Travel by (local) train for cheap in Japan

There’s a little known ticket in Japan called the Seishun Juhachi kippu (literally “Youth 18 ticket”). While it was originally conceived as a ticket for the young people, nowadays it’s used by anyone and everyone who likes traveling on the cheap. The ticket costs ¥ 11,500 and is good for five (consecutive or non-consecutive) days of travel. That means you only pay ¥2,300 a day!

You just show the person at the ticket gates, get it stamped the first time you use it, and you’re traveling for next to nothing all day. You can even have multiple people traveling on the same ticket (one day per person though).

The one big drawback is that you can only travel by local or local rapid train (and the Miyajimaguchi ferry). Depending on where you are going that could mean a very long train ride. But on the bright side you’ll see a lot more of Japan through the train window. All things considered this ticket is for people who have time to spare or like traveling slowly.

Sold: Feb. 20-Mar. 31
Valid: Mar.1-Apr. 10

Sold: July 1-Aug. 31
Valid: July 20-Sep. 10

Sold: Dec.1-Jan. 10
Valid: Dec.10-Jan. 20

I used it to travel from Tokyo to Kamakura to Kyoto to Nara, and then back up to Fukushima. In US dollars that trip would have cost a bunch, maybe $600 instead I paid about $120.

japan, travel

Going to Hokkaido (北海道へ行っています) part 1

I went to Hokkaido (北海道) over Golden Week, which takes place over the end of April and the beginning of May.

In this first installment I want to talk about getting there.

I took the long route. Also know as the ferry. I left from Fukushima City (福島市) to sendai (仙台) and from Sendai I took the ferry overnight.

The ferry is by far, the cheapest way to get to Hokkaido. Roundtrip tickets cost a lot less than half the price of a plane ticket. The price you pay is time, it took about seventeen hours to get there.

The “ferry” is more like a cross between the ferries I’ve been on in the US and a cruise ship. There is a range of rooms from suites that can match any four-star hotel to a giant room with fifty futons spread across in the floor. There is a movie theater, a restaurant, a bathhouse, a game room, and a few more fancy things which I didn’t really care about.

I spent most of my time in the lobby area with my friends. There were tables and slightly comfortable chairs, so we stayed up late played a few games and then hit the hay around 1 or 2am.

I was so tired I thought for sure I’d be out the minute my skinny butt hit the futon, but that was not what the night had ready for me. One treat I was offered was a loud guy talking just outside the room all night. He wasn’t Japanese, but he spoke it well enough to hit on a Japanese girl all night, and I do mean all night. Once I figured out how to close the door to the large room I was tossed another delight, the standard super loud snoring guy. This one came with sleep apnea action. The bonus was when he made sounds like he’d just swallowed a golfball at 4am. …And just for good measure he got up and fell on me, giving my leg a taste of pro-wrestling elbow-drop goodness. What a peach that man was!

The only thing that kept me alive the next day was the bathhouse. I’d never been to one before in Japan, but let me tell you this, if you ever need to function after only sleeping an hour and a half a bathhouse is a pretty good way to fight through the day.


Best Place to Stay in Kyoto

An amazing combination of price, friendliness, and experience, Shunkoin (春光院 — Temple of the Ray of Spring Light) is definitely the place to stay. On my recent trip to Kyoto I spent two nights there and it was fantastic.

Located in a large temple complex, the Shunko Temple has two styles of rooms. Most of the rooms are just very simple carpeted areas with a futon in the center. For the cheaper rooms there is are two shared bathrooms and two shared showers. The more expensive rooms have beautiful hardwood floors, a futon (with a heating pad beneath it), a desk and chair, a private bathroom and shower. All rooms have a shared kitchen, which has all the modern amenities. Best of all there are bicycles free for the taking. While the accommodations aren’t luxurious they are more than adequate.

