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.

Posted by: jrhorse | September 16, 2015

A Thank You Note from Australia

This is a few months overdue, so with apologies for the delay I’d like to share a thank you that I received from a traveler in Australia.

I love Japan and the Japanese culture, and that is why one of my hobbies is to operate this blog, post some suggestions and travel updates, and do the best that I can to answer anyone’s questions about Japan travel. (on that note, please read the disclaimer!)

In the spring, Peter from Australia visited Japan and requested that I put together a whirlwind rail tour for him that would take him around the country in the limited amount of time that he had. Or in his words, not heavy on sightseeing.

I was able to do just that, and for the most part Peter used the itinerary to travel around the country.

Here’s Peter’s thank you note, which he allowed me to share:

I can’t thank Jose enough for helping me plan my rail trip around Japan in March 2015. I wanted to use a 14 day Japan Rail Pass to see as much of Japan as possible without too much on the ground sight-seeing. The programme Jose gave me was perfect. I was able to give the programme to the Japan Rail booking office in Tokyo and reserve seats for most of the trip. The trip included travel on bullet trains and on limited express trains. Everything went like clockwork. I joined the Toyoko Club which gave me discount bookings at their chain of business hotels which are generally located within a few minutes walk from each major railway station. Normally I arrived at my destination early afternoon, checked my bags into the hotel and then visited the recommended sites and enjoyed great food at the lower end restaurants. The next day I would catch a train mid morning and so on. I only stayed at one place for two nights to catch up on laundry etc. In 14 days I got an overview of Honshu, Kyushu and Shikoku. I’ve saved Hokkaido for another trip.
Thanks again Jose for making my trip so memorable.
Kind regards
Peter Coghlan
Perth, Western Australia

He also sent me a thank you gift … I’ll share a photo of it soon on my Facebook page, … be sure to look out for it!

Posted by: jrhorse | September 16, 2015

Japan Itinerary: The *Four* Castles

The castle is one of Japan’s most iconic symbols, and one of the most enduring… or, to a certain degree, the least enduring. Built as fortresses to guard important sites while taking the landscape into consideration, many of Japan’s castles fell victim to feuds and wars, whether it be from the time of shogun and samurai, or World War II. While there were as many as 5,000 castles in Japan at one point by some estimates, there are now just over 100 in complete or partial form.

As Japan has lists of three most famous views, gardens, and other locations, there seem to be several different lists out there that rank Japan’s top three castles.

Accordingly, I’ve put together itineraries that take travelers to the four castles in Japan that were ranked at the top of TripAdvisor Japan’s annual survey of castles, based on the public reviews given on that site. Those castles are, in ranked order:

Kumamoto Castle. Photo by 663highland (CC BY 2.5)

Kumamoto Castle. Photo by 663highland (CC BY 2.5)

1) Kumamoto Castle
Despite it being a reconstruction, this is one of the most beloved castle sites in all of Japan, and in the last few years has been consistently ranked as the best among Travelocity reviewers. The original fortifications were laid down almost 450 years ago, but the castle was burned down during the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877. A few of the other buildings that are part of the castle keep are original, and the area has been designated as an important cultural property.
Admission to the castle costs 500 yen and it’s open daily from 8:30 AM to 6 PM (until 5 PM during the winter months). Kumamoto Tram’s A Line stops right in front of it – it’s a 15 minute trip from JR Kumamoto Station. The flat fare for the tram is 150 yen, payable when you exit. A one day tram pass is 500 yen, and a two day pass is 800 yen.

Matsumoto Castle. Photo by MOILIP (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Matsumoto Castle. Photo by MOILIP (CC BY-SA 3.0)

2) Matsumoto Castle
This castle is one of Japan’s originals, dating back to 1504. The keep’s exterior is all black, giving the castle the nickname “karasujo” or crow castle. It has survived since then, being saved from demolition during the start of the Meiji period, and has undergone several restorations, most recently in the 1950’s. At one point, the castle resembled the leaning tower of Pisa when part of the keep slouched to one side. Matsumoto Castle is in Nagano prefecture, with the Japanese Alps as the backdrop, and is an easy train or bus trip from Tokyo or Nagano.
Admission to the castle is 610 yen and it’s open daily except during the new year’s holiday from 8:30 AM to 5 PM. During the Golden Week and Obon holidays, it’s open longer. City buses run from Matsumoto’s train station to the castle, including the tourist bus known as the “flying sneaker” (200 yen per trip or 500 yen for a day pass). The North bus will take you to the castle, and note that the day pass includes discounted admission to the castle. One other option is Matsumoto City’s free bicycle rentals, available at various spots around town including the train station and castle.

