Smart & Cheap Japan Travel

If It’s Not Kawaii, It’s Not Japanese

May 11, 2010

The Japanese are, to put it mildly, madly obsessed with aesthetics. Personally, I love it. They have an exquisite sense of fashion that I have been trying to imitate for years, their streets are spotlessly clean, their gardens are world-class, and every piece of their food is a work of art in appearance and in taste. It is this compulsion that has helped fuel the infamous “Kawaii” culture.

Kawaii nowadays is a word used to describe anything cute or adorable. Walking down the crowded streets of Japan, you would probably hear the phrase 4-5 times in any given minute. However, the word and concept is entirely different from the Western sense of cuteness. Kawaii is actually rooted in the Japanese values of humility and innocence. It is the humbleness and helplessness of things or persons that the Japanese are intrinsically attracted too. The Japanese word for pitiful, for example, is “kawai-so.” If you take a hard look at Japanese animated characters that are considered adorable, or at the way young Japanese ladies dress, you will see those elements of vulnerability, submissiveness, and meekness.

Let’s play a little game of: Kawaii or Not. I show you pictures and you decide if they are Kawaii:

Japanese Phrase Kawaii Cute 1

Kawaii or not?

Japanese Phrase Kawaii Cute 2

Kawaii or not? Tough one, this rabbit is a bit creepy.

Japanese Phrase Kawaii Cute 3

Kawaii or not?

Japanese Phrase Kawaii Cute 5

Kawaii or not?

Japanese Phrase Kawaii Cute 7

Kawaii or not?

Japanese Phrase Kawaii Cute 8

Kawaii or not?

Japanese Phrase Kawaii Cute 6

Kawaii or not?

Conventional Japanese Accommodation: Minshuku vs. Ryokan

May 2, 2010
Leave a Comment

While traveling in Japan, especially outside Tokyo, you can look for the multiple available options apart from staying in expensive Japanese hotels. Some cheap Japan accommodations could help you save a lot of money that you could spend on visiting other Japanese travel destinations, shopping, and, most importantly, eating Japanese food. If you are keen and have never experienced the pleasure of staying in a traditional Japanese inn then you would definitely appreciate these minshukus and ryokans.

Both of these are two different styles of Japanese inns that offer different accommodation services and vary in the price factor. In case you want to stay in a place that gives you a feel of home and also allows you pay less then you may choose to stay in a minshuku. These are generally run by families for some business. For those looking for an authentic learning experience, these affordable traditional Japanese inns surely would help you get to know more about Japanese culture. You would be staying in a Japanese home and would follow all the traditions, customs, and everyday rituals that the family members would follow. Minshukus would also satisfy all your culinary curiosities, as you would be treated to homemade meals that you could learn to cook as well. These budget inns have a custom of spreading tatami mattresses and serving meals on low tables on the floors. You are guaranteed never to feel like staying out of home as the Japanese hosts treat everyone as their personal guests.

Staying in a ryokan provides a sense of a mix between eastern and western hospitality. These inns provide excellent services, including full course gourmet meals. Some may have their own natural hot spring baths, depending on the area. You would find these ryokans located at popular travel destinations for tourists in Japan. However, the hotel grade accommodation services come at a price, so be prepared to part from more money when staying in ryokans, when compared to minshukus.

The Natural History of Why Tokyo is Better than New York

April 24, 2010
Leave a Comment

I just came back from a short trip to the States, and while in New York I visited the Museum of Natural History. No, not all my travels are to Japan.

Apart from the shockingly enormous dinosaurs, I instantly was triggered, naturally, by the section on the evolution of Japanese culture and people. Just for the record, I do feel somewhat bad about skipping over the other Asian culture displays. It did pay off, however, as I was reconfirmed and reassured of the uniqueness of Japanese culture.

Read the text on this one:

Japanese Culture Natural History Museum 1

Japanese Culture Natural History Museum: Unique Japanese Style

Here are some more displays on Japanese culture, architecture, and more:

Japanese Culture Natural History Museum 2

Japanese Culture Natural History Museum: Japanese Samurai Culture

Japanese Culture Natural History Museum 3

Japanese Culture Natural History Museum

Japanese Culture Natural History Museum 4

Japanese Culture Natural History Museum: Japanese Cycle of Life

Japanese Culture Natural History Museum 5

Japanese Culture Natural History Museum: Japanese Traditional Housing

Ultimately, what I have learned from the Museum of Natural History is this:

A. The suggested price is actually a suggestion, and that 16$ is a valid suggestion if you are a New Yorker or from Scandinavia. Otherwise, don’t feel guilty about paying (much) less. Hey, New York – all the museums in Washington D.C are free of charge. For everyone.

B. New York is beautiful, but I still defend Tokyo and the greater Japan as the preferred fun, interesting, cheap and smart travel destination choice. By the way, Toto’s toilet museum is free of charge in Tokyo. Now that’s what I call budget travel.

C. This has nothing to do with the museum, but walking around the place made me hungry for Japanese food. So I just want to point out that New York has respectable Japanese restuarants – not all of them are owned by Chinese. Specifically, I can vouch for the “Sappporo” restuarant that is cheap and authentic. I believe it was located on 49th, between 5th & 6th Avenues.

