), only 20 minutes from each other we stayed in Kobe to save lumping our backpacks around, but if you have longer, both cities are worth your time.

Kyoto (4 nights), just not enough, I could have stayed her forever, Kyoto was by far my favourite place in Japan. We included a day trip to Nara from Kyoto.

Takayama (2 Nights), my second favourite place in Japan, not too touristy and totally traditional. You could do this in 1 night if you plan it well.

Mt Fuji (2 nights), probably the reason you always wanted to visit Japan, if the weather is right then Mt Fuji lives up to all expectations. There’s plenty to keep you busy for days on end, but it’s also a really easy day trip option from Tokyo if you’re on a shorter itinerary.

Yokohama (2 nights), Tokyo’s smaller, cuter next-door neighbour. Only 25 minutes on the train from Tokyo is perfect for a night out along the impressive sea front skyline.

Katsuta (2 nights), one of the more laidback areas we visited, it’s a beautiful seaside town but if your tight for time, there are more impressive places to visit.

Tokyo (4 nights), you could spend a full week here and still not see everything this mega-city has to offer, I’ve been lucky enough to visit 3 times now and I’m still discovering new things.

If you only have 2 weeks to see Japan, then it’s easy to shave days off this itinerary and still see a good mix of modern vs old and city vs nature. If you skip Katsuta and do Mt Fuji as a day trip from Tokyo you’ve already saved 4 nights. Whatever you do, don’t skip Takayama, it’s a little bit of a pain to get to but it’s such an amazing insight into ‘traditional’ Japan.

One week is still enough to see the countries highlights, spend half the week in Tokyo (3 days) on the other half in Kyoto (4 days), try to cram in as many day trips as you can, the JR pass and the super speed trains really make this possible, though you’ll need to plan it well and make the most out of your time. Form Tokyo take a trip to Mt Fuji and from Kyoto take a trip to Nara, Osaka and Hiroshima, the last one will be a long day but it’s worth it.

If you only have a day or two in between meeting or as an extra-long layover, its best to stay in Tokyo, chances are you’ll be flying through either of the major airports there anyway. Tokyo has enough to keep you busy during your whole stay and it’s enough to give you a feel for the rest of the county, you’ll certainly want to visit again.

What’s your perfect Japan itinerary?

Tokyo – Japan (Part 2)

Welcome to part 2 of my complete guide to Tokyo, as in any giant mega city, it’s easy to go over budget if you follow the standard ‘top things to do’ lists, but don’t despair, I’ve created a list of all the free (or very cheap) things to do in Tokyo. You’re currently reading ‘part 2’ click the link below to read ‘part 1’:

Part 1: General Info – Getting around, where to stay etc.

Part 2: Things to do on a backpacker’s budget.

Getting a good view for free:

People will pay a fortune for a good view, we’ve certainly paid ridiculous prices for a trip up a high building in New York or London for example, but there are some amazing free views in Tokyo, and there’s generally no queue either.

The government building is right in the heart of the skyscraper district, and it’s one of the tallest buildings in Tokyo. It’s completely free to go to the top and the views are even better at night when all the other buildings have their lights on. There are free tours available, but they require prior booking.

Opening Hours: 09:30 – 23:00

Location: Shinbuya

Price: Free

The Asakusa culture information centre is only around 10 floors high but it’s still one of the tallest in the Asakusa area. The view over the top of the Senso-ji temple is beautiful and there is a café on the top floor too, the perfect place for watching the world go by.

Opening Hours: 09:00 – 20:00

Location: Asakusa

Price: Free

The waterfront of the Sumida River is a glittering jewel at night, during the day the park is the perfect place for a romantic stroll, there are also boat trips along the river, but we didn’t check out the prices.

Opening Hours: 24 Hours (but the lights in the buildings generally go off before 10pm)

Location: Asakusa

Price: Free

The rainbow bridge offers a unique view of Tokyo bay, head to either of the pillars and take the elevator to the pedestrian walk way. The area looks derelict but keep going and you’ll get there. It’s really windy at the top so make sure your wrapped up if it’s a cold day. (if you have more money and less time you can take a train over the top, but it’s not included in the JR pass.) The bridge is lit up beautifully at night.

