Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Japan 2014: Osaka on a Budget

Contrary to popular belief, Japan is actually not an expensive country to visit. "But but but but, it's expensive! Hotels, food, getting around! They cost a bomb!" you may protest.

But they really don't. And I am going to share with you my tricks to traveling cheap and cheerful in Japan.

1) Stay: When in Japan, live as the locals do. 
If you can forget 5 star hotels or even forgo the word 'hotel' in your mind, you will find hostels and guesthouses that will serve you just as well as your home away from home. Hana Hostel in particular is a popular and well-known chain of hostels or hybrid inn, all around Japan.

Most of these hostels also provide free wifi, complimentary coffee and tea, free use of their kitchen and has laundry facilities at a small price. You will also get to meet travelers from all around the world in the kitchen, living room and lobby of these hostels and it is great fun.

My experience there: During my recent trip, I stayed at Yume Nomad in Kobe, Hana Hostel Hybrid Inn in Kyoto and NUL-Live.com House (formerly known as Namba Guest House) in Osaka. (Hostel and guest house reviews coming soon)

2) Eat: Convenient marts and street food all the way
Lawsons, Family Mart and 7-11 are the budget traveler's best friend in term of cheap, filling and most importantly, delicious food. You can get almost everything in their convenient marts which are in every street in Japan. Fresh sweet or savory bread, instant noodle, onigiri, sushi and pre-prepared meals just waiting to be microwaved for your consumption.

Of course, street food is in abundance especially in Dotonbori, Osaka. In Kobe, they were plentiful in Sannomiya and for Kyoto, look out for morning markets around temples, shrines and parks. Amazingly, you can still taste the best of Japan while on the go and at one tenth the price of dining at a fine dining Japanese restaurant. If you are worried about the language barrier, look for restaurants with the vending machine outside such as Kamukura Soup with Noodles for a fussy-free delicious wholesome meal at less than RM30. The portions are usually so big you can share them.

My experience there: I had Kobe beef at a street vendor in Yasaka Shrine, Kyoto and at only RM15. Judging by the number of local tourists buying the same beef, it was smart way to get a taste of Kobe beef. In total, my daily meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) came up to less than RM75 a day, RM100 on those days that I 'splurge.

3) Travel: Buses and Trains - The best way to move around
A little research ahead of time can save you a buck load of money and time on traveling around Japan. I traveled by buses and trains on my previous trip and I did it again on my recent trip because only in Japan, you will find a public transportation network that is so well connected that it gets you to where you need to be. Tourists have the option of several travel passes to purchases and for the Kansai area and Osaka, my favourite passes to use are the Kansai Thru Pass and the Osaka Unlimited Pass respectively.

The Kansai Thru Pass get you around the Kansai area - Hyogo, Kyoto, Nara and Osaka with unlimited access to their subways, trains and buses. Of course, there are limitations as well as you cannot use it on the JR train lines or on the Kintetsu Limited Express train as that would require you to pay an extra fee for the reserved seat.

The Osaka Unlimited Pass gives you the same privileges within Osaka as well as complimentary access and entrance fees to many of Osaka's tourist attractions. If planned wisely, you will find this pass is well worth its value and more.

My experience there: I used the Kansai Thru Pass around Kobe, Kyoto and Nara and to get to Osaka. Once in Osaka, I utilized the Osaka Unlimited Passes and saved up on over 2,700 yen (RM85)

For more in-depth explanation of the passes, click here: Getting around and about Osaka

*As of April 1 2014, the Osaka Unlimited Pass has been renamed the Osaka Amazing Pass but I reckon the benefits are still the same.

4) Do: See and experience the culture
If the attractions suggested by the Osaka Unlimited/Amazing Pass doesn't appeal to you, there are still numerous things you can do in Japan that won't cost you a yen. Visit parks like Maruyama Park in Kyoto for their gorgeous cherry blossom trees.

Apply to join an Imperial Palace tour as that is free of charge and you gain a guided access into a sacred palace closed to the public while learning about its historical value. Explore Den Den Town in the Nipponbashi district for nostalgic toys, anime and games. Collect stamps at many of the main tourist attractions as free souvenirs to remember your trip by.

Japan alone is gorgeous and you will find yourself spoiled for choice with photo opportunities in every corner of it.

My experience there: Besides photographing my trip, I bought a stamp book for only 300yen (RM10) to start collection stamps at most of the attractions. There was a certain thrill becoming a stamp hunter as you will keep looking out for the small stamp station in every attraction. Did I mention that the stamp itself was FOC?

5) Flying there: Book early and cheap
This tip is no secret but you'll be surprise by how cheap the tickets can get if you start hunting early. Plan your trip more than 6 months in advance and look out for airline promos constantly for the best deals. Don't just look at budget airlines as national carriers can be cheaper than those.

 My experience there: I scored my MAS return flight ticket to Osaka at only RM900 because I was entering dates at random 9 months prior to my trip (and still high from my first trip). By luck, I came across MAS rate that excluded the airport tax and surcharge tax both ways. Unable to resist, I booked the flight for myself and my friends and a few hours later, that mysterious promo was gone. If you see cheap rates for a destination you really want to go, don't second guess yourself. Just book it and worry about the rest later.

