Posted by: jrhorse | June 29, 2015

Long-distance Stopovers with the Japan Rail Pass

For travelers who want to explore a lot of Japan during their visit, the Japan Rail Pass is indispensable, offering tremendous value for using Japan Railways services all around the country. If you only plan on traveling in between the major cities of Tokyo and Kyoto or Osaka, or traveling shorter distances, the pass might not be for you. On the other hand, if traveling to many of Japan’s cities on a single trip, the Japan Rail Pass should seriously be considered.

You’ll need to know some of the basic rules for the Japan Rail Pass, which are outlined on the Japan Rail Pass web site and are also discussed on other pages on this blog.

One way to maximize your sightseeing time is to travel overnight. This has become harder to do by train in recent years. Once, Japan was full of overnight trains crisscrossing the country. These days, though, this mode of travel is becoming scarce as rail equipment ages and fierce competition between domestic trains, buses and airlines increase. This article will discuss a few concepts on how you could potentially use the Japan Rail Pass for overnight train travel while saving money in the process.

Only a few overnight train services remain in Japan. Others only run during peak travel periods like Golden Week, New Year’s and the summer months. Regardless, overnight trains in Japan are extremely popular and tend to get booked quickly. Since you cannot reserve train tickets in Japan until you are in the country – with few exceptions (like JR East’s English online reservation system) -your best bet is to try and book the tickets the moment you land in Japan.

Two of the overnight trains that run on a daily basis are the Sunrise Seto and Sunrise Izumo. These trains run coupled together from Tokyo to Okayama in western Japan, where they separate: The Seto runs south to the island of Shikoku, ending in the port city of Takamatsu, while the Izumo runs to the city of Izumo on the northern coast. These trains have compartments and rooms – if you want to secure one of these, you will have to pay the room accommodation and limited express surcharges. While the limited express surcharge varies based on your starting and ending point, the room accommodation is a fixed charge. The Japan Rail Pass will only cover the basic train fare between the two cities. A “solo” compartment will run 9,720 yen, while the high-end “single deluxe” runs for 16,970 yen – and these fares are just for one person. These trains do offer an option for carpeted floor spaces, on the other hand, which are treated as reserved seats – there are no extra surcharges for these spaces with a Japan Rail Pass…. but you have to sleep on the carpeted floor.

If you can secure room on one of these trains, not only is it a great option for travel to the northern coast or to Shikoku, but by changing in Okayama to the bullet train it is a great way to continue westward towards Hiroshima, Fukuoka and Kyushu.

The other service is called the Cassiopeia, which runs a few times a week between Tokyo and Sapporo, in Hokkaido. The prices are comparable or higher than the Sunrise Izumo/Seto, with a diner and no carpeted floor seats. The future of this service, though, is in doubt, with the pending opening of the Hokkaido Shinkansen in March 2016. A third overnight service only connects northern Honshu island with Hokkaido – the Hamanasu. The Hamanasu does offer comfortable reserved seats, which makes it a free option for Rail Pass holders, but again, the train’s future is uncertain.

With few options for overnight trains, the alternative is to simply split up your night journey into two legs, stopping somewhere along the way to sleep. As long as your Rail Pass covers both days of travel, there are so many benefits to splitting up your journey:

– You can get your own hotel room with a bed, bathroom and shower
– A hotel room located far from major cities could be less expensive
– You can experience a slice of life in a new part of Japan, and might be able to enjoy attractions or cuisines unique to that area
– There are no extra transportation costs, since your transportation is already covered under the Japan Rail Pass

By keeping these in mind, a whole new set of options can open up to you by simply doing some research.

A popular option to look out for is the business hotel – small hotels with minimal space, but all the amenities you’d need for a night’s stay. These business hotels tend to be inexpensive no matter where you book. Even in big cities such as Tokyo, they can be among the most economical options.

I will now offer a few suggestions for some long distance journeys. If you would like to explore such options for your next trip to Japan, I hope this information will be a starting point!

