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Japan on a shoestring Part 2
Thursday 29 September 2016
Japan on a Shoestring – Part 2
“Food markets are cool – eat like the locals do!” ~ Kristyna
In my previous blog post we focused on budget tips in and around Tokyo. As my journey continued, I gathered some more useful information on how to travel in Japan for low cost. This time, I will look into several ways on how to save money around Osaka and Kyoto.
Arriving to Osaka
My arrival to Japan's second largest city was smooth but rainy which made me spend some time in the famous Umeda Sky Building. Osaka feels much smaller, more relaxed and more personal than Tokyo. The city centre with major tourist attractions is quite compact, and the overall atmosphere can be described as friendly.
When I arrived to my accommodation, I was very pleasantly surprised. It is no secret that standard hotels in Japan can be very expensive. If you are on a shoestring and don’t really fancy staying in a dodgy hostel dormitory, the good news is that you have other options. You can either stay in a capsule hotel (which are in most cases only for men) or – as I did – in a Japanese style room, which is basically a futon with a bedspread over it stretched out on the tatami mat. It was basic but clean and comfortable, for ¥1,400 (€12)/night, and it satisfied all my needs. In addition, the owner of the hotel rented me a bike for free so don’t be afraid to ask, apparently it is quite a common practice!
Free or almost free things to do in Osaka
After settling down a bit, I grabbed my bike and went to explore the city. I started with the popular Dotonbori Canal, lined by the Dotonbori Street full of shops, bars and restaurants. This is one of the most happening spots in Osaka and is not to be missed, especially in the evening when colourful neon signs shine for miles. Just stroll down the street and enjoy the vibrant atmosphere.
Once you get hungry, make your way to the Kuromon Market. Best sushi ever! The variety of food was incredible, everything prepared fresh right in front of your eyes and prices were decent too (big plate of sushi for ¥500 (€4.5). Get yourself a nice tasty bento (Japanese lunch box) instead of going to overpriced restaurants, and enjoy it at the banks of the Dotonbori Canal.
My next steps led to the city’s beautiful landmark, the Osaka Castle. Surrounded by a lovely park, it is a refreshing escape from the busy streets of the city. For art enthusiasts, I would recommend visiting National Bunraku Theatre, a traditional Japanese puppet theatre with a free exhibition.
My favourite shrines with no entrance fees were Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine and Namba Yasaka Shrine. Last but not least, Abeno Harukas offers a spectacular view of the city, which feels even better over a cup of Samurai cappuccino!
Quick detour to Nara
Not even a detour. Nara is a small picturesque town half way between Osaka and Kyoto (with great connections from both cities for about ¥500 ~ €4.5 each way/45 mins) and it is famous for a lovely deer park. Honestly one of the highlights of my trip, highly recommended to anyone from solo travellers to families. The Nara Park is home to hundreds of freely roaming deer which will just melt your heart. They are everywhere and they are adorable! You can pet them, you can feed them, you can even take selfies with them. Once you feel like you have had enough animal love, explore the premises of local temples: Kofukuji, Kasuga Taisha and Todaji (all with entrance fees, about ¥500 ~ €4.5 each).
Free or almost free things to do in Kyoto
Straight from Nara, I took a train to my last destination – the former Japanese capital, Kyoto. Kyoto is all about tradition – numerous temples, Shinto shrines and traditional wooden houses can be found with every step. My favourite free of charge temples were Higashi Honganji Temple and Nishi Honganji Temple, located only a short distance apart.
Getting to Kiyomizudera Temple, on the other hand, requires some steep uphill walk but the feeling on top was worth it.
If I should name one attraction on which I definitely do not regret spending money, it would be the Kinkaku-ji Temple, also known as the Golden Pavilion. For ¥400 (€3.5) you can admire the beauty of one of the most well-known symbols of Japan and the experience is truly a memorable one.
Want to see some geishas? Don’t pay for cheesy tourist shows and head to the Gion District instead! Traditional architecture will give you an impression like you travelled back in time, and the chances of spotting a geisha are nearly guaranteed.
When you start feeling hungry, go explore the Nishiki Market or so called “Kyoto’s Kitchen”. Similar to the food market in Osaka, you can choose from many Japanese delicacies or even try something a little bit unusual – baby octopus, anyone? Overall, I found these street food markets very handy as they satisfy both your taste buds and your purse, and they are popular among locals too.
Last few budget tips
A lot has already been said but there is still a couple of money saving tips that randomly cross my mind. While travelling in Japan, take advantage of little supermarkets that are just everywhere, especially 7-Eleven, FamilyMart or Lawson. First, you can buy your lunch box or snack for a couple of hundred yen and second, you can get free wifi there. The selection of prepackaged food is wide and it is a very common way of dining for many busy Japanese – just buying a bento and eating it on the street or in the office.
If you prefer eating in a restaurant after all, you can save some money on drinks as many places automatically serve free water. Last but not least, if you wonder where to buy nice and cheap Japanese souvenirs for your loved ones, check out some ¥100 Shops or Daiso Japan.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my Japanese adventure and would recommend it to anyone who likes a mixture of old and new. Japan has a lot to offer so you can customize the itinerary to your preferences. Don’t be discouraged by the high cost – there is always a way around and once you experience the culture, you will not regret it!