Japan on the Cheap for 2007

Japan on the Cheap for 2007Happy Oink, Oink New Year! It’s the year of the pig in Japan and if you think Japan is an expensive travel destination, all I can say is: hogwash! Here are a few of Japan’s cheapest travel deals:

Hokkaido

Everything in Hokkaido is cheaper than Honshu, Japan’s main island. Hokkaido offers Shiretoko National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Center, as well as a plethora of outdoor sporting destinations for rafting, mountain climbing and skiing/snow boarding, all just outside Sapporo. The cities of Hakodate and Otaru that have a distinct Western feel. Check out the government-sponsored homepage.

Not exactly bringing home the bacon in your current job? No worries. Travel to all the same places the bullet train goes in Japan for a fraction of the cost. Most people know about the Japan Rail Pass where you can travel all over Japan on the bullet train for US$240 per week. But you can do it much cheaper by travelling on the local trains over two or more weeks with Japan Railway’s “Seishin Ju Hachi Kippu” (Youth 18 ticket). This ticket was developed as a cheap alternative for students, but these days, entire families travel on the tickets. You buy a book of 5 tickets for the set price of 11,500 yen (approx. US$97). Each ticket is good for travel anywhere in Japan (including Hokkaido) on the JR local trains (not high speed bullet trains) for a 24-hour period. The Seishin Ju Hachi Kippu is only good at certain times of the year, mainly holiday periods when students travel such as March, August and December-January. More information online at the JR East website.

If it’s your birthday while you’re in Japan, you can go whole hog and fly for cheap! Within 7 days on either side of your birthday, you and up to three accompanying passengers can get an air ticket to anywhere in Japan for 12,000 yen (approx. US$100). on Japan Airlines (JAL). More details on all kinds of cheap airfares, including the JAL birthday discount at Japan Guide.

If you think spending a lot of money on accommodation is like “throwing pearls to swine,” then Okayama prefecture has something for you. Okayama, a great stop-off between Osaka and Hiroshima, offers accommodation for just 2,500 yen per night (approx. US$21). per person in their “international villas” dotted around the prefecture (see photo). Choose from a villa on the coast, on an island, or in the mountains in a traditional-style Japanese house with a grass roof. These villas were built exclusively for visiting foreigners. See their homepage fore more information.

Pork out on Japanese food! Japanese food may be expensive, but you can’t go wrong eating in Japan’s ramen and udon noodle shops where you can get a hearty bowl of noodles, a meal in itself, for just 500 yen (approx. US$4.20). Noodles shops can be found everywhere around Japan. In addition 100 yen (approx. US$1.20). “Sushi train” conveyer belt sushi shops are gaining popularity.

Driving around Japan is expensive because of the toll roads, but nothing is cheaper than hoofing it! Pilgrimaging is a Japanese tradition since the 9th century and the country offers hundreds of walking routes that usually take you on a circuit of Buddhist temples. The most famous one is the Kobo Daishi 88-temple pilgrimage that circles the entire island of Shikoku. Over 1,000 kilometers long it will take you several weeks should you choose to do the whole thing, but bring a tent and be prepared to have the experience of a life-time as you meet the local Japanese people and learn about Japanese Buddhism. A good introduction to the pilgrimage by someone who has done it can be found athttp://www.mandala.ne.jp/echoes/jhguide.html.

Amy Chavez is author of Guidebook to Japan: What the other guidebooks won’t tell you” She is a columnist for The Japan Times, co-hosts the Planet Japan podcast. Visit her website at www.amychavez.com