TT-857 (Tourism Edition) -- Cheap Ways to Travel Japan

Japan Travel
* * * * * * * 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

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+++ 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. 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 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 JPY349,000 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 = JPY28,000

=> So that's about JPY12,465 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 (

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 = JPY28,000

=> Now we're at JPY283,000, or about JPY10,100 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:
Or visit our pages at:

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". 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 (
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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