Have a yen to see Japan? Three tips on how to save cash while there

Photo by Nicole C. WongIf you can't afford to live in Tokyo or Osaka, which are the world's two most expensive cities to live in, then maybe you can make due with a short visit to these beautiful places.

Well, that would be expensive, too. But Japan is such a culturally and environmentally rich and wondrous country that you can't afford to skip it, so here are three money-saving tips that I used during my trip to Japan this summer:

1. When you land at Narita International Airport outside of Tokyo, buy this N'EX and Suica public transportation package deal, which shaves $15.18, or 29%, off what you'd pay if you bought the N'EX coach-class train ticket and the prepaid Suica subway card separately. The N'EX ticket will get you on a 1-hour direct train ride from the airport terminals to Tokyo, and the Suica card will pay for most train, subway, and bus rides in Greater Tokyo. Some vending machines and convenience stores also accept Suica cards to pay for purchases.

2. Buy a Japan Rail Pass to save money on traveling between Tokyo and Kyoto or beyond, like Osaka. You could reap substantial savings because the price for a roundtrip coach-class train ticket between Tokyo and Kyoto is about the same price as a weeklong rail pass -- $298 -- but the latter allows you to ride the country's rail system as often and as far as you'd like during the seven consecutive days that the pass is valid for.

Only foreign visitors to Japan and Japanese nationals living abroad can buy this discounted train pass, which is also sold for 14- and 21-day travel jaunts. Just remember to buy the pass at a travel agency before boarding your flight to Japan because you won't be able to purchase it once you land in the country.

3. Avoid paying money-exchange fees by bringing a credit card that waives such surcharges (like the cards issued by Capital One), then charge the entire bill at group meals and activities where the other attendees are willing to pay their shares in cash. You'll get to pocket their Japanese yen -- which you'll need because many restaurants, shops, and traditional inns don't accept credit cards -- without having to pay any fees for using ATMs or for converting US dollars or travelers cheques to yen at banks or hotels. I even did this on my second-to-last day in Tokyo, when I had dinner with two friends who lived in the city and three of their friends, and I wound up with enough yen to pay for my last day's sightseeing tour, taxi ride, airport train ticket, breakfast, lunch, and souvenirs.
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