Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Japan on a budget -- is it possible???

As I was doing our pre-trip research and cost calculations, Japan always figured as one of the most expensive countries we would be traveling in. And while it certainly was not cheap, we did discover that it is possible to visit and enjoy on a budget. I have broken down our costs into four categories: lodging, food, transport and miscellaneous (which is also how we track all of our RTW trip expenses on a Google Docs spreadsheet). To put things in perspective, I have also included ways we could have saved even more money. I didn't bother to include details about how you can spend more money; as you will see, that is very easy to do!!!

Accommodations - total $418pp for 10 nights or an average of $41 per person per night
  • Hiroshima - World Friendship Center: traditional Japanese room w/shared bath incl Western breakfast (cereal, yogurt, toast, juice, coffee/tea) 3900pp/pn = US$46 versus dorm room at hostel averaging US$27
  • Kyoto - Tour Club hostel: 3490 pp/pn private room w/bath US$41 vs. 2450 pp/pn dorm = US$29
  • Tokyo - Toyoko Inn: double room w/bath & Japanese breakfast (miso soup, rice ball, green tea) equivalent of 3490pp/pn = US$41 vs. dorm at hostel averaging US$35

Food - total $156pp or average $14 per person per day
  • Budget restaurant Japanese food 500JPY = US$5.85; most expensive meal we ate was 850JPY pp
  • Instant noodles or toast for breakfast 100JPY = US$1.17 with free coffee or tea (we’re carrying both, but was usually provided by lodging)
  • Bottle of lower-priced sake from liquor store 1000JPY = US$11.70 versus in a restaurant $20++
  • 500ml can of beer from store or vending machine 220JPY = US$2.57 versus at a bar 450-800JPY = US$9.36

Transport - total $398pp or average $36 per person per day
  • A one-week Japan Rail Pass cost 28300JPY/7 days = 4043/day = US$48 versus point-to-point tickets $127 for Hiroshima-Kyoto + $154 for Kyoto-Tokyo; also used for day trips from all 3 cities and within Tokyo
  • Subways, streetcars, buses between 150-220JPY per ride depending on the city or 1-day pass 500-1000JPY
  • Some people we met at the Kyoto hostel were traveling even cheaper using overnight buses (approx $59 or less) between major cities and thus also saving on those night’s accommodations. However, they were exhausted each time they reached a new location and needed a nap to be able to keep going on the arrival day. Sometimes this isn’t always possible if you can’t check in until later in the day and your bus arrives at 6am.
  • Note that I did not include the cost of getting to/from Japan in this calculation as that it is too variable depending on where you’re arriving from and this post is more about your day-to-day costs once you are in the country.
Miscellaneous - total $78pp

We enjoy experiencing authentic, local activities that are different than back home. As Greg doesn’t care too much about the song and dance stuff, that usually means going to sporting events. In Japan, we went to a Hiroshima Carp baseball game for which the cheapest tickets were 1800JPY. We also went to the sumo wrestling tournament in Tokyo, for which the cheapest tickets were 2100JPY. Other cultural activities included visiting temples and museums where tickets averaged 500JPY. Note that we also lump our more random expenses into this miscellaneous category, which include laundry, replenishing toiletries, etc.

Grand Total = $1050pp divided by 10 nights/11 days = $105 per person per day

How much more could we have saved? If we had stayed in dorm beds, eliminated alcoholic beverages, used the cheapest forms of transport, and not attended any sporting or cultural events but had only visited sights with minimal entry fees, then the total cost would have been around $625 per person or an average of $57 per day.

Considering both of us got sick with head colds during our time in Japan, it was much better for us to have a private room. When you compare the overall time for traveling between cities by train versus the longer (and cheaper) bus option, I would stick with the trains just for the less negative effect on the body/mind. The only way to eat cheaper (other than not drinking alcohol) is to have instant noodle bowls for every meal and considering that we only ate two meals per day with one of those being instant noodles, it was important to spend a bit more to have some meat & veggies as part of our second meal. And I wouldn't take back our baseball game experience and particularly the sumo wrestling tournament for anything!!!

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