Terrie's Take 857 (Tourism Edition) - Cheap Ways to Travel Japan

Terrie's Take terrie at mailman.japaninc.com
Mon Jul 11 09:01:24 JST 2016

* * * * * * * * TERRIE'S (TOURISM) TAKE - BY TERRIE LLOYD * * * * * *
A bi-weekly focused look at the tourism sector in Japan, by Terrie 
Lloyd, a long-term technology and media entrepreneur living in Japan.

Tourism Sector Edition Sunday, Jul 10, 2016, Issue No. 857

SUBSCRIBE to, UNSUBSCRIBE from Terrie's Take at: 

+++ Cheap Ways to Travel Japan

One of my favorite past times is creating ideas about how to help people 
travel Japan cheaply and yet reliably. The cheapest way to see Japan is 
to intern in our annual Japan Travel internship program. 
http://bit.ly/29FCQf3. Japan Travel brings about 50 journalist interns 
from all over the world to cover the length and breadth of the country. 
We cover the intern's basic domestic travel and part of their 
accommodation costs. The program is really popular and we had over 1,500 
applicants for the 2016 season (March through November).

But unless you're an aspiring journalist and wanting to spend your four 
weeks in Japan exploring a schedule of requests, then the next cheapest 
way to see the country is backpacking and hitchhiking. Yes, it is 
possible to hitchhike in Japan, although not many people do it. The 
general feedback is that Japanese are so unused to seeing hitchhikers - 
so, as long as the hitchhiker is well groomed, drivers will pick them 
up. To keep costs down, hitchhikers will either stay in hostel share 
rooms (many of these popping up all over Japan) or simply rough it 
outside in parks and the countryside. Sleeping outside is quite 
possible, although it's against local ordinances in many places and so 
you need to be discrete. Also, it's not so good for your grooming...! :-)

The problem with this bare bones form of travel is that unless you're a 
university student taking a "gap year" or an itinerant traveler, it's 
unpredictable. And, besides, just how do you find out where Tokyo's city 
limits end and thus where to find the best spot to stick your thumb out? 
(Actually, the answer is you need to get yourself to an expressway 
Service Area.) Instead, most inbound travelers have jobs or school to 
get back to, and they quickly learn from Booking.com that hotels in the 
most desirable destinations have to be scheduled/booked well in advance 
each summer or you risk not having anywhere to stay.

In my opinion, the best pre-planned low-cost way to travel in Japan 
boils down to either a JR Rail Pass and hostel rooms, or alternative 
modes of travel.

Looking at the JR Rail Pass and staying in hostel share rooms, if you're 
in Japan for about two weeks, you can expect a travel-and-stay budget of 
about JPY332,000 for two people:
* JPY46,000 x 2 for the rail pass
* JPY5,000/night x 2 for hostel rooms = JPY140,000
* JPY3,000/day approx. x 2 for food and toiletries = JPY84,000
* JPY2,500 x 2 for a smartphone SIM (for all-important maps and 
on-the-spot kanji translations through your Google Translate app.)
* JPY1,000/day x 2 for miscellaneous other stuff = JPY14,000

=> So that's about JPY11,875 per person per day - not too bad. The two 
things that stick out here are the cost of accommodation and the cost of 
transportation. So how can we reduce these?

One way is to combine them by renting a campervan, or more accurately "a 
van to camp in". Because fully outfitted campervans in Japan are rather 
expensive, running from about JPY12,000/day for the one-box vans to 
JPY45,000/day for the high-end vehicles (http://bit.ly/29Bv1GO).

Instead, it is much cheaper just to rent a one-box van and fit it out 
with a cheap foam mattress from Don Quijote. Based on current rental 
prices, this would mean:
* JPY7,750 x 14 days for one-box cargo van = JPY108,540 (Orix)
* JPY2000 x 14 days for gas and occasional tolls = JPY28,000
* JPY5,000 for mattress
* JPY3,500 x 7 for occasional camp sites, for showers and cooking = 
* JPY3,000/day approx. x 2 for food and toiletries = JPY84,000
* JPY2,500 x 2 for a smartphone SIM
* JPY1,000/day x 2 for miscellaneous other stuff = JPY14,000

=> Now we're at JPY266,540, or about JPY9,00 per person per day. Yes, 
this is more like it.

You could cut that rental van cost further by buying a second hand van. 
But if you buy, then you have to sell it off again. And either action 
requires you to have a resident friend to oblige as the temporary owner, 
as well as having to do the tedious transfer paperwork.

[Continued below...]

------------ Japan Travel Group Tour Services -------------

Japan Travel KK is pleased to announce the formal launch of our travel 
agency business, beginning with inbound services for overseas tour 
groups. We are one of Japan's few foreign-owned inbound DMCs to look 
after groups of 10-30, and we have already assisted school, business, 
special interest, and extended family groups. We specialize in creating 
unique experiences by crafting a blend of memorable destinations, 
dining, activities, guide, and transport options.

