Got any advice on Japan?
July 28, 2004 8:28 AM   Subscribe

Got any advice on Japan?

I'm thinking of spending a couple of weeks in Japan as part of a round the world trip. Planned destinations are Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima. I'd be on a budget so I'd probably stay in a Japanese-style hotel, which I hear are more affordable than a Western-style place.

Can I actually see Japan on a budget at all, or is it just too expensive? Are Shinjuku and Akihabara as good as they sound or is it all totally hyped? Any advice on all topics Japanese are welcome! Thanks and sorry for all the question.
posted by tomcosgrave to Travel & Transportation around Japan (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Your biggest expense is going to be train fare if you want to hit those three cities. They are so spread out. When I lived in Japan and did that trip myself, it cost me about US $700. You have the advantage, however, of being able to buy a Japan Rail Pass before you leave your country. This will cost about $250ish...but it is unlimited use. The only restriction is that you can't take the FASTEST bullet-train. There are "slower" bullet trains available.

There are copious amounts of places to stay on a budget - look for the Japanese style inns, as you said, and also youth hostels. The Hiroshima Youth Hostel is actually really nice, and it's only about 1600 yen per night (About $15). Just bring a towel with you!

If you can, grab a copy of the Japan Lonely Planet - the maps for the cities you want to visit are invaluable, and the list of places to stay will really help you out.

There is a place in Kyoto called Uno House that is also very cheap, "how many futons can you fit in one room" style sleeping. It's dingy in the nicest possible way, not hard to find, and close to some dazzling temples. Just plan a huge amount of extra time for bus rides, because Kyoto is PACKED.

Shinjuku and Shibuya are great Tokyo suburbs to hang out in, and if you're interested in seeing the stereotypical "goth" kids, definitely hit Harajuku. Again, check out the Japan issue of the Lonely Planet books.

Have a great time, and good luck!
posted by ArsncHeart at 8:39 AM on July 28, 2004

Shinjuku and Shibuya are suburbs?? By no stretch of the imagination. They are inside the yamanote line and very much part of the city proper.

Umm. Anyhow. This is turning into a bit of a FAQ on AskMe--do a search of "Japan" on the archives. Quite a bit has been written.

Your meal ticket will be a significant expense over 2 weeks, especially if you avail yourself of the many unique dining opportunities that Tokyo affords. A Y5000/day food budget sounds like a lot, but isn't (and that doesn't include booze). You can certainly eat more cheaply if you want to, but hey, you're in Tokyo, the city with half a million restaurants. As long as you're there...
posted by adamrice at 9:02 AM on July 28, 2004

I second Uno House. Also, the tourist office in Kyoto can hook you up with a student tour guide for the day for free - they get to practice English and tour-guiding, you buy them lunch. Good deal.

What an amazing country - have fun.
posted by gottabefunky at 9:30 AM on July 28, 2004

I've got listings for a range of accommodations in kyoto. In Hiroshima one time I stayed at Hiroshima Green Hotel just around the corner from the atomic bomb dome and peace park, which was convenient for my itinerary.

When you are coming and what you like to do is important before I can advise you on kyoto.
posted by planetkyoto at 9:37 AM on July 28, 2004

Unbelievably, the Tourist Information Center in Kyoto (Kyoto Tower Hotel, first floor) closed down at the end of January, and there is only the information office on the second floor inside Kyoto Station; I'm not sure how reliable they are.
posted by planetkyoto at 9:41 AM on July 28, 2004

Plan ahead for accommodation. There are (relatively) cheap places to lay your head, but they fill up fast.

As an alternative to Lonely Planet, I'd also recommend the Rough Guide to Japan for a good budget travel resource.

If you're OK with noodles, rice, and seafood, you can keep your food expenses down by learning to recognize noodle shops and other no-frills eateries. Also, Japanese convenience stores can actually provide you with a decent meal - they usually have fresh produce and packaged 'bento' lunches that are pretty darn edible.
posted by varmint at 10:05 AM on July 28, 2004

Japan is all that you ever imagined, and much more.
posted by quibx at 10:25 AM on July 28, 2004

Got any advice on Japan?

Don't spend a bunch of money on the first big brandname panty-vending machine you stumble across. Keep an eye out for the smaller, independently-owned machines located off the beaten path. Be willing to sacrifice convenience for the kind of credibility & artistry that corporate panties can't provide. You'll thank yourself for it.
posted by dhoyt at 10:50 AM on July 28, 2004 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I won't be going for a while, probably not until early 2006, but want to start planning now, as I'm hoping to do a round the world trip.

