Many people would know that doing anything on a budget is a challenge. In regards to the challenge of Travelling on a Budget, other writers have talked about events, places of interest and transport that can be done on the cheap. Basically, living like a local would probably do the trick. However, unlike the locals, unless you have friends who have the time (and have the space) to put you up for the night, you probably cannot find accommodation that is as cheap as the local rent… but you can always try. Here is how I tried:
When I first arrived in Japan, I was blessed with meeting nice friends who were nice enough to put me up for the night and even share dinner or breakfast with me. Here’s a shout-out to all these people who treated me so well when I only had enough money for the train ticket home. Thank you so much!! I will always be greatly indebted to my bouldering friends, H and M, who were also greatly skilled at cooking takoyaki and to all the friendly people at Infinity Books, N, R and M.
The History/Politics and Fiction/Language corner in Infinity Books. Photo: shrompyAfter I received my salary a few months later, I had the chance (and money) to try spending the night at manga/internet cafés when I had the bad luck to miss the last train or when the earliest train could not take me to my next destination on time so I had to arrive the night before (because I live kind of far away and not anywhere near a JR station before I got a bicycle). There are usually a few choices of ‘seats’ in a manga café—a counter seat, a cubicle seat, and a room for 2, 4 or 6. Needless to say, a room would offer the best place to crash for the night. Different companies have different packages (day, night, 8-hour, 12-hour etc.) at different prices, usually around $20 or so. I’d say to choose the one that suits your needs and budget the best. When I was in Shinjyuku’s Bagus, I chose a cubicle seat in a non-smoking area as it was relatively cheap on a 6-hour package (in fact, the staff recommended the package to me as I only needed 6 hours). In Asakusa’s Manboo, I chose a room in a female-only area for 12-hours (after staring for a while at the price board to decide which was the best package) which turned out to be my best experience ever in a manga café. In Sendai’s icafé, I only needed a shower, so I chose a cubicle seat near the showers for a 30-minute package. As you must have realised, it is a time-based system and you get charged for every second (per minute basis) you are ‘over-time’. However, you do get many things in return. All manga/internet cafés will offer free access to their horde of manga, access to the toilet and all seats come with a computer that has free internet access. Most cafés offer free food like ice cream, drinks and corn soup. Some even have indoor slippers or blankets. You can purchase other food like pizza or noodles, and other amenities like towels and toothbrushes. You also have to pay if you use the shower (another time-based facility).
My first stay in Bagus with their free ice cream! Photo: shrompyA trick to get even cheaper prices is to sign up as a member online (a paper-form sign up to receive a physical membership card will cost extra) before or when you rock up to a manga/internet café. Students also have discounted prices (around 5-10% off). Finally, a tip to prevent you from going ‘over-time’ is to put your receipt with your check-out time in a visible place and set an alarm for 5minutes before the check-out time. Sometimes, the staff might even come to tell you that you have X minutes left but don’t bank on that.
Of course, if you can find a backpacker that costs $20 or less per night, go for it really!
I normally stay in a backpacker/hostel like YHA in Australia, but it usually costs more than $20 a night. In Japan, a night at some business hotels or even capsule hotels (mainly targeted at males) might cost the same as some backpackers. Of course, if your budget is around or less than $30 a night, then a backpacker might be a better option. Similar to a manga/internet café, different beds and rates are available. There would probably be a 4-bed, 6-bed, 8-bed and 10-bed dormitory, and rooms for 2-4 people. Sometimes free wifi and breakfast might be available.
I would have thought that it would be difficult to find a backpacker in the city of Tokyo, but there are actually quite a few. There are 2 Youth Hostels in Tokyo that are affiliated to YHA. According to Infinity Books’ owner, N, there are a couple of backpackers along the same street as the bookshop-café. I also know of Asakusa Smile which is also in the area. I’m sure you can find more on accommodation websites like Booking.com and Hostels.com.
I stayed at a couple of backpackers on the way to Kansai and in Kansai. I particularly enjoyed my stay at Nagoya Traveller’s Hostel in Nagoya, and Shiorian in Kyoto. (On a side note, I also enjoyed my stay at Sum’s Guesthouse in Busan, Korea too). The common thing among these guesthouses is that the staff are generally friendly, can speak some English and the service is good. A staff I just met at Nagoya Traveller’s Hostel was prompt in helping to call a cab for me even though we both hadn’t seen each other before and didn’t have the same rapport like those that I had built with other staff. He was nice enough to even help me with my luggage and wait a little while with me outside in the crazy wind of an impending typhoon. Thank you so much, whoever you are! On another note, one of the best things about Shiorian is that it offers free Friday night dinners where you get to experience making things like takoyaki, yakisoba, temaki-zushi, onigiri, kakigori and etc. with the staff and other guests. How cool is that? Some of their staff can even speak European languages like French and German, and most of them do speak English and Japanese. We had had interesting conversations that lasted well after dinner time!
While I normally choose an accommodation according to price, location and by reading the reviews, it is really hard to choose the right place if you are there for the first time. I’d say to be more careful of those that have zero reviews. My experiences at these places may also be slightly biased as I went during an off-peak season, so it probably wasn’t as packed. Most staff can speak English and the service is usually impeccable. The cleanliness of the toilets, showering facilities, kitchen and eating area is always a big plus. (There is, of course, certain common sense etiquette you have to have, which is to clean up after yourself. Your mom isn’t here to do the dishes for you!) And having enough hot water coming out of the showers, access to hairdryers and comfy beds will definitely up the satisfaction rating. Being in Japan, don’t worry if you have to wait for a shower (although I never had to)—I’m sure that there are onsens or public bath houses nearby that you can go to. I went to one at Kyoto Tower because I wanted a long soak, but that’s an episode for my article about Kyoto.
Of course, if you can’t stand sleeping in the same room as a few other strangers, there is always the option of getting a room to yourself. And usually, boarders in rooms give the best reviews for a backpacker. The rooms must have been really worth the price!
So there you have it! Do note that it is just my take on backpackers in Japan, and having survived some really weird roommates in some backpackers in Australia (like someone who stood beside my bed and breathed down my neck for 10 minutes after talking to me for 30 minutes to make sure I was not pretending to sleep in order not to continue the one-sided conversation or another one who loudly passed gas all night to the point that I did not get to sleep at all), I’d say Japan’s backpackers are pretty safe and good!
If you have stayed in a nice place, please leave a recommendation in the comments! Happy travels! (:
Kawaguchiko. Photo: shrompy