Posted by: jrhorse | October 29, 2014

Hilton Japan 50% Off Sale – Ends October 31

A quick post to point out that the Hilton Hotels in Japan are offering a sale for 50% off of the regular rates of 11 properties in Japan. This includes three Hilton and Conrad properties in Tokyo as well as the Hilton near Narita Airport for those who need shuteye right away after their long flight.

The link to the sale is here: http://hiltonhoteldeals.com/jpsale/en/

You must act fast because the sale ends on Friday, October 31 at 1 AM Eastern Time (which is 2 PM Japan Standard Time).

These are high end hotels, which usually carry high end prices. There are probably better deals to be found for lodging, but if you don’t mind a little bit of high class then these deals are worth considering.

At the Conrad Tokyo in the Shimbashi district, for example, the rate is currently 30,000 yen per night for a king room double occupancy, compared to 60,000 yen a night. The Hilton Tokyo Bay – which is an official hotel of the Tokyo Disney Resort and offers connections to both Disneyland and Disney Sea – is 10,000 yen a night instead of 20,000.

The above quotes are samples for a one night, weekday stay in late November and may not include  taxes or additional fees. As with all promotions, everything is subject to availability.

Kudos to the Magic of Miles blog for the information! Their post is here: http://magicofmiles.boardingarea.com/2014/10/28/promo-hilton-50-japan-south-korea-flash-sale/

Posted by: jrhorse | October 20, 2014

Japan Railway Improvements Coming in March 2015

It’s sometimes hard to imagine that in a small, densely-populated country like Japan, they somehow find the room to carry out large transit improvement projects. Two major projects will be opening in March of 2015, that will make transit around Japan much easier – both for the locals and for the tourists.

New E7 Series Shinkansen in service. Photo by Tokyo Sakura, CC by 2.0

New E7 Series Shinkansen in service. Photo by Tokyo Sakura, CC by 2.0

New Shinkansen Line Opens between Nagano and Kanazawa

On Saturday, March 14, 2015 – the Saturday in March selected next year for all Japan Railway lines to carry out an across-the-board revision of their train timetables – Japan’s flagship bullet train system, or Shinkansen, branches out with the opening of a new extension between Nagano and Kanazawa. The current Nagano Shinkansen, operating between Tokyo and Nagano, will thus extend itself and be known as the Hokuriku Shinkansen. It is the first opening of a bullet train line since 2011, when the Kyushu Shinkansen link between Fukuoka and Yatsushiro became operational.

The bullet train opening will bring with it seven new stations in Nagano, Niigata, Toyama and Ishikawa prefectures.  The terminal city, Kanazawa, has preserved much of its heritage as the city was spared from World War II allied bombings. Its main attractions are Kenroku-en Garden, known as one of the Best Three Gardens in all of Japan, and Kanazawa Castle Park. Many other sites to visit in Kanazawa can be found on the official Kanazawa Tourism website.

The bullet train will also open in Toyama, a beautiful city whose prefecture is part of the Japanese Northern Alps. The new bullet train line will make the city a more important transfer point to the city of Takayama and the world heritage site of Shirakawa-go. Another station of interest to to tourists will be Kurobe-Unazukionsen. The station will connect to the private Toyama Chiho Railway for Unazuki Onsen, a small hot spring town. This town, however, is also the start of the Kurobe Gorge Railway, which winds its way around the mountains and the Kurobe Gorge, one of the deepest gorges in all of Japan, where the views of nature are stunning. It is only operational from May until November.

Currently, if you are traveling from Tokyo to Kanazawa, you have two options: Ride the Tokaido Shinkansen “Hikari” service to Maibara and change to the “Shirasagi” train for Kanazawa, or the Joetsu Shinkansen to Echigo-Yuzawa and change to the Hakutaka train. Both of these options take approximately 4 to 4 1/2 hours. However, the new bullet train on the Hokuriku Shinkansen will link Tokyo to Kanazawa in only 2 hours, 28 minutes on the fastest service! Tokyo to Toyama will only be two hours, compared to about 3 hours 20 minutes currently.