Tokyo to Kyoto/Osaka

This is one of the most heavily-trafficked travel routes in Japan, without question. There are so many things skipped in between, though, and with some research you can discover some new areas.

Nagoya: This is a major city, but so often skipped by many travelers on their way from Tokyo to Kyoto (including, I must admit, myself!) and the next time I visit for a while I will make Nagoya one of my priorities. Nagoya has Japan’s largest international trade port (thanks in part to Toyota’s headquarters nearby), the world’s largest train station by floor area, a reconstructed castle, a zoo, and a plethora of unique eats like miso katsu – pork or chicken cutlet served in a red miso sauce. (yum!)

Nagoya is centrally located on the Tokaido Shinkansen, the main train artery linking Tokyo with Kyoto, Osaka, and points beyond. It has been an ideal stop, and will continue to be for a while. But earlier this year, another city with its own history took center stage:

Kanazawa: This coastal city, known for having one of the top three gardens in all of Japan, was connected to Tokyo’s shinkansen network in March 2015. The city has done a lot to cater to visitors, including a rebuild of its main train station – complete with its own shinto-like Torii gate at its entrance. You can spend the night in town and go bright and early the next morning to the Kenrokuen garden before the tour groups arrive, then continue on your way.

The Hokuriku Shinkansen links Tokyo to Kanazawa in as little as 2 1/2 hours. Then from Kanazawa, you can travel by the Thunderbird Limited Express service directly to Kyoto (~2 1/4 hours) and Osaka (~2 3/4 hours). From Shin-Osaka you can connect to the bullet train for destinations to the west.

Matsumoto: A third possible option is to cut through the center of the country along the Chuo Line and visit the city of Matsumoto, known as the home of one of Japan’s original castles. Matsumoto is 2 1/2-3 hours from Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station by the Azusa limited express service. After staying in Matsumoto and potentially visiting the castle, take the Shinano limited express to Nagoya (~2 1/4 hours); you can either pick up the bullet train for destinations to the west, OR, just go around Nagoya for a while!

If you don’t want to worry about major sights and just focus on a place to stay the night, here are some cities to look at:

From Tokyo to Kyoto/Osaka via Nagoya along the Tokaido Shinkansen: Odawara, Atami, Shizuoka, Hamamatsu, Toyohashi, Maibara. A few of the other stations are left out, but it’s important to note that along this important travel artery you’ve got a good chance to find accommodations at every station.

From Tokyo to Kyoto/Osaka via Kanazawa along the Hokuriku Shinkansen and Thunderbird route: Nagano, Itoigawa, Toyama.

Tokyo to Western Japan (including Shikoku and Kyushu)

If you can’t get on board the Sunrise Izumo or Sunrise Seto, travel more comfortably (and perhaps cheaply) with a stopover.

Okayama: The name may not stand out to the regular tourist, but Okayama is a major city and transportation hub in Japan. If traveling from Tokyo and laying over in this city, you can continue on in the morning to Shikoku, Izumo, or continue on towards the west using the bullet train. Not to mention, another one of Japan’s most famous gardens – Korakuen – is located here.

Himeji: located between Osaka and Okayama, Himeji is home to Japan’s most important castle. In existence since original construction began in the 1300s, it has survived the test of time. It is now especially worth a visit, as a five-year project has restored the castle’s exterior to its original splendor.

Once again, every station on the shinkansen (now the Sanyo Shinkansen) gives you a good chance of lodging options.

Tokyo to Northern Japan/Hokkaido

The Tohoku Shinkansen is the main train artery running north from Tokyo towards Hokkaido. By March of 2016, the Shinkansen will actually extend into Hokkaido’s southern city of Hakodate for the very first time. In the meantime, trains terminate in the northernmost city of Aomori. This city makes a good stopping point, as does Hakodate itself if you were looking at a long-distance journey to Sapporo – but again, look at all stations.

Now for some SAMPLE ITINERARIES: For these samples, I have researched the price of lodging on different, random weekdays in September 2015 that are not holidays. This falls within the approximate 3 month range where many hotels have already opened up their reservations. I have also researched the train timetables for that period from sites such as HyperDia and Ekikara. Your results may vary. Hotels listed are for sample purposes only, and prices are listed in US dollars. No endorsements are implied!