I plan to be seeing Japan in Winter, probably early January. Or else go during Apri on the way home (I'll be in New Zealand, Australia and I hope Antarctica), which I would actually like to do, but as its a time of holiday there, I'd imagine it would be nuts and I imagine more expensive. Although the idea of seeing the cherry blossoms does interest me.

I have the Rough Guide to Japan and it is pretty good.

Domo arigato, to you all, especially to dhoyt - I'll keep that in mind! And if anyone from MeFi is there when I am, I'd love to meet up.
posted by tomcosgrave at 2:24 PM on July 28, 2004

While in Hiroshima, I'd recommend (if you can spare the time, anyway) a day trip to Miyajima -- it's a short train ride from downtown Hiroshima. If the weather is good, it's wonderful. It is, IIRC, one of the three most beautiful views in Japan. (It's also kinda cool to be greeted by deer as soon as you step off the ferry.)

Also, when I was in Kyoto I stayed in the Higashiyama Youth Hostel -- it's right near the subway and had good rates, I believe. A little on the strict side (no outdoor shoes inside! wake up to pop music at 8 AM! out the door by 10 AM!) but cheap and well-located in a very Kyoto-esque area of the city.

One last thing -- in Japan, 7-11s are your friend. They actually sell more-than-edible (and cheap) food, and are not nearly as scary as their US equivalents.
posted by armage at 2:28 PM on July 28, 2004

I'd go for cherry blossom time, rather than January. Depending on how you are scheduling your RTW, and how much travelling around you've already done, and at what pace and so on, it may be nice to kick back and explore one or two places slowly for a while. If Japan is towards the end of your trip you might be tired of rushing around seeing stuff and want to stay put. I was in Kyoto for a while and loved it.

I guess you're just kicking around ideas at the moment, but if you could spend slightly less time in Japan, and also spend it at one place (e.g. Kyoto), then the money you'd save on Japanese train fares and hotels for just a few days would get you a much longer stay on a nice beach somewhere cheaper. Southern India/Karnataka/Kerala would be a *very* nice way to spend January ...
posted by carter at 3:17 PM on July 28, 2004

Akihabara is worth maybe an hour or two just for the spectacle. If you are a hardcore hardware geek, then maybe a whole day.
Shinjuku is just a lot of shopping.

You can eat a good meal here for US$10 no problem. It is very easy to spend more but it can be done.
posted by gen at 4:16 PM on July 28, 2004

1) Akihabara is a place for hardcore geeks of all kinds, not just hardware. If you like collectibles, anime, consumer electronics, vintage music gear, stores packed floor to ceiling with every obscure console or home video game ever made, or just raw electrical parts, you can find it there. Along with cheap tools and strange gadgets, like keychain devices that interrupt IR remote controls for a cheap gag. The problem is how to find it. Check it out in the early afternoon most any day of the week. Most things start to close around 8.

2) The oft-discussed harajuku has a few areas, but definitely check out the freak bridge between the station and yoyogi park on a weekend, which is also a good time to see the park itself.

3) Shinjuku is OK, but its not too touristy except for how many lights there are. You might like Don Quixote's, a bizarre outlet store for just about anything, but they have those in several locations; the same goes for Tokyu Hands, another unusual department store.

4) Shibuya is a must for a sightseeing trip. Check the harajuku exit in the evening, especially weekends, for an overwhelming flood of people, the area is full of stores, clubs, and restaurants.

5) Personally, I would avoid roppongi, but some people like that scene.

6) The city itself is huge, most of the stops mentioned here are just one station on the central line. If you had a better idea of what you wanted to see (museums, temples, etc), you would almost certainly find many more locations.

7) The train will bankrupt you.

Kyoto is the subject of several tour books itself, and with a good guide, you will never forget it. It is also a stark contrast to Tokyo. I have only been there as a visitor, so I am sure there are others who can give more detail. (See sanjyusangendo).

Miyajima (by hiroshima) is also cool, but dont let the deer get too close, they try to get in your pockets.
posted by lkc at 9:52 PM on July 28, 2004 [1 favorite]

Here's Part One (of two) of a thing I wrote on capsule hotels in Japan (amongst other things). It might be useful.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:57 PM on July 28, 2004

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