Posted by: jrhorse | February 2, 2016

New J-Trip Plan Show on NHK World

jtripplanToday I watched the pilot episode of J-Trip Plan, a brand new Japan travel planning program on NHK World. Hosted by Thane Camus (a fellow New Yorker!) and Amy Ota, J-Trip Plan offers suggestions and tips for Japan travel. The focus of the pilot episode was Winter, with looks at the Sapporo Snow Festival, the Hadaka Matsuri in Okayama, and food tours in Kyoto Prefecture with one segment focused on crab.

The show will be airing once every two weeks from April, and the pilot episode is available for free viewing on NHK World’s VOD service until February 11.

To view the episode:

To visit the show’s Facebook page:

I highly recommend NHK’s newest program, J-Trip Plan, and I hope you’ll use the show as one of your guides to plot your next Japan itinerary!

Posted by: jrhorse | January 11, 2016

Hokkaido Shinkansen – New train line, new rail pass

H5 series Shinkansen on a test run. By Sukhoi37, CC BY-SA 4.0

H5 series Shinkansen on a test run. By Sukhoi37, CC BY-SA 4.0

Happy New Year, and welcome to the first post on in 2016!

In a few months, Japan’s iconic bullet train system will be extended to the northern island of Hokkaido for the very first time. The shinkansen has been running there for the past few months on test runs, but it officially opens to the public on March 26.

Plans for a bullet train line in Hokkaido were laid out over four decades ago, with proposals for several routes on Hokkaido itself. The 33 1/2 mile Seikan Tunnel linked Hokkaido to the Japanese mainland in 1988, and with the 17-year construction project came provisions to eventually add the bullet train.

The new bullet train line extends a distance of 92 1/2 miles from the northernmost terminal at Shin-Aomori, through the Seikan Tunnel to a bullet train station outside of Hakodate, called Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto. From here, a shuttle train called the “Hakodate Liner” makes the 11 mile trip south to Hakodate station in the center of the city.

It will also be possible to hook up to the Hokuto limited express service for the journey north to Sapporo. You can enjoy the scenic trip up to Sapporo on the limited express, as the bullet train probably won’t reach Sapporo for another 15 years or so.

Here are some additional details on the new services to Hakodate, which will extend as far south as Tokyo itself.

Up until the start of services on March 26, 2016: Train travelers from Tokyo heading north to Hokkaido have to change in Aomori for conventional express trains that run under the Seikan Tunnel to Hakodate. The fastest journey from Tokyo to Hakodate is 5 hours 22 minutes. From Tokyo to Sapporo (with an additional change of trains) the fastest journey time is just over 9 hours.

When the bullet train opens on March 26, 2016: Travel times from Tokyo to Hakodate will be cut by almost an hour, to 4 1/2 hours on the fastest services. With just one transfer at Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto to an express, Tokyo to Sapporo journey times will be reduced to 7 hours, 44 minutes on the fastest services.

You may ask… if the bullet train is supposed to be fast, why can’t trains reach Hakodate faster? That’s because when the bullet train opens through the Seikan Tunnel, it will be sharing space with freight train traffic. Freight by rail is big in Japan, and more so to and from the island of Hokkaido with around 50 freight train trips through the tunnel every day. For the time being, bullet trains will have to reduce their speed from around 160 mph on the approach to the tunnel all the way down to 87 mph. Any faster than this, and the shock-waves of air generated by the train in the tunnel will cause the freight cars to fly off the tracks. There are some plans being discussed to offer faster trips, such as maintaining a 160 mph speed through the tunnel and then automatically slowing down when passing freight trains, or scheduling one return trip per day when freight trains are not using the tunnel. Such plans, though, are years off.

There will be ten daily round-trips on the Hokkaido Shinkansen from Tokyo to Hokkaido, and one each from the cities of Sendai, Morioka and Aomori. Services will use the E5 and new H5 shinkansen trains. All cars require a seat reservation: there are eight standard class cars, one green car (first class) and one GranClass car (premium first class).