If you have the Japan Rail Pass, they have not made an official announcement about validity but I would presume that it would be valid for all trains on the new Hokuriku Shinkansen route. The route will have new trains with GranClass, a premium first class experience that is not fully covered by the Rail Pass (to experience GranClass you have to pay an additional fare, as the pass will just cover the basic fare).

And now for the train name lesson – there will be FOUR different kinds of trains operating on the route. These are:

Kagayaki (かがやき) – This is the fastest service that will make the fewest stops, primarily Tokyo, Omiya, Nagano and Toyama. Selected trains will also stop at Ueno, north of Tokyo station.
Hakutaka (はくたか) – This service will typically serve Tokyo, Ueno and Omiya then run express to Nagano. After Nagano it will make all local stops to Kanazawa. Selected trains will also make stops between Takasaki and Nagano.
Asama (あさま) – This service currently operates on the Nagano shinkansen route from Tokyo to Nagano, and will continue to operate between these two cities only making a mix of local and express stops.
Tsurugi (つるぎ) – This will be the new shinkansen shuttle service that runs throughout the day linking the cities of Toyama and Kanazawa only.

Note that when the Hokuriku Shinkansen opens, several JR lines will be changed over to new private railways, which has been a standard practice over the years. This includes the stretch between Kanazawa and Toyama. Limited Express trains from cities such as Osaka, Kyoto, Maibara and Nagoya will no longer operate between Kanazawa and Toyama, and so passengers (including Rail Pass holders) continuing to Toyama will have to change to the bullet train – primarily the Tsurugi, or whatever is available.

Also, since a few overnight trains from the Kansai region to Hokkaido will now run over private railways, Rail Pass holders will have to pay supplements for using non-JR track if using trains on these lines. Though in a few years, when the bullet train line from Tokyo is extended into Hokkaido, these overnight trains will probably cease to exist.

JR East E233-3000 train that will typically be seen on the new Ueno-Tokyo Line. Photo by Tennen-Gas, CC BY-SA 3.0

JR East E233-3000 train that will typically be seen on the new Ueno-Tokyo Line. Photo by Tennen-Gas, CC BY-SA 3.0

Ueno-Tokyo Through Line Opens

The second major development that is expected to dramatically improve transit within Tokyo is the opening of the Ueno-Tokyo Line. This line will connect local JR trains running from the northern and eastern parts of Tokyo to the Tokaido Main Line that runs south to Yokohama.

Why is this so significant? Many travelers who are traveling over these routes currently have to get off at Ueno, change to a loop line train like the Yamanote Line that goes to Tokyo, then change again to the Tokaido Line. This poses a capacity problem between Tokyo and Ueno, especially during rush hours. The opening of this line will mean no more transfers to the Yamanote Line will be necessary, meaning congestion should see a significant reduction. Ueno-Tokyo through trains will shorten travel times for passengers by a few minutes, which is important in a country where time is essential.

Many of the trains from the north and east that run into Tokyo will continue on to Shimbashi and Shinagawa. It looks like many trains will end at Shinagawa, with a few trains continuing on to Yokohama as well.

Those are some of the improvements that are coming to Japan Railways in March of 2015. Usually, all of the changes that will come with the national timetable revision will be announced by the JR rail companies in simultaneous press releases around mid-December.

Thanks to everyone for reading this hobby blog of mine for the last few years. For some reason or another, everyone keeps reading and commenting on my post about traveling from Tokyo to Kyoto for 2,300 yen (under September 2014 exchange rates, about $21)… So because so many people are interested, here is a list of some ways that you can travel around Japan on the cheap!

