Travel Guide > Travelling
Japan on a budget - Part 2
Sleek, punctual and dazzlingly fast, the shinkansen bullet train has become a symbol of Japan’s post war recovery, and it’s still the most convenient way to travel long distances. The Japan Rail Pass covers unlimited trips on the nationwide JR network, including many shinkansen services, though it doesn’t include the country’s many private rail companies.
The pass starts from JPY29, 110 (£212) for seven consecutive days. It’s best suited to people who plan on hopping between multiple cities, such as the popular Tokyo-Kyoto-Hiroshima route. You do need to remember that you’ll need to buy it before you arrive, although this might be changing in the future so check the current situation before you travel.
If you don’t mind limiting yourself to a smaller section of the country, you can save significantly on travel expenses. The JR East Pass covering the Tokyo area and the northern Tohoku region, which is home to some of Japan’s most unspoiled scenery, gives you five days’ worth of travel for JPY20, 000 (£145). As it can also be used across a two-week period, from the date of purchase, you can take your time. Buses offer a cheaper, but rather less glamorous, way of getting around. You can normally travel from Tokyo to Kyoto for under JPY6, 000 (£44) with operators like Willer Express. It can also be considerably less if you book well in advance. Also don’t rule out flying as an option. Both JAL’s Japan Explorer Pass and ANA’s Experience Japan Fare both offer discount rates to overseas visitors from JPY10, 800 (£78. 50) per sector. This can put distant locations like Sapporo and Okinawa within easy reach. Public transport within cities is also efficient and relatively inexpensive. You should only use taxis as a last resort, as they’re liable to eat into your budget very quickly.
Why not see what you can pick up in a few cheap 100-yen (75p) shops. Larger stores, such as the three storey Daiso in Tokyo’s Harajuku, are vast grottos of delights, and stock distinctively Japanese tableware, stationery and ornaments. If you want some slightly more stylish trinkets, try the 3 Coins chain, where most products cost JPY300 (£2). The dried goods aisles of any mid-sized supermarket can also yield a welter of inexpensive gifts, such as dashi (soup) stock, dried kelp, miso paste, tea and noodles. Just be warned that labels are often only in Japanese, so it’ll help if you know what you’re looking for. When making larger purchases, department stores and most major retailers will let you shop tax free, though you’ll need to be spending at least JPY10, 001 (£73) or JPY5, 001 (£37) for consumables to be eligible. Make sure to bring your passport as well.
Dedicated bargain hunters can have a rummage through piles of antiques and pop culture rubbish at flea markets, which is one of the few places in Japan where haggling is permitted. Try the regular weekend Tokyo City Flea Market at Oi Racecourse, the Sunday market at the capital’s Yasukuni Shrine, or the monthly market at Kyoto’s Toji Temple.
Finally, a visit to a venerable department store like Tokyo’s Isetan Shinjuku and Ginza Mitsukoshi or Kyoto’s Takashimaya is essential. The customer service at these retail temples is impeccable. The staff bow to customers in unison as the doors open each morning and the basement food halls teem with tantalising morsels. You may even get a few free samples.
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Page added on: 14 October 2018
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