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Friday, March 5, 2010

Living on the Cheap(er) in Tokyo

So I made it back to Tokyo in the early morning of February 18 and didn't really have a place to stay.  I was very fortunate that Eri was going to let me crash at her new place for the remaining two weeks that I would be in Tokyo.  Japan in general is expensive and the yen rate, which seemed to be getting stronger with each day, it is not a force you want to reckon with!

Eri would be moving into her new place on February 19.  Since we were all getting together for lunch on Saturday, I just told her that I would find a place to stay the two nights and plan to come over on the night of the 20th.  I had two nights to figure out where I would stay.

My friend Christine had once asked me how to travel on the cheap in Japan.  My answer: not possible!  However, in the last few weeks, I have found that it is possible to travel cheaply but it's still not that cheap! But here is what I found...

My first night I spent in a Japanese Capsule hotel.  I believe the idea of the capsules came up because of the need for Japanese businessmen to find an affordable place to stay and because of the limited space in Japan, they made small capsules, just enough space for you to sleep; because the sleeping spaces were so small, this also afforded the businesses to accommodate more people making themselves more profitable.

Because the capsule typically caters to Japanese businessmen, most often, women are not allowed. I found this to be very discriminatory but after staying at one, I understand why.  Because the actual capsule space is very small, most people are changing outside of their actual capsule and there are no secure locks.  All you have is a shutter that comes down to block the light out.  Luckily, I found a place that accepted both men and women. Price: Y3000

For the showers, they had a Japanese bath where you could soak in the communal bath.  Through the pamphlet, I found that the men's side actually had a fantastic view of the Sumida River from their end whereas the women had no windows. This I found to be rather discriminatory!  They should have split the bathing times!  The place also offered free internet, and a lounge area with vending machines to satisfy your thirst and or late night munchies.  This was the only time that I actually got to meet other Westerners which was nice.  I'm so accustomed to having my own life and friends in Japan that it's rare for me to make new friends in Japan and because most people don't think that I can speak English.

All the capsules were lined up in a room.  There must have been about 20 or so capsules, two high, lined in the room.  The actual capsule itself was rather small but definitely a lot bigger than I imagined. I could sit up right and I had a radio, alarm, TV in my own little cubicle.  There are no locks so you hop into your capsule and pull the shade down.  Because there is no actual door, you can hear all the sounds that go on in your room.  Which made this the major drawback of sleeping in a capsule.  You also had your own TV with a little coin depository if you wanted to watch "Adult Video", 1 hour for Y100, not bad if you ask me!

It was actually a rather comfortable sleep but the noise, was extremely annoying.  Older Korean ladies who were playing card games in the locker room that leads up to the capsule room came into the room at around 2:30AM, chatting, having a normal volume conversation as if they just walked into their own homes.  The sound of snores were being carried throughout the room.  The sleep value was low. But for the price of Y3000, if I didn't have a place to sleep, I would definitely be back.

The following night, I decided to stay at at Manga Kissa - Comic Book Cafe (Internet Cafe).  I had heard that you could stay here for relatively cheap.  When I visited an internet cafe earlier on my trip in Japan, I remember seeing a shower and prices for the night package.  What I didn't consider though was that Friday night at a Manga Kissa would demand a higher price!  I should have stayed at the Manga on Thursday and the Capsule on Friday! Oh well, lesson learned.  Lesson #1: If you are planning to stay at a Manga, try to go to one Monday - Thursday!  Not only do the prices go up on the weekend/holiday price scale but you also have less time.  For the package that I got, 8 hours (vs. 10 hours if Monday - Thursday) was about Y1580, about Y200 more for 2 hours less.  Double Whammy!  Also, there are certain hours that these night packages are available.  Typically, they start from after 8PM or so.  8 hours at 8PM, would leave me right around 4AM.  So, I decided I would double this with another 'pack.' I decided to go for the 3 hours package; this would leave me at about 7AM.  Although I told them up front that I would take 2 packages, I would need to come out from  my room and re-check in.  Lesson #2: Start with the smaller package first!  He asked me which one I wanted to start first and without thinking it through, told him the 8 hour package.  I stayed up, surfing the internet, writing emails and watched a Japanese movie about a lady who only had one month to live after learning she developed breast cancer (you can also watch DVDs and read any of the mangas that they have there for free) and eventually went to bed at around 1:30AM after the movie ended and I couldn't keep my eyes open anymore.  I set my alarm to 4:15AM (I needed to be out of there by 4:22AM) but didn't hear it!  I finally woke up about 4:40AM then tried to find my iphone before I finally went out at about 4:48AM to re-check in.  I didn't think it was that big of a deal since I had already told them I would also do the 3 hour package.  But this is how they make their money! For staying 26 minutes over my time, I got charged Y240.  Which is not bad but if you're trying to save money! You just spent an additional 15% just in 26 minutes that was completely avoidable!  The best part about the manga kissa though is that they have vending machines with free drinks!  You can drink anything and everything you want. The other manga kissa that I visited even had slushie and ice cream machines.  For internet + free drinks + a place to sleep + shower, I really think you can't go wrong here.  They also have a TV in each room so you can either go on the computer or watch the Olympics like I did!