- Bring a few friends to Japan and travel with the Seishun 18 Ticket 

If you bring a few friends, or know a few friends willing to travel around with you, the Seishun 18 Ticket – a travel ticket offered at certain times of the year – could be your best friend. Literally translated “Youth 18″ and initially targeted to those traveling on school breaks, the Seishun 18 is actually offered to everyone. The ticket has gone up in price slightly this year because of the national tax rate hike, but it’s still a value at 11,850 yen per ticket. The ticket is valid for unlimited travel on LOCAL trains all around the Japan Railways network – this means, you cannot use the bullet trains, you cannot use premium “limited express” services that run on conventional railways (with one exception), and you cannot use most overnight trains. You can also use the ticket for the JR Ferry that runs to the island of Miyajima (typically a 180 yen trip).

It’s important to note that the ticket can only be purchased and used during school holidays. There are three periods of the year when the ticket is offered:

Spring: Purchase between February 20 and March 31 for use between March 1 and April 10
Summer: Purchase between July 1 and August 31 for use between July 20 and September 10
Winter: Purchase between December 1 and December 31 for use between December 10 and January 10

There are five “spaces” that are stamped by manned station staff every time the pass is used, with one space representing one person traveling in a single day (midnight to midnight). By maximizing the spaces used, you can save a considerable amount of money. If you are a solo traveler and chose to make five long trips in five days (which don’t have to be consecutive), each trip would cost only 2,370 yen! If you have four friends and make a long trip over the course of a day – such as Tokyo to Kyoto – each person pays only 2,370 yen! There are many combinations possible as far as usage – a group of four, for example, can travel a long distance in one day on the pass for 2,960 yen.

It’s important to do some research to see if the Seishun 18 is best for you. Long-distance journeys such as Tokyo to Kyoto or Osaka will pay off, but if you’re only doing a short trip from, say, Tokyo to Yokohama, it’s not worth it.

A few other notes: You are permitted unlimited stopovers on each day, and the price of the Seishun 18 is the same for children and adults – there are no discounts for kids.

- Buy a local ticket that allows stopovers

On any day of the year, buying a long-distance local ticket can save on per-day travel costs because under Japan Railways rules, the longer you travel from point-to-point, the longer you have to make the journey.

The rules are: Within a major Japanese city or for all journeys 100km or less, you have one day to make the trip, and in many cases stopovers are not allowed. From 101 to 200km, you have two days. From 201 to 400km, you have 3 days. For each additional 200km traveled you get one additional day.

To find out the distance of your trip, look it up on timetable search engines such as Hyperdia, being sure to clear the checkmarks on everything except “local train” and “Japan Railways” otherwise you will see a few bullet trains and airplanes!

A few examples:

Tokyo to Nagoya is 366km over the Tokaido Line at a cost of 6,260 yen. You can take the trip over a course of 3 days, so if you decide to stop and spend a night at two cities along the way you will be paying about 2,086 yen per day, and if you spend one night along the way it’s 3,130 yen per day.

Tokyo to Kyoto is 513km over the Tokaido Line at a cost of 8,210 yen. You can take the trip over 4 days! So, traveling over the course of 2 days splits the cost to 4,105 yen…. 3 days is 2,736 yen…. 4 days is 2,052 yen per day!

With this plan, you can direct the money saved on travel into reasonably-priced hotel accommodations along the way – many of which will be considerably cheaper compared to staying in larger cities. This will also allow you to enjoy more of Japan, including some areas that many foreign tourists will pass over.

You are allowed unlimited stopovers along the route that you are taking – it’s important not to stray from the route that you paid and are ticketed for, otherwise there may be a difference in fare. You’ll also want to know that since these are regular fares, there are discounts for children!

Also, major cities in Japan are designated into certain “zones”, and travel in between two major cities is sometimes designated as traveling from one zone to the other. For example, a trip from Tokyo to Osaka would be defined as the Tokyo ZONE to the Osaka ZONE. Stopovers are NOT allowed in zones of your origin or destination, but are permitted anywhere in between. Kyoto is close to Osaka, but since Kyoto has it’s own ZONE you could technically stop over in Kyoto on the trip from Tokyo to Osaka without any extra charge, as long as it’s within the days permitted to travel and, as mentioned earlier, you don’t stray away from the path ticketed. Once you stop anywhere in Osaka and get out of the system, the ticket is considered USED.

