Japan: A Taste of Tokyo

After a long flight from Bangkok to Tokyo which included a long stopover in Malaysia, we were finally out of Southeast Asia. For the first time in over 2 months, we were no longer on the ‘normal’ backpacking route of travelling Asia. As regular readers of this blog know, we absolutely loved our time in Southeast Asia and anyone who is thinking about going should definitely go. However, the idea of going and visiting Japan really excited us especially as we knew we were going to attempt to climb Mt. Fuji.

Starting our Japan adventures in Tokyo, we started by exploring the city on foot. Tokyo like many other developed capitals is extremely expensive, and taxis are no exception. When we arrived at Tokyo airport, the public transport system was closed as it was the early hours of the morning. This meant we had to take a taxi which ended up costing us the equivalent of £60 between us for around a 15-minute taxi ride. As you can imagine, we quickly decided that walking was the best option.

As the main point of our trip to Japan was going to Fuji, we didn’t have a long stay in Tokyo. This meant that we had to prioritise what we wanted to see. During our time in Malaysia, we had met someone who had visited Tokyo many times. When we discussed that we were going to Japan but dedicated most of our time to climbing Fuji, he soon started ranting about just how great Tokyo is and how you could easily spend two weeks there. With this in mind, we decided months in advance that for this reason, we would have to be wary of time and make sure we see some of the main points of Tokyo. Therefore we wanted to try and get a mix of activities that were relatively cheap but also relaxing, as we wanted to rest for the long climb to Fuji. So, we decided to start the day by walking around the Imperial Palace Gardens which was genuinely a really nice pastime. Although the gardens aren’t anything particularly special, it was nice to just take a stroll around the nice scenery and be able to talk about our trip so far. Again walking on foot for about an hour we decided to head to Sensoji Temple. The walk allowed us to experience Tokyo in ways that if we had decided to get public transport we would never have seen. During our walk, we saw authentic Japanese markets, restaurants and shops which was something really cool to see as obviously they’re so different to what you see anywhere else. We were pleasantly shocked how cool the temple was when we first got there. The tourist information centre gives you a map where you go and visit the different points around the temples, which included a five-story Pagoda. Sensoji Temple is Tokyo’s oldest temple so it was quite remarkable that the temple was still in such good condition. After walking around the temple area for some time, we decided we wanted to go and visit the World Trade Centre in the heart of Tokyo. One of the reasons for this was to see the stunning views that many people had talked to us about. When we arrived at the World Trade Centre, we ended up spending over an hour just looking at the magnificent views of the city on every side. On days where the visibility is clear, you can apparently see Mt. Fuji from this tower. Unfortunately for us, this wasn’t the case.

 

Something that was quite a unique experience, and one we definitely weren’t expecting, is nearly having a Buddhist conversion. As we were walking around the city towards the end of our day, we were invited to a temple by a Japanese tour guide. Whilst in the temple we were asked if we wanted to take part in some Buddhist rituals and chanting. As we always like to take in the culture of any place, we started taking part in the rituals. As soon as we finished we were asked many times whether or not we wanted to convert to Buddhism and the language barrier made the experience very funny. Although many people may not like this to happen to them, it was one of those random funny moments that when you look back on your trip it just adds to the experience. All in all, it was fun to take part in the rituals, even though we didn’t want to convert.

 

The Kawasaki Daishi Temple is one area that we would highly recommend visiting when in Tokyo. If you like history, culture, traditions and authenticity, then this area has all of that combined into one. The temple was founded in 1128 and is a sect of Shingon Buddhism. The temple is actually a stunning piece of architecture, and if you would like to get involved in Buddhist rituals the temple allows anyone to take part in these. Furthermore, and something that personally I really appreciated about the area, was the surrounding marketplace. The marketplace had great energy and sold all kinds of weird and wonderful items. Something that you want to take advantage of is the free sweet tasters that they give out. Although we found some of the sweets to be absolutely disgusting, you can’t turn down free food, especially when you don’t want to pay Tokyo prices!

Obviously, when you’re in Japan you have to try Japanese foods. During our trip to Japan, we tried many. In Tokyo, we tried Sushi and as someone who personally hates it, I can admit that it is a lot better in Tokyo than anywhere else in the world I have had it. As a group, we tried many different Sushi’s and even ordered more after our first three trays! For all you sushi lovers, Tokyo is the place to eat your sushi!

26943579_10215394779646671_190014742_n

Overall, although there were some good things to do, and we didn’t have much time at all in Tokyo, the hype that surrounds the city for us did not live up to our expectations. Many of our friends say they would love to go to Tokyo, and we aware that if we went back and spent more time there then maybe we would love it too, but the general feeling we got was just not really a place where we would want to spend much time. The city itself feels more tailored towards business people, rather than travellers, and the cost is another factor. I’m sure you could have some very fancy nights out which would be a lot of fun, they were just well above our pay grade. When we left Tokyo to travel to Fuji, we instantly fell in love with the place, and it has made us want to go back to Japan and travel around its other cities.

View the rest of our Tokyo pictures here

Travelling Asia – How much?

After travelling around Asia (mainly Southeast Asia) we found that once you’re out there, it is possible to do most places on a small budget. Although we spent more during the 3-month trip than we expected, Asia, in general, is inexpensive (bar Japan). The usual question we get asked is how much did your Asia trip cost? And although we can put a price on our expenditure, that doesn’t mean that your trip will cost the same. Many factors are dependent on what activities you do. So let’s begin!

