A trip to Japan is one of my top dreams in life and it finally came true! I was able to visit Kyoto in particular as the trees turned red and yellow for Autumn. This trip more than met my expectations and I was quite heartbroken when I had to leave after 8 days.
I know a lot of Filipinos really want to visit Japan but are put off by the visa or expenses. But I tell you, with proper planning you’ll find there’s little to worry about. So I’m sharing here all the things I’ve learned as I planned my budget trip to Kyoto, Japan. I think they are still useful wherever in Japan you want to visit, so may they be helpful to you and may you see the Land of the Rising Sun sooner than later!
To my non-Filipino readers, apart from the visa-related stuff, all the other tips here can still be useful to you. Cheers!
Getting a Visa
Most Filipinos’ concerns about getting a Japanese tourist visa are:
- expensive show money – many sites online will say you’d need at least Php 50,000. In fact, you better show at least Php 100,000. Well, I’m here to tell you that the amount on the bank certificate I submitted was just Php 35,000. My friend who went with me just had Php 31,000. Yup, we got issued a tourist visa in just a few days! Oh and our actual ground expenses for 8 days?
Php 20,000 per person or Php 2,500 per day. Detailed itinerary and budget plan will follow in a later post.December 2, 2015 Update: I finally finished tallying our expenses and going through receipts. Total expenses came out to be Php 24,000 for travel tax + sightseeing + food + accommodations + internet. That averages to Php 3,000 per day. Not bad for Japan, eh? Here’s the breakdown of our expenses.
- virgin passport lessens chances of approval – my companion had a virgin passport but she made it! Although it might have helped that she was traveling with me and I already had two stamps on my passport from Indonesia and Cambodia.
- unemployed people have no chance – I was just days away from my last day at work when I processed the visa. I still got approved though because I was able to submit ITR and copies of my previous 3 months’ payslip. Still, I believe being unemployed/no ITR is not an insurmountable hurdle anymore as long as you can produce proof that you can finance your trip there. Submit a detailed budget plan like we did or write an explanation letter with corresponding proof that you are a freelancer, volunteer or whatever. There’s a chance.
- what about students? – show that your parents/guarantor can finance your trip. For example, use your parents’ bank account certificate, ITR, and payslip copies.
How to get a Japan tourist visa for Filipinos?
- The Embassy of Japan in the Philippines has an updated list of requirements.
- Submit supporting documents. The following are the extra stuff we submitted. Note that I’m not saying these are a must, only that we really wanted to get the visa (of course) so we submitted everything we thought was relevant:
- Detailed budget plan
- Photocopies of previous three months’ payslip
- return flight tickets (we took this risk and anyway we found CebuPac promos)
- photocopies of booking confirmations from our hostels (payment can be done upon arrival so we got confirmations without spending anything; all we did was reserve accommodations)
- Process the visa at least a couple of weeks before your trip.
- Go to an accredited tour agency to submit your requirements. In our case, we approached Friendship Tours. (Cebu Address: BLDG 1 Oakridge Business park 880 A.S Fortuna St., Banilad, Mandaue City)
- Pay the typical tourist visa processing fee of Php 1,200.
- Wait for the approval of your visa. In our experience, we got approved after one week. Booyah! 🙂
I will be posting a detailed recounting of our visa processing experience soon, but for now I believe I covered the basics. DISCLAIMER: all these tips are based on our experience and not a 100% guarantee that you’ll get your visa approved. Please take these as tips and advice and proceed in the best way possible based on your situation.
There’s a wide range of accommodation options in Japan. For those in a budget, hostels and dorm rooms are the way to go.
Important Tips for More Savings:
- Prices soar during peak seasons, specifically Spring (early April to June) and Fall (Early November to January), so travel during off-peak season if you can. Avoid Golden Week (around April 29 to May 5) as well.
- If you really want to see the cherry blossoms or the fall colors (who can blame you, they’re lovely!), make sure to book rooms way, way in advance. Avail of early bird discounts. Places get fully booked quickly too, so booking early assures you’ll have somewhere to stay.
- Expect that rooms are higher priced during weekends compared to weekdays.
- Stay in dorms for cheaper fees.
- Another good option: capsule hotels.
- If you really want free accommodation, try Couchsurfing and similar stuff.
- If you are traveling long term like one month or more, some hostels offer free accommodation in exchange of you working for them for a few hours. Typical tasks include cleaning rooms and toilets.