Please visit Takeshi’s JP Rail page which gives a lot of great information about this.

- Use the Japan Bus Pass for cheap trips on highway buses

The Willer Express Japan Bus Pass was introduced for foreign tourists in Japan a few years ago. At a cost of 10,000 yen for 3 days of bus travel and 15,000 yen for 5 days, you can make considerable savings over regular bus costs. There are many other bus operators in Japan, including those operated by branches of Japan railways, but the Willer web site allows reservations and bookings in English. Rather than go through a lot of the details, simply read my recent post about the Japan Bus Pass.

- Fly to Japan on a Star Alliance or oneworld airline and take advantage of domestic air passes for tourists

If you travel to Japan on a certain airline, you may qualify for an air pass for tourists. The Star Alliance Japan Airpass is valid for travel on All Nippon Airways (ANA) and can be used if you travel on Star Alliance airlines (including ANA, United, Air Canada, Air New Zealand, Lufthansa). The Oneworld Yokoso Japan pass is valid for travel on Japan Airlines (JAL) and can be used if you travel on oneworld airlines (including JAL, American, British Airways, Qantas).

For each pass, you can take between one and five trips by plane, with each trip costing just 10,000 yen plus tax. It’s a great and quick way to travel around several regions of Japan. You will always find flights from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport to Osaka’s Itami Airport as they continue to compete with the bullet train – but longer distance flights can pay off if you don’t have much time to spare – Tokyo to Fukuoka or Tokyo to Sapporo are great examples. Note though, that there ARE a number of blackout dates where these passes cannot be used.

If you do not qualify for these fares, i.e. by traveling on a different airline, both ANA and JAL offer regular tourist passes – up to 5 trips at a cost of 13-14,000 yen per trip. A minimum of two trips is required.

- Fly domestically on low cost airlines

Over the last few years, the low cost airline concept has boomed in Japan. A number of carriers are springing up offering tremendous fare discounts. Some of the top airlines that you can make reservations with in English include Skymark, Peach Aviation, Jetstar and Vanilla Air.

As these are low cost carriers, services and amenities are reduced compared to carriers JAL and ANA, and the airlines sometimes serve airports that are not close to the center of the city… but the airfares are sometimes hard to beat.

A random fare search for a weekday in November yielded these one-day fares:

Skymark: Tokyo Haneda to Sapporo for 8,500 yen
Peach Aviation: Tokyo Narita to Osaka Kansai for 3,390 yen … ?!?!
Jetstar Japan: Nagoya Centrair to Sapporo for 6,590 yen
Vanilla Air: Tokyo Narita to Okinawa for 8,200 yen

- Use a Japan Rail Pass

If you’ve got a limited amount of time and intend to visit a lot of places around the country, a Japan Rail Pass is still a great way to go around. You get unlimited travel on Japan Railways, and unlimited seat reservations on nearly ALL bullet trains and limited express services for 7, 14 or 21 consecutive days. Prices start at 29,110 yen for seven consecutive days of travel, or about 4,160 yen per day. The 14-day pass starts at around 3,300 yen per day, and if you do the 21-day pass it’s about 2,800 yen per day. Green class (first class) passes are higher.

- Use a Japan Rail Pass and stay on the cheap

Utilizing a Japan Rail Pass when traveling between major cities, you can make an intermediate stop at a small city along the way and potentially save with hotel rates that are cheaper than in major cities. For example, if you travel from Tokyo to Osaka by bullet train, you could opt to begin your travel in the evening and stop at one of the intermediate bullet train stations such as Hamamatsu. In Hamamatsu there are hotels where you could spend as little as 4,800 single occupancy or 6,800 yen double occupancy, complete with your own bed, bathroom and shower – then just move on the following morning to Kyoto and Osaka. (The quote is from the Toyoko Inn, a national chain of business hotels)

- RESEARCH!

