Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Japan: Ways To SAVE So You Can SPLURGE

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Traveling expense for our family of 5 can easily inflate if we are not careful about our spending when we were in Japan. We make a conscious effort to save on some things so we could splurge on others. Read how we do it:


HOW TO SAVE on Accommodation

1. Compare the rate on travel sites versus the hotel’s site. 

Turns out, in our case, the hotel was offering a cheaper rate; plus it was easier communicating with a live person who can immediately answer any of my questions and accommodate my requests.
Discussing with a live person comes in handy when I had to negotiate for a lower rate:
a.  I was able to avail of a discount by taking their weekly rate which they offer to guests who stay for more that 7 days. I am not sure if I could’ve gotten that if I booked via the online site.
b.  I did not avail of the "complimentary" breakfast that came with the room. We were in Osaka, after all, the food capital of Japan! Also, I am sure we would NOT enjoy eating the same and limited breakfast the hotel usually offers as standard fare anyway.
c.  I was also able to further lower our cost by asking them to take out the daily housekeeping. Instead we got housekeeping services every other day, but the towels are changed daily and trash is also taken out daily. Besides, my kids are old already so there wasn’t any mess to clean up on a daily basis anyway.

2.  Consider a Budget Hotel.  

My 2 sisters decided to join us on our trip at the last minute and all the rooms at Fraser Residences were occupied already. So they booked at Toyoki Inn, the perfect hotel for the no-frills budget traveler. Being a budget hotel, keep in mind that you generally get what you pay for: a very small room, no closet but just hooks on the wall to hang your clothes, be prepared to stow your bags underneath the bed.

The kids and I helped them check-out on their last day. While the room was very small, it was immaculately clean and everything needed was provided for. My sisters' room has a full-sized bed that can fit two person comfortably.

HOW TO SAVE on Transportation

In the face of the perceived difficulties of travelling without a tour group in Japan, I think with enough research prior to the trip, any visitor will find Japan very easy to navigate. Otherwise, you'll end up wasting your time and money as you go around the complex train station of Japan taking the wrong trains. We saved ourselves the trouble of getting lost by doing some thorough research ahead of our trip.

1.  Do some thorough research for your trip - BEFORE your trip.  

Traveling to a country where English is not spoken as much is really no trouble if a thorough research was done prior to the trip. Here are the websites and apps which have helped me plan for our trip.

2.  Make a detailed Tour Itinerary. 

The itinerary that I laid out was very specific, complete with directions on how to get to a specific attraction and the suggested time allotted for it. Of course, we were not able to stick to the time on the itinerary but it was essential that it was there to give us an overview on how long we should stay in one area if we decide to cover everything that was on the itinerary.

3.  Make a Commuting Itinerary.  

Assuming you are also taking a self-guided tour to Japan, I have already mentioned in a previous post the importance of planning and making a commuting itinerary. It is THE most important thing for an independent tourist.  Again, the railway system of Japan is complex, but a thorough commuting itinerary will prevent you from getting lost in its maze. :)

4.  Know your train options.  

There are several railway service provider in Japan so it's best to know your options and routes thoroughly before you even step foot on the train station.

If you are traveling from KIX Airport to Nanba Osaka, look at your options: I have discussed this thoroughly in this post.

5. Railway Passes Do Not Always Pay Off.

I have also mentioned here that most passes do not really pay-off since the savings are dependent on time. Taking on the pass means speeding through the sights, not really an ideal way to enjoy any place.

But we found out that there are also travel cards that offer value and savings.  Certain packages such as the Osaka Kaiyu Ticket, the Yokoso Osaka Ticket and the Kanku Tokuwari Rapi:t Ticket were good deals. You can read more about why I chose those railway passes to give the most value for money here

Japan has a very efficient railway system, but if you are a group of 4 adults (or in our case 2 adults, 1 teen, 2 kids), for shorter distances, traveling by taxi is the more economical option.


I have trained my kids early on to eat whatever’s on the table so I never had any problem with them being picky about food when we travel or eat out. Whenever we travel, we try to expose them to what the locals eat.  While they eat anything and everything, they also WANT to eat ALL the time.:)  So if I do not do some careful planning on our meals, our budget would soon go over-the-top crazy.

1. Visit the market. 

You can enjoy the food at the market at a fraction of the restaurant cost. In this trip, we visited two local market; Nishiki Ichiba in Kyoto and Kuromon-Ichiba in Osaka. Everyone loved the food market, that we even visited Kuromon twice! We were even able to view a tuna cutting ceremony which you can view right here.