For a very small extra charge you can take part in a short zazen guided meditation. After the meditation you’ll be given a tour of the temple which is beautiful and rich in history. And after that you’ll be served delicious green tea. If you don’t know any Japanese you’ll be extremely comfortable here as the vice-abbot speaks English very fluently (perhaps more fluently than some American’s I know). The mediation and tour are both in English from start to finish.

The temple is located in northern Kyoto very close to Ninnaji, Ryoanji, and Kinkakuji. A short ways to the west is Daikakuji and Arashiyama. It is a few minutes away from a train station (¥190 to/from Kyoto Station) and there are bus stops everywhere. In short, the location is very convenient. While a stay in the central area of Kyoto may put you in a convenient location you’ll pay a lot more to be surrounded by noise and cement buildings. While the station and its surrounding area may be the center, it is just outside of central Kyoto that its real heart lies.

A stay at Shunkoin is a fantastic idea. It is a quiet, peaceful, friendly and cheap cultural experience.


Lonely Planet Getting it All Wrong

Today I decided I’d like to buy a Lonely Planet travel guide. I’m looking at the Japan guide. At Amazon I can get it for $19.13. I have an iPod Touch now so I though, maybe since they have all those snazy phrase books as apps for the iPhone / Touch they have PDF’s of their books. They do, but they dropped the ball completely. The PDF’s cost the same as the suggested retail price of the physical book— almost $30. Considering how much cheaper it is to sell an electronic file it should be at least as cheap as the physical book on Amazon. Or even better, those buying the book should get free PDF’s. I’d sign up for either of those, but who in their right mind would pay more for something that should cost much much less?

As a result I’m going to look elsewhere. I may end up buying the paperback, but I’ll freeze in hell before being squeezed for some jacked up PDF.

It is also worth noting that the aforementioned iTunes Apps have received somewhat poor reviews. To me this is a signal that Lonely Planet is not ready to make the next digital leap and that a smarter more savvy company has a golden opportunity laying in front of them.


One of the Better Comics Around

bizarro homeland securityI’ve been a fan of Dan Piraro‘s comic Bizarro for while now. If you haven’t been lucky enough to see his comic in your local newspaper you should go to his website or buy one of his books. This comic seems appropriate with Thanksgiving travel looming nearer everyday. Luckily, and unluckily, I won’t have to worry about that myself this year. Good luck at the airports everyone!

[tags]bizarro, dan piraro, holiday travel, homeland security, humor[/tags]

flight, travel

The Flight

I flew to seattle via United Airlines… I think it was United Airlines anyway. The flight left at 5:45am Sunday the 3rd of September, 5:45am was a surprise to me. Apparently I have trouble with AM and PM, because I often get departure time wrong by 12 hours. Luckily I noticed this early enough so that I didn’t miss my flight (this time).

I like squeezing as much as possible into a short amount of time so I did as many things as possible before my flight and saved packing for last.below from quite far above That isn’t too bright of a thing to do for those wondering. I finished packing at 1:45am on what was technically Sunday and decided that it was far too late to sleep since I was afraid of missing my flight. It turns out that the crew should have been afraid of this too because they arrived 15 minutes late. Not a big deal, unless you’ve done something silly bought a ticket with a 30 minute layover in Cincinnati. I did that.

By the time I had exited the first plane I had just under ten minutes to get to the second. Not impossible, but certainly tough since Cincinnati (CVG) was planned by a team of hippy lemurs and you need to take a slow shuttle from certain terminals. Running like a madman got me there just in time… I’d like to say this was the first time that the folks at the gate greeted me by name without seeing any ID, but that would be a lie.

window seatAll said I made it to Seattle (SEA) just before 10am, thanks to time zone time travel. I didn’t sleep at all on the second flight because I’d slept just enough for the run between terminals to wake me up. Instead of sleeping I read some of Crime & Punishment and watched X-Men III (in-flight movie). This is my second attempt at Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, this time with a translation (Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky) recommended by a friend, and it is making all the difference. The flight from CVG to SEA was pleasant and there were enough breaks in the clouds for me to see some neat-o stuff, like the photos in this post.