Journey to Japan (March 2007)

February 2007 I took a most enjoyable and affordable winter wonderland ten day trip to Japan. Before this trip I’d been told time and again that Japan was amazing but VERY EXPENSIVE. Truth is you can have a fabulous time in Japan and still manage to “setsuyaku”- the Japanese word for saving money. An HHT affordable luxury travel cultural tour to Japan will include visits to Kyoto’s teahouses, cultural tours of mountain temples and historic sites, ecotours to explore natural wonders like Mt. Fuji, and spa vacation stays at Onsens. Further details and dates on this luxury cultural travel experience will be available soon. For the moment let me share tips on cutting travel costs to the land of the rising sun:

Affordable Luxury Travel Lodging Options in Japan

LODGING choices range from Japanese to Western style. Experience traditional Japan at Ryokans – think B&B with tatami mats, rice cakes and green tea for breakfast. Other options are inexpensive Minshukus, or home-stays with a family with few amenities or, for a full Zen dose, overnight at a Shukubo which means ‘temple lodging.’ Ryokans run the yen gamut from budget to break the bank. Learn more about sleeping on the mat and other customs at these links:

ONSENS and SHUKUBO: http://www.quirkyjapan.or.tv/bathtub.html

JAPANESE GUEST HOUSES: http://japaneseguesthouses.com/db/tokyo/index.htm

JAPAN ROADS: https://id312.securedata.net/japanroads/index.htm

Western style hotels vie for customers with competitive prices. $400 plus rooms exist, but surf online sites like Expedia for bargains. Our ample 30th floor room at 4-star KEIO PLAZA hotel in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district, found on Expedia, was $120.00 per person per night. These were winter rates. May to October they’ll rise. Keio’s across from Tokyo’s Government building, with the Metro Tourism desk on the lower level. Take advantage of their practically free escorted tours. Read more about these programs and guided cultural tours – and reserve ahead – http://www.tourism.metro.tokyo.jp/english/guideservice/. Other affordable Tokyo hotels are the Cerulean Tower and New Otani. Many western style hotels are chains doing business throughout Japan. Cramped but convenient best describes Sapporo’s low- cost Toyoko Inn (http://www.toyoko-inn.com) on Hokkaido, Japan’s northern island. If Sapporo’s annual snow festival calls to you – which it does to millions every year – and you’ll be out a lot, you can probably deal with the tight quarters. Willing to pay for breathing room? Spring for Keio Plaza or Ana Hotel.

Cultural Tours

TOURS: For Tokyo and vicinity board the bus. HATO BUS TOURS have many reasonably priced programs: http://www.hatobus.com/. Feeling adventurous? GO IT ALONE: JR Yamanote Line (or Loop Line) does a circle around the entire city for a quick, inexpensive overview ($1.25). If you purchase a Japan Rail Pass for your full trip this will be a free-ride! Efficiency rules in Japan and trains and busses are ultra-reliable. English signs mark Tokyo’s stops, major streets, and districts. Bi-lingual locals want to practice their English, and they’re the most helpful, gracious, honest people you’ll ever meet! Someone asked me what I loved about Japan – the people, I loved the people!

EATS: HOTEL BREAKFAST? COFFEE HOUSE? After a 10 hour flight across the international dateline, the costly convenience of a $15.00 continental breakfast at your hotel makes sense. Day two, venture forth to a Starbucks or equivalent where $6.00 USD gets the same muffin & coffee found globally. And on every block – making you feel at home – are 7-11s. Our reasonably priced Sapporo hotel served complimentary Miso soup, rice cakes, tea and coffee. I was warned that a cup of coffee would be $10.00, breakfast $30.00 and dinners $100.00. I discovered you can dine out and eat well for $50.00 a day. Name your price and your concierge will make suggestions.

Japan Travel Adventures:

Tokyo has so much travel adventures going on but here’s a short list: The bustling Tokyo fish market. Be there by 6:00 am to watch the day’s final auctions. Asakusa – older Tokyo – for shrines, temples, food stands and shops. Ginza for glitz & glamour. Harajuku, where teen trendies gather. Daytrips to Mt. Fuji are available, but a longer stay gives you time for the 5 to 12 hour treks that take you to the summit. Expect the latter option on the future HHT group Japan Travel Adventure, which may also include…

Spa Vacation Combined with Active Travels

An Hokkaido extension. This wild, volcanic island where the famous dancing cranes breed, and Japan’s indigenous people the Ainu lived in the old way until recently, dotted by many onsens (natural hot spring-spas) may be Japan’s frontier, but hi-tech thrives in this hinterland. Neon lights the city. Radiant heat warms the winter walkways. Sophisticated and trendy styles rule. If you love the outdoors, hiking, kayaking, winter sports, are jazzed by wild life sighting – and think Nirvana is sinking into a hot-spring with mountain lake views, then Hokkaido’s for you. My last day I soaked in the snow rimmed hot spring at Marukoma Onsen, overlooking mountain circled Lake Shikotsu – talk about stress reduction. Japan’s a country that casts a spell…here are some photos to let you see how and why…

- view photo gallery -

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