Sunday, October 13, 2013

Visiting Japan: practical notes...

Many friends have expressed an interest in traveling to Japan.  My thoughts: do it!  Japan is very safe and clean, so the only real concern is cost.  Although the standards of living are quite high, there's something for the luxury and budget traveler alike.  It's pretty easy to figure out how to travel in luxury, so I'll write down some observations on budget travel here.


The train is my preferred method of transportation.  Japanese trains are comfortable, clean, reliable, and provide excellent views.  The Japan Railway (JR) has an extensive network and the country is small enough that it's a reasonable ride to most destinations.  Although the fare is quite expensive, foreign tourists can take advantage of 7, 14, and 21 day unlimited JR passes.  I went to a travel agency in New York and bought a 14-day unlimited JR pass for about $450.  I've recouped the cost many times over.

Food and Dining

Japan offers myriad pricey delicacies to sample, but the food culture is so rich that the budget traveller won't feel left out.  Even in Tokyo, it's easy to eat well at a local restaurant for $10 at lunch, $15 at dinner.  Japanese fast food is also quite good: $3 or $4 buys a bowl of udon or soba noodles, for example, or a rice bowl with beef.  When traveling, I also frequent the basements of department stores near train stations, where prepared foods are available to go.  The lunch I brought on to the train one day: assorted tempura over rice, a small side of meatballs, some gyoza, and a bottle of tea.  Grand total: $10.


Hotels in Japan are good value compared to other developed countries.  As I've traveled to the northeast in the past week, I've paid between $38 and $50 a night for a spotless room with a private bathroom and fast WiFi.  The hotels have all been within a short walking distance of a major JR station.  The best deals tend to be available online, via travel portals like Rakuten or  Rooms in major cities like Tokyo will naturally be a bit more expensive, but still much cheaper than comparable cities in the US or Europe.  In Sapporo, I paid an average of $100 a night for spacious rooms only a few steps away from the station with lovely views of the city.

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