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Travel, Teach, Live in Japan

How to Travel Around Japan on a Budget
By:Kent Ninomiya

Japan is one of the most expensive countries in the world to visit. Their currency, the yen, is strong against virtually every other currency on the planet. Add to that an extremely developed industrial economy with nearly 130 million people crammed onto islands about the size of California. Everything from lodging to food to transportation costs more in Japan. Howeverm if you follow these steps, you can minimize your costs and travel around Japan on a budget.

Shop around for airfare. Take a look at the online travel agencies, then call the airlines directly to see if they can beat the price. Be flexible with your travel dates. You could save hundreds of dollars by flying mid-week. Also consider third-country airlines. They may offer a cheaper price to fly through their country and may give you a free stopover.

Get around by mass transit. Narita International Airport is 60 kilometers from the center of Tokyo. A taxi will cost you well over $100. Japan has amazingly efficient and clean trains and buses. You can get just about everywhere on mass transit. Don't let the complex maze of train routes intimidate you. Most signs are in Japanese and English and they give you plenty of warning that your stop is coming up.

Sleep in a traditional Japanese inn. They are called "ryokan". Think of them as bed-and-breakfast hotels in a Japanese style. You take your shoes off when you enter, use communal bathrooms and lounges and sleep on tatami mats on the floor. The walls are often rice paper, and a traditional Japanese breakfast is usually included. They are immaculately clean, surprisingly comfortable and a cultural experience. They also tend to be much cheaper than Western-style hotels. Book yours on the Internet before you leave.

Eat as the Japanese do. Despite what you may think, the Japanese do not eat sushi every day. It is special-occasion food. The Japanese dine inexpensively on noodles, cutlets and skewers of meat. Food stands and small restaurants usually specialize in something specific. Try ramen (thin noodles), udon (thick noodles), tonkatsu (fried cutlet), tempura (fried shrimp and vegetables) and yakitori (chicken on a stick). All of it is delicious and much cheaper at take-away places.

Try a vending machine. Japan is the land of vending machines. You can get just about anything you want out of one. If you have your eye on something pricey, shop around. You can't walk a block in Japan without running into more vending machines.

Take in the free sights. Just being in Japan is a cultural experience. Riding the train, getting something to eat or even going to the bathroom is different from home. Soak up the culture by window-shopping in the Ginza or watch the koi fish at the Imperial Palace or hang out with the monks at the Senso-ji temple. Paying to enter museums and other tourist traps will drain your budget. The best sights of Japan are free.

Take pictures for souvenirs. They preserve the best memories and they are cheap to take. If you start buying things, you will be broke fast. Every day things like a Japanese Coke can or candy wrapper also make cool souvenirs.

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