Japan is a fascinating country. The land of rising sun as they taught us in school. But as we think of Japan the first thing that strikes us is cost. "Japan costy hai" as most say. I too was on the same lines before I put it on my travel list and started my research. It turned out to be just like any other country if you plan and be on a budget.
Have this blog have tried to help you plan your Japan trip.
As mentioned above the country is not expensive as most of us think. Understand the basics of the country and plan your trip. Not only you will save money but also enjoy each leg of your journey.
Tip: Suggest you take a pen and paper and make your rough notes to understand things better.
Planning your Japan travel
Japan is divided into regions that are then divided in prefectures. If you intend to see specific things of your interest then drill down the regions/prefectures. The reason to do this is there are specific passes available for each region which helps save you cost on commutation.
This link will help see your places of interest in a interactive way.
External link: https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e623a.html
Even if you don't have particular interest and just want to cover the major attractions I suggest you go through the pictures on the side so you understand the geography.
Now lets understand how transportation works in the country which will help you decide the number of days, the budget you will need and the type of accommodations you can book.
Decide the number of days you have at Japan. This is very important because you will be buying passes accordingly. Consider you stay at each location and add up.
Tip: Plan for 7 to 9 days / 14 to 16 days / 21 to 25 days as JR pass which is a very good bullet train pass comes in 7/14/21 days options. It's not compulsory to buy the bullet train pass. There are other options too. Keep reading.
(Hashtag #JRPass after the commute details means this route is free if you have the Japan Rail Pass. You will read it in details as you go further. )
Airports in Japan and reaching the city from them
Japan has seven airports. Tokyo has two airports and it's confusing which one to take. Will brief you about the top ones.
Tip: Knowing the airports is necessary as flight deals come to any of them. This would help you plan your trip well.
Biggest airport of Japan situated in Tokyo. It's 60 kms from city. Most low cost airlines land here. Tokyo city can be reached by JR Narita Express. Takes 1 hour
Largest domestic airport in the country. You can directly access Tokyo Monorail from this airport.
Tip: Check timings of the ticket window and trains
This airport is near to Osaka and you can use the JR Haruka Limited Express to get to Osaka city. #JRPass Takes 50 mins to reach the city.
This airport is used to reach the islands of Kyushu. You can get to Hakata Station via JR Sanyo Shinkansen and then travel further. #JRPass
There are multiple train companies in Japan. Japan Railways (JR Pass = Japan Railways Pass) and 3 other private companies. JR Pass will work only on the routes which are owned by Japan Railways, for the rest different passes and tickets need to be purchased.
Trains are punctual to matter of seconds. They have two major classes, ordinary and green car (basically first class). Ordinary class is amazing value for money and there's no need to spend on green car tickets even if you have the extra cash :)
Shinkansen trains or as we better know them as bullet trains are the fastest way to commute but come at a steep ticket price. The fastest train is Nozomi (Express) and the second fastest is Hikari (Semi-Fast). Fares are almost same for both but the Hikari takes few extra minutes as it has more stops on the way. Why am mentioning both trains if the price is same? Because JP Pass covers Hikari bullet trains and not Nozomi. But not to worry the difference between both trains is barely 30 - 50 mins.
To give you a idea how fast these trains are, you can go from Tokyo - Hiroshima (900 kms) in 4 hours via Nozomi and add 30 minutes more on the Hikari. That's some serious speed.
Tip: Make sure you hear the special announcement made on arrival and departure of the the Nozomi trains. It's done with pride that here comes our fastest train and it commands respect. (You are sure to get goosebumps
There are also night trains in Japan. Sunrise seto been the most famous and favourite among travellers. #JPPass includes the sunrise seto.
Tip: Ending you trip in Japan and heading back to catch your flight take the sunrise train and make the overnight journey instead of the bullet train.
