Tag: japan

How Much Did Our Trip To Japan Cost?

Here it is! A cost breakdown of our entire 10 day trip to Japan. Today we’re going to take a look at just how we kept our costs so low. If you want to “go deep” on what exactly Margie and I did during our trip, you can pick a day below and read the travel log.

Day 1: New York
Day 2: Japan Airlines first class
Day 3: Kyoto
Day 4: Kyoto
Day 5: Kyoto & Osaka
Day 6: Nara
Day 7: Nara
Day 8: Nara & Tokyo
Day 9: Tokyo
Day 10: Tokyo
Day 11: Flight back to New York

I found Japan to be a surprisingly affordable place to visit. And just like our trips to Peru and Switzerland, we kept our total trip costs (including airfare, hotels, transportation, food and activities) around $2,000. Throughout this breakdown, I’ll be using US Dollars instead of yen to make this easier on you. I’ll be converting prices using the early October 2015 exchange rate of 120.4 yen to the dollar.

Total Cost: $2,052.17

Flights

 2 Tickets Retail Cost Miles Used Our Cost
Japan Airlines First Class, JFK-NRT, Round Trip $34,000 250,000 American Miles $161
First class seat

First class seat

Flights are usually the most expensive part of any trip. That is, if you’re paying cash. Since we’ve been churning credit cards for the sign-on bonuses, we’ve paid for our last 7 or 8 flights just by using frequent flyer miles. This is a simple way to keep your vacation costs very low, especially if you want to travel abroad like we like to. We are middle class folks, so if it wasn’t for frequent flyer miles, we would never be able to take trips like this.

Japan Airlines First to JFK (7)After getting so many Citi American Airlines cards and Barclays US Airways cards over the years, and especially after those two airlines merged, we are absolutely swimming in American Airlines miles! So we redeemed them to fly first class, which is normally a $17,000 ticket. Although I doubt many people pay the price tag quoted on the Japan Airlines website. I’m guessing most people either have their employer pay for it, or they’re flying as part of a free upgrade or something. But if you were to pay cash… well, you’re better off using that $17,000 for something else. It is just a flight, after all!

Japan Airlines First Class (16)That said, it was incredible! This was our first time flying in honest-to-goodness First Class. The food was phenomenal. The service was ridiculous. The seats turned into comfortable, wide beds. Unfortunately, soon after our trip, American Airlines announced a change to their awards prices, and that same pair of tickets which cost us 250,000 AA miles, or about five credit card bonuses, would now cost us 440,000, or almost nine credit card bonuses, in the future. So this award will be difficult, maybe impossible to get in the future, and at any rate, maybe not even worth spending the miles on.

JapanMap

Transportation

Transport for 2 Cost Miles Covered
Japan Rail Passes (7 day) $467.00 694 miles
Kyoto Subways $23.07 23 miles
Osaka Subway $7.97 6 miles
Tokyo Subways $35.36 62 miles
Narita Express, Tokyo to Narita Airport $21.91 45 miles
Total $555.31 830 miles
  Avg Cost Per Mile $0.67/mile
Per Person $0.33/mile

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Our Japan Trip, Part 6: Tokyo

Day 1: New York
Day 2: Japan Airlines first class
Day 3: Kyoto
Day 4: Kyoto
Day 5: Kyoto & Osaka
Day 6: Nara
Day 7: Nara
Day 8: Nara & Tokyo
Day 9: Tokyo
Day 10: Tokyo
Day 11: Flight back to New York

Day 10: Tokyo – Fish Market & Robot Restaurant

This  was the day for our official visit to Tsukiji fish market, after our failed attempt the day earlier to see the tuna auction. This was Tuesday, and there was no tuna auction, so we simply went to see the market with all of the other looky-loos. And there was a serious lot of looky-loos.

Tsukiji Fish Market (9)

Marge was shocked that they allowed civilians inside the market at all. IT IS CHAOS. There are motorized carts wheeling this way and that. The floors are wet. There are people wheeling huge cases of fish every which way around you. You can’t help but be in the way. You literally have to be on your toes the entire time. This is, after all, the seafood capital of the world.

Tsukiji Fish Market (5)

Tsukiji Fish Market (7)But look around and you will see it all. Fat tuna carcasses, lobsters you’ve never seen before, and just like the song says, “Fish heads, fish heads.” I hope you like seafood! We should count ourselves as lucky, because in November of this year, the market is moving. Time will tell if the new one will be as chaotic or if it will attract as many tourists, since it won’t be centrally located anymore.

