When in Japan, getting around can be efficient and cheap if you know how to use the train system. Unless you have a Japanese friend, you won’t be able to navigate the trains well or even know how much money you need to set aside for transportation.
Thankfully, Callum Brown, General Manager of Flight Centre Asia has chimed in on the topic.
Japan Railways (JR) owns and operates about 70% of Japan’s railway network, while the other 30% are managed by smaller privately owned companies. Therefore, unless you are planning to travel to a remote region in Japan, JR should have all your transportation needs covered, literally. Here are some tips to help you navigate the Japan Railway network like a pro:
Choose the right pass for your itinerary
The JR Pass is a great choice for those who plan to visit multiple cities like Tokyo, Hokkaido and Osaka as it provides nationwide coverage including shinkansen (bullet train), limited express, express, rapid, local trains, as well as Tokyo Monorail to/from Haneda Airport, JR Ferry to Miyajima and even some non-JR trains to access isolated JR lines.
Prices start from 29,110 Yen (approximately SGD360) for 7 days access in ordinary car to 81,870 Yen (approximately SGD1,005) for 21 days access in green (first class) car.
However, if you are planning to stay within one specific city, like Tokyo, you can purchase the JR Tokyo Wide Pass at just 10,000 Yen (approximately SGD123) for 3 days of access.
Aside from Tokyo, it also covers popular tourist spots outside the city, including Nikko, the Fuji Five Lakes, the Izu Peninsula, Karuizawa or the onsen towns of Gunma Prefecture. Similar passes exist for Hokkaido, Kansai (covering Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Kobe and Himeji) and various other key regions.
Also, do note that the JR pass is not applicable for the Nozomi and Mizuho bullet trains but pass holders can still travel on these routes via the Hikari trains and Sakura trains respectively.
Purchase your pass before departure
As the JR pass is available only to temporary visitors or tourists (residents of Japan cannot purchase one), it is best to purchase your pass before your departure to Japan. While the pass is now available at selected JR stations in the country, they are sold at a higher price.
Singaporeans can purchase an Exchange Order from an authorised travel agency. Upon arrival, you will need to visit a JR pass exchange office and turn in the Exchange Order together with your passport to receive your pass.
Maximise your JR pass with multiple stop overs
If you do decide to purchase the JR Pass, then it’s time to start planning how you can maximise your pass to get the best bang for your buck.
For example, if you are traveling between Tokyo and Osaka, you may want to make time for stopovers at Yokohama, Hakone, Kyoto, Hiroshima and Koyasan.
At Yokohama, the Nissin Cup Noodles Museum awaits. If you fancy the idea of creating your own personalised instant cup noodles, this will be a unique and interactive way to create your dream combination and to learn about the history of instant ramen!
Then, head over to Hakone, a town in the hills famous for its onsens, or natural hot springs. Stay the night in a traditional ryokan with its own private onsen, perfect for an evening of relaxation after savouring an intricate meal of traditional Japanese foods.
Where could you go?
Kyoto is home to some of the most magnificent temples in the country. The Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine is a must-see and while you’re at it, why not go all out and suit up in a traditional kimono for that Insta-perfect moment?
Don’t forget to make time for the Nijo Castle and gardens along with the famous Kinaku-ji Golden Pavilion. You can even work on cultivating your mindfulness through a meditation practice in Daisen-in’s Zen rock garden.
Then, head west to the Sagano and Arashi-yama districts for a throwback to the 8th century when aristocrats used to frequent the scenic rice fields and bamboo woods. Here, you can explore various historic sites and temples like the Togetsu-kyo Bridge, Tenryu-ji Temple and Daikaku-ji Temple.
Needing no introduction, Hiroshima is a historically significant city, marked by the explosion of the first atomic bomb in 1945. Take a trip down memory lane at the Peace Park and Memorial Museum, followed by a ferry ride over to the sacred island of Miyajima to see the famous floating torii gate.
Finally, journey to Mt Koya in Koyasan, a religious centre founded in 816 by the Buddhist monk Kobo Daishi and widely recognised today as the centre of Japanese Buddhism.
The train ride up the mountain is possibly one of the finest rail journeys in Japan; for the final steep ascent, switch to funicular before hopping on a bus to reach the monastery. For urbanites, the fresh, cool mountain air and serene settings will be sure to bring a renewed perspective.