The best way to save on your trip is with research. I’ve presented you with a few options, but these just scratch the surface. There are so many deals out there that one can take advantage of in Japan. The key is to price what you want to do (transit, food, lodging), and do price comparisons to see what is best for you.

Of course, if you ever need advice about your next trip to Japan, leave a message and I’ll be happy to reply when I can.

Several news outlets in Japan are reporting the opening in a few days of a new hotel directly connected to the International terminal building at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, and from the looks of it, the hotel may be of tremendous benefit to international travelers who arrive late in the evening or those who are transiting in Tokyo to other countries.

The new hotel is the Royal Park Hotel – The Haneda, part of the Royal Park’s oddly-named “THE” series of hotels. There are over 300 rooms in single, twin bed and suite configurations and the standard amenities. This will make this hotel an ideal location for those who land at Tokyo Haneda airport in the late evening hours when the availability of public transportation becomes sparse.

What is even more interesting, on the other hand, is that a small number of the hotel’s rooms have been designated to be in the *secure area* of the airport. I know of a few hotels like the one in the middle of DFW airport that has its own security entrance to the airport, but this hotel is the first I’ve ever heard of where some of the rooms are inside security! The secure area of Haneda’s International buildings will provide access to 17 bedrooms and eight rooms with showers. So if you plan to stay overnight at Haneda before continuing on to another country, you will be able to stay here – in the part of the hotel dubbed “Tokyo Transit” – without having to go through immigration formalities.

One thing that will have to be kept in mind is the price, as the price is in the high range for Tokyo accommodations. A random search for a weekday night in November yielded room rack rates of 15,000-23,000 yen, but there are discounts available for booking in advance… you just have to scroll down the site and tab to different pages to find the best rate. (There were 48 different “Stay plans” for the date I had selected!!)

With a location that benefits late-arriving International and International transit passengers, The Royal Park Hotel – The Haneda seems to be a promising option! No more TRAVEL WOES!

Posted by: jrhorse | September 9, 2014

Deciphering the Japan Bus Pass (Updated)

Today I will be updating my original post from four years ago (to this date, believe it or not!) about Willer Express’ Japan Bus Pass that is offered to foreign tourists. Depending on where you go in Japan it can save you a good deal of money on travel, not to mention you can also cut down on your lodging expenses by taking an overnight bus journey.

Willer Express, one of Japan’s major highway bus operators, is distinguishable by their pink and white buses. They offer varying bus routes across Japan with fares depending on the day and the class of seating offered – by my count there are 17 different seating combinations, including options with and without toilets!

The Willer Express bus pass has gone up in price since its introduction a few years ago, from 8,000 and 10,000 yen for 3 and 5 day bus passes, respectively, to 10,000 yen for the 3 day version and 15,000 yen for the 5 day version.

There are a list of travel conditions to use the pass, the important ones being:

- You must be a foreigner visiting Japan with the “Temporary Visitor” stamp… every time you board a bus you will need to show your bus reservation, bus pass and passport.
– Once issued, you can take trips on Willer Express buses on any 3 or 5 days in a two month period. They do not need to be consecutive days.
– You are permitted to take a maximum of two daytime buses and one overnight bus every day. Overnight buses that leave after midnight count for the previous day.
– If making connections for same day travel you must allow at least one hour’s connection time.
– Passes are not valid for the more expensive seating options.
– You cannot use the bus pass for travel during the New Year’s holiday (December 26 – January 4)

It’s a good deal if you plan to hit a few major cities. The more trips you take on the pass on one travel day, the more cost-effective it will be. Technically speaking you can take a maximum of 9 trips on the 3 day pass, and 15 trips on the 5 day pass (3 trips per day in both instances) which could lower your per-trip cost to between 1,000 and 1,100 yen. Even if you end up taking two trips per day, you still stand to pay only 1,700 yen per trip with a 3 day pass or 1,500 yen per trip with a 5 day pass - what a bargain! If you take one trip per day, it’s 3,300 yen per trip on a 3 day pass or 3,000 yen per trip with a 5 day pass.