Which hostels to stay in Kyoto?
We stayed at the following. They have branches in other parts of Japan too so do check them out.
- Khaosan Kyoto Guest House – one bus away from Kyoto Station. Good service, staff speak English, we had no problems during our stay. We paid Php 1,044 per person per night for a Twin Private Room (bunk bed, shared bathroom) but we actually booked through Agoda. Dorm beds can go for Php 1,100 – 1,300 depending on the season. Check Agoda.com and similar sites and there might be promos. Khaosan Guest House has branches in Tokyo, Sapporo, Kanazawa, Fukouka and Beppu.
- Hybrid Inn Kyoto Hana Hostel – walking distance from Kyoto Station, we got to stay in a room with tatami mats and private bathroom for Php 1,340 per person per night. This was our favorite accommodation during the trip. They have branches in Osaka, Hiroshima and Fukuoka.
- Backpackers Hostel K’s House Kyoto – a bit farther from Kyoto Station but still within walking distance. We got to stay in a twin bunk bed room again with shared bathroom. The room’s bigger than Khaosan’s but this was the only place that did not provide free-to-use computers. Although Wi-Fi was available in all three accommodations. We paid Php 1,169 per person per night. They have branches in Tokyo, Hakuba, Takayama, Hiroshima, Ito and Mt. Fuji.
I heard J Hoppers are a good option for backpackers too. Whichever you choose, make sure you are near a major train station or bus stop. This way, you avoid unnecessary transportation costs or a lot of walking, which if you are not used to can quickly become painful.
As for us, we made a point to stay near Kyoto Station as all the city buses go there and the trains needed to get to neighboring attractive places are right there. Since it is huge (more than 10 floors) and has malls (Isetan and Porta), finding food and pasalubong won’t be a problem.
Kyoto is a bit special because it is better to explore it via buses instead of the subway. The best way to save money then is to: Get the Kyoto City Bus Pass. For only 500yen (~Php 191.00) you can ride an unlimited number of buses in one day. Feel free to get lost or go on bus joy rides! The hostels we stayed in sold these passes so it was convenient getting them.
Now if you are visiting neighboring Nara, Osaka, Uji and Arashiyama – go for the trains. One way fares are relatively cheap, about 150-300 yen. Although going to Nara would require 710 yen from Kyoto Station one way.
If you plan to take the subway many, many times, one way to save money is get the Rail Passes. There are several of them and unfortunately I don’t have experience with them all, so I’ll just note here what I’ve come across so far:
- Kansai Rail Pass from JR West – provides unlimited rides on the Kansai Airport Express train HARUKA. If you take this train without the pass, expect to pay around ¥ 2,850 (Php 1,091) for the nonreserved seats. But the 1 day pass cost ¥2,200 only and that includes unlimited rides on rapid service and local trains in the Kansai region. Go for the 2, 3, or 4-day passes and save even more. Can be bought while already in Japan. Reserve online beforehand. We used this one to get to Kyoto from KIX and vice versa.
- Japan Rail Pass – ideal for visitors traveling from one major city to another, say Tokyo to Osaka to Kyoto, and are staying in Japan for at least two weeks. Must be bought before entering Japan.
- JR Seishun 18 Kippu – unlimited travel on local and rapid JR trains in the country.
- Tokyo Day Passes – check these out for those who wish to visit Tokyo soon.
TAKE NOTE: There are several train companies in Japan. Most of those mentioned above are for JR trains only. Therefore they won’t work on other trains from companies such as Hankyu and Keihan. Here’s a list of the major rail companies in Japan and most likely they issue their own passes and promos. For the most part though, JR trains are a reliable way to get around for sightseeing purposes.
TAKE NOTE: Avoid the taxis as much as possible. They are expensive! We arrived in Kyoto at around midnight and so no more buses were in service. We had to check in before 1am too or our room reservation will be cancelled. So we had no choice but to take the taxi. For a less than 15min ride, we had to pay 1000 yen (Php 383.00). #cries
FOR CONVENIENCE: If you will be using the subway for many days and don’t want to figure out the rail maps or buy tickets every time, look into the Suica or Pasmo cards. They are chargeable cards and can double up as ATM which you can use in certain stores to buy stuff.