#1: Tokyo to Kyoto/Osaka, stop in Nagoya: Board the evening Hikari service leaving Tokyo at 7:03 PM, arriving in Nagoya at 9:09 PM. Spend the evening at the Nagoya Ekimae Montblanc Hotel for $49 single, $37 per person double occupancy. Board a morning Hikari train at 8:21 AM. Arrive in Kyoto at 9:14 AM and Shin-Osaka at 9:30 AM.

#2: Tokyo to Kyoto/Osaka, stop in Hamamatsu: Board the evening Hikari service leaving Tokyo at 7:03 PM, arriving in Hamamatsu at 8:32 PM. Spend the evening at the four star Okura Act City Hotel Hamamatsu for $55 per person single or double occupancy (30 day advance booking rate). Board a morning Kodama train at 7:49 AM. Arrive in Kyoto at 9:34 AM and Shin-Osaka at 9:50 AM.

#3: Tokyo to Kyoto/Osaka, stop in Kanazawa: Board the evening Kagayaki service leaving Tokyo at 6:24 PM, arriving in Kanazawa at 8:58 PM. Spend the evening at the APA Hotel Kanzawa-Ekimae (part of a chain of national business hotels) for $65 single, $42 per person double occupancy. Board a morning Thunderbird train at 8:05 AM. Arrive in Kyoto at 10:11 AM and Shin-Osaka at 10:35 AM. Or, visit Kanazawa’s Kenrokuen Garden in the morning and take a later Thunderbird towards Kyoto/Osaka.

#4: Tokyo to western Japan/Shikoku/Kyushu, stop in Okayama: Board the evening Hikari service leaving Tokyo at 5:03 PM, arriving in Okayama at 9:11 PM. Spend the evening at one of a few Toyoko Inn hotels (another large chain) located around Okayama station for $52 single, $30 per person double occupancy. In the morning, you can depart in multiple directions:
– The bullet train westbound can take you to Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Kumamoto and Kagoshima.
– The Marine Liner rapid train services, leaving twice per hour, will take you to Takamatsu in Shikoku. I highly recommend paying the small surcharge for a reserved seat (320-980 yen per person depending on the seat and the season).
– The Shiokaze and Nanpu limited express trains run to the hot spring town of Matsuyama and the coast city of Kochi, respectively.
– The Yakumo limited express train runs north to Izumo in 3 hours.

#5: Tokyo to Hakodate (southern Hokkaido), stop in Aomori: Board the afternoon Hayabusa service leaving Tokyo at 5:20 PM, arriving at Shin-Aomori at 8:40 PM. Change to the local shuttle train to Aomori, arriving at 8:55 PM. Spend the evening at the Toyoko Inn Aomori-eki Shomen-guchi for $46 single or $32 per person double occupancy. Leave in the morning on the first Hakucho service of the morning, departing Aomori at 8:25 AM and arriving in Hakodate at 10:26 AM.

#6: Tokyo to Sapporo, stop in Hakodate: Board the afternoon Hayabusa service leaving Tokyo at 3:20 PM, arriving at Shin-Aomori at 6:43 PM. Change to the Hakucho departing Shin-Aomori at 6:53 PM, arriving in Hakodate at 8:56 PM. Spend the evening at the Comfort Hotel Hakodate (as in the Comfort Inn brand) for $46 single or $37 per person double occupancy. Leave in the morning on the Hoktuto service from Hakodate to Sapporo – the first two trains leave at 6:22 AM and 8:13 AM, arriving in Sapporo at 9:58 AM and 11:47 AM, respectively.

