aboutWe are Akila and Patrick. Our minds (and waistlines) expand as we travel, cook, and eat our way around the world with our two dogs.
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kyoto for free
japan on a budget

Fushiinari Shrine

Fushimi Inari Shrine

We knew that Japan was expensive before we came here but expensive is a relative term.  We thought  food in Japan would be like the cost of New York or London.  Whoa, were we off base.  We didn't expect that a Starbucks Tall iced coffee is about $6, nearly double the price in the United States, or that we would pay $70/night for a small room with a shared bathroom.  A "cheap" meal runs about $20 for the two of us, which is the cost of the most expensive meal we ate in Southeast Asia.  So, we have been searching for ways to keep Japan within our budget.  This post, focusing on free attractions in Kyoto, is the first of three posts on traveling in Japan on a budget (the other two will cover the cost of transportation and food, so if you have any specific questions that you would like addressed, let me know.)

Fushimi Inari Shrine

Fushimi Inari Shrine

Fushimi Inari Shrine: One unexpected expense is the cost to enter temples and shrines.  Unlike Southeast Asia, India, and most of Europe, where religious institutions are free, in Japan, most temples and shrines charge between 300 to 500 Yen (about $4 to 7 USD) to enter.  Fushimi Inari in Kyoto was a beautiful and unique shrine, unlike anything else we have seen in Japan or Asia, and completely free.  The  Fushimi Inari shrine is the head shrine of the Inari, a Shinto kami (deity) represented by the fox, and consists of thousands of vivid orange torii gates. 

Fushimi Inari Shrine Fushimi Inari Shrine
Fushimi Inari Shrine View from Fushimi Inari Shrine

Fushimi Inari Shrine

A four kilometer walk uphill meanders past gates, statues of foxes, bamboo forests, and rivers.  The view of Kyoto about 1/2 kilometer up offers a beautiful perspective of the city.  Fushimi Inari is located directly in front of the Inari Station on the JR Nara line. 

Kyoto Train Station

Kyoto Train Station

Kyoto Train Station

Kyoto Train Station

Kyoto Train Station

Kyoto Train Station:  The Kyoto Train Station is a soaring amalgamation of steel beams and glass.  Escalators reach higher and higher to the top of the train station, providing a 360 degree view of the city.  The 10th floor is packed with ramen shops, the 11th floor contains about 15 different restaurants, and the basement in the attached shopping malls are filled with a stunning array of meats, vegetables, bento boxes, pickled vegetables, and fruits.  The shopping malls are great places to ogle silk kimonos and expensive fans.

Bamboo path Kyoto Arashiyama

Bamboo path, Arashiyama, Kyoto

Women in kimonos in Arashiyama neighborhood

Women in kimonos on the Togetsu-kyu Bridge, Arashiyama, Kyoto

Arashiyama neighborhood:  A path of tall bamboo stands at the center of the Arashiyama neighborhood, in the northwestern part of Kyoto.  Quaint wooden shops selling sweets, tofu, and yuba line the road ending at the Togetsu-Kyo Bridge.  Though perhaps not a must see site like the Gion area, the Arashiyama neighborhood offers a gentle view of a different Kyoto, without cost.

06/22/2010 15:12
Whoa you are like a blog writing ninja who knows JUST what I need to see. Japan is the first stop on my trip. Super worried about the expense. Can't wait for your other posts in this series.
Stephanie's recent blog post: Puppy Love Around the World
06/22/2010 17:06
Another post that makes me long for Kyoto!
Did you eat the "fox noodles" (with tempura-tofu, they say that foxes like it) on the way up?
Karin 's recent blog post: Cambodian Culture, Chinese-Style
06/23/2010 06:47
Great photos, and wow - I had no idea Japan was so expensive. Good to know.
06/23/2010 07:00
I've been to Japan twice. Spent 1-2 weeks traveling around. Yes it's more expensive than where I'm from (Indonesia). But for sure it's not that crazy expensive as I thought. Plan it well, pick the right place to stay n eat, get the right train ticket to get around. I believe it's not as expensive as traveling in Euro-currency countries.
06/23/2010 08:44
@Stephanie - It is expensive but there are ways to work out the costs. Let me know if you have any specific questions and I'll try to help you out because we spent a lot of time trying to figure out cheap ways to travel there.