BE A TRAIN ROUTE & FARE MASTER: Want to know how much fare you need per ride as well as train routes to take and times? Make full use of Hyperdia. It is a train route and timetable search site and is fairly accurate. It can also help you determine if you need a rail pass for a certain day or it is better to just pay per ticket.
As for how to use the buses and trains, I think I’ll need to publish one whole separate post for that as this one’s getting too long already. So please watch out for that.
I just saw Cosmo publish an article about always having an internet connection in Japan via Smart’s roaming plan of 599/day something. Oh please! Are you effin kidding me? That’s too expensive! And if the speed doesn’t even reach 21mbps, that would be a total rip off!
So, how to be always connected while in Japan without sky-high internet costs?
- Rent a pocket Wi-Fi from Global Advanced Communications – this is what we did and per day cost for the 21mbps package is just 656.25 yen (Php 251.00). And since there were two of us, we split that up and ended up paying Php 125.50 only for internet per day. Imagine if there were 4 of you or 5 traveling? Would you still want to pay Smart’s 500+ per day roaming? I don’t think so. Even sweeter, Global delivered the Wi-Fi to our accommodation the day before so that it was waiting for us. To return it, we just had to put the device inside the provided pre-addressed envelope and dropped it into a post box. There are many lying around. Super convenient!
- Get a disposable SIM – if your phone is unlocked and your internet usage isn’t that much (e.g. you can live with 1GB data in 15 days), then a disposable SIM might be for you. For only ¥ 3,480 (Php 1,332) you can have up to 1 GB of data for 15 days in Japan (if you indeed use it for 15 days, then that’s just Php 89 per day guys!). Need more? Check out the 2GB and 3GB packages.
Now, internet is very useful in Japan not only for staying connected with family and friends through social media. You’d need Internet to run Hyperdia or Google Maps to figure out bus and train routes. Data is also needed to find interesting nearby attractions and restaurants. However, if you prefer to get lost and discover things your way, or you’ve already printed all your routes and maps beforehand, you may not even need an internet connection while gallivanting. You’ll have enough internet as you get back to your hostel because Wi-Fi there is free. Major stations and airports also provide free Wi-Fi.
Good news! Accommodation and transportation are what will take up most of your budget when traveling in Japan. Food and sights are inexpensive when you know where to go. So, where to find cheap food in Japan?
- Convenience stores or Konbini – Lawson, Family Mart, 7/11 and Mini Stop can be your best friends when hungry. They sell bentos or packaged meals from 250-600 yen. Onigiri, sandwiches and other filling snacks tend to sell at 150 yen or below. If you stay at hostels, beverages such as water, coffee and tea are often provided for free. So getting breakfast or dinner for 500 yen (Php 191) or less is definitely possible. Eat at your hostel’s kitchen or at a nearby park. Note that eating while walking in Japan is mostly considered rude.
- Local fast food establishments – I’m not talking about burgers and fries here. I’m talking about sukiyaki, katsudon and the like served piping hot less than 5 minutes after you ordered. A place called Sukiya was very near Hana Hostel in Kyoto and we ate there almost all the time. Delicious meals can be had for 350 yen or less. Instead of service water, expect cold tea.
- Instant ramen by the roadside – We went to Daigoji temple in Kyoto around lunch planning to eat there. The area had no restaurants however and there was only this liquor store. Fortunately they sold instant ramen and when we asked in broken Japanese if they have hot water, we were just surprised when the lady nodded, ushered us outside, produced a bench for us to sit on and told us to wait. Few minutes later, she brought the instant ramen swimming in hot water to us and kindly mixed all the ingredients for us too. Definitely an experience! Cost? Only 170yen.
- Food stalls – try out takoyaki, okonomiyaki and taiyaki. Sold by food stalls in food markets or at roads leading to temples, these are delicious, filling, cheap (still less than 500 yen) and authentic! Nishiki Food Market in Kyoto and the road leading to Fushimi Inari are highly recommended for food stalls selling mouth-watering stuff.
- Tea houses – often found near temples, they provide affordable snacks or sweets such as dango.
If your budget can accommodate 500-1200 yen meals, many restaurants and ramen shops offer such prices. Don’t worry about price shocks because most eating places will feature their menus outside their shops. Many of them will even display plastic replicas of their meals with the prices so you see what you’ll be getting. If you want to splurge, try out Kaiseki Ryori, a multi-course lunch or dinner featuring sumptuous and often seasonal traditional Japanese foods. It can go for 4,000-12,000 yen. I know! Food for the gods come with price for the gods #criesagain
Attractions, What to See & Do
As I said, most of the places to see in Japan are cheap or free. Here is just an overview of what you can visit or do without spending a lot of money.