Famously, there are restaurants in the Inner Market here. And I was keen to have sushi for breakfast, because, one, it’s novel, and two, people speak of the Tsukiji tuna with a reverence usually reserved for religion. But once we eventually figured out where the restaurants were, one thing was clear: There were tons of people waiting to get in, and they don’t know what they’re waiting for! Every restaurant is tiny, and had a huge line. And this was breakfast!

Tsukiji Outer MarketThere’s no need to wait in a line! We went back out into the Outer Market on the streets immediately outside, and looked for a restaurant (there are dozens) serving a maguro don. We quickly spotted a small place with no line.

See, here’s the thing: Sushi chefs in Japan are highly trained. It doesn’t matter where you go. Also, we are immediately outside the market. Where do you think all of these restaurants get their fish? The same place: Tsukiji. So why were so many people lined up to wait for an hour or more at some resturants and ignoring others? Mob mentality, I suppose. There was a huge problem of mob mentality in Tokyo, with Japanese and gaijin both.

Tsukiji Marukita (2)

Our breakfast at Marukita was great. We both got a maguro bowl with a variety of tuna and a bowl of seaweedy miso soup. Was it the best tuna I’ve ever had? Yeah, it was. Of course it was! And I didn’t have to wait for it neither.

This was our day for visiting museums. We thought we were being smart by waiting until Tuesday, since most museums are closed on Mondays, and Monday was a holiday anyway. Once again, Japan’s strange holidays came back to bite us. We took the subway all the way out to the Edo-Tokyo Museum. And it was closed. See, when a holiday falls on a Monday, the museums move their normal closed day up to Tuesday, and they are actually open on the Monday! So convoluted these rules! Defeated, we wandered the neighborhood for a while, and eventually subwayed back to our hotel, since basically every museum we could think of was closed.

And now for a tale that will scare the pants off you! You will scream in terror at this one. I hope you’re sitting down, and I hope you don’t have a heart condition.

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Our Japan Trip, Part 5: Tokyo

Day 1: New York
Day 2: Japan Airlines first class
Day 3: Kyoto
Day 4: Kyoto
Day 5: Kyoto & Osaka
Day 6: Nara
Day 7: Nara
Day 8: Nara & Tokyo
Day 9: Tokyo
Day 10: Tokyo
Day 11: Flight back to New York

Day 9: Tokyo – Shibuya, Harajuku, Ikegami Honmon-ji

Monday. We woke up extraordinarily early in order to catch the new hotness of tourist experiences in Tokyo, the Tsukiji Fish Market tuna auction. I’ve thought about this auction since years ago when I watched a video of it. Several warehouse doors open simultaneously, and then the yelling begins. But today it was not to be. I was unaware that Japan celebrates many idiosyncratic holidays, and we attempted to see the auction on Sports Day. No auction on Sports Day! So we had to walk back to our room at the Tokyo Conrad and try to go back to sleep.

Tokyo Conrad BreakfastA few hours later, we went downstairs for the free breakfast, ‘cuz you know I’m not leaving food on the table! They had quite the spread, and I went up for several courses. Then it was time for some Japanese tv before we had to check out and make our way to our next free hotel, the Tokyo Bay Intercontinental. Sadly, we only had one free night at the Conrad, but the Intercontinental was within walking distance.

Tokyo Bay Intercontinental (1)The Intercontinental was a bit gaudy by comparison to the Conrad. Any time there are dawdles hanging off the pillows, I know I’m in the wrong place.

Today was going to be a day for exploring some of the famous neighborhoods in Tokyo. For one, Shibuya, famous to me as the birthplace of Shibuya-kei music as performed by Pizzicato Five, Cornelius, Towa Tei and Cibo Matto, some of my favorite bands in high school. Shibuya is also famous for that ridiculous traffic intersection you see on tv. It’s fun to do it once, but if you end up on the wrong street, as we did, let’s just it gets old very fast.

Shibuya (1)

Shibuya (4)a

Shibuya is overloaded in the way that Times Square is overloaded. But much more orderly. Still, around noon on a Monday, some sidewalks were so packed you could barely move. Commercialism is on full display here with your favorite American brands like Starbucks, Adidas, and the Disney Store rubbing shoulders with weird Japanese doppelgangers with names like 109Mens. Also a tractor trailer advertising the new girl group E-girls, blasting their new putative hit down the streets.

To provide some release from Shibuya, we made our way up to Yoyogi Park and had our normal Family Mart snack on a bench there. I will say, bringing a snack was a mistake because there were carts full of steaming hot food just inside the entrance of Yoyogi. Wish I could’ve tried them.

