Traveling to Japan: How to Save Money and Still Enjoy Nara, Himeji, and Okayama
Japan has long been a popular destination for Filipinos because of its beautfil temples, history, culture and food, among many other things. The country has also become less strict with its visa requirements to boost tourism. Tokyo is the common first choice when visiting Japan. However, the Kansai region and beyond have plenty to offer tourists who want to experience the best the country has to offer and save money, as well. The cities of Nara, Himeji
If you’re planning to visit these cities, here are travel hacks and attractions to keep in mind.
Nara has the distinction of being the first permanent capital of the country. The city rose to prominence when the ruling government established it in year 710. When the monasteries’ influence grew, the government began to see it as a threat to its power. The government then decided to move the capital to Nagaoka then subsequently to Kyoto. Nara’s storied past left behind a treasure trove of historic sites and some of the country’s biggest and oldest temples.
Nara is accessible by train from Osaka; use your JR Pass, Kansai Thru Pass, or JR Kansai Wide Area Pass to reach the city. Most of the attractions except Horyu-ji are within walking distance from each other.
Todaiji is a famous destination not just in Nara, but in Japan. Both locals and tourists visit this ancient attraction to see the Daibutsu, which is also known as the Great Buddha. The Buddha is 16 meters tall and elicits a sense of calm, despite the crowds that come and go.
Entrance Fee: P238
This temple doesn’t have the same name recall of
Entrance Fee: P238
Nara Deer Park
Nara has a cool and calm atmosphere because of its old world charm and green spaces. The Nara Deer Park is a place to reflect
Entrance Fee: Free
This shrine inside a forest provides a refreshing break from the city. The pathways, deer, and lanterns give the area a mysterious atmosphere. The shrines and halls display the cultural significance of Kasuga-Taisha. Get away from the crowds by taking a leisurely stroll deeper into the forest.
Entrance Fee: You are free to roam on the grounds and walkways, but admission to the shrine is P238
Nara has a couple of noteworthy gardens, as well. One of them is the Yoshiki-en Garden; this green haven is the ideal place to relax, unwind, and empty your mind. Take a stroll and breathe in the fresh air or sip a cup of tea at the teahouse. The best time to visit is during autumn when the colors are in full bloom.
Entrance Fee: Free (for foreigners)
This temple complex is hard to miss; you will most likely pass it on the way to Nara Park and you'll see the towering pagoda as you approach it. The treasure hall has a couple of Buddhist images, but you can just walk around the area. There are so many images of Buddha in Nara, so you can skip this one if you have already seen the one in Todaiji.
Entrance Fee: Walking around is free and the treasure hall has a P284 fee.
If you want to get a glimpse of the past, explore Naramachi after visiting the UNESCO-listed shrines and temples. This district has traditional-style workshops, houses, and cafes. The area feels nostalgic: Go in and out of the shops, maybe buy a souvenir or two, and just “experience” this quaint neighborhood in Nara.
Entrance Fee: Free
This UNESCO-listed complex has many Buddhist images and some of the oldest wooden structures in the country. Take a stroll to soak in the history and culture of ancient Japan. There aren’t a lot of tourists here because of its distance from most of the attractions in Nara.
Entrance Fee: P710
Okayama used to be a bustling castle town centuries ago. It was a regional powerhouse and a thriving economic center during the Edo Period. Fast forward to today, it is a transportation hub and one of the biggest cities in the Chugoku Region. Okayama is a possible day trip from
The Okayama Castle and the Korakuen Garden are within walking distance from Okayama Station.
The original castle has a history that dates back to 1597. The one you see now is a reconstruction. Okayama Castle, also known as Crow Castle, has a simple, but beautiful black exterior. It offers exhibits that tell the castle’s history.
Entrance Fee: P142 or P265 (with access to Korakuen Garden)
Korakuen is recognized as a fine example of a landscape garden in the country. Korakuen dates back to the 1680s; a local feudal lord had it built as a place for leisure and used it for receiving officials and VIPs. The garden is just a short walk from Okayama Castle.