Accommodation – Accommodation in Southeast Asia was pretty much similar price throughout the region. Dorm rooms in hostels are they key to saving money! During our stay in Cambodia, we could find dorms for around £2-£5 a night. If you don’t mind ‘roughing’ it, save money on accommodation so you have more money to spend on the activities! The most expensive places we stayed during our time in Asia was Japan, where we found hostels for around £20+ a night. However, Japan is expensive, so saving on hostels is a must if you want to stay in Japan for long. Another tip, if you don’t know how long you will be staying in a certain place, either book the first night on Hostel World and then book nights if you choose to stay longer, or when you arrive in the city just show up and book a room.

In Asia, rooms are more expensive if you choose to take an AC room. During our stay in India, we did not take an AC room as we had a communication issue. We suffered badly! Although an AC room is more expensive, if you want that extra comfort (and trust me you will) it is worth paying the £2-£4 a night more for it. Obviously, if you’re staying in the touristy areas of a city, or on the Thai Islands, then prices will be higher. The Thai Islands (article here )were usually very expensive if you wanted to book a good hostel. If you’re sticking mainly to Southeast Asia, budgeting £5-£15 a night is very safe. The most expensive hostel during our time in Southeast Asia was around £15 a night in Koh Phi Phi. If you are travelling around India, most hostels are around £2-£7 depending on if you want AC, And Japan is anything from £20-£35, depending on where you are staying.

Transportation – Transportation in Asia is again very cheap, excluding Japan. I remember us getting a bus in Goa, where our journey was about 50 minutes and we spent 20 rupees each (about 23p). If you want to travel cheaply and easily, then the best way is to travel by bus. During our stay in Cambodia we travelled from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap and this cost us around £12 for a 6hour bus ride. Even in Thailand which we found to be usually the most expensive Southeast Asian country that we visited, public transport was around 20baht (50p).

Again, travelling is all about making memories and having experiences. You want to be able to spend more on your activities and save money wherever you can. Saving money on transport, when you’re travelling for months all adds up. Taxis are usually 3 times more expensive than public transport and sometimes more. Sometimes when we were tired, and we just arrived in a place, we took a taxi over public transport and it cost us more. Arriving late at night in Japan, the buses and trains had stopped running for the day and we were forced to take a taxi to our hostel. The journey was little over half an hour long, and came to the equivalent of £60! Although it may seem daunting at first, using public transport is the way to go if you want to see a lot of places.

When you’re in Southeast Asia, you have to experience a Tuk-Tuk ride. However, I wouldn’t suggest doing this all the time as Tuk-Tuk’s are more expensive than a bus. Although you can haggle a Tuk-Tuk price down, usually you still spend more than what you would on a bus.

If you want cheap flights as one of our previous article said, use Sky Scanner! The cheapest flights are usually with Air Asia, VietJet Air or Tiger Airways. They’re basically the Ryanair of the Asian market.

Putting a figure on how much you should budget a day for transport is hard because it really depends on many things. What I would say is just try and travel as cheaply as possible. Walking, renting a motorbike or taking the bus are the cheapest options!

Food – Food in Asia is incredibly cheap and delicious. Our favourite foods were from India and Thailand, and if you want to eat a lot then Asia is the place to be. What is important to remember is that Western meals are much more expensive than local cuisine. In Thailand, Pad Thai was roughly 50baht, but a pizza or a burger was touching 200baht. Also, local cuisine is so much better than Western food that you really cannot go wrong with it!

Street food in Southeast Asia is ridiculously cheap. Some street food costs around £1 which means there’s plenty of opportunities to get seconds. However, most restaurants are cheap and usually only cost £2-£5 depending on your order. I wouldn’t worry too much about setting aside lots of money for food if you like Asian food. If I were pushed to suggest a budget for food I’d say between £10-£15 per day, when eating out for all 3 meals. Anything more and you’re eating at the wrong places! When visiting Hong Kong and Japan, we spent much more on food than we did in the rest of Asia. But that was mainly as the street food was less available and more expensive.

If you do decide to travel to Japan we would recommend booking a hostel that has its own kitchen where you can make and prepare your own food. This is what we did, and we saved a lot of money on buying food from a supermarket in bulk, rather than buying from a restaurant. Nevertheless, do set aside some money to eat proper Japanese food at an authentic Japanese restaurant, as the experience is amazing and really should not be skipped!

Activities- As our last article mentioned, it’s not a requirement to book activities in advance, and you’ll often find the same activities for cheaper once you’re out there. A lot of hostels will book trips for you or will be more than happy to recommend places where you can book them yourself. Unless you know you’re going to be struggling for time, we really wouldn’t suggest pre-booking. Not only does it cost you more money, but it doesn’t allow the flexibility you want during your trip.

As with everything else, activities in Asia are pretty cheap. However, they will make up most of your daily budget. Our activities in Vietnam included Ha Long Bay, Sapa and the Buffalo Run, and cost around US$830. Nevertheless, this isn’t the norm for many of the activities. Most day tours can be as cheap as £10 a day depending on the activities. I’d recommend researching into what you want to do and how much they cost (remember they will be a little cheaper when you get out there, but this means you can have an estimation of the amount of money you need).

Suggested budget- As Asia is relatively cheap for almost anything, I wouldn’t worry about spending too much money. Obviously, the more places you visit and the longer your trip is the more overall money you’re going to need. However, if you take the advice this post has offered you could get away with spending £20-£30 a day. I would recommend having an added safety buffer of between £5-£7 so you don’t run out of money. If you choose not to stay at a hostel and eat at fancy restaurants, then you could be looking at around £50-£60 a day. Save money wherever you can so you can travel for longer!