Japan on the Cheap: Kansai Edition
Before going to Japan, we heard many warnings of how ridiculously expensive it could be. While many things are crazy expensive if you aren’t careful, there are ways to try and get by on a small budget. Here are some tips we have for traveling on the cheap, and then just some general observations of Japan. So glad we got to check this one off the Bucket List. Enjoy!
1. Get the Kansai Thru Pass: If you are traveling extensively around the Kansai Region (Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, etc), this pass is well worth it. It cost us around $105 for 5 days and gives you access to subways, trains, and buses for the cities in Kansai. There are some exclusions, such as the JR lines, but overall, AWESOME. We didn’t ride in a taxi once. Can pick up this baby at the airport.
2. Be selective of where you eat meals: Many have said they ate most meals from quickie marts and then splurged on a few. We ended up picking up fruit and pastries from 7-11s for breakfast but then ate out for everything else. You can find cheap street food or cheap restaurants if you hunt a little. That being said two of our favorite restaurants were a little more expensive. If you find yourself in Osaka around Shinsabashi craving Italian, do yourself a favor and go to Petit Rosa. Holy crap so good. Another awesome restaurant was Japanese Stonegrill Issian in Gion, Kyoto. This place is apparently #1 on TripAdvisor, but we found it strictly by smell. They cook up stone-grilled steak, chicken and seafood. Mouth-watering. And of course we had conveyor belt sushi in Dotombori, Osaka somewhere, but can’t remember the name. You’ll find one. Oh, whatever you do just don’t go to one of those DIY yogurt places where you’ve piled $15 worth of yogurt into a cup before it’s too late to turn back. Words from experience.
3. Sleep in cheaper hostels: When we were choosing hostels we couldn’t decide if we should splurge and go with the hostels smack in the middle of downtown, or venture a little further out and travel. We ended up with a mix of both, but the ones just a subway stop or two away from the main attractions turned out to be the best deals and were still super easy to navigate everywhere. In Osaka we stayed in the Asahi Capsule Hotel, interesting experience, but really vibrant, exciting neighborhood and a short walk from downtown. Then Hotel Chuo Oasis in Osaka: super clean, new and a 10 min subway from downtown. In Kyoto we chose Nagomi Ryokan, a traditional Japanese style room. Really cute, good location. Probably the biggest housing mistake we made though was deciding on Lodge Tyojirou. Let’s just say, if you need to stay somewhere close to the Kansai airport, don’t choose here.
4. Sightsee for free: There are a million temples and shrines and castles in Japan. Some are expensive, some are cheap, some are free. Go to as many free sights as you can, many might be nicer than the more crowded/popular sights. Many times, you can see the surrounding areas of the sight for free and just need to pay to go inside the temple, or castle or what have you. In Osaka Castle we could have easily skipped paying to go up the castle. In Nara we refrained from paying to get in anywhere and had an amazing time exploring the temples, and shrines hidden up in the forests. Some sights which we did pay for were the Osaka Aquarium and the Kyoto Monkey Park in Arashiyama. We’d definitely recommend both if you are an animal/nature lover.
In general, Japan was so much more than I expected. We hadn’t really planned out anything concrete and got around the cities so easily, thanks to the thorough public transportation, and kind, insistent help of strangers. Don’t be surprised if people stop to help you if you stand around looking confused for long enough. Just don’t stare at them confused and suspicious and then run away like I did, only realizing later the cute, friendly old man was trying to say “Can…I…help…YOU?” not stare or laugh or spit at you like the older men do in Korea.
Another reason I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to Japan was the worry that it’d be just more of the same after living in Korea and traveling to China just one month ago, resulting in us being a little templed out. Japan turned out to be a country like I’ve never experienced before, and just in the one region we were in had an endless list of one of a kind experiences for all kinds of tastes and preferences. This trip happened to be animal/nature themed for us. The sights combined with the never ending gastronomical goodness waiting on every alley and street corner, along with the hospitality of the super hip, interesting and gracious Japanese people made this a country we’ll definitely be venturing back to sometime sooner rather than later.
**Stayed tuned for more posts of Japan highlights**