Entrance Fee: P190 or P265 (with access to the castle)
This quaint town has a beautiful canal area that will remind visitors of the Edo Period. Kurashiki used to be a vital rice distribution hub centuries ago. Take a walk, grab a local snack, enter the shops, and dine at the cafes.
Entrance Fee: Walking around the canal area is free
Himeji’s main draw is White Heron Castle, also known as Himeji Castle. A powerful lord called Ikeda Terumasa established the Himeji Domain after the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. He was responsible for expanding the Himeji Castle, which was built in 1333. In 1889, Himeji City was founded. Some 34 years later in 1923, the Great Kanto Earthquake struck Japan and leveled Tokyo. The destruction was so massive that the Japanese government considered relocating its capital to Himeji.
Himeji Station is accessible by train from Osaka. The most convenient way to reach it is by bullet train. The castle and the garden are within walking distance.
Himeji Castle is one of the best preserved and most beautiful castles in the country. It has an elegant white exterior and a simple yet stunning design. This UNESCO-listed attraction has survived catastrophes throughout its the centuries. The ideal time to visit is spring when the cherry blossoms are blooming.
Entrance Fee: P473 or P492 (with access to Kokoen Garden)
After exploring the nearby castle, visit Kokoen to relax and relieve your stress. As you walk around, you’ll find a pine tree garden, flower garden,
Entrance Fee: P142 or P492 (with access to Himeji Castle)
Travel Hacks in Japan
Traveling around Japan is very convenient because of the tourist-friendly signs,
Travel Smartly, Use the Right Pass
Japan offers different passes that allow foreign tourists to explore the country and reduce their expenses. For convenient and budget-friendly travel to Nara, Himeji, and Okayama, the JR Kansai Wide Area Pass is an ideal choice. This pass allows you to use bullet, limited express, and regular trains and bus lines for an unlimited number of times for five days. The pass costs P4,253 if bought outside Japan and P4,725 if bought inside the country.
Combine your JR Kansai Wide Area Pass with prepaid cards such as Icoca, Suica, or Pasmo. The three make paying for transportation rides and some other items convenient. You can also purchase the regional travel passes such as the JR Kansai Wide Area Pass or Kansai Thru Pass. These reduce your expenses and allow you to explore the region freely. Attractions are usually near train stations, so there is a lot of merit in using these lines.
Instead of taking a cab, you can take a walk and enjoy
Stay in Dorms or Hostels
Stay at hostels. They’re good value and offer clean toilets and baths and spacious common areas. If you use the JR Kansai Wide Area Pass, you don’t have to spend the night in any of the three cities mentioned. Osaka is a possible base for the destinations above. Japan’s railway network makes it convenient to explore, even for places as far as Okayama.
There are dorm beds for approximately P1,000 to P2,000 a night, book early enough and you might get a discount. There are numerous three- to five-star hotels for those who have a bigger budget. When choosing accommodations, look near major stations such as Tennoji and Osaka Station. Both are major transportation hubs where you’ll find many JR trains that go to Nara, Okayama, and Himeji. This reduces your expenses because you don’t have to take the subway.
Know Where to Eat
Budget travelers have plenty of affordable options in Japan. Convenience stores such as Ministop, Lawson, 7-11, and local convenience stores are on every corner. These have snacks, drinks, and meals (approximately costing P237). If you’re willing to spend a bit more, Coco Ichibanya sells curry rice meals for around P472.
There are also fast food chains such as McDonald’s, KFC, MOS Burger, and others. If you do decide to use Osaka as a base, the city is a famous food destination where you’ll find delicious local dishes such as okonomiyaki, takoyaki, and yakisoba, just to name a few. Osaka’s street food scene is affordable and world-class. Dotonbori and Shinsekai are popular spots to sample Osaka’s gastronomies. Both have several restaurants and food stalls to choose from.