#7: Osaka to Sapporo: There used to be an overnight train service called the Twilight Express, which ran a few times a week and was comparable to the Cassiopeia. If I ever wanted to ride an overnight train in Japan, this was the one I was aiming for. Sadly those plans never materialized, and the Twilight Express has already been discontinued. Here’s one way to make the Osaka-Sapporo trip now. Leave Shin-Osaka at 11:40 AM on the Hikari service to Tokyo, arriving at 2:40 PM. At Tokyo Station you will have 40 minutes to mill about and do some quick shopping until leaving on the 3:20 PM Hayabusa service to Shin-Aomori. Then, the instructions are exactly as above, laying over in Hakodate en route to Sapporo.

By now I hope you are inspired to create your own overnight itineraries to maximize your Rail Pass, and your sightseeing and enjoyment of Japan. If you have any questions or comments, please ask!

With Japanese tourism booming thanks to the weak yen and tax breaks on purchases for foreigners, Delta appears to be resuming inter-Japan service from Tokyo Narita to Osaka Kansai.

You wouldn’t know about this unless you looked at Delta’s official press release in Japanese. Starting in late march 2016, Delta will offer one daily trip from Narita to Kansai, and one flight from Kansai to Narita, using a Boeing 757. The flights to/from Osaka will only be available for international Delta passengers connecting at Narita to/from an international Delta flight. Currently, Delta operates nonstop flights between Tokyo Narita and sixteen destinations in the United States and Asia.

It is interesting to see how these connections in Tokyo will be arranged. It’s possible (but not certain, at least from my current understanding) that the connections will be treated as International Transfers – that is, there would be no immigration or customs formalities handled at Narita Airport. This sort of arrangement has been used in the past…. as an example, if you flew into Japan on Delta and you are booked onto this new flight with Osaka as your destination, you would go through international transfers, fly to Osaka, and go through customs/immigration at Kansai Airport. On the return from Osaka, you would go through Osaka’s immigration to receive your departure stamp. When landing at Narita, again, you would go through international transfers to board your flight back home.

This is a very convenient arrangement if it will be implemented in this fashion. In addition to the above, your checked luggage can be checked through to your final destination. One important thing to note, though: When you go through international transfers in Narita, you will have to go through a security check. This means that if you purchase and bring DUTY FREE LIQUIDS beforehand, you must ensure that they are in tamper-evident bags. If they are not in tamper-evident bags, they will be confiscated as the 3 oz / 100 ml liquid rule will apply.

Osaka has several cool places to visit, including the Umeda Sky Building, Kaiyukan Aquarium, and the Dotonbori Canal. It is also the gateway to the ancient capital of Kyoto, which can be accessed by direct train or bus from Kansai Airport. If your trip’s focus is on western Japan, including areas such as Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Shikoku and Kyushu, Kansai is a convenient starting point – you can take westbound bullet trains from Shin-Osaka station.

If you have a voucher for the Japan Rail Pass it can be exchanged at the JR ticket office in Kansai Airport, open daily until 11 PM.

The airport itself is a site to behold, built on a man-made island and featuring one of the world’s longest airport concourses.

As of today (May 20th in Japan), there is still a Level 2 volcano alert in the Hakone region, centered around a volcanic vent in Owakudani, one of Hakone’s famous attractions known for its hiking and its edible, sulfur-boiled black eggs. This means there is a 300-meter no entry zone around the vent, which has closed several roads and trails. More importantly, this affects tourists who take the “grand course” around Hakone.

This “course”, which is the top course recommended for Hakone Free Pass holders, involves the following, in either direction:
– Starting at the Hakone Yumoto train station, terminal for the Odakyu services from Shinjuku in Tokyo, take the Hakone Tozan Railway up the mountains and numerous switchbacks to Gora.
– Next, take the Hakone Tozan Cable Car further up the mountain to Sounzan
– Then, take the Hakone Ropeway across Owakudani to Togendai
– From there, board the touristy but fun boat that crosses Lake Ashi
– Finally, wind your way down to Hakone Yumoto train station on the express (or for the adventurous, local) bus

The problem is that since one of the Hakone Ropeway stations – Owakudani – is inside the no-entry zone, the entire ropeway is closed. It will remain closed until it is decided to reduce the Volcano Alert back down to Level 1.