Yoyogi Park (1)

Yoyogi Officer

Yoyogi is a nice park. Everyone seemed to be having a good time while we were there. The animals were having a good time, too. We saw a bulldog riding a skateboard. (Sorry, no photos) We saw a girl with a rabbit on a leash. (Sorry again) We saw a policeman riding an old bicycle (right).

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Japan Trip, Part 4: Nara and Tokyo

After quite a long break, I am finally getting around to typing up the rest of our trip to Japan. Enjoy looking at our vacation photos!

Day 1: New York
Day 2: Japan Airlines first class
Day 3: Kyoto
Day 4: Kyoto
Day 5: Kyoto & Osaka
Day 6: Nara
Day 7: Nara
Day 8: Nara & Tokyo
Day 9: Tokyo
Day 10: Tokyo
Day 11: Flight back to New York

Day 7: Nara

Of all the places we visited in Japan, Nara is the place I could see myself living in. It’s a small city, easily walkable. The only public transportation needed is a bus which runs in a loop around town. But the economy seems to be doing well enough to support a ton of restaurants. No doubt this is due to the tourist bucks. But it is not nearly as touristy as Kyoto. And for nature, you have the hugely expansive Nara Park.

Our host recommended a bakery called Little Mermaid, which I will now heartily recommend. Here we are with our typical Japanese breakfast of pastries, onigiris, candy, and coffee from 7-11. We’re watching season 3 of the Great British Bakeoff on our tablet. I believe that is Ali fretting over his bake.

Nara Breakfast

Is that laundry drying on the table? I’m not saying.

We spent this day solidly exploring Nara on foot, which is doable. There are some sights on the far west side of the city you’d need a ride for, but you can cover most of downtown on foot.

Nara Todai-ji (7)

We started walking through a neighborhood to get to the sites in Nara Park early in the morning. We started out at Todai-ji temple, which basically serves as an enormous gate. Seeing as how huge it was, we thought we were at the renown main structure, Daibatsu-den, home to the second largest Buddha structure in Japan, and spent some fruitless minutes looking for it. But Daibatsu is actually further down, behind another gate, and require a ticket for entry.

Nara Todai-ji (12)

Daibatsu-den

Nara Todai-ji (14)

THAT’s Daibatsu-den. It’s a shockingly huge wood structure. And like so many other temples in Japan, it’s been rebuilt countless times over the centuries. The Buddha inside is 15 meters tall. It’s so tall that it’s hard to get a good look at it, because it makes the room feel small by comparison.

Nara Todai-ji (18)

There are lots of other massive sculptures in the Daibatsu-den from other temples in the park that had burned long ago. My favorite was the giant stone hand.

 

 

Nara Todai-ji (20)

But who am I kidding? You don’t want to see temples and sculptures. You want to see more of the famous Nara deer!

Nara Park (24)

We decided it was our one chance to feed a friendly deer, so we did buy a packet of rice wafers. Although, honestly, these deer will eat anything. One snuck up and ate our map. Continue reading

Japan Trip, Part 3: Kyoto, Osaka, and Nara

Day 1: New York
Day 2: Japan Airlines first class
Day 3: Kyoto
Day 4: Kyoto
Day 5: Kyoto & Osaka
Day 6: Nara
Day 7: Nara
Day 8: Nara & Tokyo
Day 9: Tokyo
Day 10: Tokyo
Day 11: Flight back to New York

Day 5: Kyoto & Osaka

After the last entry’s cliffhanger, you must be wondering what we did on this morning that I was so looking forward to!

Fushimi Inari Shrine (3)

It’s the Fushimi Inari shrine!

If you zoom in close enough, you can read the banners they had lining the path to the shrine telling you that, according to TripAdvisor, Fushimi Inari was the most popular tourist attraction in Japan for two years running. So I guess we were just two of the many gaijin heading here.

Fushimi Inari Shrine (6)

Fushimi Inari is the head shrine of possibly 40,000 Shinto shrines in Japan. The shrine itself is spectacular and orange, but the real draw lies beyond the main buildings.

Fushimi Inari Shrine (13)

The torii gates are what Fushimi Inari is known for. There are 10,000 of these gates lining paths that traverse a mountain. They start out very large, as above, but soon decrease to human size. At the start of the trail, the torii are so tightly packed, you get the feeling that you are in an orange hallway.

Fushimi Inari Shrine (16)

You have to wake up pretty early in the morning to get photos devoid of people like that. By 8:00 AM, while we were on our way out, people were trying to get clear shots down the paths, and they couldn’t because of all the other people in the way.

