Summer breaks on a Budget
By the time you read this, summer vacation will be in full swing in Japan. With the scorching weather, various local and national festivals and an assortment of cultural curiosities to enjoy also comes a hefty cost.
Yes, sadly Japan isn’t immune to the inevitable price-gouging by travel agents, so often associated with trying to take a summer vacation in many other countries.
Photo: Greg Foster on Flickr
August is the peak of this price hike, as the onset of the Obon holiday period, when Japanese people traditionally return to their ancestral hometowns to pay respect to deceased ancestors, pushes prices to often ridiculous levels. If you are fortunate enough to land a plane ticket at this time, then you can expect to pay two or even three times the usual price for such tickets. For example, a friend of mine went to Okinawa for a 3 day break back in early June. The price, inclusive of return flights from Osaka Kansai Airport and room only accommodation in a 4 star hotel came in at around 48,000 yen. If I wanted to repeat that same trip this August using the same airline and hotel, I would be looking at around 130,000 yen. Personally I’ve never understood how these blatant rip-off prices can be justified, given that customer volume is so high at this time. However this is indeed a global problem and certainly not unique to Japan. In fairness, it should be said that the price hikes in Japan seem, in general terms at least to be less severe than what one may encounter in the US or UK at this time of year.
Like most things, you’ll only frustrate yourself if you try and fight the system.
So, if we can’t beat the greedy travel companies, then we need to find a way around them.
In Japan, if you know a few tricks, there are numerous ways to drastically reduce the cost of that all-important summer holiday.
Here, for your consideration, are a few suggestions.
Photo: Kevin Harber on Flickr
When I lived in Scotland, I remember back in the early 90s, what was then British rail used to offer a pre-booking service called “Apex”. It basically involved hugely discounted rail fares, sometimes as high as 50%, provided that you booked at least one week ahead.
Sadly such massive savings are few and far between these days, however did you know that Japan operates a similar system?
If you can read Japanese, or get a friend to help you, it is possible to make savings of between 10-20% on shinkansen (bullet train) fares, if you book at least 2 weeks in advance.
For example, if you pay on the day, a one way ride from Osaka to Tokyo will cost around 16,000 yen. However, if you book through the online system, depending on the type of seat you choose and whether or not you want to pre-book your seat, the price can drop below 13,000. It may not sound like much, but when you factor in this is a saving applied two ways, and for multiple persons, then across a family of four, or even just a couple, the savings are significant.
If you’ve got time, use it
Photo: Sean MacEntee
Another way to save money on your journey is to take it slow. If you use local and express trains, rather than the shinkansen, your train fares will drop by about 50%. Of course, this also means that the journey will take longer. For example a journey from Osaka to Tokyo which usually takes around 2 and a half hours on the Shinkansen, will take around 8-9 hours using local trains. However, there is also the added incentive of being able to stop over in places like Nagoya, and Mount Fuji on the way. Indeed Nagoya is almost an exact halfway point on the journey and makes the perfect place to stop off for lunch on the way.
Look for alternative accommodation options
Photo: Genta on Flickr
In the summer time getting a hotel reservation is difficult enough. But even if you do, the bill you are likely to receive on check-out is likely to give even the fittest and healthiest individuals palpitations! So, again, if you can’t beat them, then take the over-priced hotels out of the equation. On the internet you will find various homestay options. Japan is one of the most popular countries for this kind of accommodation. Prices are typically far lower than a usual hotel, and you’ll also have the chance to experience Japanese culture and people up close. Not the mention the delicious Japanese dinners you can look forward to at the end of each busy day. Additionally, staying with a host family is also a great way to increase your knowledge of the local area. As residents of the place you are visiting, your host family will provide a wealth of information, not just on the great places to visit, but also the places to avoid.
Another accommodation option may be websites like Couch Surfer. Couch Surfer is an exchange service where people offer a place to sleep to visiting travelers in the hope that the traveler will also someday return the favour when the host visits their country. Registration is easy, and in many cases the hosts may not even charge you for staying at their home. Of course staying in a stranger’s home may not be to everyone’s taste, and as is often the case with this kind of internet driven service, you should use common sense and always give first consideration to your personal safety at all times.
Stay at a temple
Of course, no visit to Japan is complete without paying a visit to some of the thousands of Buddhist temples dotted around the country. However, did you know that some of these temples will now also welcome overnight guests?
Staying in a temple will give you the chance for a fascinating cultural experience. It will also provide you with an opportunity to enjoy peace, quiet and the opportunity to re-gather your thoughts and spiritual energies through meditation and contemplation.
These are just some of the various ways you can experience Japan to its fullest without breaking the bank. So what are you waiting for, get online now, and start planning that trip today!