August Japan Matsuri – Frugal Living in Japan

Last months blog maturi about weird things in Japan was a huge success, with over 3.5 million entries* hosted by Gakuranman. This month I set the topic as Frugal Living Tips for Japan, and despite a lot of people being away for the holidays or evidently not having the first clue about how to live frugally – we’ve still rounded up some pretty stunning entries – so thank you to all who participated!

(*approximation. Actual numbers may vary.)


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Cheap rail travel for relatives coming to Japan


If you have relatives or friends coming to Japan and they plan to be the most of their time here city hopping around, it sounds like a Japan Rail Pass can be an incredible money-saver. Shiira at has written THREE in-depth articles about the Japan Rail Pass, so you should go read through them carefully:

Introduction to the Japan Rail Pass

Deeper explanation of the Japan Rail Pass

and the step-by-step guide to purchasing the JRP

Basic points to bear in mind: you need to buy BEFORE you come to Japan and it’s only valid for temporary Visas; and it DOES cover Shinkansen “bullet trains” but not the super-super-super fast Nozomi; and it only covers JR trains and buses (not city subways or other companies). I’d say it’s more than worth it certainly if you plan to travel to more than a few cities here – the bullet train tickets alone cost a fortune. If you’re only planning to stay in one city though, especially Kyoto which doesn’t actually have any internal JR lines, you might want to really sit down and do the math.

Thanks again to Shiira for answering my questions about the Japan Rail Pass in such length!

Follow our Frugal Twitter Tips

twitter-birdI’m pleased to announce the launch of the FrugalistaJapan twitter feed. I occasionally come across vouchers and random money-saving tips that don’t really warrant a full blog post, so I’ll be posting them to twitter feed instead.

Also, I recently entered some random Suntory competitions on the internets, and if I can get lots of clicks here and here, they will send me a case of beer! Yoroshiku tanomu! I think you can also enter the main competition if you do the quizzes they take you to, but they’re in Japanese. I’ll be sure to let you know if I get anything~

Coming soon: How to get free stuff in Japan by collecting random stickers. GETS!

Reader Tips

Reader Jonathan Allen has kindly sent in useful money-saving tips that might work for some of you. Let’s see what they are, and I’ll add my own advice onto them.

Jonathan says: Get loyalty cards – like T-club points, Subway stamp card for free sandwiches.
Jamie says: I have a ton of loyalty cards, but I never seem to shop anywhere enough times that it amounts to anything before the card expires. As for T-club points (Tsutaya, right?), I find I never need to rent movies as the university I work at has an AV-room that I can borrow subtitled DVDs from, and anything newer can be obtained rather speedily through the intertubes – more on how to do this securely and safely in an upcoming post. As for eating out at places like Subway; if you insist on going there, get their loyalty card for sure – but understand that the even more frugal option would be to make your own sandwich! The most useful points I have ever had are those from my credit card, which you can really rack-up if you start making regular investment payments through it and use it to pay for all your regular grocery shopping too.

Jonathan says: Get a commuter pass if you use LD LinesĀ for your ferry rides. I save a bit on a monthly Suica pass for the Yamamote line.
Jamie says: Sound advice if you travel on public transport everyday and are having to pay out of your own pocket. My job pays for my travel though, so I’ve never looked into this kind of thing. In fact, I recieve money to travel by train everyday, but cycle instead. Not only does this save me money, it also gives me a little more to play with. The subway system where I am in Kyoto city has a special 1000 yen travel card that actually gives you 1100 yen worth of travel, but it can only be used on the city subway and not the JR or Hankyu lines. When I do travel by travel by train, I use a an electronic smart-card from JR that means I can skip the entire process of buying a ticket and just charge it up once a month. Although it doesn’t save me any money, it does save me time and headaches of working out how much a ticket to wherever is, and it works with every kind of smart-kind reader around Kansai (PiTaPa, ICOCA etc).


Jonathan says: shop locally, much cheaper than department stores for most things.
Jamie: agreed… However, I have to admit I prefer the homogeneousity of supermarkets over small mom-and-pop greengrocers and local stores. While I would in theory like to proactive in supporting the local community and their dying smaller businesses, I don’t like the hassle I get as a foreigner in local stores. I go shopping to get groceries, not to have a 30 minute interview about how long I’ve been in Japan, how jouzu my Japanese is, and how it’s amazing that I know how to cook with such a tradtional Japanese vegetable. Give me the daikon already! Some of you however may enjoy these random encounters, and may even find yourselves getting the odd free fruit and veg if you can develop a good enough rapport with the locals.

Jonathan says: If you read a newspaper, get a subscription – it’s inevitably cheaper than buying it everyday.
Jamie says: I would go one further and say stop buying a newspaper. If you have an internet connection, there is such a deluge of news sites, podcasts and RSS feeds that there really is no need to read a physical newspaper anymore. If you don’t know how to have news (be it text, audio or video) automatically delivered to your computer or iPhone, then stayed tuned as I’ll be writing a tutorial soon enough.

Jonathan says: Join the Tokyo freecycle group for free stuff.
Jamie says: For anyone outside of Tokyo, and especially in Kansai, I suggest my own site too @ – its free to register and super-easy to post something to give away or sell really cheaply! In fact I have a ton of free furniture listed to give away there right now, as I’ll be moving next month and see to have acquired rather a lot with gaijin moving in and out of our little house over the years. The problem I have with freecycle is that it’s done through yahoo groups, which I really don’t like. I don’t have a yahoo account, and I don’t want one, and I don’t want hundreds of emails in my inbox from the list everday or have to wade through in a “everything in one mail” thing. This is what RSS feeds were invented for, and I wish the admins of the great FreeCycle would acknowledge a better system when one exists. I have tried applying to create a FreeCycle group for my local area here in Kyoto, but they refused to acknowledge it if it wasn’t through Yahoo groups!

Thanks again Jonathan, and be sure to check out his blog at! Be sure to send in your tips too~