Don’t let this closure of the Hakone Ropeway put a damper on any planned Hakone trip – outside of the 300 meter zone, Hakone is open to business… in fact, they want you to come and visit to enjoy everything that they have to offer. In the days since the no-entry zone took effect, the area has been doing their very best to communicate updates to foreign tourists.

Here are some ways that you can get around the area to explore more during the disruption:

– If you don’t want to stray off of the main “course” that takes most tourists around Hakone, a shuttle bus is now in operation between the Hakone Ropeway terminals of Sounzan and Togendai, avoiding Owakudani. They run for most of the day, but only at intervals of 15-20 minutes. Hakone Free Passes are valid for the shuttle buses, while non-pass holders pay what is normally charged for the ropeway.

If on the other hand, you want to avoid the ropeway’s path, you can rely on Hakone’s bus system, most of which is covered by the Free Pass.

– The T bus runs from Odawara to Togendai, the terminal for the Lake Ashi sightseeing ship, every 15-20 minutes during the day between the hours of 6:20 AM and 9:28 PM. Buses run via Hakone-Yumoto and Sengoku. The trip from Hakone-Yumoto to Togendai under normal conditions takes 35 minutes.

– You can also pick up the T bus at the Miyanoshita stop of the Hakone Tozan Railway. So, one alternate to the circular route around Hakone could be the Hakone-Tozan Line to Miyanoshita via the switchbacks, followed by the T bus to Togendai (around 22 minutes travel time) before continuing on to the Lake Ashi sightseeing ship. Why not stop at some of the other T bus stops along the way to explore more of Hakone?

– If you continue on the Hakone Tozan railway to Gora, swinging by the Hakone Open Air Museum along the way, you could use the S Bus. The S Bus runs from Gora to Shissei Ka-En Mae (the Botanical Garden) four times per hour during the day. Along the way you can get off at the Senkyoro-mae bus stop (15 minutes from Gora), from which you could cross over and pick up the T Bus to Togendai (10 minutes).

There are also direct buses from Hakone-Yumoto to the southern end of Lake Ashi. As mentioned earlier, some of these buses are part of the circular route that most tourists use.

– The R bus is the main one, which uses the highway to transport visitors between Odawara, Hakone-Yumoto and the southern Lake Ashi stops of Hakone-machi and Moto-Hakone-ko – though there are more R buses going FROM lake Ashi than there are going TO lake Ashi… in fact, there are only 3 R buses on Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays, and none during the week.

– The H bus is a local bus operating along the winding roads of Hakone. Buses operate via Miyanoshita (the railway stop) and the hot springs resort Yunessun. Only take the H bus, though, if you are a fan of roller coasters, or if you do not suffer from motion sickness. It’s pretty twisty, as I can attest from first-hand experience.

– The K bus runs from Hakone-Yumoto to Moto-Hakone-Ko following the old Tokaido Road, established hundreds of years ago as part of the major trade route between Edo (Tokyo) and Kyoto. Note that buses operate the full route twice per hour from 9 AM to 5 PM daily, otherwise they will stop short. The K bus, though, is similarly windy to the H bus.

I hope this guide will help you if you want to explore more of Hakone and steer yourself around the uncertainty of the current Hakone Ropeway disruptions!

For more about Hakone travel and further updates, consult:

Hakone Navi – http://www.hakonenavi.jp/english/
Hakone Portal – http://www.hakone.or.jp/en/
Hakone Tozan Bus – http://www.hakone-tozanbus.co.jp/english/

Posted by: jrhorse | May 6, 2015

Volcano Alert at Hakone

The Japanese Meteorological Agency has issued a Level 2 Volcano Alert for the Owakudani area of Hakone, prompting an evacuation of that area and a suspension of the Hakone Ropeway, which is one of the most popular tourist routes in the area. Be prepared for potential detours if you are planning to visit Hakone in the coming days/weeks, and consult local transit operators or local media for more information. Of course, if I have more news to share, I’ll do so!

