Oh, man, guys. I just got back from a huge trip to Japan, and it was indescribably amazing. As one Belgian tech guru told me one night as some of us were sitting around a fantastic meal:
“I think coming here has changed me.”
I have so much I want to tell you, and I’m going to take several weeks to do just that. Every Friday, we’ll talk a little about saving money while exploring this breathtaking country. We’ll start with accommodations.
How I Stayed in Tokyo for Free
Originally, we were supposed to fly into Osaka, but that involved a long, complicated layover in Tokyo anyways, so I called and lopped off that leg of our flight. My sibling and I spent our first night and last nights in Japan in the capital of Tokyo, and we did it for free.
I had built up some SPG points from business travel. I had enough for one free reward stay at the Westin Tokyo, which I was pretty psyched about.
Not nearly psyched enough. We took a bus from Narita to our digs. When we walked in the entry way, my sibling dropped their jaw and said, “Holy sh!t, Femme.”
The lobby was gorgeous. Dark wood lined the walls accented with gold. Our footsteps echoed off the sky-high ceilings as we walked back to the check-in desk, where we were greeted by the sweetest and most generous host ever. She treated me like royalty even as I stood there in my yoga pants and tee, surely reeking of the 29 hours of straight travel I had just endured.
Not only was she nice, she upgraded our room — which already would have cost hundreds upon hundreds of dollars without points — to a suite. A gorgeous, two-room suite with 1.5 baths. I took a rainfall shower that night before we went out to find some food, and soaked in a pink, cherry blossom bath the next morning before we set out on our journey.
That night, we gazed out over the dazzling city with views of Tokyo tower gracing our window. The next morning, we grabbed some breakfast in the club lounge and kind of sort of talked, but mostly just sat there in awe as we took in yet another astonishing view.
The neighborhood, Ebisu, was super nice and just about my speed. There was shopping and dining, and a tasteful amount of nightlife. We walked by ice cream shops and bakeries as we stumbled upon gardens full of vibrant flowers — including one such garden directly behind the hotel.
Staying at the Westin was definitely the right way to start our trip.
Our last two nights in Japan, we stayed in the heart of Shinjuku. We found an Airbnb that would have run us about $200 for both nights if I hadn’t had Airbnb credits that cancelled out all the costs.
NOTE: Sitting here a few years later, the Airbnb credit strategy is no longer viable as the referral program has shut down.
I wasn’t as big of a fan of Shinjuku. I’m pretty sure most people would consider that blaspheme. Part of my disenchantment undoubtedly had to do with the fact that I spent a good portion of my time there holed up in the Airbnb as I had caught a cold.
But from the walking around I did do, it was full of high-end shopping, tons of night life and at least one series of hotels where people go to have sex. I get that all that excitement is enticing for a lot of people. I’m just not super into high-end clothing and clubbing.
Also, I may have missed massive parts of the neighborhood and be passing unfair judgement. Because sick.
Where did you stay the rest of the two weeks?
Great question! I was originally going to title this post, “How I Stayed in Japan for 2 Weeks for Under $400,” but I decided against that because it would be a little misleading.
This entire trip was spurred on by the fact that one of my longest friends is a native of Osaka. We went to Japan to visit her and her family. We stayed with her family in Osaka, Wakayama, and Nachi Katsuura. I hadn’t seen my friend in seven years, and her family in 22. They are such wonderful people *trying not to cry right now* and made us feel so welcome in their homes.
But most Americans probably don’t have a family friend waiting for them in Japan ready to open up their home to them, so my situation was unique and fortunate.
The Guest House in Kyoto
We were there for a while, though, and people gotta work. So we spent about five days in Kyoto on our own, exploring the ancient city. I was planning on using Airbnb for that, too, but it turns out that if you’re in Japan for cherry blossom season, waiting to book an Airbnb three weeks prior to your arrival in Kyoto is not a great idea. In fact, it’s a crazy expensive one.
After some panicked searching, I found something called a guest house through Hotels.com–where I’m currently only a couple nights away from earning yet another free stay.
Ours, the Yuraku, was Japanese-owned and geared towards Japanese guests. One room with bunk beds ran each of us $385, and I’d be lying if I said I don’t plan on getting that number down further by applying some of the credit card points I earned during our sojourn to that purchase in the next couple weeks.
When a guest house is geared towards Japanese guests, they will ask you to be very quiet. Everything will be super clean and peaceful.
We learned from our host that when the place is geared towards Westerners, it tends to be a bit more rowdy and sociable.
We enjoyed our stay at the Yuraku. I had booked it because it was available and somewhat affordable, but I would book it again because unbeknownst to me, it was in a great location in a beautiful neighborhood with a ton of amenities–like good food, a famous bathhouse, and coin-op laundry–just steps outside the door.
Get more Japan Pictures!
A lot of people have asked me to post my Japan pictures on Instagram. Just one problem: twenty-four hours ago, I didn’t have an account!
But I got so many requests that I have now set one up so I can share all the beauty I beheld while I was away. I know I shared quite a few images in this post, but I’m going to be sharing more exclusively on that channel throughout the week.
Everyday at 1pm Eastern time, I’ll have a new one up there for you guys, so be sure to give me a follow!
Yeah frugal travel! One of my friends from my Masters program in England was from Kyoto – your cherry blossom pictures make me feel like I should tell her I’m coming to visit ;o)
And I have so many more cherry blossom pics coming haha. DO IT! It’s really hard to time the blossoms–they started a week earlier than expected this year, but luckily our trip was long enough that it didn’t matter. We caught it. 😉 Whatever season you go, I’d recommend not skipping this trip. Kyoto is BEAUTIFUL.
Your trip sounds amazing and your pictures are incredible! Of all the countries, Japan is one I’d really like to visit. For now, I make do by watching NHK Japan on TV which has great documentaries of Japanese locations and culture.
Ohhhh I’m going to have to check that out–haven’t seen it! I hope you get to go someday! It’s really great!
My wife and I are planning on going to Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics. I’m so excited, and the tickets aren’t that expensive apparently.
You picked a beautiful hotel to a great a free night. Glad your trip was a success.
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