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!

Posted by: jrhorse | April 21, 2014

Jose’s Japan Tips is #Tweeting!

Happy to announce that I now have a dedicated twitter account for my Japan Travel Tips blog. Follow me at twitter.com/myjapantips or @myjapantips and whenever I can find out something cool about travel to and around Japan, I might share it there! Of course I’ll keep this blog open as well :)

One of the most difficult aspects – and one of the biggest expenses – of a trip to Japan is the airfare. Right now (April 14, 2014) the round-trip airfares from New York, for example, are a staggering $1,500 per person. So it helps to occasionally do some research to see if there are any good airfare deals.

I stumbled upon a few cheap airfares that are worth mentioning if you are interested in making plans to visit Japan in the fall.

First is a fare sale that Air China (Star Alliance carrier) is having on its flights to Beijing from Houston-Intercontinental and Washington-Dulles, which then extends to connecting flights operating out of Beijing to Tokyo and Osaka. I am guessing these fares are on sale because they are relatively new air routes. If you don’t mind a longer trip (18-19 hours or so each way) and an evening arrival in Japan then you may want to look at what they are offering.

The second cheap airfare is something I’ve mentioned before – it’s the service from China Airlines (Skyteam carrier) that operates from New York-JFK nonstop to Osaka-Kansai three times a week, as part of its route that continues to Taiwan. While Air China also offers a similar fare sale from New York to Tokyo and Osaka via Beijing, China Airlines’ nonstop to Osaka is, in my opinion, the better and less time consuming deal.

Before continuing, a reminder that these airfares were researched independently by myself on April 14, 2014 and the expiration date for sales is not known. Information provided is for use at your own risk and subject to the Jose’s Japan Tips Disclaimer.

NEW YORK TO OSAKA KANSAI (Nonstop on China Airlines)
$1,111 round/trip including taxes and fees.
The fare is valid for outbound travel from September 15 through November 22 and requires a minimum stay of 6 nights in Japan. Maximum stay is 30 days or returning on November 29, 2014, whichever is sooner. Travel between New York and Osaka operates on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays in both directions. There is a free checked baggage allowance of two bags per person.

HOUSTON TO TOKYO HANEDA/NARITA (via Beijing on Air China)
$909 round/trip including taxes and fees.
As the Houston to Beijing flight is a redeye (leaving 1 AM and arriving 4:50 AM), you can choose a flight to either Haneda or Narita airport. The flight to Haneda is recommended since it arrives one hour sooner than the flight to Narita (12:50 PM vs 1:55 PM), and because Haneda is closer to Tokyo than Narita.

HOUSTON TO OSAKA KANSAI (via Beijing on Air China)
$913 round/trip including taxes and fees.

WASHINGTON, DC TO TOKYO HANEDA/NARITA (via Beijing on Air China)
$1,051 round/trip including taxes and fees.
The flight from Washington requires an overnight layover in Beijing, yielding an arrival in Japan two days later. You can choose a connecting flight to either Haneda or Narita airport. The flight to Haneda is recommended since it arrives one hour sooner than the flight to Narita (12:50 PM vs 1:55 PM), and because Haneda is closer to Tokyo than Narita. On the return trip the layover in Beijing is only 1 1/2 hours.

WASHINGTON, DC TO OSAKA KANSAI (via Beijing on Air China)
$1,054 round/trip including taxes and fees.

All of the AIR CHINA FLIGHTS are valid for outbound travel from September 5 through December 8, with a few blackout dates (more from Washington than Houston). The maximum stay is 30 days or returning on December 31, 2014, whichever is sooner. With Air China there is a free checked baggage allowance of two bags per person.

No matter how long your layover, Beijing has a transit visa waiver for passengers staying in the airport and connecting to another flight within 24 hours. When transiting in Beijing you will have to go through border inspection for your transfer, followed by a security checkpoint.

There is also a 72-hour transit visa waiver for citizens of over 50 countries, including the US and Canada, who stop and sightsee in Beijing en route to a destination outside of China.

Of course, if you live on the West Coast of the US, the flights are pretty competitive, with nonstop flights in the fall – particularly on ANA, as well as Singapore from Los Angeles – going for about $1,000 round/trip. :)

I hope this information helps you if you decide to go and experience the wonderful country of Japan in a few months!

A note to foreign travelers to Japan that JR East’s “Suica & N’EX” package that had been sold for the last few years will be discontinued on April 1st, with the final sales taking place on March 31st. The “Suica and N’EX” package allowed tourists to travel on the Narita Express from Narita Airport to Tokyo and receive a SUICA card for travel around the Tokyo area at a reduced fare. One-way and round trip packages, as well as standard and green (first) class accommodations were all available. However, JR East has decided to retire this option. My guess is either due to low use or because of the pending increase in the consumption (aka sales) tax in Japan.

In any case, JR East is now pushing it’s one-way “N’EX Tokyo Direct Ticket” which is a flat 1,500 yen fare in standard class from Narita Airport to stations in Tokyo. The new package does not include a Suica card, does not include a round-trip (the return fare has to be paid in full), and does not include Green Car accommodation (which also has to be paid in full).

More details on the JR East Web Site: http://www.jreast.co.jp/e/pass/nex_oneway.html

Posted by: jrhorse | March 24, 2014

Japan sales tax increasing on April 1st

This is a short post to remind people traveling to Japan that the Japanese consumption tax, otherwise known as ‘sales tax’ or ‘GST’, will be increasing from 5% to 8% on April 1st. Everything and anything sold in Japan will go up in price slightly, from train and bus fares to convenience store products and lodging.

In most metropolitan areas, actual fares are rounded up to the nearest 10 yen. This practice will continue, though in Tokyo some of the major transit companies, including the subways and JR East, will introduce a special fare structure for those using contact-less IC cards (such as Suica and Pasmo) that round fares up to the nearest 1 yen, as they say this will more accurately reflect the new prices. This means that fares paid with IC cards will be slightly cheaper than paying with regular paper tickets.

For the casual tourist this may not be much, but continue using public transit frequently and the new savings will become more apparent.

Of course you could use a Japan Rail Pass… but of course, the consumption tax will be raising THOSE prices on April 1st as well. For example a 7-day ordinary rail pass for the Japan Railways will increase from 28,300 yen to 29,110 yen, while a 14-day ordinary pass goes up from 45,100 yen to 46,390 yen.

JR East has published some information in English, which can be viewed on their website, http://www.jreast.co.jp/e/

On a side note, I am hoping to continue sharing my Japan Diary soon. I’ve been swamped lately with marriage preparations :( Thanks for being patient!

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