The backside of the gates are painted with the names of Japanese businesses and people who have bought the gates. Purchasing a gate is thought to bring prosperity.

Fushimi Inari Shrine (17)

Fushimi Inari Shrine (51)

The trails that cover the mountain cover several miles. It’s steep, but not exhausting, to get to the top. Obviously, being hikers and completists, we had to do the entire hike. We made a good decision to get here early. It was peaceful, I’d say maybe the most tranquil place I’ve ever been in my life. All the way up the mountain, you encounter other small shrines off the path, and lots of fox sculptures, which is the kami for Fushimi Inari.

Fushimi Inari Shrine (23)

There are also refreshment shops on the way up the mountain. We were there early enough that they weren’t open yet, but the old folks who run them were getting them ready for the day. These shops would be super handy if you really wanted to make a day of visiting.

And at some point, we started finding lots of stray cats hanging out around the shrines and on the path. There was a woman putting food out for them at one of the shrines.

Fushimi Inari Shrine (45)

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Japan Trip, Part 2: Kyoto

Day 1: New York
Day 2: Japan Airlines first class
Day 3: Kyoto
Day 4: Kyoto
Day 5: Kyoto & Osaka
Day 6: Osaka & Nara
Day 7: Nara
Day 8: Nara & Tokyo
Day 9: Tokyo
Day 10: Tokyo
Day 11: Flight back to New York

Day 3: Kyoto

Heian Shrine (24)

Bridge at Heian Shrine

We woke up to get our first glimpse of Japan in the daytime, and made our way to our first temples, learning for the first time how to fight the scourge of Kyoto sidewalks: Bicycles. People including myself will rhapsodize about how organized and efficient Japan’s transportation infrastructure is. This is true in all modes of transportation except bicycles. For whatever reason, the Japanese, especially in Kyoto, are totally comfortable riding bicycles on already narrow sidewalks. This introduces an element of complete chaos for pedestrians. I was pretty amazed that this was acceptable, because even in America people know better than to ride on the sidewalk. Bizarre.
Heian Shrine (4)

Our first stop was the Heian Shrine. This is a Shinto shrine near the center of Kyoto. It was early in the morning and there were several people cleaning up the grounds. The gravel had also been combed, and it was so neat, I felt bad walking on it.

I’m just going to dance around the fact that I don’t know much about Shintoism or Buddhism and so I didn’t really know what I was looking at most of these temples. Just gotta be honest on this one. At the entrance there is usually a wide fountain where people will scoop water over their hands with little wooden cups. Then at the shrine entrance, people will clap once or twice before, I imagine, saying a prayer. This was all new to me. Heian Shrine (19)

The Heian Shrine had a few visitors on the main grounds, which are free to enter, but we also paid to enter the gardens, which seem to take up the bulk of the property. It was super peaceful, even being in the center of Kyoto. This was our first time seeing Japan’s famously well-manicured gardens.

Heian Shrine (20)

It seemed like there were people constantly walking around, picking up fallen leaves, trimming branches and just doing upkeep around these gardens. Here’s a guy out in the lake on a ladder so he can reach some bushes on the water side.

After Heian, we made our way to the smaller Okazaki Shrine. We were mostly going to every shrine and temple on the tourist map our AirB&B had, so we didn’t know what each one was going to be like. But he Okasaki Shrine was all about rabbits!

Okazaki Shrine (4)

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I Went On Vacation And You Didn’t!: Japan, Part 1

Welcome to the first in a bunch of travelogue entries about our recent trip to Japan. If you don’t want the nitty gritty details, skip these and wait for my big cost analysis. I won’t be discussing prices at all during these entries, so if you want, take a guess at how much we spent and we’ll see how close you came later!

Day 1: New York
Day 2: Japan Airlines first class
Day 3: Kyoto
Day 4: Kyoto
Day 5: Osaka
Day 6: Nara
Day 7: Nara
Day 8: Tokyo
Day 9: Tokyo
Day 10: Tokyo
Day 11: Flight back to New York

Day 1: New York

Japan Packing (2)

Employing a strategy we used on our trip to Peru, we planned to do laundry in the middle of our stay in Japan, meaning we could pack half as many clothes as we needed and wear everything twice. That means Marge and I both got by with just a carry-on backpack! Using the rolling technique, I fit some long-sleeve shirts, a bunch of t-shirts, shorts, a pair of pants, boxers with dogs on them, two umbrellas and sneakers. Not to mention a few books, a tablet, a camera, laundry detergent, medicine and other travel necessities.

