Looking at my calendar this month threw up a pleasant surprise, for the first time in a long while, (well, 7 years to be exact!) my birthday (November 21st) falls on a weekend.
What makes this even better is that the following Monday (November 23rd) is a designated national holiday here in Japan.
So, with this in mind, some forward thinking individuals, like me, like to take a day off on the preceding Friday, and suddenly, you’ve got a 4 day break.
Photo: GotCredit on Flickr
However, as anyone who has ever lived in Japan for any length of time will tell you, such things are a real premium, so it’s imperative that one makes the most optimal use of this extra holiday time, so as to maximize the benefit.
But then again, of course, I’m not the only one who has the “inspired” idea to take a long weekend getaway at the end of November. Never being slow to capitalize on the opportunity to make a fast buck, our esteemed friends in the travel agency business know fine and well that this is a time when a lot of us are seeking a last minute break to recharge the batteries before the ensuing madness that is the run up to Christmas and New Year. They then, as is their prerogative, make the necessary “adjustment” to their prices. Suddenly, that 20-30,000 yen short break you planned with your better half is looking like costing 3 times that amount. So much for the start of the season of goodwill!
Not even my desperate cries of “Oh, come on, please, it’s my birthday!” will sway those travel operators.
So, if we can’t beat the price hikes then we have to get creative and find a way around them.
First off, I would say forget about flying at this time. Flight bookings are very difficult to come by, especially at the time of writing, (about 3 weeks before the holiday). Prices also spike frequently. No sooner have I found a new flight option than the price shoots up before I can complete the booking a matter of hours later.
One should also be on the lookout for “phantom deals”. No, this isn’t some kind of Halloween spectre of a salesman, this is the name I have created for those too good to be true travel deals one sees in banner headlines either on the internet or in print, and, upon trying to complete their booking, finds that the actual price is several magnitudes higher than what is advertised. The sad reality is that, when taxes and charges are included, these seemingly low prices probably never existed in the first place.
There are several ways that one can get around the pricing problems. Firstly, I would say, if possible forget airplane travel altogether. Unlike air travel, most train prices remain static regardless of season or the specific date of travel. This makes budgeting much easier.
Also, when making that important hotel reservation, be aware that different hotels in Japan advertise in different ways. Whilst the majority of prices you find on the internet are priced per person, you will, with sufficient amounts of searching, occasionally find a “per room” price. Naturally this will offer a substantial saving if you are travelling with your partner or in a group.
Actually on the subject of travelling with partners, provided you have a partner who isn’t too squeamish, there is another way to make a substantial saving on hotel prices.
Photo: maurizio mucciola on Flickr
Short stay hotels for couples, or “love hotels” to give them their commonly used name, are a huge industry in Japan. Charged by the hour, these hotels offer often luxurious surroundings, with the intention of creating the ideal atmosphere for couples to engage in a romantic liaison. However, even for those not particularly interested in feeding their animal passions, the love hotel does serve as a viable alternative to the conventional hotel, provided you don’t have any issues with what these hotels are commonly used for.
As an example, in a busy city centre like Osaka or Tokyo, a night in one of these hotels will probably cost about 8000 to 10,000 yen for the room. Compare this to a typical 3 or 4 star hotel, which would, as a high season time such as the November long weekend, cost as much as 15-20,000 yen per person! Many of these hotels also include complimentary food and drinks as well as amenities like karaoke and video games.
Of course this kind of accommodation really isn’t an option if you are travelling in a group, or with children, but for couples travelling on a budget, they do offer an easily available alternative to conventional hotels, without compromising on comfort.
Be sure to do a bit of prior research beforehand though, as the quality of these establishments does vary considerably from place to place.
Decidedly less romantic, but just as practical are “business hotels”.
Photo: Matt Adams on Flickr
Typically located next to major railway stations or transport hubs, these “no-frills” accommodations offer simple bed and board for a price typically in the range of 5-7000 yen per person per night. From time to time you will also find such hotels that offer per room price rates too, so be sure to shop around.
Of all the business hotel chains, the one I would recommend the most is the “Toyoko Inn”.
I have stayed in Toyoko Inns in Tokyo, Chiba, Hiroshima, Osaka, Okayama and Kyushu, and I have to say I’ve always been impressed by the quality and cleanliness of the rooms, as well as the very competitive pricing.
As for destinations, well that really depends on what you are looking for, but again I recommend going somewhere a little “off the beaten track” as it were. The likes of Kyoto, Kobe, Tokyo and Yokohama will all be jam-packed at this time of year, so it’s definitely better to avoid them if you can. I recommend instead that you seek out somewhere a little more rural, and a little more tranquil. After all, isn’t that supposed to be the point of a weekend break?