The Japan Rail Pass will be valid on all of the new bullet train extensions. The exception is GranClass, which Rail Pass users will not be able to use unless supplement charges are paid. Green Car Rail Pass holders can still use the regular Green Car on these services, though.

JR East and JR Hokkaido are offering a new rail pass for foreign tourists who plan to only travel between Tokyo and Hokkaido, and it costs slightly less than a 7 day Japan Rail Pass. It’s called the JR East-South Hokkaido Rail Pass, and it costs 26,000 yen if purchased overseas (27,000 yen if purchased inside the country).

To be used on any six days within a 14 day period, the new pass covers all JR lines in Tokyo, and north of Tokyo through the Tohoku region and into Hokkaido, as far as Sapporo. You can use the shinkansen from Tokyo to Hakodate, as well as portions of several other JR East bullet train lines. A large number of conventional JR routes can also be used, and seat reservations on bullet trains and limited express trains can be made for free. You can use the Narita Express, the Tokyo Monorail to Haneda Airport, the Sendai Airport rail link, the JR rail line to Sapporo’s airport, and also access Nikko and the Izu peninsula. It’s a fantastic deal, considering that the pass is flexible, and does not need to be used on consecutive days…. you CAN use it on consecutive days if you wish, but it is not required. The pass is only good for standard class… it cannot be used for the Green Car or for GranClass.

Hakodate city was named Japan’s most attractive city of 2015 in a recent survey. Attractions from the famous morning market and the night view at the top of Mount Hakodate to a ride on one of the city’s old streetcars will be easier to access with the opening of the bullet train into Hokkaido in March. While you’re at it, why not continue your rail journey towards Sapporo, known for its annual snow festival, craft beers, and museums dedicated to the preservation of the Ainu culture.

As usual, your questions and comments are welcome. I am glad to offer advice whenever I am able, subject to the blog disclaimer.

Posted by: jrhorse | December 21, 2015

Merry Christmas

I want to take this opportunity to wish all of the followers of my blog a Merry Christmas! Thanks so much for your patronage, and for keeping up despite the fact that I am not updating this blog as often as I should.

I’ve got a busy holiday week ahead, but once things settle down I hope to post about a few topics, most notably the Hokkaido Shinkansen extension that opens in March.

Enjoy the most wonderful time of the year, and I’ll see you soon!

Posted by: jrhorse | November 24, 2015

Updated Disclaimer

Today I have updated the disclaimer on my blog. As has been the case since I started the blog around 6 years ago, any information provided on this site, and any advice that I am happy to provide, is to be used at your own risk.

Please note that the disclaimer now addresses immigration questions. Immigration is a very important topic when visiting Japan, or any other country for that matter. Due to the varied nature of this topic, I have decided that going forward I will not answer specific questions regarding immigration in Japan. This includes immigration status, visas, etc. Any specific immigration questions will be best answered by your local Japanese embassy or consulate.

Thanks for your understanding, and thanks for supporting my blog!

Posted by: jrhorse | November 24, 2015

A New Rail Pass For Tokyo-Osaka Train Travel

Stefan has pointed out on his excellent site that a new rail pass will be made available to foreign visitors in Japan beginning in April. The ticket, sold jointly by JR East and JR West, will be called the Osaka-Tokyo Hokuriku Arch Pass.

Before you say anything – no, McDonald’s is not sponsoring the pass because it has the word ARCH in it. Rather, the word ARCH refers to the fact that the train pass is valid on an arching… er, arcing… route between Tokyo and the Kansai region, Kyoto and Osaka included. That route is the Hokuriku region, which includes the newly-extended Hokuriku Shinkansen from Tokyo to Nagano, Toyama and Kanazawa, and then conventional JR tracks from Kanazawa to Kyoto and Osaka, on which you can use the limited-stop express train known as the Thunderbird.

