Traveling nuts & bolts from a 1998 trip
(The good old days of 143 yen to the dollar!)
This is why my e-mail name is otabe.
porcelain-looking woman is a
machine that makes a slow, bowing
It has to be seen to be fully appreciated.
Japan is not so expensive at 143 yen to the dollar, when I arrived 2
months ago, but when I left 2 weeks ago at 117 to the dollar, then it
did. Some points:
Don't assume that the youth hostel in every
town will be the cheapest place to stay, especially factoring in the
transport to get there, as they are often way out of town. In Kobe, for
example, the hostel costs 2940 yen and is a 290 yen train ride each way
from town, plus a walk from there. Right in town is a capsule hotel, the
Kobe Kur Haus tel (078) 222-3755. It costs 3800 yen and is open all night
with excellent facilities. It is a 5 or 10 minute walk to the northeast
from the station.
Not so far to the East is the Kobe Student Youth Center. It is very
near the Rokko station on the Hankyu line. One person costs 3000 yen and
for two it is 2500 yen each. Tel (078) 851-2760
In Fukuoka it is the same thing. The nearest hostel is in Dazaifu, far
from town, but there is the Capsule Inn Hakata tel (092) 281-2244 almost
right next to the mega-modern, massive shopping center, Canal City, and it
costs nearly the same.
In Osaka the hostels are far, but there is a woman named Nami tel (06)
717-3271 who speaks some English and lives a little east of the Mamodani
stop on the JR Loop line. She charges 2700 yen for a room. Very nearby in
the shopping arcade is a revolving sushi place with all sushi at 120 yen a
It has been suggested that in Japan you should always call ahead to
make a reservation at a youth hostel, even if it is just across the
street. This is only if you are planning to eat at the hostel. Otherwise,
if someone who answers the phone doesn't speak English well, they may
assume you want meals and if you don't show up when you say you will, you
pay a fine. No hostels allow you use of the kitchen, but all have hot
water for ramen and yakisoba and whatnot.
It did happen to me once that I arrived in Hiroshima hostel without a reservation and it was full. It is the biggest hostel in Japan, I think, but it is often full with school groups. The manager gave me a lecture about reserving, but after some posturing he said that they had a couple of extra emergency beds for instances like mine. So it was no problem, just a little risky. Had I called in advance he would have just told me that it was full.
It is totally unnecessary to bring a sleeping bag to Japan if you are
Also, it is a good idea to ask tourist information about your options.
In Kagoshima, (southern Kyushu) for example, I asked at Kagoshima station about the cheapest
places to stay and I was shown a laminated sheet of several places in town
that were cheaper than the hostel (including transportation to and from.
All places to stay have a five percent tax, but it is never clear if it is
included in the price or not.) Some of the hotels are in a negative way
kind of infamous locally, but there is a little-known place called the
Okinawa Seishonen Kagoshima Kaikan (something like Okinawa Boys Kagoshima
House) Tel 224-9679 It is very near the station and charges only 1500 yen
for a 6-tatami room for the night. No English is spoken there. (Nearby is
a cheap barber shop, a cut for 1500 yen, but of the two barbers don't go
to the guy with the perm. Trust me.)
Another good reason to visit tourist information is to ask of places
where there is free internet access. In almost every large town the main
NTT office has a multimedia center where anyone can go for a half hour or
so and surf the web. In places where it gets too popular they either
cancel it altogether (Osaka) or don't allow you to access email (Fukuoka).
In Takayama the municipal government office has free internet. In
Hiroshima there are two computer retail shops downtown with free internet.
In the ninth floor of the train station in Kyoto there is a prefectural
office that has internet access at 250 yen for a half hour.
Tourist information is also ready for questions about where to find ATM
machines that take Cirrus system cards. Be careful, because in all of
Hokkaido it is only possible in Sapporo train station, and in Kyushu only
If you are in Japan for 5-7 days I think the best
thing you could do is go to Takayama in Gifu-ken. It is a quaint, small
place in a beautiful area with a lot to see and excellent accommodations.
Right in town either the Rickshaw Inn (3360 yen for the best dorm in Japan
by far) or just a few doors down the peaceful Rikkyoku-ji temple (3000
yen) are very good value. A new highway is being built that goes north
from Nagoya to the west of Takayama. It is an amazing feat of engineering
because it is almost entirely bridges and tunnels.
I think the best two sights in all of Kansai are the Kyoto train
station and the Osaka-Kansai airport. They are totally mindblowing and I
dare say you will remember them long after you have forgotten all the
Japanese TV can be excellent. On Saturday night watch a wonderful TV
show called "Susunu Denpa Shonen". It isn't really necessary to know much Japanese
to appreciate it. It is on at different times in every part of the
country, but ask any young person and they will know when it is on
locally. You can also rent recent videos of the show in Japantowns in
Seattle, San Jose, and Los Angeles.
Another great thing to do is go to Tower Records or Virgin and listen
to the latest CDs from Thee Michelle Gun Elephant(What a name!), Spitz,
Cellophane, or my favorite, The Brilliant Green. Japanese pop/rock is the
best! In Los Angeles in Little Tokyo there is a shop called J-Wave that
rents all the CDs and videos that you would want at cheap prices. I hope
to find a place like it in San Francisco, near to where I live.
Still another great thing to do is try all the amazingly delicious
Japanese snack foods. Just the pretzels alone are awesome. Try apple
pretzels or chestnut pretzels, or mustard or butter flavor or corn or beer
or even "Men's" pretzels. The Japanese are geniuses! For a meal I liked
going to the nearest big Daiei supermarket at around 7pm when all the
prepared food is heavily discounted. It is all delicious and healthy. (I
lost 8 kg in 8 weeks there.)