What does your group want to do? Drive private cars in a convoy around 
Hokkaido for a week while visiting remote onsen? Board buses and 
experience a series of mountain-side sake breweries and whiskey 
distilleries? Cycle for 5 days around the rustic shoreline of Noto 
Peninsula in Ishikawa-ken? Take a simple Tokyo-Kyoto tour but with only 
vegan or halal dining? We can arrange any of these tours, combining them 
with our signature 24x7 multilingual support center, SIM cards, and 
multilingual guides.

If you have a group needing assistance, we invite them to contact us at: 
tours at japantravel.com.
Or visit our pages at: http://japantravel.co.jp/en/about/travel-agency/

We can also get the transport equation down by traveling by more 
unconventional means. For example, self-driving a "rent-a-dent" from a 
low-cost car rental company. Well-used rental cars used to be an 
anathema to the fastidious Japanese consumer, but as real wages have 
stagnated or fallen, young people in particular have become less fussy. 
So to service this segment, low cost rental car firms have been popping 
up. As an example of the surprising savings to be had, while a brandname 
rental car company charges an average JPY5,000/day (JPY70,000 for the 2 
weeks) for a compact car, a "rent-a-dent" firm charges as little as 
JPY2,150/day (average), or JPY30,000 for the two weeks. No, you can't 
sleep two in a compact car, but you can certainly pack a tent or simply 
use hostels as mentioned previously.

Is it hard to navigate while driving as a non-Japanese speaker in Japan? 
Yes, if you're in the major cities, such as Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, and 
Fukuoka. But if you are planning to explore the more remote parts of 
Japan, there is no better way of getting around. Google maps has come a 
long way and at medium levels of magnification in your location there is 
enough roman character translations of Japanese place names to be able 
to figure out where you are. So if you are looking to do a self-drive 
holiday in Japan, make a plan to pick up the car in a secondary city, 
catching a JR train from your arrival airport to get there.

The hands-down cheapest way to travel in Japan and get somewhere 
reasonably reliably, is by bicycle, hauling a few things in your 
backpack, while shipping two bags ahead to alternate destinations. This 
relay system of bags allows you to ride all day with minimum weight on 
your back, and when you arrive each evening at your hotel to have some 
warm clothes and toiletries waiting for you. I have mentioned this mode 
of traveling previously, in TT-780 in the article "Takkyubin Tourism". 
http://bit.ly/29vUkfZ. How cheap is it? Well, once you get past the cost 
of buying the bike, your costs of traveling are almost zero -- well, 
less than JPY2,000/week anyway (inner tubes and wear and tear). The 
great thing is that you can bring your bike to Japan with you, since 
most airlines offer a cheap international bike transport service.

Again, just like with a car, I recommend not trying to navigate your way 
out of a primary "gateway" city but rather to start off in a smaller 
secondary city. If you're arriving in Tokyo for example, I'd choose 
either Kamakura to the south or Nikko to the north as my launch pad. 
Getting out to these secondary starting points by rail can be absurdly 
cheap so long as you avoid JR. To get out to Nikko for example, you can 
buy a Tobu Spacia Express pass from Kita-senju to Nikko for JPY2,900 
one-way, or a slightly slower (3 hours instead of 2) regular train for 
just JPY1,590 one-way.

How do you get your big-assed bike on the train? Well, you disassemble 
it, place it in a purpose-made JPY3,500 bike bag (http://bit.ly/29pJjvo) 
and carry it on. These bags are freely available in bike stores all over 
Japan, or online. Once there, reassemble your bike(s), roll up the bike 
bag and strap it under your saddle, and off you go on your grand cycling 

In fact, I did just this over the last four days (I got back to Tokyo 
yesterday), riding about 200km from Nikko to Inawashiro Lake, up in 
Fukushima. More specifically, I caught the Tobu Spacia to Nikko, set up 
my bike outside Nikko station, rode over the hill to Kinugawa and stayed 
there the first night. The next day I rode up route 121 then along route 
400 then route 30 until I got to Nasu Kogen, where I stayed for two 
nights. Finally, I pushed on to Inawashiro Lake, where I stayed for 
another night. If there is a pattern to this itinerary, it's that what I 
saved on the transport I spent on ryokan with onsen baths - daily 
physical punishment followed by heavenly luxury, a great way to savor 
each day!

Also, because the ryokan in Nasu and Inawashiro primarily serve skiers, 
another cost-saving tip is to know that these facilities drop their 
rates dramatically, by up to 2/3, in the mid-week summer season.

Is there a downside to traveling cheap (cycling, camping, or sleeping 
out) in Japan? Well, yes and no - depending on your point of view. Being 
outside does leave you very exposed to the elements, and on average it 
rains in Japan every couple of days. Also from October until March, it 
can also get really cold - snow for most of Honshu northwards. On the 
other hand, the environment outside the cities is wonderful. The 
mountains are clothed in verdant green or radiant reds and oranges, 
native birds chirp and sing as you pedal, old farmers work the fields 
and will wave as you pass by, and the sound of rustling trees and 
waterfalls is never far away.

Sometimes traveling cheap is good.

...The information janitors/


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RSVP: By 5pm on Friday 15th July 2016, venue is The Foreign 
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Written by: Terrie Lloyd (terrie.lloyd at japaninc.com)

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