Willer’s web site has a page that lists off model itineraries. But you know me, I love experimenting the possibilities. Let’s see what we can do!

JOSE’S MODEL 3-DAY BUS PASS ITINERARY

We’ll start in Tokyo on Day 1 and depart from Willer’s own bus terminal located west of Shinjuku station. First stop: Niigata, on the northern coast of Japan, known for its rice and sake production. Savor the sights and taste some local flavor. When you’re finished, travel to Osaka or Kyoto using either the direct overnight bus, or by changing in Tokyo (which will count as your second daytime bus and your overnight bus).

After you’ve spent some time in the Kansai region, use Day 2 to take an early-morning bus from Kyoto or Osaka to Hiroshima. Spend the afternoon and evening in the city that unfortunately is known for its fate in the second World War. Return by overnight bus back to Tokyo.

On the final day of your pass travel, head for the city of Sendai, a major city located within close vicinity of the Pacific Ocean and a city of rejuvenation following the 2011 natural disaster. Spend the afternoon in Sendai, perhaps wandering over to tour Matsushima, one of Japan’s most important sites (which also largely survived). Return to Tokyo by overnight bus on your final journey, arriving early in the morning.

10,000 yen / 6 trips: just under 1,700 yen for each trip. If you end up taking three buses on Day 1 as in the example, the cost becomes slightly over 1,400 yen per trip.

If you are on a tight budget, and don’t mind spending lots of time on the bus, the Japan Bus Pass is for you. On the other hand, if you’re not in Japan for long, then you might want to spend more time sightseeing than traveling, in which case you’ll want to shoot for faster travel options such as the Japan Rail Pass, or perhaps one of the airplane passes offered by JAL or ANA (which I might write up about soon).

Buy your bus pass at willerexpress.com

Posted by: jrhorse | September 9, 2014

What expired fares? Sale from US to Japan continues!

9/16/14 Update: As of today, sub- $1,000 fares to Japan are no longer available. Most fares have risen to the $1,100-1,200 range for the same time period.

Well it looks like I was duped – apparently the fare sale I had mentioned before on this blog lives on – and the fares may be available for a few more weeks! If you want to visit Japan, these fares are some of the best I’ve seen this year. Seats are limited so snatch up the fares that you want!

Once again it appears that the prices are for travel from certain “hub” or focus cities of a major airline. A competing airline will offer fares from the other airline’s city – which means, unless you’re on the west coast, you will be connecting en route to Japan.

The main airlines that are part of the sale are United and American/US Airways. This means that if you are flying out of Chicago – you are out of luck I’m afraid, since both airlines have a hub at O’Hare!

United continues to offer fare sales to Tokyo from American/US Air hubs in Philadelphia (Starting at $979 round/trip), Charlotte ($977 r/t), Miami ($979 r/t), Dallas ($979 r/t), Phoenix ($982 r/t). United also offers $967 r/t fares on their Dreamliner flights from Los Angeles.

American continues to offer fares to Tokyo from United hubs. These, however, are now a little more expensive than before but still reasonably priced: Newark, NJ ($1,082 r/t), Denver ($1,082 r/t), Houston ($1,080 r/t), Washington Dulles ($1,082 r/t).

These fares are for most dates between now and early December – heck, you could book tickets today and be flying tomorrow, as just about all fares have no advance purchase restrictions like so many others.