Also included in the pass are:
– Travel on JR Trains in the Tokyo Metropolitan District, consisting of stations on and inside the Yamanote Line loop and a limited number of stations outside the loop
– Travel on the Narita Express from Tokyo to Narita Airport
– Travel on the Tokyo Monorail from Tokyo to Haneda Airport
– Travel on JR trains in what is known as the “Keihanshin” district, including services around Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe and Nara
– Travel on the Haruka Limited Express train from Kyoto/Osaka to Kansai Airport
– Travel on certain private railways in the Hokuriku region that connect to the shinkansen

You can use reserved seats in ordinary class on any shinkansen or limited express service in the areas covered under the pass, except for the Haruka train to/from Kansai Airport where the pass will only cover unreserved seating. Presumably, you would be responsible for additional charges if you wanted reserved seating on the Haruka, or if you wanted to upgrade to the Green Car or Granclass on any service.

The cost for this pass is 24,000 yen if purchased in advance, or 25,000 yen if purchased inside the country. Children 6-11 years of age pay half price. You must have a passport with short-term visitor status (90 days or less) in order to qualify for the pass. The pass can be used on all days, starting on April 1, 2016.

A one-way ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto via Kanazawa is around 18,000 yen. So, there will be considerable savings if you use this pass for a return trip along the entire route. The pass can even be considered for a round-trip between Tokyo and Kanazawa – the arch pass would save you around 4,000 yen compared to regular round-trip reserved tickets.

The trip from Tokyo to Kanazawa takes approximately 2 1/2 – 3 hours by bullet train, and the trip from Kanazawa to Kyoto takes around 2 – 2 1/2 hours by Thunderbird limited express.

By comparison to the 24,000 yen arch pass, a 7-day National Japan Rail Pass costs 29,110 yen and covers just about all JR trains out there, including the Hokuriku Shinkansen and Thunderbird. Using the heavily-traveled Tokaido Shinkansen, you can travel from Tokyo to Kyoto in around 3 hours. The Japan Rail Pass also comes in a Green Car version, whereas the arch pass does not. Conversely, the Japan Rail Pass does not include trips on the Tokyo Monorail or any other private rail lines.

If you want to explore the Hokuriku region, or want a slightly more economical round-trip ticket between Tokyo and Kyoto/Osaka, the Osaka-Tokyo Hokuriku Arch Pass is definitely worth consideration. Though I would prefer you use the money saved on some unique Japanese eats instead of big macs with fries.

The announcement from the JR companies can be found here.

Posted by: jrhorse | October 26, 2015

New regional rail pass unveiled for Kanto region

JR East will begin selling an upgraded version of the Kanto Area pass for foreigners next month called the Tokyo Wide Pass. The cost of the pass will be 10,000 yen (adults) for three consecutive days of travel, up from the 8,300 yen cost of the old Kanto Area pass.

Sales of the new Tokyo Wide pass will commence on November 19, and can be used with a start date of December 19 or later. The Kanto Area pass will no longer be sold after December 18.

The coverage area of the Tokyo Wide pass covers includes the entire coverage area of the former Kanto Area pass, with these additions:

– Joetsu Shinkansen and Joetsu Main Line to Echigo-Yuzawa, and to Gala Yuzawa during the winter season
– Rinkai Line (Tokyo Waterfront Railway) for its entire length

If you plan to go to the Yuzawa region to hit the ski slopes or sample different varieties of sake – the latter of which I did in 2013 – the new Tokyo Wide Pass is a good investment considering a round-trip reserved ticket costs over 13,000 yen. The pass will also cover other JR services like the former Kanto pass, including trips to Nikko, Lake Kawaguchi near Mount Fuji, and the Izu Peninsula.

Visit the JR East web site to learn more about the Tokyo Wide Pass.

One of the most popular ways for the Japanese to travel around the country – but not known to many foreign tourists – is using a national rail ticket offered by Japan Railways called the Seishun 18 Ticket. It is only available to use during three peak travel periods in the year, but if you want to travel long distances, or if you are traveling with a group, the Seishun 18 is one of the greatest bargains in Japan.

I have alluded to the Seishun 18 Ticket in previous posts such as Tokyo to Kyoto for 2,300 yen. The literal translation of “Seishun” is youth. Despite the name, though, the “Youth 18” ticket can be used by anyone, regardless of age.

The travel periods for the Seishun 18 Ticket are as follows:
* March 1 – April 10
* July 20 – September 10
* December 10 – January 10
Tickets are sold 10 days before the first day of validity until 10 days before the last day of validity.

