What is the cheapest, fastest and most convenient way to travel in Japan? It’s impossible to have it all at the same time, but in this post I’ll try to give you an idea of the different ways to travel in the cherry blossom country. If you are looking for information about the JR Pass (JRP – Japan Rail Pass) you will also find it here….
As you know, transportation in developed countries is one of the most expensive expenses, and this applies to residents and tourists alike. You can, of course, try to hitchhike and many people succeed, but if you want to see as many places as possible, however, you need to move fairly efficiently and quickly.
Japan is famous for its punctual, developed and modern railroads – after all, who hasn’t heard of the so-called bullet train? Even in college we were instilled with the knowledge of how ideally communication works in Japan, and the average annual delays are…. a few minutes! Now that we have gone to Japan, we would very much like to know how to calculate this average, because the delays are there, and quite a lot more. Being only 9 days, delays in train operations happened several times, but fortunately were limited to a maximum of 30 minutes. The fact is that the induced bullet train was always on time.
So what’s the best way to travel in Japan if you’re going on your own? About it below.
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Personally, we did not experience this method of traveling in Japan, mainly for two reasons: first, we were betting on visiting the main cities, and second, our plan was to travel long distances between cities in the shortest possible time. Besides, cities in Japan are very well connected, although the fact that the cost is not small. Fortunately, “better” rates are provided for tourists.
However, when it comes to hitchhiking itself, Japan is one of the safest countries, also in this regard. Although we must add that we read before the trip that this option is not recommended for women traveling alone.
In our opinion, the main routes are better traveled by train. After all, Japan has the best railroad system in the world. It is fast, punctual, comfortable and clean :) But about that in a moment, because we realize that not everyone can afford it.
We didn’t see any hitchhikers during our trip, although we’ve read and heard a lot in other reports that some people manage to travel around Japan quite efficiently this way. Our biggest concern would be about communication, as the Japanese give the impression of being closed-minded, afraid to speak English. Nevertheless, the accounts of people who hitchhiked leave no illusions that it is possible to get there quickly and safely by hitchhiking.
Still writing about traveling by car, it is worth mentioning car rental. This is also always an interesting option, but thinking about driving around Japan,finding ourselves in numerous snails, reading completely incomprehensible inscriptions, somehow we did not consider it ;)
Buses around Japan
Japan’s bus network is also good, but on longer routes it is incomparable to the Shinkansen (i.e., the bullet trains evoked above). It should also be added that we will travel slower by bus than by trains.
An interesting and cheap alternative, however, seems to be night buses on long routes. You don’t need to use accommodation then, and you use the time to travel. However, costs vary. On the Tokyo-Kioto route, for example, prices can range from ¥1500 to over ¥8000! We, in the end, were not tempted to take such a ride. Mega fast Shinkansen won :)
This marvel probably needs no introduction :) Shinkansen otherwise known as bullet trains are superfast Japanese trains reaching speeds of even more than 400 km/h. In working order, however, they reach speeds of around 300 km/h, which is still quite impressive.
Ticket prices are not cheap, so we wonder why there is such an occupancy rate on trains that run literally every 10 minutes (on one route). The depots stretch for about 500 meters and are usually literally full of people. Prices depend on many factors, the most obvious of which is the length of the route. In addition, the price of the ticket is affected by the speed of the train (or more precisely, the travel time and thus the number of stations along the way), the class, the time and the deadline for purchasing tickets. The Japanese can probably just afford them :)
We as tourists are only interested in one thing – the JR Pass. Thanks to it, we can travel on most Shinkansen for “total free” and with free seat reservations (for which normally Japanese people have to pay extra)! By the same token, Japan is one of the few countries (if not the only one) where tourists have communication simply cheaper…. But about that in a moment…
We wrote more extensively about the Shinkansen trip itself in a post about our trip to Nikko.
What’s the deal with the JR Pass (Japan Rail Pass)?