Japan Travel Destination: Miyajima

April 17, 2010
Leave a Comment

Miyajima is a small island in Japan, situated at a short ferry ride from Hiroshima. It is just like the place you would imagine in your thoughts as the perfect vacation destination. It is one of the three popular places in Japan which are known for exotic scenic beauty and calm surroundings.

Miyajima consists of mountains that hold spectacular views and adventurous nature paths, and is surrounded by deep blue seas. The island has always been known for its inclination towards history, culture and tradition, as evident through the multiple temples and shrines quietly hidden away in the mountains. A little piece of advice: You don’t have to take the rope-way up. If you are on a tight budget and have the will power, a long hike would be much cheaper and perhaps even nicer. Another option would be to take the cable car up and hike your way back down.

If your Japan travel takes you to the Miyajima Island it is sure to give you a mesmerizing experience that you are going to cherish for the whole of your life. As the ferry ride takes you to the island, you will be welcomed by a huge gate of the Itsukushima shrine. It is of bright vermilion color and stands around two hundred meters away from the shrine. This gate stands in the sea waters and is known by the name of O-Torii. This shrine has very beautiful green surroundings. It also displays the exquisite beauty of the Shiden architecture in its unique and magnificent structure.

Japan Travel Destination Miyajima O-Torii Gate

Japan Travel Destination Miyajima: O-Torii Gate

Japan Travel Destination Miyajima O-Torii Gate 2

Japan Travel Destination Miyajima: O-Torii Gate

To the excitement of the tourists they are welcomed by wild deer which keeps wandering openly in the island. These deer walk around with the tourists and accept any piece of food offered to them. Careful, as they are known to snatch things from peoples’ pockets, even paper.

Japan Travel Destination Miyajima Deer

Japan Travel Destination Miyajima: Deer

Another very exceptional feature that you will find on the Miyajima Island is the Momijinda Park situated at the foot of Mount Misen. This park is a perfect picture to see. It is just like those autumn time forests that you can imagine, full of scarlet maple that make way for cherry blossoms during the spring time.

One very important thing that should not be missed while on the visit to the Miyajima Island is the local food. Around the area of the main entrance to the island you will find several small streets filled with endless food stalls. Since these aren’t sit-down restaurants, it’s easy to pick and taste numerous dishes and snacks very cheaply while you walk down the street. Some of the local foods include the Momiji manju, special assorted sweets that are shaped like the maple leaf and come with different types of fillings, fried oysters (probably most famous and must be tried), and several other types of sweets.

Japan Travel Destination Miyajima Food Oysters

Japan Travel Destination Miyajima: Oysters

Japanese Karaoke: Not What You Think

April 15, 2010
Leave a Comment

You’re at a pub full of alcoholics, everybody is way too drunk and tired, but nobody seems ready to go home yet to face morning, work, or the wife – or all of the above. A group of supposedly close-knit friends who are celebrating, well, nothing, suddenly appear with microphones in their hands, and in front of absolute strangers burst into obnoxious off-key song of a corny 80’s tune. 4 minutes of ear-bleeding and a beer later, you clap with everyone else, who hope, just like you, that nobody forces them on stage to embarrass themselves, but secretly yearn to sing along to the new Britney Spears single.

That’s what most people think of when it comes to karaoke. My question is, why would anyone want that experience? With the utmost respect for the British, the Irish, and the Scottish (and the Russian too I guess), most would need to reach their level of drinking to justify a night like the one I just described. Japanese karaoke, thankfully, is nothing like it – except for the drinking.

Karaoke is an essential part of Japanese culture. It can be found integrated into restaurants and different types of bars, but the most common are the karaoke parlors that consist of entire buildings with tens and hundreds of small private rooms, all fully equipped with deafening sound and karaoke systems.

The system is simple. You walk in, choose either a per-hour or free-time plan, and opt for all-you-can drink alcohol or not. The best part of this is, it’s quite cheap either way. This is when you will get your room number and microphones:

Japanese Karaoke 2

Inside your very own karaoke realm you will find a touch-screen remote control to choose and en-queue songs from a surprisingly long list (both English and Japanese songs):

Japanese Karaoke 4
Japanese Karaoke #2: Touch-Screen Remote
Japanese Karaoke 3

Japanese Karaoke #3

On the wall you will have a intercom through which you can order food & drinks at reasonable prices (or for free if you went for the all-you-can drink plan). Combined with the private and secluded party room, this convenient room service is what makes Japanese karaoke the ultimate night out with friends or co-workers (though usually it’s the after-party). A must-do during your Japan travel. Warning, you may end up like this:

Japanese Karaoke 5
Japanese Karaoke #4

Luckily, it’s not a bar full of strangers but just you and your friends…

« Previous PageNext Page »

    Blog Moved!

    With the launch of the book, "All-You-Can Japan: Getting the Most Bang for Your Yen," the blog has moved to the book website: Make sure you resubscribe to the feed there!

    About the Author

    Born in Tokyo. Lived, worked, and traveled in Japan for over a decade combined. Author of the book, "All-You-Can Japan: Getting the Most Bang for Your Yen" -

    Click to subscribe to Smart & Cheap Japan Travel and receive notifications of new blog posts by email.

    Join 26 other followers