Himeji Castle after restoration. Photo by Niko Kitsakis (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Himeji Castle after restoration. Photo by Niko Kitsakis (CC BY-SA 4.0)

3) Himeji Castle
Instantly recognizable as the most visited castle complex in Japan, Himeji has fallen in the Travelocity rankings over the last several years as the complex underwent a multi-year restoration project. Just recently completed, Himeji looks as beautiful as it did when it was first built, and is seeking to claw its way up to the top of the rankings. With origins dating back to the 1300’s, Himeji’s main castles were built in the late 1500’s and early 1600’s, and have survived everything from rebellions to World War II to devastating earthquakes. It was one of the first in the country to be on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites. I visited Himeji during my first trip in 2004, a few years before the renovations began.
Admission to the castle costs 1,000 yen and it’s open daily except December 29 and 30 from 9 AM to 5 PM (in the summer months, until 6 PM). Entry ends one hour before closing.
From Himeji’s main train stations (JR and Sanyo Railway) Himeji Castle is a 5 minute bus ride (100 yen) or taxi ride (~700 yen), or a 25 minute walk (which is what yours truly ended up doing).

Matsuyama Castle. Photo by Jyo81 (CC BY 3.0)

Matsuyama Castle. Photo by Jyo81 (CC BY 3.0)

4) Matsuyama Castle
Located on the island of Shikoku in an area known for its hot springs, Matsuyama Castle is another of Japan’s original castles. It was built on a small mountain – Mount Katsuyama – and the location affords a great view of the city and the Seto Sea. It has largely survived intact; the castle tower was originally destroyed by lightning and rebuilt in the 1800’s, while certain sections were rebuilt as a result of World War II bombing damage.
Due to its high location, the castle is easily accessed by chairlift or ropeway. The castle is open almost every day of the year from 9 AM to around 5 PM and the admission fee is 510 yen. If you want to save yourself the steep climb on foot, the chairlift/ropeway is 510 yen for the round trip.
The nearest tram stop to the bottom of the mountain is Okaido, which houses a shopping arcade. It’s 10 minutes from JR Matsuyama station, and 11 minutes from Dogo Onsen hot spring. One trip costs 190 yen, and a day pass costs 400 yen.

Matsuyama Castle is not to be confused with another castle of the same name located near Okayama.

As with itineraries that I have shared in the past:
– There are two itineraries given for each mode of transit. One starts and ends in Tokyo for those coming into the country at Narita or Haneda Airport. The other starts and ends in Osaka for those utilizing Kansai Airport instead.
– All itineraries are offered subject to the Jose’s Japan Tips DISCLAIMER.

In the case of these journeys, I have opted to just provide rail itinerary suggestions.

From Tokyo By Rail

Day 1:
In the morning, depart from Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station on the Azusa Limited Express to Matsumoto (2 1/2-3 hours, 6,900 yen, no charge with Japan Rail Pass)
Alternatively, depart from Tokyo or Ueno station on the Hokuriku Shinkansen and change in Nagano to the “Shinano” Limited Express service (2 1/2-3 hours, 10,130 yen, no charge with the Japan Rail Pass)
Once your visit is complete, depart for Kyoto using two trains: The “Shinano” limited express from Matsumoto to Nagoya, and the Tokaido Shinkansen from Nagoya to Kyoto. Connecting to the “Nozomi” in Nagoya, the entire trip takes 3 hours and costs 10,170 yen. With a Japan Rail Pass, you will have to take the “Hikari”, increasing the trip time by 30-45 minutes.
Spend the night in Kyoto. Alternatively, continue 15 minutes along the line to Shin-Osaka to stay in that area.
*NOTE: There are no on-board food or drink sales on the “Shinano”

Day 2:
In the morning, depart for Himeji on the Shinkansen. From Kyoto the trip takes 45 minutes by direct Nozomi (5,590 yen) and up to 60 minutes using other services. For Japan Rail Pass holders, there are three Hikari services from Kyoto to Himeji departing between 7 AM and 8:30 AM, after which there is one direct service per hour. Otherwise you’ll need to change trains in Shin-Osaka.
In the afternoon, depart for Matsuyama using the bullet train and limited express across the Seto Sea to Shikoku. You’ll need to take the bullet train a short distance from Himeji to Okayama, then board the “Shiokaze” limited express from Okayama to Matsuyama. The trip takes approximately 3 1/2 hours (9,570 yen). You can use the “Nozomi” or the “Sakura” depending on whether or not you have a rail pass, or your preference – both trains will offer ample connections to the Shiokaze.