2. Have a picnic. 

Park grounds don't cost anything, and you can just buy a hanami bento that they sell so cheaply in the basement food court of department stores. I took the kids to a hanami picnic.. Hanami literally means cherry blossom viewing. So a this kind of picnic involves eating while enjoying the sakura blooms. It's picnic under the sakura blooms... complete with a curtain of falling petals.

3. Take advantage of the daily sales at the basement food hall of department stores. 

The basement food hall is my fave place to shop after 6pm because almost everything is on sale! If you plan to buy from the food hall, it is best to come early because the items sell really fast. No time to be indecisive. I learned this because the first time we went, I went around the first time to check on what's on sale. By the time I came back to get what I wanted, sold out na! Ganon kabilis!

 Even the beef is on sale! Asan ka pa!

d. Bring a reusable water bottle container

You can refill your container at water fountains and/or restaurants. You are not only saving the earth, but this will save you from buying your drinks at convenience stores when your kids get thirsty. Also, we fill up our containers at the hotel’s food outlet before we head out for the day. This way our purchase of bottled water is minimized.

e. Bring snacks 

I let my kids bring snacks in their bag to curb their hunger, so I don’t feel trapped to buy over-priced food at stores located in touristy places. I buy a big amount of snacks from the food hall (at a discount, shempre!) or at the grocery, and store them inside the refrigerator so the kids just get whatever they want before we head out for the day.  I don’t know if this only applies to me since my kids are really such BIG eaters.

HOW TO SAVE on Activities

Many things to enjoy in Japan are absolutely free. Having a hanami picnic with my kids was one of my to-do list for Japan. C wasn't really that enthusiastic about it, but for me it was one of the defining moments of our Japan family trip. An authentic Japan experience that didn't cost anything! What are some more ways to enjoy Japan without paying for anything?

1. See a street concert, or cultural event.

A street concert in Osaka

2. Catch a magnificent sunset

3. Enjoy God's beautiful creation

This one is one of the beautiful gardens at the Osaka Castle grounds. 

4. Take a Walking Date around the park while your kids are playing

We enjoyed walking around the Maruyama Koen in Kyoto

5. Go Drainspotting

 Go on your own treasure hunt as you collect photos of these colorful and unique manhole covers which decorate the roads of Japan.

HOW TO SAVE on Shopping For Pasalubong

1. Check the supermarket for food items that are not available at home. 
Because my family loves food, I sometimes like to think that everyone is like us and will appreciate food as pasalubong.

2. Try looking at the 100 Yen stores. 
They have a lot of choices for quirky items, including a bento materials, lot of home organization stuff, Sanrio items, washi tapes, and a lot more.

3. The KitKat store 
The KitKat store along Shinsaibashi offers a lot of different flavors of KitKat and a lot of other Japanese brands of snacks.

As I've said, I really think food is the best pasalubong to give, especially when you have a lot of people to get gifts for. I don't think anyone can go wrong with food because everyone needs to eat, di ba?

4. For friends and family back home that are office supplies addicts, you can go to Tokyu Hands and get lost in there for about an hour or two. Instax films, Frixion pens, Copic markers are available in great assortment.

SPLURGE on what matters most to your FAMILY:

1. Space and comfort in your chosen accommodation

It mattered to us that we have enough space to walk around in, and not feel so cramped so we got a one-bedroom suite on the executive floor. Our room had separate sleeping and living quarters, a walk-in closet and a completely functioning kitchen. Coming home to a restful space was important to us
We booked at Fraser Residences, a family-friendly hotel which had the things we prioritized for a hotel: good location and big enough space for the five of us. Fraser Residences is perfect for families with kids who value a spacious retreat to come home to after a tiring day of sightseeing. It is walking distance away for where all the actions is: sightseeing, shopping and dining

2. Stay longer. 

We chose to stay longer to explore the Kansai area, we do not want to be constrained by time and feel like we have to rush through everything. The 11 days we stayed in Japan is still one of our favorite trips ever, which we hope to be able to do again in the near future.

3. Enjoy the beef, fresh seafood and juiciest strawberries. 

Since we were in Japan, home of Kobe beef, C also had several slabs of Kobe beef. Eat until sawa. Enjoy the freshest sushi and the biggest and sweetest strawberries you can ever eat!

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