Affordable Japan Travel Guide: New ‘Price Cruncher’ for Two-week Trip

Japan, this intriguing country is renowned for being expensive.  Fans of Japan often say its reputation for emptying a tourist’s wallet faster than you can say “konnichiwa” is exaggerated. What’s certainly true is that if you spend a lot in this land of high design, delicate aesthetics and unfailingly polite service, you’re spoilt silly. Here we try out a new ‘Price Cruncher’ tour that could put it within your reach.

Horrid slimy things, mushrooms. I’ve never liked them. So I’m not tempted by a box of three pale brown fungi on sale at a stall in Kyoto’s food market. That’s just as well, because they cost 37,000 yen, or about £250.

About Y25,000 (£169) buys a night at a top ryokan, a traditional inn where pampered guests can gaze out at bonsai gardens from the comfort of a private bathtub. There’s no limit to luxury here. There are more three-star Michelin restaurants in Tokyo than any other city. Bullet trains are stupidly fast, punctual, clean – sexy, even. Your fellow travellers disport themselves without jostling or eating smelly food, meaning you can actually enjoy the journey. But a regular return fare from Tokyo to Kyoto on the fastest Shinkansen service, the 180mph Nozomi Super Express, will also tear Y27,040 (£182) from your purse.

So, my challenge was to take a two-week trip around the big-ticket sights of Honshu, seeing Tokyo and Kyoto, plus some of the prettier places in the “Japanese Alps” – keeping to about Y10,000 (about £67) each a day. It wasn’t a shoestring; my days of sleeping in dorms are over. I’ve been to Japan twice before, on business, but this time I wanted to see more; my boyfriend had never been but had learnt some Japanese and was keen to try it out. Our plan was to sleep in cheaper, chain business hotels and budget ryokan. We’d use buses and local trains but we still wanted to eat decently, buy small souvenirs and experience some only-in-Japan moments.

The solution was a new self-guided tour offered by Inside Japan, which would pre-book accommodation and travel. The “Price Cruncher” tour also meant we knew how much the trip would cost: the only variables would be food and spending money.

We start in Tokyo, regularly at the top of any “most expensive city” charts. But there are plenty of free amusements: a 6am visit to the Tsukiji fish market; walking in the Imperial Palace Gardens; watching sumo wrestlers practise; and the view from the 45th floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Building, Shinjuku.

Living frugally can’t keep me from touring the city’s ritzy department stores and gleaming malls. But, like lots of Tokyoites right now, we just look. It’s easy not to buy clothes when your giant limbs would split Japanese XL sizes at the seams. The gourmet shops in department-store basements are harder to resist.

I soon give in to the call of consumerism, but keep purchases small – not the latest micro-camera, but what I’ll call “cuteware”. The country’s unofficial religion is still the worship of all things kawai (cute), and for a few pounds you can load up on Miffy calendars, stickers, fun-fur ashtrays, glittery hair clips, and strapus (the mini toys that dangle from every mobile phone). Recession has meant good times for the 100-yen shops,

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