Opening Hours: 09:00 – 21:00 for the pedestrian walkway

Location: Minato

Price: Free

Take in the local culture:

There is nothing better than people watching, the ultimate of all the free things to do in any city, I could walk around anywhere for hours on end and never get bored, here’s our favourite places in Tokyo for people watching:

Shinbuya Crossing is probably the most famous crossing in the world, with over 1,000,000 people crossing every day. Watching people cross the road couldn’t be any more fun that in Shinbuya.

The area surrounding Shinjiku station is a popular nightlife spot, the whole area is lit with neon signs and there are some interesting alleyways where you can grab something fairly cheap to eat while letting your hair down with the locals.

Visit a temple:

Japan is rich in culture, religion and history, Tokyo is no different, it would be almost impossible to visit without going to at least one of the many temples the city has to offer, these are just a few of my favourites:

Senso-Ji is by far the best known and the busiest temple in Tokyo, its much less crowded at night though the doors are closed, and you can only admire the temple from outside. The temple is magnificent in the dark and the lights stay on until around 11pm. You can have your for fortune read for ¥100 at one off the buildings in front of the main temple, we got a great fortune so really enjoyed it.

Zojo-ji is unique because of the children’s shrine next door. Locals will pay a donation to tribute one of the baby statues to their children or grandchildren in the belief that it will bring their child good luck during their life, or for children who have already passed away, a safe journey to the afterlife. It’s easy to get there, just head towards the Tokyo tower.

Meiji-Jingu probably has the most beautiful setting off all the temples in Tokyo, right in the heart of Yoygi park, the temple offers absolute tranquillity and its popular with foreign visitors.

Unique things that I couldn’t categorise:

If you do find yourself in or around the government building, there’s a free exhibition on the 2nd floor all about the history of the Olympics and Tokyo’s plans to host the 2020 Olympics. The exhibition is small but worth a look if your already in the area.

You’ll no doubt find yourself at Tokyo Station, if you have half an hour or so to spare make sure you check out the free underground gallery there. The exhibition changes fairly regularly and we were both really impressed with the ‘train stations around the world’ exhibition that was there in June.

Who would have thought you could go to the beach in Tokyo. Tokyo bay is home to a pristine man-made beach, you can’t swim in the water because it’s not safe but it’s a really good place to enjoy the sun and get away from the busy city life.

There are absolutely tones of other things you can do for free in Tokyo, you don’t need to spend a fortune, in fact big cities are where you’ll usually find the most things to keep you busy for free.

I hope you found this useful. Let me know if there’s anything else you would add to this list.

Ashleigh xx

Tokyo – Japan  (Part 1)

What images come to mind when you think of Tokyo, is it the hectic, neon jungle of Shinbuya, or the tranquil zen gardens that offer a temporary rest bite from the rest of the world? Whatever comes to mind, one thing is for sure, Tokyo has it all, so much so that it would be information overload if I crammed it into one post. You’re currently reading ‘part 1’ click the link below to read ‘part 2’:

Part 1: General Info – Getting around, where to stay etc.

Part 2: Things to do on a backpacker’s budget.

Where To Eat:

For the best street food head towards the Ameyoko market (Ueno Station), it’s of course more expensive than other food markets around the world but still a fairy cheap option for Tokyo.

Tokyo has an abundance of fast food restaurants that are fairly inexpensive, look for the vending machines outside or right by the entrance, chose what you want and buy a ticket before going inside. A lot of the vending machines have photos, so you’ll be alright if you’re not fluent in Japanese. (Our language skills are awful, and we managed fine.)

Getting There:

You’ll most likely arrive in Japan through either of the Tokyo airports, Narita or Haneda.

Narita is around 60 minutes away on the express train, tickets usually cost ¥3,020 but they are covered on the JR pass is you have one. (Note: you MUST reserve a seat on the Narita express train.)

