Can you travel Japan on just $40 a day? We have 1 month in Japan to figure that out. Follow our journey to see how we travel Japan on a tight budget.
Where did we end up today in Japan?
Nara, Japan. It’s Sunday, the 4th of November, 2018.
Recounting the past week's experiences on the bus ride into the city, we felt refreshed from the onsen and were ready to begin our journey again.
Where did we stay the night in Nara?
We booked two nights at Hostel & Gallery Gisgood. Directly across the street from Nara train station and for about $10 a night, it was an opportunity we couldn't pass up. Being so close to cheap restaurants also aided our $40 a day budget.
What did we explore today in Nara?
Upon arrival, we still had several hours before we could check into our hostel for the afternoon. Most hostels allow check-ins starting at 1500, but this one started at 1600. That was a ghastly sight to see. Moving hostels means we have to carry our bags around all day… and that’s no fun. Yet there was an excitement in the air that pulled us back into Nara, seeing what it had to offer for us today.
What did we see today in Nara?
Hopping off the train station we headed for a hot spot with open minds…
We dodged deer poop in Nara Park
Several deer roamed about the park as people went crazy taking photos with them and feeding them crackers. These deer had definitely learned the tricks of the trade, as some would come right up beside us and nudge gently for a snack. Pretending we had some food just to pet them is something they didn't find amusing, as they just began to ignore us—sorry, but we’re not spending a dime!
These deer were essentially trained by the local population to bow before receiving their snacks. While that was an interesting sight, we couldn’t help but notice that their antlers were cut to the tiptop of their heads. Understandably, considering it could harm others… it seems odd to try to domesticate these deer, but try to keep things “natural” at the same time.
There were areas where some deer were fenced off from the rest, and people. Other fawn would stay within the forests where people kept to the sidewalks. The larger deer tended to sit tight alongside the pathways across the irrigation canal to avoid people reaching over to touch them.
There was something both connection and disconnecting about this experience, and seeing it from many angles we gained a lot of exposure on the situation. Looking at it through mindfulness, we simply see it the way it is. No judgement or comment, just an observation that we now may let go. If you end up in Nara park, or have been there, let us know what you think about it in the comments below!
Minus the sidewalks covered in deer droppings, it was nice seeing the animals roam freely about the town instead of dashing off at the sight of us.
We pondered the magnitude of Tōdai-ji
Tōdai-ji is famous for the Great Buddha, which is the largest bronze Buddha statue in the world.
Weighing in at over 5,000 tons, the sheer presence of this statue cannot be translated into words. To house such a Buddha, you need what was the largest wooden building in the world up till 1998.
Upon entering, you greet the Buddha with fresh embers of incense blowing around and swirling in the wind. Everyone walked around in a giant circle, mesmerized at the scale of the building. With so many people around, the temple quickly became congested as if gasping for air. This differed from its pair, the second largest Buddha statue in Kamakura. We saw it way back on Day 3 which was open to the fresh air—a strong contrast.
Stood under a five story pagoda bound in history
Beyond Tōdai-ji, there are several other notable temples worth mentioning—none of which we paid for. We were just as satisfied loitering among the temple grounds and window-shopping, so to speak. This was when we saw this five story pagoda near Kōfuku-ji, similar to Sensoji we saw in Tokyo Day 2. This pagoda was built in the Heian period, standing through time as many others alike were destroyed.
We took a walk through Isui-en Garden...
The cool Autumn breeze was refreshing as we strolled through the garden, gently blowing leaves of a deep red hue to the ground. The nature was picturesque and truly beautiful. Following the path, we made our way to the Kasuga-Taisha shrine.
Felt the VIBRANCY of the sun as it illuminated Kasuga Taisha Shrine
The Kasuga-Taisha shrine lay tucked away in the forested park. Following the moss-covered pathway to the shrine, we met eyes with deer - animal to animal. Our basic nature returned as we crossed paths, not being so different after all.
In that moment, regardless of species, we felt the same embrace of the present moment. Nothing else mattered, observing the experience for what it was… only to then break that bond in time, moving on to the next.
Upon reaching the shrine itself, we were enlightened as Shinto represented animals in high regard. There was a magical shift in our thinking, feeling this location, and the reverence of nature. Japan brought to us not only a change in scenery, but ideas to reshape our minds.
Shared the space of two Kannons at Nigatsu-dō — a national treasure
Practicing mindfulness begins now. Wherever we go, we like to stop and take some time to simply be.
Reaching the top of the stairs at Nigatsu Dou gave us a beautiful view of Nara, extending out across the horizon and into the lands of Japan. Being mindfully engaged in the moment allowed us to absorb the whole world at the time. We felt the crisp air as it entered our lungs in deep breaths, invigorating our bodies.
You don’t need hours to meditate. Sometimes all it takes is a simple moment to breath. Even for a brief minute or two was all we needed to reset, recharge, and resume.
We recharged for the evening with train station grub
At the end of the day we still had our heavy backpacks ready to check in at the hostel. Dropping them off at 1600, we realized there was no kitchen to make budget meals. While it hurt our expenditure a little, we headed across the street to the train station to grab some grub. After all, they really do have the best deals.
Being Japan, they have machines at the front that make this a breeze for us. We simply selected from a wide variety of options and received a ticket to exchange for an order inside. This saved us plenty of time. When they came out with the Sukiyaki and Ginger Hot Pot we ordered at Yayoi, we knew we were in for it. With a full belly and a satisfied body, we headed back for some well needed rest.
Pro-tip: For those in Japan looking for a cheap and delicious meal, check the train stations!
How much did we end up spending today in Nara?
Food: ¥1808 / $15.97
Transport: ¥1148 / $10.14
Sightseeing: ¥600 / $5.35
Total: ¥3556 / $31.41
Did we make our budget of $40?
Yes we did, with more to spare!
Maintaining this $40 budget is actually much easier than living back home. With 2-3k rent every month, we’re living and traveling for 1200 a month in one of the most expensive travel destinations. Wow! Why wouldn’t you want to travel for that reason alone?