While searching these fares today I came across a few others – among them, for my friends north of the border in Canada! Air Canada has sale fares from Toronto nonstop to either Tokyo Narita on their 777 or to the closer Tokyo Haneda on the Dreamliner starting at $1,161 CAD r/t. From Vancouver in British Columbia, fares from as low as $1,135 CAD r/t can be found on Air Canada’s nonstop to Narita. There are also excellent fares from all over Air Canada’s network in Canada, connecting in Toronto or Vancouver.

Posted by: jrhorse | September 2, 2014

Toyota car rental specials for Gotemba and Tokai areas

The Gotemba Premium Outlets are part of a national network of nine outlet stores in Japan. There are over 200 stores in the outlets from many popular brands such as Gap and Coach. It’s also in a unique location – not too far away from the foot of Mount Fuji and the historical / touristy Hakone region.

Gotemba Premium Outlets make special offers available to foreigners from their information center – coupons are distributed to those showing non-Japanese passports. Now, Toyota Rent-a-Car, in partnership with Gotemba Premium Outlets, is offering special tourist rates on rental cars from certain locations. These include the rental stations outside of the Tokaido Shinkansen bullet train stops at Mishima and Shin-Fuji, as well as the JR station in Gotemba. These are ideally situated for those who want to drive to certain areas that are out of reach, or just want the convenience of a car to go to areas such as the Gotemba outlets, Mount Fuji or Hakone.

As a sample, a 6-hour rental of a standard car goes for around 6,000 yen, while a full day’s rental goes for around 8,000 yen. Of course larger and more luxurious vehicles will cost extra. They are also offering a 10% discount off of all of these rates by printing a coupon from the Gotemba Premium Outlets website. Just click on the “Rent a car plan” graphic. 

Of course, not only do you have to consider the expenses for renting a car, you must also adhere to Japanese traffic laws and you must have a drivers license recognized in Japan. Fortunately, the official English web site for Toyota Rent-a-Car explains a lot if you are interested in a car rental. Also you must keep in mind that a reservation must be made by telephone – presumably the “Toll Free” number listed on their web site is for reservations in English, and they take reservations 7 days a week from 7 AM to 7 PM *Japan Time*. Which means for us in North America, an evening or early morning call to make the reservation.

One of the things that is offered in the Gotemba Premium Outlets offer, according to their brochure, is a free ETC card rental. ETC is Electronic Toll Collection which is used on Japan’s major highways. It’s the EZPass, TollTag and FasTrak of Japan, basically. The toll charges are lower than cash, and presumably any charges are placed on your final bill. Also, a GPS device which can operate in English is available to use.

The 24 hour rental seems to be a good deal if you will be visiting any areas around Fuji, Hakone or Gotemba, or visiting/staying at any surrounding areas that might be out of reach. For example, know of a good onsen near Mishima that you want to visit? If it’s nowhere near public transit, driving a car there may be beneficial. 

Some news to come out of Japan tourism in the last few days is the availability of new rail passes to foreign tourists. Both are offered by JR Central and JR West, which operate the main bullet train lines in Japan.

The first pass is the Tokaido / Sanyo Shinkansen Tourist Pass. This pass permits unlimited travel on ANY bullet train service between Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, Okayama, Hiroshima and Fukuoka (Hakata) station for 5 consecutive days at a cost of 35,000 yen. I said ANY because this pass allows the use of the faster Nozomi and Mizuho trains that the Japan Rail Pass does not permit. The pass also includes travel on selected non-shinkansen routes, including unlimited use of local JR lines in Osaka City, access to the Okayama Tramway, access to a bus service to the foot of Mount Fuji, and free admission to certain museums like the JR Central Transit Museum, aka SCMAGLEV and Rail Park. You can also make up to four seat reservations with the pass on any bullet train service offering reserved seating.

The second pass is the Takayama / Hokuriku Area Tourist Pass, which permits unlimited travel on the “limited express” or premium train services between Osaka, Kyoto and Kanazawa, or Nagoya and Takayama, as well as bus service from Takayama to Kanazawa via Shirakawa-go, the world heritage site. Like the Tokaido / Sanyo tourist pass, it is also valid for 5 consecutive days. The Takayama / Hokuriku Area pass costs 10,500 yen. You can also a local bus in Takayama City, the “Sarubobo” bus service.