Haneda is closer to the city but it doesn’t have as many flights landing, the monorail costs ¥650 and takes about 30 minutes. This is also covered by the JR pass as well as the Tokyo subway pass and you don’t need to reserve seats.

Getting Around:

If your only visiting Tokyo, then the best and cheapest way to get around is using a tourist subway pass. You can buy these at the airport and you’ll need to show your passport.

If you plan on traveling around Japan or if you have a few days trips planned, it’s worth considering the JR pass, click HERE for more details. The JR pass is only valid on JR lines, you can’t use the subway.

Where To Stay:

The absolute budget hotels in Tokyo are usually separated by gender (the Centurion Inn and Spa is a really good girls hotel, I stayed there in 2015), so if you’re traveling as a couple you’ll need to pay a bit extra but there are still some reasonable options. We stayed at the Kangaroo Hotel in a private room for £27 per night, room only with a shared bathroom and traditional Japanese futon mattress (padded mat on the floor). It was around 10 minutes’ walk to the closest JR station and we would absolutely stay there again.

Hiroshima- Japan

A medium sized city on the western edge of Japan which was almost unknown to the rest of the world until World War 2. On August 6th 1945 America turned Hiroshima into a living hell by dropping the first of 2 nuclear bombs onto Japan.

Most visitors come to pay their respects to those lost during those dark days by visiting the Hiroshima Memorial Peace park. At the centre of the park is the Flame of Peace, a flame that will burn every second until nuclear bombs no longer exist in our world and all humankind vows never to allow such devastation to enter the world again. I sincerely hope we live to see the day when the flame is switched off and a peaceful world exists.

To learn more about the bomb and the events leading up to and after the attack visit the Peace Memorial Museum, there are parts you may find distressing but it’s the only way to truly understand what happened in Hiroshima and why history should never be allowed to repeat itself. (Entrance costs ¥200.)

Most of Hiroshima’s buildings were turned to ash during the explosion, though a few did survive (barely). The A-Dome, just across the river to the peace park is one of those buildings, it has been kept exactly as it was after the bomb to show the devastating effects and to remind the world what happened here. The dome was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

Other Things To Do:

After all the emotions that come with visiting a place like Hiroshima, you’ll probably want to sit quietly an contemplate the world we live in for a while, a good place to do this is the beautiful and tranquil Shukkeien Garden, where you can stroll around the 16th century lake or sit and reflect under one of the cherry blossom trees.

If you have more time in Hiroshima the castle is a great place for a birds eye view of the city with its 5th floor observatory. Inside the castle the museum explores the origins of the castle city. Hiroshima Castle was originally built in 1589 then rebuilt during 1958, entrance costs ¥370 or you can walk around the gardens for free.

Getting There:

Hiroshima is on Japan’s famous bullet train line, you can get there from Shin-Osaka in just 1 hour and 45 minuets.

Where To Stay:

We booked the Hiroshima Court Hotel for £25 per night on Hotels.Com, the rooms were huge compared to others we’ve had in Japan and had private bathrooms (rare for this price range). The hotel was great and it was within walking distance to the train station as well as all the attractions in Hiroshima.

Katsuta – Japan

We found this by chance but I’m so glad we had time to visit Katsuta, it’s a beautiful little seaside town with lots to offer. If I ever had to live in Japan, this is where I’d want to be.

Things To Do:

The main attraction is the Hitachi seaside park, it’s a little outside of town (1 hr 15 minutes on a bike or 15 minutes on the bus – take number 2 from the train station direct to the park) and entrance costs ¥450 each. There is a small theme park in one corner of the park, rides cost extra, we paid ¥600 for the roller-coaster. The park is closed on Mondays so plan your visit accordingly, it’s also different at different times of the year, we were unlucky a visited during a week when there were no flowers because the ground crew were busy changing the displays. They have a yearly schedule for this on their website. There’s a fun fair inside the park, rides cost extra.

The beach at Katsuta was undergoing development work during our visit, it’s got a cycle track and a few cute restaurants along the sea front.

