Friday, 27 January 2012

Turning Japanese Part 3: Getting there on a budget

Osaka Castle during Hanami - it's all about the cherry blossom!
I had a really good post through on the Turning Japanese Series:

Mrmoemoe2000:  Japan is super expensive.  Always wanted to go there but is it possible to have a good time on a budget?

Good question.  Japan is expensive, no doubt.  Even after 20 years of recession, the economy isn't what it was, but the exchange rate, combined with the comparative costs of a large amount of imported goods means that inflation is still high and therefore some of the 'basics' prices will come as an awesome shock.

If you are keen to go, I would limit your tour to as local a location as possible.  Local travel in Japan is actually pretty reasonable, buses are well priced, as are local trains.  Travel by car or Shinkansen is a great way to kill your budget.  The local trains operate with local companies and are a fraction of the price.

The problem is that you will need to change trains a few times and the local services are always in Kanji (circa 1997, it may have changed, but I doubt it.)  It tends to be a 'local service for local people', so plan well - carefully plan and record your ideograms (Kanji) beforehand and travel in 2-3 is better than alone.  Japan's really safe, but really daunting.

I would recommend the Kansai Region.  This will put you in range of Kyoto, Kobe, Osaka and other places of interest.  Kansai is famous for being a bit more relaxed and friendly than elsewhere in Japan.  Plan a route around Osaka, and use the Japanese Youth Hostel service for accomodation.  They have 400 sites all across the country and the managers should be the most welcoming.

Depending on what you're interested in will affect your choices, simply window shopping is an extraordinary experience.  Osaka is famed for it's street eating as well, and many smaller - sideways type restaurants will give you a better chance of eating the food Japanese people love to eat.

Sushi is expensive, as is beef and other 'westernised' meals.  However, who could resist Mossburger?  OR Ramen noodles or teriyaki.  All of these are accessible, authentic and 'real' Japan.

Temples, castles and Parks.  Get up into the mountains during your visit.  Japan is an extraordinarily quiet place in the mountains (as no-one lives there), and as such it has some of the most severe and untouched scenery going.  The Japanese really cherish their nature.  Additionally, it's worth looking into Temples and Castles. Reading up on Japan's rich Samurai history is essential, but outside Hiroshima - don't expect the Japanese to have a lot about WW2.  Unlike the Germans (who actively engage with their history) the Japanese have largely buried and repressed it.

Japanese Parks are formal, but majestic.

I would personally recommend visiting Japan in the Autumn or Spring.  In the prior case, the Hanami (see flowers) will be in full show, and you'll hopefully catch many of the exciting outdoor Shinto street festivals (Omikoshi being a great sight).  Alternatively, Autumn in the mountains is spectcularly, as all the Acer trees ever known give you a natural display beyond measure.

Dig deep, take risks, meet people and have fun!

For more in depth (and up to date) information, look at the following:

The backpacking Site
Japan Cheap Travel
The Back Packer

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