The Seishun 18 costs 11,850 yen and can be used for conventional local and rapid JR trains across the country – that is to say, standard commuter trains only. You cannot use the Seishun 18 for bullet trains (shinkansen), the higher-speed limited express trains, or most overnight services.

Each individual Seishun 18 Ticket contains 5 spaces. Each space is stamped manually for every person that uses the ticket for the first time on any given day, and the ticket is valid for the remainder of the calendar day until the first station after midnight – or in major cities like Tokyo and Osaka, until the final trains of the calendar day run.

This means that one person can travel up to 5 times during the validity period for a cost of 2,370 yen… OR, up to five people can travel in one calendar day for 2370 yen each. That’s around US $20 (as of September 2015). You can break the daily travel costs down by just dividing the cost of the ticket by the number of passengers, up to a maximum of five. So, two spaces is 5,925 yen; three spaces is 3,950 yen; four spaces is 2,962 yen and five spaces is 2,370 yen.

A Seishun 18 ticket is not for the traveler that hops around one city alone… but for the traveler that wants to travel long distance between cities, it should definitely be considered as long as you are traveling during the valid travel periods. For comparison, a regular ticket from Tokyo to Nagoya costs 6,260 yen, and from Tokyo to Osaka, 8,750 yen.

You should consider the following when using the Seishun 18 Ticket:
– As stated, it is only valid during three periods during the year. Outside of these periods, you’ll have to pay standard fares.
– There are no child fares for the Seishun 18, whereas child fares (6-11 years old) are usually available for a 50% discount off the cost of regular fares.
– Since the Seishun 18 Ticket is only valid for the standard trains, you will need to budget extra time to make a long trip, and plan on making lots of train transfers along the way.
– There are a few local JR  services with reserved seating, or unreserved Green Car seating. Examples of this include the Marine Liner (Okayama-Takamatsu) and the open Green Cars on JR commuter lines in Tokyo, respectively. Seishun 18 Tickets can be used for these specific cabins with payment of an additional fare. There are also morning and evening services called “Home Liner” trains that require a small surcharge for a seat. With a few exceptions, “Home Liner” trains can also be used by Seishun 18 Ticket holders by paying the extra “liner” fare.
– If you are traveling to Hiroshima and decide to visit Miyajima island, the Seishun 18 Ticket gives you free access to the JR Ferry to and from the island.
– There are special arrangements in place for Seishun 18 Ticket holders to use a small number of non-JR lines. These lines were originally operated by JR, but were transferred off when new bullet train segments opened. These arrangements are in place to access JR lines that are now isolated from the rest of the national JR network.

In order to consider whether a Seishun 18 Ticket is right for you, you need to consider the number of people in your party, how far you want to travel, and the timetables. An excellent resource is HyperDia, which allows you to search train timetables between cities without having to include faster bullet trains or other limited express services. Just go into the options and just leave “Japan Railways” and “Local Train” checked. (You can leave “liner” checked too – see above for the explanation.)

If you are going to travel long distances, there *are* a few overnight services that run during the period of the Seishun 18 Ticket, but since these do tend to get full, I would suggest the overnight stay strategy that I brought up for Japan Rail Pass holders in an earlier post. I also suggest, as one might do on a long road trip, to stop for rest, bathroom breaks and food every few hours.

Since so many people have inquired on this blog in the past about ways to move about under the Seishun 18 Ticket, I will offer a few examples. Note that these are shared subject to the disclaimer of the blog. You can also use these suggestions even during times when the Seishun 18 Ticket is not valid and you would rather pay the local fare to enjoy a different slice of Japan not seen from services like the bullet train.

These itineraries are for weekday trips. Weekend trips will be slightly different.

Tokyo to Nagoya, Kyoto and Osaka

One of the more popular options using the Seishun 18 Ticket is the trip from Tokyo to the Nagoya and Kansai regions. The Tokaido Main Line, tracing in the steps of the old Tokaido Road dating back to the 1600’s,  is among the busiest in the country. Usually you will have to wait no more than 20 minutes for a service.

