7 Days in Osaka, Nara, and Kyoto for Cheap

A good friend of mine from America, Julie, was scheduled to visit me here in Japan at the start of my summer vacation. As much as I’m sure she would love hanging out with me here in Koga for 18 days, I decided to save that for another visit. So, in an effort to make the best of her time here and I decided to book a trip for her, Becky, Carolyn and I down to Kansai for 7 days. Mind you, we’re all poor, recent graduates/ current students, so we wanted to make sure we could maximize our visit for minimal funds. This is how we did the Kansai region cheaply and efficiently!

Transport: Overnight bus.

It was about $50 for a one-way seat on an overnight bus leaving from Shinjuku going straight to Osaka overnight. It’s about an 8 hour ride in a seat with lots of (snoring) people and a somewhat smooth highway. Ok, so it’s not ideal, but it got the job done.

Day 1: Osaka and taking trains to Koyasan

Check out my previous post for a detailed description of this night in a temple on Koyasan. Definitely the most expensive night we had, at $120 per person. That said, it was definitely one of the best things I have done in my 21 years on this Earth, so, it might be worth doing. Also, two meals are included in that price. The Overnight bus got us into Osaka early, and we spent most of the day milling around and catching transport to Koyasan, which can take around 2 hours to get to and cost about $6 each direction.

Day 2: Koyasan (1 night in temple)

After our night in the temple, we visited the various temples around Koyasan. There is a lot to see and do, so be prepared to walk a lot. Also, the mountain doesn’t offer many cheap places to snack, so bring some of those along. Using the bus saves on walking, but it costs about $2.20 per stop.

Day 3: Osaka (2 nights in hostel in Osaka)

Hostels can be found for an amazing $30 per person/night. Our hostel was hosted by a dude known as Masa. He could usually be found with giant headphones on in the common room of UK Hostel Osaka. The refridgerator was covered in praising and messages about UK Hostel. Masa had great English and was super helpful!

The big appeal in Osaka is eating their regional specialties and checking out all the modern areas like America Villa (offering all kinds of shopping and food). We tried some Osaka-style Okonomiyaki (think pancake/omelet with meat and cabbage) in Shin Saibashi for an about $9 per person. Takoyaki (pancake balls with octopus inside) is about $4.50 for 12 of them. Osaka is also famous for it’s nightlife. On any given night, there is something to do in the Shin Saibashi area with all it’s bars and young energy. Just be careful as a drink can cost upwards of $6 per.

Day 4: Osaka/Nara (1 night in Nara)

We visited the Hanging gardens for $12 per person, which, despite it’s steep fee, is definitely worth a visit. It’s the most famous building in Osaka, and hard to miss. The top is a round walkway with windows and a balcony allowing you to see the entire city. We also saw Shintennoji, the temple in Osaka that’s free to get on the premise ($2 to see the inner yard) and definitely worth a visit if you have time.

We grabbed the train to Nara, which cost us about $7 and took 45 minutes. Once in Nara, we checked into our other great hostel (Guesthouse Nara) for a remarkable $30 per night each. They also offered bike rentals for $5.50, which we took advantage of the next day.

As usual, in the hostel, we made friends and went out to explore the city by night. It just so happened that the Nara lantern festival was going on at that time! Lucky timing, and a beautiful, free event! Apparently, this is an annual event that occurs in August each year. All the famous locations in Nara are decked out in lanterns. Best part, it’s free!

Day 5: Nara/ Uji/ Kyoto 

We rented bikes and saw all of Nara in one day (this is possible, and definitely recommended!). Not to mention, it saved time to bike and in the heat of summer, it was much better than walking. Most of Nara’s shrines are free to visit, making it a popular destination. Also, Nara is among the oldest cities in Japan, and it’s teeming with cultural history.

After finishing off Nara, we grabbed the train for another $7 to Kyoto, with a quick stop in Uji (famous for matcha and cormorant fishing). Every evening, there are shows for the cormorant fishing in Uji, which you can either pay to be on the boat watching, or you can sit on the banks and watch for free. Guess which option we went with.

After that, we made our way to Gion in Kyoto for another $30/night/person hostel.

Day 6 & 7: Kyoto (2 nights in Kyoto)

We spent the next two days playing around Kyoto. You can get a daily bus pass for $5.50 that allows you to get almost anywhere in Kyoto. There is a subway system in Kyoto but it’s only two lines and is barely used. We did mostly everything by bus. Many of the highlights in Kyoto have admission fees that range from $2 up to $7. There are other free sites to visit as well, such as Fushimi Inari (famous orange tori gate lined path).

Also, as it was the traditional date of the Tanabata festival (August 7th), Kyoto was also having a festival. There were lights all over town and it was (of course) free to see and enjoy! Our timing was perfect, once more!

Transportation: Shinkansen to Tokyo

The night bus back from Kyoto was $100 per seat, so we opted to take the shinkansen for $140 per seat as it saved 6 hours of travel and is kind of fun in itself. For whatever reason, the bus tickets back to Tokyo are typically more expensive than the other direction.

A note on food:

I always get asked by visitors how much food costs in Japan. This is a very loaded question. You see, in Japan, you can eat at convenience stores for as little as $4 a meal. Or, you can go to a typical sit-down restaurant and pay about $12 per person. It all depends on what you want to eat, and what you want to get out of your experience. If you are short on money, eat at convenience stores, at which there is a large array of choices and it’s very affordable. If you want to try “traditional” Japanese food, you might want to bring some extra money to eat at those restaurants from time to time. The really fancy restaurants can cost up to $60 per person. So, choose wisely! We mostly ate two meals per day from convenience stores, then one nice meal at a decently priced restaurant. The choice is yours!

If you are planning a trip to this region, I hope this was helpful!

If you have questions, please feel free to e-mail me with them! 



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