Odds are you will be googling how to travel to Japan on a budget which is why you are here in the first place.

In total, my overall expenses for Japan amounted to about RM5000 per person, inclusive of flight, accommodation, transportation, food, portable wifi router, attractions and souvenirs. Of course, the more people there are, the cheaper and more fun it gets.

So there you go. Cheap and cheerful ways to visit Japan.

Also read about:
Osaka on a Budget
Kobe: Yume Nomad Guesthouse review
Kobe Day 1: Kitano Ijinkan & Harbourland 
Kobe Day 2: Rokkosan Pasture, Mount Rokko & Sannomiya
Kyoto: Hana Hostel Hybrid Inn review 
Kyoto Day 3:Fushimi Inari Shrine
Kyoto Day 4: Imperial Palace, Kitano Shrine, Kinkaku-ji & Gion
Kyoto Day 5: Arashiyama & Cat Cafe Nekokaigi
Osaka: Namba guesthouse (NUL-Live.com House), Osaka Review
Osaka Day 6: Nara & Dotonbori 
The Artistic Manhole Covers of Japan   
Osaka Day 7:  Pokemon Center & Cherry Blossoms, Osaka Castle Park
The Flavours of Haagen Dazs Japan  
Osaka Day 8: Tsutenkaku Tower, Den Den Town & Umeda Floating Garden Observatory  
Osaka Day 9:  Ramen Museum, Kyoto Hanami & Kiyomizudera Night Illumination
Osaka Day 10: Bye Japan :(
Kobe, Kyoto, Nara & Osaka Itinerary (10-days) 


Jessying said...

Yep, in Japan can travel cheap if one do research in advance :) I also spend about 5k for my 11 days trip , from Osaka, Tokyo, Hokkaido to Hakone :) Lovely pictures & write up ... made me miss Japan so much! Want go back for the 3rd time !!

Tania said...

Oh my. Your trip sounds like fun! I should try that next year.

Anonymous said...
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Unknown said...

Hai Tania, If we buy the Kansai Thru Pass, is it means that we can take trains to another city for free (no additional charges)? For example can I take trains from osaka to kobe or kyoto for free?
I was confuse whether to buy JR Pass or Kansai Thru Pass during my travel later to Japan.

Tania said...

Hi, Versia
If you use the Kansai Thru Pass, you can ride certain trains, subways and buses FOC. The list is rather extensive but you can get it from the website. If you are planning to go to Kobe or Kyoto from Osaka, you can use the Hankyu line. You can even travel to Nara from Osaka using the Kintetsu line as long as it isn't the express train (as that has additional charges). The JR Pass would be worth it if you are traveling outside of the Kansai area during your trip as the JR line connects to the major cities in Japan.
Hope this helps :)

Unknown said...

Thank you for your help :)

sacha said...

Even though Japan was one of my most expensive trips so far, I agree with you that it isn't as expensive as most people think. The biggest cost was the airplane ticket. Besides that I shopped a lot and didn't hold back on expensive things like concerts and amusement park visits. But if people follow your tips they can definitely go to Japan on the cheap! :)
Btw, I am also writing about my trip to Japan, so if you are interested in reading my story, feel free to visit my blog! :) http://beautifultravelhangover.blogspot.nl

Tania said...

Hi, Sacha
Thanks for dropping by! Hahah, I agree that if had shopped less, the trip would have been cheaper but then again, it's Japan. How often does one go there anyway?

Thanks for your link! Always happy to read someone else's adventures in Japan :)

Anonymous said...

hello, im penny here.
may i know, if i bring Rm3000 for (stay, transport, eat) its enough?

Tania said...

Hi, Penny
It depends on how long you will be in Japan. It'll be enough if you forgo souvenirs, fancy hotels and classy dinners. The Osaka Pass will cover transportation and some sightseeing entrance fees so you can save there.

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Hank said...

Hi Tania,
Enjoyed reading your post.
My wife and I have 8 full days. We are wondering which city; Osaka or Kyoto has more things to see and do? We have to firm up our hotel bookings. Your advice is much appreciated.

Tania said...

Hi, Hank.
Thank you for your compliment! Glad you enjoyed it. Personally I prefer Kyoto because of its historical landmarks but Osaka has ample food and modern places to visits too. I would recommend spending more time in Kyoto for the first several days and the rest of the trip, enjoying Osaka's shopping.
Hope this helps!

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Unknown said...

Very good write up!
May I know when is the month you went for this trip?
I am planning the trip to go Japan next year.

Tania said...

Hi, Jia Xin

Thank you. My trip was in between 22 - 30 march 2014. Just in time to catch the early Cherry blossom blooming!

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Tania said...

Great to hear Manoj! Thanks!

Unknown said...

i'm going to osaka this december (group of four) and i really cant decide on where to live...not really looking for something fancy since we will only use the room to sleep..that aside, any advice?homestay?

Tania said...

Hi Azlan. You can check out my review on Namba Guesthouse (http://www.sugoidays.com/2014/06/japan-2014-namba-guesthouse-nul-livecom.html). I would also recommend Hana Hostel as it is near Dotonbori. Hope this helps!