Frugal Japan Trip Prep

by Katy on April 22, 2012 · 18 comments

There is not much that can be called “frugal” about traveling to Japan. The flights are expensive, the hotels are expensive, transportation within the country is expensive and I imagine that the food is expensive. Because this is a highly organized group trip, (33 children, six adults) there’s not much under my control. Everything is planned out, so it’s not like I can take off on my own and find a cheap noodle joint for lunch. There will will be some free time, but I’m not counting on it.

But my goal with this trip is to be as frugal as possible with the things that are under my control.

For example:

We needed four roll-aboard suitcases, but we only own three. I borrowed instead of bought the extra suitcase. Total cost = $0

Both my son and I had to bring a “formal outfit” for the trip. Because we are casual Portlanders, we started this from square one. I first tried to borrow the slacks and dress shirt from a friend, but my son is rather small, so this went nowhere. However, I was able to find him a new looking pair of trousers at the kids’ consignment shop for $6. I actually head store credit here, so they handed me five dollars and change when we completed the transaction. It turns out we already had a dress shirt, and a child-size tie was found at Goodwill for $3. Total cost = +$2.

I wanted a book to read during the trip, so I stole a copy of paperback copy of The Hour I First Believed by Wally lamb from one of my mother’s guest cottages. Some tenant left it there, and my plan is to abandon the book in Japan rather than cart it around once I’ve finished. My mother is A-OK with this plan. Total cost = $0.

I went to my favorite consignment shops and bought a pretty skirt and a Chico’s Travelers top for myself, which together look fancy. And the top can also be worn with jeans or anything else. Total cost = $30.

I am neither bringing my cel phone nor my laptop. I am bringing my son’s iPod touch, (which came free with our refurbished laptop.) and my husband has set up a FaceTime account, so we can communicate if necessary.

I needed an attractive bag to put host family gifts in, (can’t wrap the gifts, as customs might unwrap them) and I wanted to give something non-disposible. I had seen that Powell’s bookstore was giving an extra $5 to all book sellers this weekend, so I brought in a couple of my son’s books, which they bought for $4. With my $9 in store credit, I bought two darling lightweight canvas totes with the Powell’s logo and some extra decoration. (Yes, they put a bird on it.) Total cost = +$1.

Bringing “Omigaye” host family gifts is a big deal, but I neither wanted to burden the family with useless knick knacks, nor did I want to spend a fortune. I ended up buying:

  • Bob’s Red Mill apple and blueberry granola packets on a day when all B.R.M. products were 40% off at Fred Meyer.
  • A box of six-packs of Oreos in different varieties. The host family that my son will stay with is the same family my older son stayed with two years ago. The daughter, Erina then visited us for two weeks that summer, so I know them well. This little slip of a girl motored through an entire box of Oreos one day which was entertaining to say the least. This was very on sale at Safeway.
  • Two boxes of organic Tazo Chai tea. It was also on sale at Safeway.
  • Two small boxes of Applets and Cotlets, which is a local company. Of course, on sale. 😉
  • Two pairs of cool hipster knee socks that say “Portland” up the side for both Erina and the teenage girl in my host family. (I bought these at Sock Dreams, and used a $5 off coupon from The Chinook Book.)
  • A bag of Ghiradelli chocolate mints. Yup, on sale.
  • A set of Mod-Podged Portland map coasters for each host family.
  • A tea towel printed like a vintage Oregon tablecloth for both of the host moms. And no, these were not on sale.

I estimate that I spent $45 on everything for the two host families. I’m pretty sure that I’m actually bringing too many gifts, but I end up doing this.

I do not plan on buying a whole bunch of souvenir knick-knacks while in Japan, although I am bringing $300 in spending money. (What’s leftover I’ll give to my older son who’s going to Sapporo for the summer.) I would like to go to a Japanese fabric store if I get the chance. (I get one free weekend with my host family.) Otherwise I do not plan on shopping my way through the land of the rising sun.

My younger son does plan on emptying out the shops. He has spending money from his grandparents and is hot to spend it all.

I still have a few tasks to complete, like buying slippers, grabbing a couple of smallish Goodwill wallets for both of us, (mine is stupidly huge) and you know, cleaning the house. And, oh yeah . . . I still need to pack.

Wish me luck, I am absolutely dreading the long flight, as my bad back makes extended sitting a nightmare. ARGHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!

CLICK HERE to see what I sent along as host family gifts when my older son went on the same trip two years ago.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

sherry April 22, 2012 at 10:32 am

I’m not good on long flights for the same reason. Try getting up and walking around as often as possible…I’ve seen articles that recommend once every hour, though frankly, I don’t think this is possible without irritating the flight attendants pushing food carts or the person sitting next to you. It helps to have an aisle seat. I know you will have a wonderful trip and look forward to seeing pictures and your observations of the Japanese culture.