It’s easier now to start your journey from Tokyo and cities to the north – even Saitama prefecture and beyond – with the opening of the Ueno-Tokyo through line. You can start from Omiya, Akabane, Ueno, Tokyo, Shimbashi or Shinagawa. You can also take trains from Ikebukuro, Shibuya or Shinjuku and connect.

You can easily make the trip during the day, or take your time and spend the night somewhere along the way. Here are two ideas on weekdays, using timetable data from the Japanese site

Daytime Trip

Depart Ueno 6:20, Tokyo 6:30, Shimbashi 6:34, Shinagawa 6:43
Arrive Atami 8:20
– 3 minute transfer –
Depart Atami 8:23
Arrive Numazu 8:41
– 3 minute transfer –
Depart Numazu 8:44
Arrive Shizuoka 9:37
– 65 minute rest stop –
Depart Shizuoka 10:42
Arrive Hamamatsu 11:51
– 12 minute rest stop –
Depart Hamamatsu 12:03
Arrive Toyohashi 12:37
– 14 minute rest stop –
Depart Toyohashi 12:51 (Special Rapid)
Arrive Nagoya 13:42
Arrive Ogaki 14:17
– 24 minute rest stop –
Depart Ogaki 14:41
Arrive Maibara 15:16
– 2 minute transfer –
Depart Maibara 15:18
Arrive Kyoto 16:12
Arrive Osaka 16:42

With the above itinerary, the trip including rest stops takes around 10 1/4 hours from Tokyo Station to Osaka. Shortening your rest stops will result in earlier arrival times.
From Ikebukuro, Shinjuku, Shibuya: You should take the JR Yamanote Line or Chuo Line to one of the four starting stations.

Night Trip – requires two travel days on Seishun 18 Tickets

Day 1
Depart Ueno 17:01, Tokyo 17:07, Shimbashi 17:10, Shinagawa 17:16
Arrive Atami 18:53
– 1 minute transfer –
Depart Atami 18:54
Arrive Hamamatsu 21:29
[ Alternatively, get off at Numazu (19:12) and buy a 320 yen ticket for the Home Liner from Numazu (19:32) to Hamamatsu (21:11) ]
Spend the evening in Hamamatsu

Day 2
Depart Hamamatsu 6:01 (Special Rapid Train)
Arrive Nagoya 7:27
Arrive Ogaki 8:09
– 33 minute rest stop –
Depart Ogaki 8:42
Arrive Maibara 9:16
– 7 minute transfer –
Depart Maibara 9:23 (Local; becomes Special Rapid at Yasu)
Arrive Kyoto 10:28
Arrive Osaka 10:58

With the above itinerary you are traveling for about 4 hours on Day 1 and 4 1/2-5 hours on Day 2.
From Ikebukuro (17:38), Shinjuku (17:45), Shibuya (17:50): Take the Shonan-Shinjuku Line to Totsuka Station (18:31). It is a 4 minute wait across the platform to the Tokaido Line train leaving at 18:35, arriving Atami at 19:53. Continue as above.

Tokyo to Hiroshima – Requires two days on Seishun 18 tickets

We will use this example to travel from Tokyo to Hiroshima using the Tokaido Main Line and San’yo Line, spending one night somewhere along the way.

Day 1
Depart Ueno (10:31), Tokyo (10:36), Shimbashi (10:40), Shinagawa (10:47) (Rapid “Acty”)
Arrive Atami 12:15
– 20 minute rest stop –
Depart Atami 12:35
Arrive Shizuoka 13:48
– 53 minute rest stop –
Depart Shizuoka 14:41
Arrive Hamamatsu 15:51
– 12 minute rest stop –
Depart Hamamatsu 16:03
Arrive Toyohashi 16:37
– 24 minute rest stop –
Depart Toyohashi 17:01 (Rapid)
Arrive Maibara 19:10
– 8 minute transfer –
Depart Maibara 19:18 (Special Rapid)
Arrive Kyoto 20:12
– 62 minute rest stop –
Depart Kyoto 21:14
Arrive Himeji 22:48
Spend the evening in Himeji