- Temples – entrance fees are often 800yen or below. You can already spend 2-5 hours in temples admiring the structures, history, ancient displays and the gardens. Just note where you can and cannot take pictures; signs are posted. Free temples also abound and one we went to was Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto. In Spring and Autumn, temples will have night lights shows which are super pretty. Entrance fees vary depending on the temple but are typically around 1000yen or below.
- Gardens – the Japanese know how to highlight nature’s beauty and that is very evident in their gardens. Any nature lover will appreciate these places. There are free and paid gardens so research beforehand.
- Parks – there are many free parks all over Japan and they are a great place to rest your tired feet. Try Maruyama Park when in Kyoto. Parks can get full during cherry blossoms or fall season though. Anyone looking for a party or make Japanese friends should go to these parks during peak seasons. Expect to see picnickers and drinking sessions.
- Cityscapes – we spent several nights just wandering around Kyoto station marveling at the tall buildings, eye-catching signs, bustling pachinko parlors, and tiny boxy cars that whiz by on the roads. All for free.
- People watching – we know how cute and fashionable Japanese ladies can be and we know how cool Japanese guys and salarymen can get. Spend hours just watching all these beautiful people pass by. Just don’t stare or you might be accused of being a “hentai” 😀
- 100 yen shops – want to buy pasalubong but your budget is limited? Go to these shops and buy stuff for your friends, family and even for your second cousins!
- Izakaya – perfect for anyone looking for a drink and maybe make new friends. An izakaya is Japan’s answer to bars and pubs. Prices vary though and I really can’t tell you much about them because I don’t drink alcohol.
- Animation studios, shops, themed parks – A lot of people I know want to go to Japan simply because they love anime. Well, you certainly will not regret your visit. When in Kyoto, try the KyoAni shop in Kohata, Totoro shop on the way to Kiyomizudera, or the Toei Kyoto Studio Park (will blog about our visit to these places soon). Other interesting places are:
This list of things to see and do is by no means complete as Japan is a huge country with so many things to offer visitors. So just figure out what you really want to experience and prioritize in order to maximize your budget.
Other Money-Saving Tips
Aside from all of the above, here are more tips that can help you plan a wonderful budget Japan trip:
- Plan your routes wisely to save on fares.
- Apparently, Japan has a rule that all convenience stores must throw out packed lunches late in the evening. That’s how much they care about offering fresh food. This means that meals are often sold at lower prices at around 7-8pm. Buy during these times and get more savings!
- Marketers often hand out free tissues and other stuff on the roads. Accept them. Free pasalubong right there! As for me, I got handed a sponge for cleaning dishes haha.
- Check your hostel if they offer coupons to anywhere. We got a free coffee coupon at a nearby restaurant while we were there. I also saw coupons for public bathhouses.
- Ask your hostel if there are any free events happening. One night, Khaosan Kyoto threw a drinking party in the common room for their guests. I also saw signs about free origami ad Japanese language lessons. At Hana, there was a free theater show. Too bad we came back too late to find out about it.
- Avail of your hostel’s freebies. At Hana we got discounts of 500 yen each.
- Check the pamphlets near the hostel’s reception desk. Many promos and coupons may be lying there waiting for you. They’re a good way to discover interesting places too.
- If you’re up for it, rent a bike instead of going by bus or train. We skipped this option though because we weren’t quite sure about bike parking and how much hassle that would be. Going around by bike is certainly cheaper though. Just make sure you are fit enough to do so.
- Walk to places and save even more. Just make sure you have comfortable shoes.
- Vending machines are everywhere and they have cheap drinks, hot or cold.
- Check the weather forecast before going out so you’ll know if rain’s coming and you can then borrow an umbrella from your hostel for free.
- Always be on the lookout for promo fares from Cebu Pacific, Air Asia, etc.
Okay, I believe I covered all the important stuff. If I remember anything else, I’ll add them here. If you have questions or additional tips and advice, feel free to comment below. Hope you find all these helpful and good luck in planning your trip to Japan!
Our detailed itinerary and budget plan to follow, promise 🙂