We passed a massive shopping mall on the bus back to town which could have been a good option if it was still raining.

Where To Eat:

There are lots of restaurant options around the train station, but we liked to eat out of supermarkets in Japan and the best one we found in the whole country is on google maps as York Benimaru.

Where To Stay:

There is less budget accommodation in Katsuta, we paid £57/night including breakfast at the crystal palace hotel, it was absolutely stunning, the hotel has a spa, free bike rental and a free pickup service, they even dropped us off at the park one day. We had a free evening meal the day we checked in, but I’m not sure if that’s a standard thing or if they noticed that it was my birthday when they scanned my passport.

Getting There:

The express train from Tokyo station to Katsuta station takes just 87 minues and is covered on the JR pass.

Kyoto – Japan

An absolute must for anyone visiting Japan, even if you only have a few days in Tokyo, make the effort to do a day trip to Kyoto, the countries imperial capital until not that long ago.

Things To Do:

My favourite part of Kyoto was the area surrounding Kiyomizu-Dera temple, Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka are just two of the perfectly maintained old streets of Kyoto, entrance to the temple is ¥600 though you can still get an amazing view over the city for absolutely free, just follow the crowds to the top of the hill and get clicking. The streets surrounding the temple are some of the few, perfectly preserved areas of the city, where you can still see traditional wooden buildings and spot the odd Geisha walking around if you’re lucky (we spotted the two photographed below around the Gion Shirakawa area). As the old buildings are being pulled down and replaced with modern skyscrapers, this part of town is becoming more and more precious. We spent a full day wandering the streets, in and out of alleyways and fully enjoyed being lost in Kyoto.

Kyoto is the perfect base for a day trip to Nara Deer Park, take the Nara line from either Kyoto station or Tofukuji station, its free if you have a JR rail pass. The park is really easy to find when you leave Nara station, just follow the crowd, I guarantee there will be one. The park is really special, the deer roam free (they are completely wild) within the temple grounds and surrounding areas. Head around the back of the temple for the best photos of deer in their more natural habitat. A pack of Deer food is ¥150 and there are plenty of stalls around the park. On your way back to the station stop at Renesa Indian Restaurant for some really good food at reasonable prices.

We stumbled on the Royal Imperial Palace by accident when exploring the gardens, entrance is free but they only let a certain number of people in at any time and security is strict. The palace is beautiful and in really good condition, the free map you receive when entering guides you from building to building and is full of interesting information.

The river that divides Kyoto is the perfect place for a stroll, or its wide flat path makes it a great place to cycle too. When the sun sets the Pontocho area comes to life, a series of narrow alleyways home to traditional restaurants adorned with lanterns, it’s one of the prettiest places to get lost and explore (though it’s not a cheap place to eat!).

If you’ve done any research into Japan or Kyoto yet you’ve probably already seen photos of the incredibly photogenic Fushimi-Inari temple, also known as the temple of 10,000 shrines. I don’t know if that’s an accurate count but there are a lot of shrines that make a stunning walkway up the mountain. Entrance is completely free and the temple has its own subway station on the Keihan Line.

Where To Stay:

We stayed in the ultra-stylish Millennials hotel for £28/night including breakfast, we had a capsule room each but ended up sharing one and keeping our bags in another most nights. The bathrooms were spotless and the whole hotel looked brand new. The space was really modern and the facilities were fantastic, we cooked at the hotel every night which saved us a fortune on eating out. (FYI, the supermarket directly opposite the hotel was the cheapest we found in Japan.) The hotel also offers unlimited free beer for 1 hour each night which Sean certainly made the most off.

Getting There:

Getting around Japan is so easy, we took the bullet train from Kobe which took around 30 minutes or you can get there from Osaka in just 15 minutes. From Tokyo it will take around 2 hours 15 minutes. Once your there, the subway system is fairly simple to use, especially if you’ve already used the Osaka or Tokyo subway.

Mt Fuji – Japan

The 5 lakes surrounding Mt Fuji are incredibly picturesque and easy to navigate by local bus. The biggest and only lake connected to the rail system is Lake Kawaguchiko, this is where we stayed.