Day 2
Depart Himeji 7:04
Arrive Mihara 10:10
– 48 minute rest stop –
Depart Mihara 10:58
Arrive Hiroshima 12:13

All together it’s 12 hours of travel on Day 1 and 5 hours on Day 2, including rest stops. You can leave later and spend the night somewhere closer along the way if you want to balance out your travel times.
From Ikebukuro (10:24), Shinjuku (10:30), Shibuya (10:35): Take the Shonan-Shinjuku Line Rapid to Totsuka Station (11:11). It is a 3 minute wait across the platform to the Tokaido Line Rapid “Acty” train leaving at 11:14, arriving Atami at 12:15. Continue as above.


I hope these are starting points for you to build your own Seishun 18 Ticket itineraries. Remember to use web searches like HyperDia (and if you can understand Japanese kanji, to plot out trip times in advance, and always allow yourself some time along the way to stretch your legs, use the restroom and have a meal. The breaks that I have intentionally listed here keep those ideas in mind.

Once again, even if you don’t have – or can’t use – the Seishun 18 Ticket – local trains will offer you a different look at Japan compared to bullet trains. If you buy a local ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto (8,210 yen), you have up to four days to make your trip, with unlimited stopovers allowed as long as you stay on the ticketed route and don’t backtrack. Come to think of it.. if you do end up taking 4 days, it’s only 2,052 yen or $17 US per day. Tokyo to Hiroshima (11,660 yen) is valid for 6 days. So the more you stretch out the journey, the less per day it will cost regardless. The advantage with local tickets is that you can add a supplemental ticket for a faster service – such as the bullet train – for any part of the route at any time, whereas with the Seishun 18 it is not allowed. Also, as mentioned earlier, Child tickets can be used for half the cost.

Happy travels! Please reach out if you have any comments or questions.

Posted by: jrhorse | September 27, 2015

Japan Radio Show Tonight

Join us tonight at 8:30 PM Eastern for our Side Project Japan Travel Show, where we will talk about the latest news in Japanese culture and trends, talk about travel, answer any questions you might have about Japan travel, and give away some prizes! Tune in to the show at

Posted by: jrhorse | September 24, 2015

Japan Radio Show Sunday night Sept. 27

On Sunday night September 27 at 8:30 PM Eastern (0:30 GMT/9:30 JST Monday morning) I will be presenting a special radio show on Extreme Anime Radio. The 90 minute-ish show will be dedicated to Japan, talking about the news of the day and trends in culture and travel. We will answer any questions you might have about travel in Japan and give a small prize or two away to some lucky listeners! More details will be announced closer to the broadcast.
If you have any questions about Japan travel that you’d like answered on the show, feel free to leave a message, then tune in to the show by logging on to on Sunday night.

Today JR East and JR Hokkaido announced that Saturday, March 26, 2016, will be the opening date of the country’s newest bullet train line, the Hokkaido Shinkansen. It will extend almost 150 km north of Shin-Aomori, the current northern terminal of the bullet train system, through the Seikan Tunnel to the outskirts of Hakodate in Hokkaido. A total of 26 runs will be made through the tunnel using the bullet train every day (13 in each direction), though speeds through the tunnel will be limited to 140 km/h – much slower than the 320 km/h that will operate on most of the route from Tokyo.

As part of the the preparations to bring full-time bullet train service through the Seikan Tunnel, there will be two periods when conventional train travel between Hokkaido and mainland Japan will be shut down. This affects trains operating from Aomori station to Hakodate station:

  • January 1, 2016: Daily and overnight limited express services through the Seikan Tunnel will be shut down for one day for inspections.
  • March 21, 2016: This will be the final day that conventional trains operate through the Seikan Tunnel.
  • March 22-25, 2016: The Seikan Tunnel will be closed for final track alignment and checks.
  • March 26, 2016: The Hokkaido Shinkansen between Shin-Aomori and Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto stations will begin full operation.

Keep these dates in mind if you will be in Japan, as there will be no rail access from mainland Japan to Hokkaido on the days when the Seikan Tunnel is closed.

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