Jessie : Improved April 22, 2012 at 11:17 am

FYI – In Japan it is actually customary to wrap presents in fabric. It’s called “furoshiki” and you can even do it with a nice looking handkerchief.


Katy April 22, 2012 at 11:37 am

Too late. The gifts are all wrapped with a pretty ribbon.



Katie April 22, 2012 at 2:07 pm

I’d like to get into furushiki, but haven’t run across the right kind of lightweight, pretty fabric at the right price yet. Maybe Katy will find some furushiki cloth at the fabric store?


Mama Minou April 22, 2012 at 12:20 pm

Have a wonderful trip! Can’t wait to see the photos and hear the tales, frugal or no.


Katie April 22, 2012 at 2:05 pm

I wonder if Japanese fabric stores have a lot of quilters’ fabric like American fabric stores, or if they are another beast entirely.


Lynn D. April 22, 2012 at 3:28 pm

When we hosted Japanese students years ago, we were drilled by our son’s school on Japanese etiquette and the whole gift-giving thing. I wonder if the Japanese are ever tutored in American etiquette. I have spent years guiltily giving most of the “gifts” to Goodwill. It would be so nice to be relieved of the burden of all that gift-giving crap. Now that I’ve got that off my chest, I think you did a great job in choosing gifts.


Katy April 22, 2012 at 4:28 pm

I give most of the gifts that we receive to the Japanese immersion elementary school near our house.



Carolyn April 22, 2012 at 3:57 pm

So excited for your trip to Japan! Is it your first? You will have a great time and your “omiyage” sound perfectly appropriate. Looking forward to seeing some photos when you return. Oh, and actually, I think it is easier to find good cheap food in Japan than in the US.


Pamela April 22, 2012 at 4:31 pm

Oh, wow, lucky you! I miss Japan! I lived there for 3 1/2 years and I loved it. I noticed that among themselves–in their homes and with their families, my Japanese friends were *very* frugal (there’s a pretty high savings rate there), but polite custom required giving gifts at certain times. Also, they wanted things to be very beautifully wrapped–once, when I was getting some cookies to bring to a friends house, the cashier looked like she was going to faint dead away when I told her she didn’t need to wrap it.


Practical Parsimony April 22, 2012 at 7:29 pm

Why aren’t you taking your cell phone? If two of you are going, how will you get away with taking two carryons apiece?

When I taught English to the Japanese mother and daughter, they gave me a tin of lemon drops or some kind of hard candy. I thanked them profusely, but did not mention the name on the tin. The mother explained that the candy was from the most expensive dept store in Japan, “very good, very expensive candy, best store in Tokyo.” I think I finally gave the tin away, maybe not.

Katy or anyone,
So, was this an expected gift to me? They knew I was a school teachr. Was I supposed to return the favor and give them a gift? I have never given a student a gift, even the ones who give me a nice gift.


Katy April 22, 2012 at 8:31 pm

I have no need of a cell phone while in Japan, and the roaming charges would kill me anyway. If any phone calls need to be made, we’ll use pay phones.

And one of the suitcases will check, (maybe both of them.)

My plan is to travel like it’s twenty years ago. No constant updating.



sherry April 23, 2012 at 4:30 am



Laura April 22, 2012 at 8:39 pm

Have a great trip, Katy! I think your gifts are perfect for Japan.

We were there almost a year ago (to meet our new grandson), and yes, *everything* was/is expensive. I was very impressed though with the frugality practiced there every day, even in the heart of Tokyo – you will see it everywhere you go. My husband and I walked to Starbucks every morning for a cup of coffee and even though I’m not a big fan, we ended up buying ourselves 2 Tokyo mugs from them for our one and only souvenir for a grand total of around $25. They are wonderful omiyage, and I remember our trip every time I use one. I wish though I had bought some good “everyday” chopsticks, but I guess I’ll just have to go back some day!


Celeste April 22, 2012 at 9:57 pm

Have a wonderful time on your trip!


Ashley S April 22, 2012 at 10:26 pm

I know this is totally unrelated (Japan?! How cool!) but I was wondering if you would consider a follow up post to your less-heat challenge? Two sunny days in a row and I’m ready to call winter done. Just a few weeks ago it was snowing here on the OR coast and now it looks like spring has finally found us!


Rebecca April 23, 2012 at 5:01 am

I don’t know if you found a kind of Mod-Podge that’s waterproof… but all the kinds I know are not, which might be an issue with coasters. It’s probably too late, but maybe you can do a quick coat of a waterproof varnish?


Another Rebecca April 23, 2012 at 6:33 am

I think a few posts back Katy mentioned that she finished off the coasters with a few coats of spray polyurethane or varnish of some sort. That should seal them in case they get wet.


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