The shower here was actually surprisingly clean too!  I normally wear my slippers in to the showers because the ground is pretty dirty. I don't know if it's the type of material they use to make the floor that makes it look clean or if Japanese people just do a really good job cleaning (which I must admit for the most part they do), but it was really clean.  Nice water pressure and hot just the way I like it!  Although they don't provide you with a towel, they have towel rental as well as all the other shower amenities you can think of for pennies!  Y31 for shampoo, conditioner, a brush, razor, shaving cream, etc.  I think the towel rental is the most expensive for about Y200.  Luckily, I had my big backpack on me so had everything I needed.

Hmm, if I had to choose between a Capsule and a Manga Kissa, I'd choose Capsule for sleeping comfort (proper mattress, pillow, comforter) but Manga for price value (all-you-can-drink drinks, internet, tv).  But for both options, this is truly the way to go if you're trying to save money.  The only downfall of the Manga even though you can stay here for incredibly cheap is that you really have no where to leave your luggage. I thought about this...if you are going to stay here for a week or so, you'd also have to include the locker charge into your stay, which depending on your bag size, could range from Y200 - Y800/day.  For convenience, if you stayed at the capsule, you could possibly store your bag there.  We had a locker given to us (though it was too small to really hold anything!) or we had the option of leaving our things in a large empty room but the hotel would not claim any responsibility for loss.  This helped me greatly when I was going from one place to another and didn't want to pay for a locker or lug my bag around...I wonder if they would have allowed us to leave things in our capsule if we were going to be there for additional nights.  Quite possibly...

Other money saving techniques that I exercised in Japan were: find sales at drug stores and buy multiple train passes, discount ticket stores.

Dotted throughout the streets of Tokyo are Drug stores or in Japanese: Yakkyoku ya.  If you know your prices, you could really take advantage of some bargains!  It may take some time getting accustomed to the prices in Japan but once you are familiar and know what you want, you can save some considerable amount of money in the city that charges you top dollar for everything!  Some of my favorite snacks and candies, I got at a drug store for 20% less! I also needed facial soap and found one of the drug stores selling it for Y198, about half price when compared to other stores!  All the drug stores have different pricing and one may be cheap for one item and expensive for another.

The other thing that I did to save money was purchase multiple train tickets also called kaisuuken.  Basically you save 10%; buy 10 tickets and get one for free.  You need to be aware of what you are purchasing though as some multiple tickets will require you to take the same route for each use.  I mistakenly purchased the kaisuuken at Ebisu station but upon closer observation, saw that it would require me to ride the same route (Ebisu to Shinjuku) each time in order to use the ticket and since I lived at neither Ebisu nor Shinjuku this was not a viable option for me.  The one that I liked best were the tickets for the Tokyo Metro.  These tickets were good because you could start your trip anywhere using these tickets, it didn't lock you down to a specific route.  The other set that I purchased was from Shinjuku (very central in Tokyo) to the station where my friend lived.  If you know that you are going to be using public transportation on the same routes, you may as well save 10%.

I had also envisioned buying a bicycle and using that to get around Tokyo. Unfortunately, I didn't know where to look for one!  On one of my last nights there, my friend Ema mentioned to me that if I had picked up a copy of the Metropolis (which I believe is a free English magazine), there are many classified ads for Sayonara Sales where many expats are giving away their things for free!  Had I known this, I would have tried to say hello to a sayonara bicycle!  Alternatively, I did see a sign for Y200 daily bicycle rental.  Considered asking if they would give me a long term rental since Y200 is so cheap but never got around to doing it!

Finally, there are also many 'discounted' ticket stores located near most train stations.  They sell things from shopping gift certificates to air travel vouchers, to telephone cards to Disneyland entry tickets.  I found a good one at Asagaya station on the Sobu/Chuo line.  Here I bought a Y5000 list price pre-paid card for Y4400 (Y600 savings!).   Of course you have to keep in mind that these little ticket outlets are also in the business to make a profit so although it's cheaper, it's not *that* cheap.  Look around though, some are definitely cheaper than others.

And those are some of my (newly discovered) secrets to saving *some* money in Tokyo!

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