Day 3:
Get up early to enjoy the historic hot springs and VISIT MATSUYAMA CASTLE.
In the afternoon, return to Okayama at your leisure using any of the “Shiokaze” services (2 3/4 hours, 6,830 yen) and spend the night in Okayama.

Day 4:
Depart for Hakata station in Fukuoka at your leisure and spend two nights in Fukuoka. Use the “Nozomi” or “Mizuho” unless you have a Rail Pass, in which case you’d use the “Hikari” or “Sakura” (1 3/4-2 hours). Before leaving Okayama, you could visit Okayama Korakuen Garden, one of the top three Japanese gardens.

Day 5:
Take a day trip from Fukuoka to Kumamoto by Shinkansen, using the “Sakura” or “Tsubame” (40-50 minutes, 5,130 yen each way).

Day 6:
Take the Shinkansen and return all the way to Tokyo at your leisure. By Nozomi it takes 5 hours and costs 22,950 yen with no change in trains necessary. With a Japan Rail Pass, the “Sakura” and “Hikari” will bring you to Tokyo in six hours, and you will need to change trains once.

For this itinerary, a 7 day Japan Rail Pass (29,110 yen) will save you a considerable amount of money compared to regular tickets. If you have an extra day left, why not stop at one or two other Japanese cities on the way back to Tokyo? Perhaps an overnight stopover?

From Osaka by Rail

Day 1:
In the morning, depart for Himeji on the Shinkansen. From Shin-Osaka the trip takes 30 minutes (3,740 yen). Remember if you have a Japan Rail Pass, you can’t use the “Nozomi”.
In the afternoon, depart for Matsuyama using the bullet train and limited express across the Seto Sea to Shikoku. You’ll need to take the bullet train a short distance from Himeji to Okayama, then board the “Shiokaze” limited express from Okayama to Matsuyama. The trip takes approximately 3 1/2 hours (9,570 yen). You can use the “Nozomi” or the “Sakura” depending on whether or not you have a rail pass, or your preference – both trains will offer ample connections to the Shiokaze.

Day 2:
Get up early to enjoy the historic hot springs and VISIT MATSUYAMA CASTLE.
In the afternoon, return to Okayama at your leisure using any of the “Shiokaze” services (2 3/4 hours, 6,830 yen) and spend the night in Okayama.

Day 3:
Depart for Hakata station in Fukuoka at your leisure and spend two nights in Fukuoka. Use the “Nozomi” or “Mizuho” unless you have a Rail Pass, in which case you’d use the “Hikari” or “Sakura” (1 3/4-2 hours). Before leaving Okayama, you could visit Okayama Korakuen Garden, one of the top three Japanese gardens.

Day 4:
Take a day trip from Fukuoka to Kumamoto by Shinkansen, using the “Sakura” or “Tsubame” (40-50 minutes, 5,130 yen each way).

Day 5:
In the morning, make your way from Fukuoka all the way to Matsumoto, taking the Shinkansen to Nagoya then the “Shinano” limited express to Matsumoto. Using the Nozomi, the trip takes 5 1/2 hours (21,400 yen). With a Japan Rail Pass you’ll need to take the “Sakura” and “Hikari” to Nagoya, changing trains once along the way. This increases the journey time to around 6 1/2 hours.
If you don’t want to spend time on trains for that long, you can optionally leave from Fukuoka on the evening of Day 4 and spend your evening in an intermediate city such as Kyoto or Nagoya. See my post on sample stopovers.
Spend the evening in Matsumoto.
*NOTE: There are no on-board food or drink sales on the “Shinano”

Day 6:
VISIT MATSUMOTO CASTLE in the morning. In the afternoon, return to Osaka by “Shinano” and the Shinkansen (190 minutes and 10,810 yen by “Nozomi”, slightly longer if switching to the “Hikari” for Japan Rail Pass holders).
*NOTE: There are no on-board food or drink sales on the “Shinano”

For this itinerary, once again a 7 day Japan Rail Pass (29,110 yen) is the way to go.

Posted by: jrhorse | September 15, 2015

Itinerary Update – The Three Gardens

I have recently updated an itinerary posted three years ago on how to go about visiting Japan’s top three gardens. If you have only a few days and want to visit all three of these popular locations, please check out my suggested travel plan on its original post.

Prices are now reflecting the higher consumption tax and new travel options, such as the Hokuriku Shinkansen which now offers a more direct trip between Tokyo and Kanazawa.

Time permitting I’ll try to update others and work on a few more to share with you!

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