I think that the Takayama / Hokuriku pass is a good deal for 10,500 yen if you intend to travel specifically to Takayama or Shirakawa. The Tokaido / Sanyo pass, on the other hand, is NOT a good deal in my opinion. Consider that the 5 day Tokaido/Sanyo pass costs 35,000 yen and only offers up to 4 reserved seats in 5 days, while the national Japan Rail Pass costs a little over 29,000 yen in standard class for 7 days and you can make unlimited seat reservations in that time frame. With the costs of traveling around Osaka pretty marginal – and with plenty of subway lines to bring you around Osaka anyway – the Japan Rail Pass – even if it does not offer the ability to travel on the faster trains – is a cheaper and better offer. The only difference is if you want to use the Tokaido / Sanyo pass to gain access to the additional sightseeing areas or routes that are offered.

To book any of these passes you must contact a travel agency in your home country that offers the pass – just like you would with the national rail pass – and purchase an exchange order that is then traded in for the real pass in Japan. Also, the passes are only offered from October 1 until June 30, 2015.

You can download brochures for these passes at touristpass.jp

Posted by: jrhorse | August 23, 2014

Price War leads to cheap airfare to Japan for the fall

After searching more airfares today, it appears that a Price War is yielding cheaper-than-usual airfare for immediate travel to Japan in September, October and November. If you’ve thought of visiting Japan and haven’t had the chance, or you are desperate for the return trip, then you should seriously take these airfares into consideration… and don’t waste time purchasing the tickets!

The price war essentially focuses around flights operated by American Airlines and United Airlines from the hub and focus cities of their competitors. Many of these flights will require connections somewhere in the US.

American Airlines has hubs in New York – JFK, Chicago O’Hare, Dallas Fort Worth, Los Angeles and Miami, with added hubs from the acquisition of US Airways in Philadelphia, Charlotte and Phoenix. United’s hubs are in Newark, Washington Dulles, Chicago O’Hare (shared with United), Houston, Denver and San Francisco.

United has sale fares from American Airlines hubs: As low as $940 round/trip from Dallas, $942 r/t from Los Angeles (nonstop on their 787) and even $940 r/t from Miami! From US Airways hubs, $940 r/t from Philadelphia, $939 r/t from Charlotte.  Delta Air Lines also has matched the $942 fare from Los Angeles.

Conversely, American Airlines sale fares are from the United hubs: $943 round/trip from Newark, $943 r/t from Washington Dulles AND National, $942 r/t from Houston, $943 r/t from Denver. 

All of these fares require purchase no later than September 3 for travel in the fall on most Sundays through Thursdays until early December. The exception is the Delta airfare from Los Angeles, which has to be purchased by August 25.

9/3/14 – These fares have expired.

Sale Fares from US to Japan for Fall Travel

I’m writing this post today to make readers aware of great discounts for travel to Japan during Fall 2014. It’s possible that these airlines need to fill some seats, so if you would like to visit the land of the rising sun, even 2 weeks from when I write this, the time to act is now!

NEW YORK TO TOKYO (from Newark) and WASHINGTON TO TOKYO (from Dulles)

American Airlines has sale fares from both Newark Airport near New York, and Dulles Airport near Washington DC, to Tokyo Narita via connections in their US hubs for travel through early December starting as low as $943 round-trip. Travel must take place Monday through Thursday and you must return within 90 days or by December 24.

LOS ANGELES TO TOKYO

United Airlines has put their nonstop service from Los Angeles to Tokyo Narita – on a new Boeing 787 Dreamliner – on sale recently, and now it looks like Delta has joined the price war. For most departures through early December flights on either airline – both nonstop – can be had for as low as $929 round-trip.

Good luck on booking these, and enjoy your trip to Japan!

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