Japan - Cheaper than you Think

24 August 2012

Recently Flight Centre's Head of Design, Tiffany Apatu took a well earned holiday to Japan. Here are her thoughts from the trip.

My childlike enthusiasm for travelling to Japan is usually met with the standard response: "But isn't it really expensive?" My mind immediately flicks back to a perfectly boxed and bowed rockmelon in a department store for 12,000 yen (about $145 AUD) before I respond "no way, not at all!"

Yes, Japan can be expensive but really, so can any other city. If you choose to stay in luxury hotels and eat western-style food then you may quickly blow the budget. But if that is what you choose to do, then I say you are doing it wrong!

 Tiffany in her Ryokan

Accommodation
Japan has many options for a place to rest your head. You can find your standard hotels from 2 to 6 stars of varying prices as you would anywhere in the world. ‘Business hotels’ are abundant: a little smaller, simpler and cheaper than the rest.

Any visit to Japan would not be complete without a stay in a Ryokan. A Ryokan is a traditional Japanese Inn. There are many varieties from the simple to the sublime. I have stayed in ryokans for around $60 AUD per night. The rooms are generally small in which you can fit yourselves and your luggage leaving a little room to move during the small amount of time you'll be in your room! I still fondly recall my nights on tatami mats as the best sleep I’ve ever had. Although bathrooms can be shared, in my experience they have been incredibly clean and well-presented. Ryokans certainly aren’t all ‘cheap’ and as with anything, you get what you pay for: all the way up to large rooms with private onsen (traditional hot baths) and incredible breakfast and dinner served in your room.

Food
Eating and drinking is an integral part of Japanese culture. People eat out at any time of day or night. There are so many options no matter where you are. Japanese food is particularly affordable.

 Delicious Meal
  • Sushi train restaurant in Osaka for 130 yen (approx $1.60 AUD) per plate
  • Stand up sushi bar in Ikebukuro Tokyo for 100-150 yen per serve
  • Pork katsu-don set for 600 yen
  • Green tea bagel for an on the run snack 150 yen
  • Ramen set for 850 yen

A friend of mine (who happens to be a Japanese chef) said that as more western fast food chains infiltrated the country, the traditional restaurants and Japanese chains became very competitive on price.

Don’t miss the opportunity to spend time in the food hall basements of the large department stores such as Takashimaya and Isetan. You can pick up great sushi, sashimi and cooked chicken at great prices. Just avoid those very expensive melons. If a piece of fruit is in its own special box, chances are you can’t afford it!

 Himeji Castle

Things To Do
Free. That's right, free. Some of the most entertaining times you will have are simply strolling through the streets. The hustle and bustle of the world’s busiest cross-walk in Shibuya; people-watching in Tokyo's Akihabra or Osaka's Den Den Town; or simply the quieter and picturesque streets of smaller country towns. Pack a good pair of walking shoes and hit the streets.

Castles, shrines and historical sights are everywhere, many of which are very centrally located within the towns and cities. Entry costs vary but you can find yourself inside a breathtaking castle for around the AU $8-10 mark.

Gifts and Mementos
There is no shortage of things to collect as trophies of your Japan experience. The Japanese people are big on gift-giving so the souvenir market is not just built for international tourists. Attractions and major train stations are a great spot to pick up boxed sweets or unusually flavoured Kit-Kats.

My favourite stores are Tokyu Hands and the Loft: shops that have anything and everything at very affordable prices. I have been known to go missing in them for hours! From all you’ll need to pimp out your mobile phone through to shinkansen (fast train) chopsticks and t-shirt folders, you are bound to find something inexpensive and interesting to take home with you.

Tiffany Apatu

My favourite travel destinations are Japan (anywhere), New Zealand (anywhere) and San Francisco. One of the best bits about travel is eating! Fortunately, calories overseas don't count ;-). I'm a designer so vibrant, visual places get me going! Follow me @tiffanyapatu or check out www.tiffanyapatu.com