Japan was never actually on our travel plan – don’t get us wrong it’s not because we weren’t dying to go there (trust me it was one country I absolutely had to go having been obsessed with the culture for so long!) but we knew it would be expensive and we weren’t sure if we had any budget for it. However, what changed our minds was that after a bit of research, we realised that we could fly to Saga (south western tip of Japan) from Shanghai on a Chinese budget airline, we could couchsurf to help cut costs of accommodation, we could stick to a strict budget of £60-70 a day (for two of us), and we could buy a Willer bus pass to travel between cities (cheaper than the JR pass – Hobotip here). Thanks to that we enjoyed Japan for three weeks!
Our Japan highlights
We loved every city we visited. Fukuoka, a tranquil coastline city, we were moved by Hiroshima and it’s haunting history, Miyajima Island was fun with it’s wild roaming deer, Kyoto was a wonderful mix of modern and traditional culture, Tokyo was vibrant and colourful (the Ghibli museum was very nostalgic), and Osaka was a thriving shopping Mecca!
We cannot mention Japan without mentioning the people, after the brash and seemingly aggressive culture of China, Japan was a real breath of fresh air. Everyone seemed so polite, so willing to help, everywhere we went we were greeted with smiles and an eagerness (yet shyness) in practicing English (the Japanese I had learnt at University never got used in the end!) Everywhere we went was so clean and well kept, it was really nice to be in a country where people took so much pride in the place they lived. Public services ran on time, everything seemed so efficient.
We couchsurfed in Hiroshima with a fantastic guy called Hiro, who squeezed not only myself and Neil into his minuscule studio flat but also another couchsurfer – Nils from Germany! Hiro took us hiking with his friends, took us to an Onsen, recommended us places to visit and took us to a fantastic place to have Okonomiyaki! It was brilliant to meet wonderful locals like him. We then couchsurfed in Kyoto, where we stayed with the lovely Shutaro and his family. Although Shu was extremely busy with work (he was a doctor), he and his wife were so hospitable and his children Yu and Yo were gorgeous. Thanks to CS we had some great insight into Japanese family life with Shu and his family. We then couchsurfed in Tokyo with the fabulous Shin, who bless him was so busy and worked so long into the night we thought might burn out! We had a fantastic last evening with Shin and his girlfriend Naoko who took us to a traditional Japanese ‘pub’ where we ate pretty much everything on the menu and drank beer and cocktails well into the night! Not to mention the very sweet gifts they bought us as well. The generosity and kindness of the Japanese people we met whilst couchsurfing will always be remembered.
Our Japan lowlights
Due to our tight budget, we found we couldn’t freely enjoy everything Japan had to offer. The food was undoubtedly great, but of course expensive. As backpackers we could essily find a cheap meal, but cheap also meant limited – ramen or rice were our staples in restaurants and bento boxes from the supermarket for lunch. We only treated ourselves to good sushi once because it would blow our food budget for two days! On a whole everything cost a lot more than what we would pay in the UK, but even still we really cherished our time there!
The biggest lowlight was not having enough time and money to stay there longer!
Where we visited: Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Miyajima Island, Kyoto, Tokyo, Osaka