When To Visit:

Rainy season never puts us off, with a waterproof coat and a good pair of shoes we still enjoy being wherever we are, but the seasons really do effect your view of Mt Fuji, and that’s the only reason you bothered to visit right?

We stayed for 3 days in June (peak rainy season) and didn’t see the mountain once, we even got up at 4:30am everyday to catch sunrise (apparently the clearest time of day) and only saw tiny sections through the clouds.

My 2015 Visit was during October and there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky, so it’s really worth timing your visit to Fuji accordingly.

But don’t worry too much if you can’t re-arrange your trip around the rainy season, you’ll still have a great time whatever the weather!

Things To Do:

A full lap of the lake is about 12 miles, you can either walk or hire a bike, we did both but preferred the walk because we started at 4:30am and watched sunrise over the lake. By the afternoon when we had the bikes it was too busy and we had to keep stopping to let people past. Half day bike hire is ¥1,000 form the Samurise main office.

There are two beautiful herb and flower gardens, one on either side of the lake, (Oishi Park is the best) they’re wonderful if you’re into flowers or just want the perfect photo with Mt Fuji in the background.

You can take the bus up the mountain from bus stop number 7 just outside the train station, it comes every hour and takes about 45 minuets.

There’s also a tourist shuttle bus to take you around the 5 different lakes, you can buy a day ticket or pay for each ride separately.

Getting There:

First of all you need to get to Otsuki station, there is a direct train from Tokyo or you can take a local train from Yokohama to Hachioji and connect to the line there, both options are covered by the JR rail pass.

From Otsuki you’ll need to take the local line to Kawaguchiko (it’s the last stop so you can’t get lost). Sadly this little bit of track isn’t covered by the JR pass. Standard tickets cost ¥1,140 and express tickets cost an extra ¥400.

Where To Stay:

Accommodation is a bit more expensive surrounding Mt Fuji, we stayed at the Hostel Samurise and booked a family room (all they had left) for £44 per night, I thought it was expensive but your paying for location, it’s right next to the train station and everything is within walking distance.

The room was clean and the building was nice and small so there wasn’t much noise. The check in desk is actually at their bike rental shop which you can see as your pulling up to the station.

Organised Tours and Day Trips:

Click HERE for a full review of an organised bus tour from Tokyo that I did in 2015, it’s one of my first blogs and was the first time I traveled with just my cabin sized backpack, I’ve learned a lot since then!

Yokohama – Japan

Less than 30 minutes from Tokyo, Yokohama is known for its stunning skyline and neon lights. It’s becoming a popular location for city workers comuting into Tokyo daily and its waterfront continues to draw in visitors. Yokohama is certainly on the rise.

Things To Do:

For the best iconic shots of the Yokohama skyline, visit the Osanbashi Pier, the views are wonderfull both day and night. On a weekend there is a food market on the south side of the pier, fill up on free samples before deciding what to buy.

Cosmo World, is home to the famous giant ferris wheel (costs ¥800), you pay for the rides individually and entrance to the park is free.

The customs museum is more interesting than it sounds, its full of fake and real goods that have been ceased at customs, can you spot the difference? Entrace is free.

For an arial view of Yokohama, visit the landmark tower, we didn’t go in but we saw that it costs ¥1,000 and there was no waiting line when we visited.

The red brick warehouse looks more at home in the UK than in Japan, it’s a wonderful example of how buildings can be re-invented, now a mall for handcrafted souvenirs and local cafes.

Where To Eat:

The Herbal Kitchen is traditional Nepali food, it was delicious and very reasonably priced.

The World Porters Mall has a huge food court on the ground floor with low cost options.

For something a bit different, design your own cup of noodles at the cup noodle museum, entrance ¥500 plus ¥300 for your own invention.

Where To Stay:

The Apa hotel is a popular chain in Japan, you guaranteed good standards and city centre locations. We paid £40/night for a small double room with a private bathroom and a buffet breakfast during a flash sale (usual price £65/night) on hotels.com.