Saturday, January 14, 2006

Japan on the cheap

Crab restaurant, Ebisu-bashi, Osaka

Not much has been happening these past few days - well, nothing blogworthy anyway. For those of you following my wacky gambling exploits, I reverted to my measly £2 bet yesterday instead of the £50 craziness. Good job too, as I got half of the games wrong and lost. So lucky me for doing the coupon equivalent of putting money on one spin of the roulette wheel and walking away. So, in an effort to cobble together something worth reading (in theory), I'm going to address the question of how expensive it is to visit Japan, as prompted by a comment on my last post.

Yes, it is expensive - but I'm convinced you can do Japan on the cheap. Staying in cheap ryokans, eating cheap bowls of ramen and so forth. Ramen are one of those things that tastes too good to be that cheap - like pickled onion Space Raiders, which I think are still 10p a packet. Just a bowl of noodles in broth maybe, but bloody good all the same. Another tip would be to eat your 'big meal of the day' at lunchtime (or dinnertime for us Northerners) instead of at dinnertime (teatime). Most restaurants have lunch specials, so you can find cheaper deals - especially if you go to a department store restaurant floor. You will have to queue up sitting on a row of chairs outside the door, like in some kind of waiting room, but it should be worth it.

Visit parks and gardens, they are almost always free or have a small fee. Wander about at night looking at the neon madness that is Shinjuku or the Dotonbori area of Osaka. Admire the restuarant signs, like my runaway favourite above for a famous Giant Spider crab restaurant. Hard to tell from the picture, but the crab there had moving legs and eyes. My number one tip for free in Tokyo would be (of course) the Tsukiji fish market - although you need to get up at a daft hour of the morning to see it in it's full glory. Another great thing to do is just wander around looking in all the magnificent shops. This can be financially dangerous though, of course.

Other blogs out there on the interweb have similar suggestions, like PingMag's 10 things to do for free in Tokyo. I missed the department store massage chairs, but highly recommend the nuttiness of Akihabara's manga shops and looking for a rubber stamp every time you visit somewhere. That can become addictive though. Another free activity in Japan is looking for people sleeping in public. Not the homeless, but people who miss the last train and doze off in the street in very odd places. Sleeping on a moped must take some balance. Finally, the Quirky Japan Homepage has a great long list of how to travel around the country cheaply, with tips on discount trains, ferries, hostels, and food. My personal favourite is to eat 'Challenge Ramen'. 3...2...1...go!

CHALLENGE RAMEN--Some Ramen shops have 'Challenge Ramen'. It's free if you can eat it within 15 minutes. CAUTION: a Challenge Ramen bowl is 3x larger than normal. If you don't finish it's about 1500 yen.