Our flight was to leave on a Sunday afternoon from JFK. But since we had a free hotel night to burn, and the trip from Albany all the way to JFK in order to make a flight is always unappealing, we decided to go to New York on Saturday and stay overnight.

NYC Conrad (15)

Conrad Lobby

Whenever I have a free hotel night, I try to use it at the most expensive hotel possible. I had a free Hilton night from some credit card or another, so we booked a night at the Conrad near Tribeca and the WTC site.

NYC Conrad (6)The room was pretty ridiculous by New York standards. It had a separate sitting room stocked with arty books about NYC. I was tempted to leave my copy of David Lee Roth’s Crazy From The Heat in amongst them, but it was the only reading material I brought with me.

We spent Saturday walking around Battery Park, Brookfield Place, the new Irish Potato Famine Memorial, and the free Museum of the American Indian at the old customs house. We also stumbled on the 9/11 site.

Can I tell you a story about the 9/11 site? The first time Marge and I stumbled on it, it was probably less than a year after the attack. Since I was a lost college kid, I had no idea what neighborhood we were in. So when I saw those big huge pits in the ground, I said “Look at all this prime real estate! Why hasn’t anyone built something here??” Then I saw a bunch of those Missing Person flyers, put two and two together and immediately felt bad.

Since food is so expensive in NYC, we got some takeout from Whole Foods, which was not cheap either, and brought it back to the Conrad. Watched Miley Cyrus host Saturday Night Live just a few blocks away, and tucked in for a good night’s sleep.

Day 2: Japan Airlines First Class

Japan Airlines First Class (2)Took the blue subway line to Howards Beach, then the Airtrain and moseyed on down to JFK for a 1:00 PM flight. After collecting American Airlines miles for years, we had enough to fly first class on their One World partner, Japan Airlines. (Actually, we have enough miles to do this a few more times…) So we made sure to get to the airport early to take advantage of the first class lounge and the free food (left). Then it was off to the sky!

We’ve flown business class overseas before, but this was our first time in real, honest-to-god First Class. Not business class, not scum class. Now I know what aristocrats feel like. Japan Airlines has something called the SkySuite, which basically means your (fake) leather seat is inside its own little box, so you don’t even have to see the other people in first class.

First class seat

First class seat. That is Margie’s on the left

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Systems That Work And Systems That Don’t: Japan Vs. America

Hey everyone! Marge and I just got back from our ten day trip to Japan, and although we’ve been incredibly busy ever since getting back, I figured I’d better bang out an entry. Forgive me if your Ridinkulous content becomes a little more Japan-focused than usual for a while. It’s what’s on my mind. I’ll be writing up an extensive travelogue for those who are interested (probably just me) and also doing a big expense breakdown, like I did with PeruSwitzerland, and even Naples, Florida to see just how much this trip cost us.

The cost breakdown is taking a while. It was easier to pay with cash most of the time, so I have a lot of work to do converting yen to US dollars. Like a good frugaloid, I recorded every cash expense along the way. But, spoiler alert, I think this trip will be less expensive than I anticipated. It might be because of the weak yen, but Japan felt more affordable than the US in a lot of ways.

Which is sort of connected to today’s topic. Speaking of things more affordable in Japan, today I just want to rant about a system that works in one place and not in the other.

Whenever we come back into the US, I’m always struck by the differences in public transportation. It probably won’t come as a shock, but we are far behind. It happened when I came back from Switzerland and again when I came back from Austria. But coming back from Japan especially, I was all, “Woah.” It was a shock to the system.

NARITAexHere’s the deal: Japan’s rail system is super efficient. Take the Narita Express. Japan’s largest international airport is  in Narita, which is actually 50 miles outside of Tokyo. So to get to the city, you have to take this train. The Narita Express covers those 50 miles in about 50 minutes. At the station, an electronic sign will tell you when the next train arrives (and they are frequent). The seats are big and comfortable, and overhead LCD screens show you exactly where you are on a map and what your expected arrival time is.

metronorthseats

Those weird, slick Metro North seats

New York City doesn’t have a true equivalent since it’s airport is in the city, but let’s just say you need to get from Manhattan to somewhere 50 minutes away. Say, Peekskill, which is up the Metro North line. You’ll be riding in an outdated rail car. It’s not too bad, but there are definitely no LCD screens and no way to tell where you are until the conductor says so. You know what commuter rail is like. This ride takes 60 minutes with stops.

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