@Karin - Thanks! We had a HUGE meal before we went up to the shrine so unfortunately we didn't even look for food. I wish we had!

@Matt: Thanks! It is a lot more expensive than we expected --- but well worth saving the money to go there. It is one of the most unique countries we have visited.

@Angeline: I think the expenses are different in Japan versus the EU. One big difference for Americans is that Yen is quite strong against the dollar, while the Euro has been steadily losing ground in the economic crisis. I agree with you on train tickets and such --- it costs around the same to get around in Japan as it does in Italy and other countries --- and food is fairly similarly priced. The major difference (in my opinion) is the cost of attractions and accomodations. In most of Europe, we were able to get into most attractions for free (and much of the attraction of cities like Barcelona is just walking around), but in Japan, everything seems to cost $4-5 here or there.
Akila's recent blog post: kyoto for free: japan on a budget
06/23/2010 11:20
I'm in the middle of booking rooms for Japan in the fall, but I'm not finding it as expensive as I expected. I'm traveling solo, and single rooms at the Toyoko chain, for instance, seem to be a reasonable deal, with en suite bathrooms and wifi. Maybe my expectations were different? I didn't think it would be as cheap as SEA.

Surprised to hear that temples and shrines charge, though. Will be interested to hear your tips on food - I'm not a big fan of noodles, which sound like the cheapest way to eat.
Kathy aka mytimetotravel's recent blog post: Washington Wows
06/23/2010 19:14
Gorgeous post! I love the images of the shrine the most.

We didn't make it to Kyoto but decided to put it on the itinerary next time we visit Japan. It's true that it is expensive there but the exchange rate was favourable at the time, and compared to certain parts of Europe, it wasn't over the top. But it's certainly not a budget place to visit.
Gourmantic's recent blog post: Dubai Desert Safari and Dune Bashing
06/24/2010 11:04
If I were standing in that bamboo forest, I'll probably make a food of myself acting out Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Isn't the Inari Shrine freakishly amazing?
Lilia Cornelio's recent blog post: The Lost Art of Letter Writing
07/06/2010 08:48
Kyoto looks gorgeous! Thanks for these tips - I reallyreallyreally want to add Japan to my RTW itinerary, but given the cost of rail travel and accommodation, ten days will blow my budget out of the water. Am having a hard enough time staying anywhere near budget in Jordan!
megan's recent blog post: Turkey to Syria Overland 2
07/08/2010 03:23
Kathy, We found that most rooms ran around $60-70 USD for two people and for a single, around $35-40. Toyoko is a good chain. We also liked the Prince Hotel chain and the Hana/J-Hopper Hostels chain. One of the best things about Japan is that even if you stay in the cheapest place, it will likely be clean and well maintained. We only had one hotel on our entire trip that was a bit dirty.

Gourmantic, Definitely put Kyoto on your list for next time. It was our favorite city!

Lilia, We loved the Inari Shrine - it was our favorite place in Kyoto. The only problem with the bamboo garden was that there were so many Japanese tourists there - but, yeah, we had the same desire, too!

Megan, Definitely consider it if you can because Japan is an amazing country. In 10 days, you could spend 5 days in Tokyo and 5 days in Kyoto so you wouldn't really need a Rail Pass which would certainly help with costs.
Akila's recent blog post: what americans take for granted
07/09/2010 02:31
Thanks for that suggestion! That's a definite possibility - though I think if I'm going to go, I should just take a deep breath and fork over the money - after all, who knows when I might go back?
megan's recent blog post: Daytripping from Hama
07/14/2010 11:13
Wow, gorgeous, gorgeous photos! You make me want to go to Kyoto!
07/18/2010 08:38
Was in Kyoto in April and simply love it there. The only problem was that we didn't spend enough time there! Visited Fushima Inari Shrine but didn't walked all the way to the end. And I wished I had spent more time in Arashiyama.
08/18/2013 00:43
Nice information about kyoto. Good to know about budget travel in Japan.

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