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Cheap Hotels in Japan

Cheap Hotels in Japan

In the current environment, we’re constantly asked by people to aquire hotel rooms in Japan for lower prices than in the past.    The media is constantly going on about how there are all these great travel deals out there – and so now they’ve managed expectations down to zero… and that’s exactly how many cheap hotel rooms you’ll find in Japan. There are a number of factors affecting prices in Japan, and most of those have an impact on the US Traveler.  First, the Japanese travel a lot within the country and they are traveling on their own economy, so they do not have the same price sensitivity as foreign travelers.  Result: hotels (especially the lower priced ones) filled up with lots of Japanese travelers.  Economic reality: if the hotels are filled up, they’re not going to offer discounts. The second factor is the declining value of the dollar against the yen.  The dollar is actually doing quite well against most currencies, but not against the yen.  IT’s actually been hovering in 10-15 year lows.   Result: a hotel that charges the same amount in yen as last year costs about 20% more to the US traveler this year.   Economic reality: the Japanese have no incentive to lower their hotel prices to cover the cost of the lost value of the dollar. The third factor is one of the most mis-understood among foreign tourists, since most of their experience is with Europe, Latin America and even in the US.  There is an assumption that small hotels in smaller towns will by default, be less expensive.  Result: travelers are all looking to stay in the smaller towns in the few hotels available there. Economic reality: supply and demand wins out –  there are many reasonable low-priced hotels in Tokyo and Kyoto, but not in cities where there are only a few hotels to choose from. The final comment on hotel costs relates to something uniquely Japanese – the ryokan or onsen.  These are typical Japanese inns where you sleep on the tatami matted floor in futons and often are served a Japanese Kaiseki meal for dinner.   Many, many travelers assume that staying at these inns will be less expensive than staying at Western-style hotels.  In fact, the ryokans are often the most expensive way to go.  First – they charge by the person (not by the room).   Also, they usually will not accommodate single travelers.  The Japanese often sleep 3, 4 or more to a room that would make 2 Westerners uncomfortable.   From the inn’s perspective, any time they have fewer people in the room, they’re losing money (they charge by the person, remember?).   So they have no incentive to take bookings that don’t fill their rooms and even less incentive to offer discounts.  Result: ryokan prices often shock westerners, as they are almost always more than the nearby western-style hotel.  Economic reality: ryokans will not save you any money. So how to make the best hotel choices if you’re traveling to Japan now?  First, if your budget can afford it and you’re used to staying in very nice hotels, go with the deluxe foreign chains (Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, etc.), who are hurting from lack of business travelers and do not have clients from the local economy.  They’re offering great discounts.  Second, if these hotels aren’t in your price range, plan you trip centered on the cities (Tokyo and Kyoto) where there are many more inexpensive hotels to choose from.  You...
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Getting Off the Bus

Getting Off the Bus

Who knew that it would be so hard to get OFF the bus?  We’ve all heard about how crowded the trains and buses are in Japan.  And they ARE!  And we’ve seen those videos of transit workers PUSHING more riders onto crowded trains.   But we found ourselves with a very different, and interesting dilemma. When taking crowded buses we were surprised to find that while getting on was difficult, getting off was almost impossible.  In the US, when you press the “next stop” button and stand up, people move out of the way so you can get off the bus (or train).  Not so in Japan – it was actually kind of weird.  No matter how many sumimasen’s,  we couldn’t get anyone on crowded buses or trains to move out of the way so we could CREATE MORE ROOM FOR THEM!  Very funny.   The funniest part was how determined everyone was in their “ignoring” the miscreant departer.   The only way to get off was to actually push and shove people out of the way, stick your hip out, drive into the crowd, step on toes, whatever it took.   We found this part a little challenging, but also noticed it on many occasions.   Here is yet another awareness of small cultural differences that make travel so...
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Letting Go of Your Baggage

Letting Go of Your Baggage

How come you never see people schlepping their luggage on the train in Japan?   Well, most gaijin have no idea that the Japanese do not take their luggage with them, but ship it ahead via the amazing “takyubbin” system.  Takyubbin is used for package and baggage shipping throughout Japan.  You can use it to have your purchases delivered from the great little boutique you found to your hotel so you don’t have to carry them all day.  You can use it to have an unwieldy bag sent ahead to the airport.  And you can use it throughout your trip to Japan to have your luggage shipped ahead and carry only a small bag or backpack with you on the trains and subways. To send a takyubbin from any hotel is fairly easy, as long as you have the address where it is going in Japanese.  You ask the folks at the desk to send the package, they fill out a multi-part form and look up the fee (usually about $10 or so), they collect the money and give you a receipt for the bag, and, presto, you’re on your way.   When you get to your next hotel, your bag is usually sitting IN YOUR ROOM!  waiting for you.   How easy is that? The odd part is that Americans, as a rule, prefer to schlep all their STUFF (which the Japanese call “stuffo”) with them.   It’s so funny to see them, attached to their really large suitcases as if handcuffed to their jailer, trying to drag their overstuffed bags up the stairs at out-of-the-way train stations or onto cable-cars clearly not intended for 42″ suitcases.   Give yourself a break when traveling to Japan – pack light AND ship ahead.    This is a first-world, developed country.  You can get anything you need anywhere.  Be free.  Let go of your...