In a nutshell, the eponymous JR Pass (JRP) is a Japan Railway (JR) ticket for foreign tourists. Not only on Shinkansen, but also on urban and commuter rail.
If you are a tourist who comes from abroad to visit (logical, right? ;)) and do not have permanent residency, then you have the option to purchase a JR Pass. It is worth noting here that this ticket can only be purchased abroad before arriving in Japan. Upon arrival (at any international airport), such a ticket must be “validated” by issuing a new printout. The process itself is easy, quick and understandable, and on top of that you don’t need to know even a gram of Japanese to get along ;) This is for many the first collision with the locals so the impression must be the best.
Before you buy, also remember that the JR Pass is not valid on all types of Shinkansen, mainly the fastest ones. Fortunately, we did not feel this limitation in any way. Taking into account the fact that we can’t move all the bullet trains, even so, on the main routes the frequency of trains that can be ridden reaches about 15 minutes…. The travel time itself varies little, at most a few(dozen) minutes.
We must also mention the simplicity with which one travels on JR lines and transportation in general in Japan. All platforms, tracks, departure times are so perfectly and clearly marked that even without knowing Japanese there is no way to get lost. You have to stick to the colors, and at the larger stations all the information is also written in English.
Japan Rail Pass prices
JR Pass is divided into two types: Ordinary and Green. Ordinary is nothing more than second class, and Green is first class. Of course, we are interested in the cheaper option. Currently, the price of the Japan Rail Pass is as follows:
At the current exchange rate, this gives us about PLN 830 for a 7-day ticket for an adult. So the question that immediately arises is: is it really worth it? After all, it’s more than £100 a day! Well, that’s right, and if we travel around Poland by train moving hundreds of kilometers, will we pay less? Of course not. I won’t even mention the difference in standards. Nevertheless, let’s count…
Does the Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) pay off?
It depends. Although if you plan to move at least between major cities, our answer is – YES! On the other hand, if you are only staying in Tokyo then the JR Pass is unnecessary.
However, if you intend to travel even a little bit in Japan, it is easy to calculate after how many trips the JR Pass will pay for itself.
We recommend www.hyperdia.com for this purpose . There you will find current schedules of all possible trains with ticket prices, intermediate stations. You can also select search filters with options for JR Pass holders, so the system will only search for connections that can be used with our ticket. For us, it was an indispensable tool for planning our very busy travel schedule :)
So let’s count. Checking the train between Tokyo and Kyoto (two “must see” places in Japan) a few days ahead, its price is slightly over ¥8,000 without reserving a seat. With reservations as low as ¥14,000. The fare between Kyoto and Hiroshima is ¥6,500 and ¥11,000 (one way), respectively. This gives us a total of ¥36,000 with reserved seating (14+11+11), which is really worth having (although we didn’t always use it). That is, the price of the JR Pass (for 7 days) has already more than paid for itself.
There is also access to Osaka, Nikko (JR Nikko Line), Kamakura, Osaka Airport (JR Kansai Airport Rapid Service), the ferry to Miyajima and many, many other places.
As you can see, in our case it was more profitable to purchase a JR Pass than individual rides. We leave the final verdict to you, as it depends on your travel plans in Japan.
How about an airplane after all?
This is a good question. This is an interesting option and we considered it for a long time. Planes fly almost as often as trains run, and prices are similar.
However, here comes the time it takes to get to the airport, go through check-in, take care of luggage, etc.
Thus, as long as you are traveling between Tokyo and Osaka and Hiroshima, in our opinion, trains are still the best option. An airplane is worth considering for further distances.
Where to buy a Japan Rail Pass?
Most importantly, I’ll say it again. Japan Rail Pass must be purchased before flying to Japan.
This can be done at many travel agencies. There are currently no such offices in Poland, but there are plenty of offers from European travel agencies on the Internet that will send tickets by courier to your home. We don’t specifically recommend any option, as it is very simple to find them by simply typing JR Pass into the search engine – click.
We also recommend our TOP 17 of Japan:)