Seishun 18 Kippu
The name of this trains means "Youthful 18". It is a seasonally available ticket which gives you five days of unlimited, nationwide travel on local and rapid JR (Japan Railways) trains for only 11,850 yen. Note: This can only be used on local trains and not bullet trains.
Alert:The Seishun 18 Kippu is only available three times a year during school holiday seasons, as shown in the table above.
The ticket is transferable and can be used by a different person on each day if required.
Now that you know the basics of train travels lets know the available train passes that helps you save money.
JR Pass is the mother of all passes which helps you get unlimited travel on bullet trains for certain no of days. The pass is certainly value for money but doesn't come cheap so you will need to carefully plan.
Quick facts about JR Pass
- Works only on JR rail lines, local JR buses and a ferry for Miyajima
- Can be got 7/ 14/ 21 days options (Check image below for approx fares for each card)
- Have to be used on consecutive days once activated
- Date of activation has to be decided on receipt of pass and cannot be changed
- Pass cannot be bought in Japan and has to be bought from your home country
So now lets learn how to check if the pass is a value option for your trip
JR pass is a value for money if you have a certain number of journeys on the trains. Use the calculator in the link to calculate.For this you will have to have your basic citywise itinerary ready.
Pass calculator : http://japan.aoimirai.net/jrpass_calculator.html#acalctop
(There is also a advance option in the calculator for travellers who want to check best pass options by adding the number of days stayed in each city + approx cost etc.)
How to use the calculator?
Keep adding all the trips you intend to make between cities. Make sure you select + local train option for you destination (For JR Pass is used). Once you have added all your trips click on calculate.
It will show you total fare required for your trips if you bought tickets over the counter.
For eg: When I added my trip and calculated it showed as ¥58180 in total. So that's what I will spend if I bought tickets over the counter. The link recommended me bus and rail passes based on my inputs. So a 7 day JR rail pass costs ¥29110. Definitely huge savings for me. I would buy the 7 day pass.
The results page will also show you alternate passes of buses and regional passes. Do check them too. If you are planning a certain region maybe a JR Pass may not be beneficial. Or maybe a normal rail ticket + a bus pass works. There are many options.
Tip: Also take into consideration time to commute when considering a pass. JR Pass made me travel the length and breath of Japan in 10 days.
How to buy and use the JR Pass
Putting it out in pointers so it's easy for you to understand
Where to buy the pass?
- You will need to buy the pass from India. ALERT: YOU CANNOT BUY A JR PASS IN JAPAN
- You will need your return tickets, visa copy and passport as proof to purchase
- Many travel agents in India sell JR Pass. The list of authorised distributors is here http://www.japanrailpass.net/area_03.html
- You have to select the class of travel (Ordinary or Green) and duration of the pass
- You will be given a confirmation sheet with the details. This will need to be exchanged against JR Pass in Japan. Major railway stations have JR Pass offices. (Check timings of the same)
- You will be asked for the date from which you want to activate the JR Pass. THIS CANNOT BE CHANGED SO BE VERY CAREFUL
- Once activate you will need to show the pass at railway stations along with your passport
Tickets booking with JR Pass
- You can all the tickets booked for your trip at one go
- Write down each booking on paper with all details and hand it over to the ticket counter
- You cannot book the tickets online and will have to visit a JR ticket counter
- If you do not plan to travel on the ticket booked please be a good tourist and cancel the ticket. There's no fine to not do so but be a good traveller.
Tip: On the last day of your trip book the overnight sunrise express. Tickets get full quite fast in this train so book it as you reach Japan.
- You can travel without a ticket on any of the JR trains in the unreserved compartments. In case its full you can stand.
Alert: Make sure you board the train which accepts your pass. Hefty fines are charged for ticketless travel. Take care
Still wanna read about JR Pass, here are few good links
Phew that was too much gyaan on JR Pass. But the time spend here reading this will make you have a seamless trip.
