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I'm a military member who's looking for a cheap way to vacation in Japan for about a week.
April 19, 2005 10:47 AM   Subscribe

I'm a military member who's looking for a cheap way to vacation in Japan for about a week.

I'm a junior officer, and I just want a personal vacation; I wouldn't be taking anyone with me. I know about Space-A, etc, but the documentation available for it is less-than-helpful and I really want to cut my spending as much as possible. Who should I contact? Is there anything else I should consider? What's this I hear about a rail pass that's only available to visitors? This is the first time I've ever tried to take advantage of any of my military benefits, I just don't know how to use them efficiently. Also, I was planning on visiting Tokyo and Kyoto for a few days each and maybe going down as far as Okinawa, but the rest of my schedule is still unclear; are there any other must-see areas you can think of that would fit in such a compressed timeframe?
posted by mystyk to Travel & Transportation around Japan (10 answers total)
Is there anything else I should consider?

Dunno if you've done it, but as someone who did it a few times as a kid:

Riding in the back of a Herky-Bird sucks. Unless maybe those new ones with the 8- or 6-blade props are nicer?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:03 AM on April 19, 2005

Japan Rail Pass
Cheap accommodations
posted by planetkyoto at 11:28 AM on April 19, 2005

Not to sure about your budget, but for accomodation I just used these people - Japanese Guest Houses. Basically, you check their lists of guest houses/ryokans, send them your request for where/when you want to stay, they call the guest houses/ryokans for vacancies, then they e-mail you back about a day later with availability, and to see if you want to accept. I got a ryokan for $50/night, plus another $6 for breakfast, and another $20 for dinner, which was about the rate on the official ryokan web site anyway, and pretty cheap for where I wanted to be. JGH were very friendly; I think it's a small independent service, and they get a commission when you check in with the reservation e-mail with their name on it.
posted by carter at 11:51 AM on April 19, 2005

1. I'd give Okinawa a miss. I'm not saying there's nothing worthwhile there, but if you've got limited time, you'll get better bang for your buck elsewhere. Also, something to take into account is that you could run into some hard feelings if you are seen as a member of the U.S. military there (I had a short haircut when I visited there and had someone screaming in my face one day). There's a fair amount of local resentment towards the U.S. armed forces there.

2. The Japan rail pass isn't worth the money if you aren't going to do a lot of travelling on the JR system. If your trip consists of hanging out in two cities, you'll have no more than 2 shinkansen trips. Not all in-town travel will be on JR network trains.
posted by adamrice at 1:08 PM on April 19, 2005

cheap (NOT EQUAL TO) Japan
posted by uni verse at 1:37 PM on April 19, 2005

The Japan rail pass isn't worth the money if you aren't going to do a lot of travelling on the JR system. If your trip consists of hanging out in two cities, you'll have no more than 2 shinkansen trips.

Yes, but a seven-day rail pass is roughly the same price as just those two shinkansen trips, and it also pays for almost all of your in-city travel. Plus, with the pass you can take a spontaneous day trip to, say, Nara or Osaka, without spending a dime to do it. I would wholeheartedly recommend the pass - I have vacationed in Japan both with and without it, and life is much easier with the pass.

You can use this calculator to find prices and routes between any two destinations in Japan. The trip between Tokyo and Kyoto is about 13,500 yen each way, and the rail pass is 28,300 yen. Let's figure 1,500 yen per day in non-shinkansen JR travel costs. You can easily hit that in Tokyo or Kyoto, just from taking the trains around town, because the cheapest fare is about 120 yen one-way. If you take that figure, the pass will save you 9200 yen in a week... and that's not including any other shinkansen trips you might want to make!
posted by vorfeed at 3:19 PM on April 19, 2005

I almost forgot... if you're entering and/or leaving via Narita Airport, the pass can also save you the cost of the Narita Express (roughly 3000 yen). When you arrive, just exchange your voucher for the pass at the JR Travel Service Center in the airport, and then use the pass to get on the Express.
posted by vorfeed at 3:28 PM on April 19, 2005

See what the State Department has to offer. You could turn your vacation into a residency...
posted by Jon-o at 3:35 PM on April 19, 2005

I second (third?) the suggestion for the JR Pass - it's great. Depending on when during the year you are going, the ability to make free reservations can be a real boon. Also, it makes some of the cheaper accomodations easier to use during your trip, since often cheap = out of the city cores.

For sleeping, in the big cities you may want to consider capsule hotels, which are about half the cost of business hotels, and a neat experience to boot. In the other areas you may want to go to, there are many youth hostels, which aren't limited to youth and are almost uniformly clean and pleasant.
posted by birdsquared at 6:01 PM on April 19, 2005

I'd guess that there are relatively few active duty U.S. Army personnel who are active on MetaFilter, and even fewer who have done space available travel. There do seem to be some good websites out there:

University of Maryland personal site with links information (Discussion board, FAQ)
posted by WestCoaster at 8:24 PM on April 19, 2005

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