In Kyoto the two best places to stay are Tani
House in the north or Toji-An near the train station. Both rent bicycles
for 500 yen a day, really cheap when you figure that a single bus ride is
220 yen or 200 if you buy a strip of 5 (kaisuken) in advance. Tani costs
1700 w/o air con, 1800 with. Toji is 2000 yen. Tani is great if you want
to be in the north near a lot of temples, but it is nice being closer to
town at Toji-An, and the latter will let you use their washing machine for
free. The book never really explains where it is, but it almost adjacent
to the large temple, just to the northeast. It is perpendicular to the
Omiya dori ramp. Also, you can always get a free ride back to the train
station if you are near the Kyoto Handicrafts Center because of their free
shuttle bus on the hour, every hour except noon. They will take you to the
station or the nearby New Miyako Hotel, no questions asked. Not far north
from the Handicraft Center is Kyoto University with two good, cheap
cafeterias. A place to avoid is Aoi-so Inn near the Kuramaguchi hospital.
It's cheap, but a witch of a woman runs it, and there are no fans. You
will die in summer without at least a fan.
If you are going to Hokkaido you might be surprised
at how cheap the ferry is from central Honshu. From the Kansai area there
are two ports both charging around 6000-7000 yen for the long, long trip.
I went to Niigata thinking it would be cheaper, but it was still 5250 yen
for about 18 hours of sailing to Otaru. Niigata has no hostel and the
cheapest hotel is about 4500 yen, but ask the tourist info office at the
station about a resort club sort of place that picks up people for free in
town and takes them to this distant place that is open 24 hours and you
can bathe, sit around and sleep on couches for about 2500 yen. Niigata has
no capsule hotel.
On Rebun Island you may want to think twice before staying at the
Momoiwa-so Hostel run by the crazies who meet the boat. When I was there
it was the only hostel open, so I had no choice. The book doesn't
emphasize enough about how regimented and insane the place is. The hostel
sets their clocks 30 minutes off from the rest of the Japan. They blast an
old song on the stereo to wake everyone up at a ridiculous hour to do the
8 hour hike. Every evening there are skits, songs, performances, and other
summer camp stuff. It is all entertaining in the beginning but then it
feels like prison. The place itself is in an excellent location and is
tolerable for 2 nights maximum. On the other hand, this is a good place to
meet young Japanese. They come from all over Japan to visit this famous
place and let their hair down, so to speak.
In Shiretoko National park a landslide had cut off all access to the
hot water waterfall, though it was rumored a kayaker made it from
downstream. It was unclear when it would reopen.
A nice town to visit though there is no youth hostel is Kuji on the
coast of Iwate-ken.
Nagasaki is a difficult city to find a spot to hitchhike out of but I
wouldn't follow LP's advice and hitch out of Isahaya because it isn't much
better. Besides, the train station in Isahaya isn't near the highway
Immigration in Fukuoka told me that to get a work visa for teaching
English you must bring all the paperwork to Immigration and then wait
three weeks or so while they "investigate" to get a certificate that you
then must take out of the country to get your actual work visa. The fast
ferry to Pusan takes three hours and costs 13,000 yen if bought in Japan,
and 85,000 won if bought in Korea. The slow ferry takes 15 hours and I
don't remember what it costs.
Info from the previous trip--1997:
---Southern Japan at a highway rest
The sweeping second hand on the big clock
hitting the 4 guys while they tried to plant flowers.
Japan is NOT that expensive, and more people spoke English than I
expected. I was there last month, spending 10 days in Kyoto and Tokyo. I
flew into the super ultra modern, blow-your-mind-away Osaka Kansai airport.
No tourist literature will tell you, but there is a normal train from the
airport to super ultra modern, blow-your-mind-away Kyoto train station for
1830 yen. You must change once and it takes about two hours.
at Tani House next to Daitoku-ji temple for 1700 yen. It is a
peaceful, relaxing place when there are few people there, but I think that
is seldom. The youth hostel near the river is better situated, but costs
2800 yen, including two mandatory meals, and beware of noisy, foreign
Eat at the university cafeterias. Some are open for all
three meals. Kyoto has a few near popular temples. Japanese feel sorry for
you if you tell them you are eating there, but I thought the food was good
and there's no way you'll eat cheaper. Well, you could visit Shakey's
Pizza and their all-you-can-eat lunch for about 700 yen.
This is an odd recommendation, but if you are into sweets, you have to
try the strawberry yatsuhashi from Otabe. On the walk up to Kiyomizu
temple, you will see this funny bobbing head geisha(?) machine in several
of the tourist shops. That is Otabe-chan. You will want to name your first
girl Otabe after you try her yatsahashi. Several places will give you free
samples of this delicacy, and you will thank me someday for encouraging
you to try it, but be warned! You can ONLY buy this stuff in Kyoto. In
Tokyo it is impossible to find. (And if you can find out where I can buy
that Otabe-chan machine, let me know!) I hitchhiked from Kyoto to Tokyo
easily. Everyone seemed to understand the concept. The people who picked
me up (young, old, men, women, families) usually just wanted to practice
English. From Tokyo Ueno Station to the airport take the Limited Express.
It is only a little longer than the Skyliner but it is much cheaper, only
On the other hand, maybe Japan is expensive. A round trip
flight from Tokyo to Los Angeles costs about the same as 12-14 nice
cantaloupes. (45,000 yen).
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