Had mentioned regions and prefectures in which Japan is divided. This passes are basically to cater if you want to see a particular region. If your calculator suggests a certain pass check the details of the pass n the below link. There are multiple passes available.
Check them here: https://www.japan-experience.com/japan-rail-pass/other-rail-pass
You would be spending few days in Tokyo and hence would require to know the best way to commute. Don't fear seeing the map of the network. It's the best way to commute and each location in the city can be accessed easily.
JR Pass lines are very limited within Tokyo. So either you buy single journey tickets via your Suica card or get a pass.
First things download the Tokyo subway app
Search your from - to locations on the app and follow the colour coded lines on the platform. Google maps also give a fair good info on the metro options
Tokyo Subway 24-hour Ticket – Adult: 800 yen, Child: 400 yen
Tokyo Subway 48-hour Ticket – Adult: 1,200 yen, Child: 600 yen
Tokyo Subway 72-hour Ticket – Adult: 1,500 yen, Child: 750 yen
Passes can be bought from railway stations or any convenience stores. Activated from the first trip you commence.
Similarly citywise passes are available for each city in Japan. JR Pass allows you to also take city tours in some cities.
Japan has dense network of buses running across each prefecture, connecting it to the big city. Overnight buses are a good way to save on hostel/hotel expenses and arrive at the new place in the morning
Tip: Make sure you check the timing correctly as bus routes are divided into daytime and overnight service.
Listing the major bus players
Willer Express / http://willerexpress.com/en
Point to point travel bus services. Its famous for offering Japan Bus Pass. Unlimited travel on buses for the period. Check available options below.
Booking of the Japan Bus pass can be done from here http://willerexpress.com/st/3/en/pc/buspass/index.php?aid=184
The above link also has details of the routes etc to help you plan you trip
Things to know:
Pass can be used for upto 3 rides per day. Overnight journeys count in previous days ride count
You can travel on the same route or same direction twice in a day
Pass can be used on any days and not consecutive. Good for trips which require you to stay at a certain place for few days.
If you are planning less than 10 days in Japan and want to see the country extensively this is not for you. Consider it if you have a certain region you want to spend time and come back then its preferred or for long term cheap travel option.
Region wise bus passes are available here: http://willerexpress.com/st/3/en/pc/features/?aid=184 Plan and check if you can include them.
JBL Pass / http://japanbuslines.com/en/buspass/
Another operator is JBL. This has more routes than Willer express and seat selection when you book your tickets. Passes are available for fixed duration.
Others are Star Express, Kansai and JR Group
Islands of Japan can be accessed via ferries. The network is quite extensive. Booking of the ferries can be done from this website https://www.directferries.com/?dfpid=2097&affid=100&rurl=
The JR Pass is valid for the JR Miyajima Ferry. Visiting Hiroshima then add a visit to Miyajima island free of cost.
Tip: I would not prefer a ferry unless you want to visit a island which has not other modes of transportation
By now you would have a fair idea on how to commute in the country and the number of days you need to plan your travels to this amazing country. Here are a few more things to tick off.
The most important part of your trip. Make sure you make all arrangements to get the local currency yen from your country. Foreign currency is usually not accepted in the market. Also exchange rates are lower than what you will get at home.
Get ready to be handed tons of coins for each transaction if you are dealing in cash. Keep coins handy for the drinks, food vending machines and luggage storage machines.
Tip: Carry a coin purse as you will start accumulating coins from you first transaction
ATMs will give 2000, 5000 and 10000 yen denominations. Counterfeit money is not an issue in Japan.
Get yourself a suica card instead. It's basically are stored-value cards which can be recharged almost everywhere and used in trains, metros, supermarkets, restaurants etc. Can be purchased from any JR Railway station.
Tip: You pay a deposit of ¥500 as security deposit for suica card and there is a fee of ¥220 when the card is returned. The ¥220 is only deductible from leftover charge, not your deposit. So make sure you empty the card before taking your refundable security deposit.