Budget travel in Japan

My wife and I toured the island of Hokkaido on a 7-day Japan Rail Pass in November ’04.
We stayed at Toyoko-Inn hotels. These are businessmen-type hotels, all located within a few minutes of train stations. The rooms are very clean and comfortable but a little small. They cost less than $100 a night, and on Sundays the rates are one-half for seniors.

You can make reservations via Internet, without giving a credit card number, at www.toyoko-inn.com. After you send in your reservation a confirmation is given, if a room is available. To cancel, call the hotel and ask for an English-speaking person.

Toyoko-Inn hotels provides a simple Japanese-style breakfast every morning. In Tokyo, at the Shinagawa Tokyo Inn we were served coffee with croissants.

We ate other meals at restaurants in train stations and basements of department stores, and sometimes we took out food from 7-11 or AM/PM stores. For meals at these locations, we found the prices similar to and sometimes less expensive than the prices back in our hometown area.

The types of food you find are rice balls, bentos, noodles, simple sushi or mochi. The rice balls are usually covered with processed seaweed and filled with a small quantity of pickles (tsukemono or umeboshi), fish or another type of seaweed (konbu). The bentos are boxed lunches consisting of fish, rice, pickles, potatoes and carrots. Mochi are bread-like balls filled with sweetened beans.

The price comparisons are as follows:
Rice balls — $1 in Japan and $1.25 in Torrance;
Bentos — $4.50, $5.50 & $6.75, Japan, and about $6.75, Torrance;
Noodles — $4.50, $5.50 & $6.75, Japan, and the same in Torrance;
Simple sushi, quantity of 4, 6 or 8 — $5 in Japan or Torrance;
Mochi — 80¢, Japan, and $1, Torrance;

Apples and oranges were slightly higher in Japan, but cantaloupes were much more expensive.
You can visit Japanese markets such as Marukai, Nijiya or Mitsuwa and check the prices of bentos (and contents) and noodles.

I hope that the foregoing will help travelers see Japan without the usual opinion that it is too expensive.

Torrance, CA