Tips on how to enjoy your Japan trip
Dot Ramos Balasbas-Gancayco (The Philippine Star) - March 29, 2015 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Konnichiwa!

Remember those days when, because of high costs, you only dreamed of traveling to Japan?

Well, dream no more.

Of late, Japan has become a top tourist destination for many Filipinos. The cost of Japan travel has become affordable. There are many sights and activities to experience that do not hurt the pocket. Parents who want to save on a US trip bring their kids instead to nearby Osaka for Universal Studios and Tokyo for Disneyland and Disney Sea. Friends and relatives band together to enjoy the opportunity to watch a traditional Kabuki or Noh theater performance rather than splurge on a high-end Broadway or West End show.

I recently had an Osaka-Kyoto-Tokyo winter tour with some fellow lawyers and my family, and I would like to share with our readers how to immerse in Japan history and culture, and enjoy simple pleasures in Japan, without spending so much.

• On transportation: Check out online low cost airlines for flights by which you can fly into Osaka and out of Tokyo. Be on the lookout for Travel Expos where airlines offer the cheapest roundtrip airfare packages. For domestic travel, avoid the expensive taxi like the plague. For intercity travel over several days, buy JR passes for the bullet train. Otherwise, take the bus or better yet, walk — to help burn off all the calories from the delectable Japanese food that you will eat.

• On accommodations and food: Book an inexpensive hotel room that is good for sleeping in near a train station to save on transportation cost. There is no need for a fancy hotel room because you will be out touring most of the day. In Japan especially, even the non-fancy hotels are clean and comfortable, albeit on the smallish side. Another option would be to consider renting an apartment or a shared space via For food, save by having a heavy brunch at inexpensive restaurants that serve yummy ramen (at the equivalent price of only P250) or bento boxes. You can also get your meals from convenience stores (7-11 and Family Mart) and supermarkets. Get your fill of flavorful and cheap street food.

• On sightseeing options: Go to Kyoto for its rich history and culture and visit five incredible destinations that are either free or entail minimal charges. The Kiyomizudera Temple for its wooden terrace and amazing view of Eastern Kyoto. The Fushimi Inari Shrine for its thousands of orange tori gates. The breathtaking Kinkakuji or The Golden Pavilion with the surfaces of its top two floors completely gilded. The Kyoto Imperial Palace, the former residence of Japan’s Imperial family. Lastly, stroll around Gion where Memoirs of a Geisha was filmed.

In Osaka, take a selfie with the iconic 33-meter Glico Man sign at the Ebusubashi Bridge as background. Enjoy Osaka specialty foods takoyaki and okonomiyaki from its street stalls, and have your photos taken at the Osaka Castle and Umeda Sky Building. If you are with kids, Universal Studios is a must for family entertainment. From Osaka to Tokyo, sit on the left side of the bullet train, to take photos of the majestic Mt. Fuji.

When in Tokyo, go to Tsukiji Market early morning to experience free and highly-entertaining bidding action for the largest and freshest tunas. Then, have a reasonably-priced meal savoring different kinds of mouth-watering fresh sushi that gets to you on a conveyor belt. After a full day of walking, have an inexpensive dinner matched with sake at a subterranean watering hole on level with the city’s train station platforms.

There are lots of things that you can do in Tokyo without spending a single cent: Walk or jog around the Imperial Palace. Have a quiet time at the Sensoji Temple. Experience the beautiful Tokyo sights on the observation deck of the Tokyo Government Office. Have your mandatory tourist photos with the Tokyo Tower and the Tokyo Skytree as your background.

Catch a glimpse of Japanese women dressed up like animé characters by strolling along the streets of Harajuku. During rush hour, head to the Shibuya Crossing to witness the “organized chaos” when up to 3,000(!) pedestrians surge into the intersection from all sides at the same time when the traffic lights turn green. While in the area, have photos taken with the bronze statue of Hachiko, the loyal dog who waited for her dead master everyday at the same time and place until her last breath.

For those into shopping, I do not recommend the activity except in the months of June and December during the great sales. Window shop at the glitzy Roponggi and Ginza. Go to the world’s electronics capital, Akihabara, and be mesmerized by all the techie gadgets on display and the Japanese love for manga and animé.

For souvenirs, go to the 100-yen stores, which have a good variety of cheap yet interesting stuff, for all those friends and relatives waiting for you back home.


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