Posted by: jrhorse | April 14, 2015

Japan Airfare Deals on Facebook and Twitter

Going forward, I will most likely be sharing airfare deals only on my Facebook and Twitter feed. If you’d like to be informed about airfare deals as soon as I learn about them, just go to Facebook or Twitter:

facebook.com/myjapantips

twitter.com/myjapantips (@myjapantips)

If you look at the page now, there’s a new Tokyo fare war brewing, with airfares starting at $770 round-trip from many US cities!

It has been a month since the new extension of the bullet train opened from Nagano to the northern coast cities of Toyama and Kanazawa. This means that bullet trains now run from Tokyo directly to these cities and points in between, opening up a new world of possibilities for tourism. If you have a Japan Rail Pass, you will be covered for almost* any of the new bullet train services. Here’s a rundown of the new line and some suggestions for places to visit and itineraries.

The Hokuriku Shinkansen was known as the Nagano Shinkansen when its initial segment opened in October 1997, ahead of the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics. The new 228 km (141.7 mile) segment opened on March 13, 2015. You can read more about the Hokuriku Shinkansen service classifications by reading my blog post from last October.

Some of the stops along the route:

Flag_of_Iiyama,_Nagano

Iiyama – Located in the northernmost part of Nagano prefecture, Iiyama gets some of the heaviest snowfall in the country. The immediate area east of Iiyama station is clustered with various Buddhist temples, which is why some call it “Little Kyoto.” Generally, Hakutaka services from Tokyo run to Iiyama every 1-2 hours. Information: Shinshu-Iiyama Tourism Bureau

Flag_of_Joetsu,_NiigataJoetsumyoko – This is an interchange station with the Echigo Railway, a private (so-called “third sector”) rail line that JR used to operate trains on until the opening of the bullet train. There is not much to speak of around here, but it should be noted that if you are coming from Kanazawa or Toyama and heading to the coastal city of Niigata, there are a few trains that operate daily between Joetsumyoko and Niigata that are meant to connect with the shinkansen services. This service is called the Shirayuki. The Shirayuki runs to Naoetsu from which it continues to Niigata on JR tracks along the Sea of Japan. Since the first few kilometers are on the Echigo Railway, you will have to pay a 450 yen supplement if you are using a Japan Rail Pass. If you are going from Tokyo to Niigata, use the direct Joetsu Shinkansen instead.

Flag_of_Itoigawa,_NiigataItoigawa – This is the first bullet train stop on the coast as you come north from Tokyo. Itoigawa was named as Japan’s first “Geopark” by the UNESCO-funded Global Geoparks Network, and they proudly boast 24 different areas that you can visit in the region with various mixes of geology, culture and history. Most, but not all, Hakutaka services stop here. More information about the Geoparks can be found at their official website, and they have a wealth of information in English, including updates on which areas are open and closed.

The local JR Oito Line snakes down from Itoigawa towards the south, and you COULD take the scenic, local route all the way down to the castle city of Matsumoto cheaply in 3-4 hours, weather permitting. Nowadays, though, you can do it in about 90 minutes taking the bullet train to Nagano then the Shinano limited express service. Another stop on the Oito Line is Shinano-omachi – a local bus from here will take you to the start of the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, which is open for transit from spring until autumn.

Flag_of_Kurobe,_ToyamaKurobe-Unazuki Onsen – This station is the gateway to one of the most popular hot springs in the area, Unazuki Onsen. To get there, walk to nearby Shin Kurobe Station on the Toyama Chiho Railway (not covered by the Japan Rail Pass) and go to the Unazuki Onsen stop. One of the attractions of Unazuki Onsen is the Kurobe Gorge Railway. Originally built for workers building Kurobe Dam, it operates passenger sightseeing trains from late spring until autumn threading through some stunning mountain scenery.

Flag_of_Toyama,_ToyamaToyama – Our first major stop on the newly-opened bullet train route. The next time I visit Japan and I am able to take the new bullet train line out here, I want FISH… and that’s the main attraction. Toyama is referred to as “Nature’s Fish Tank” because nearby Toyama bay is extremely deep. Yellowtail sushi and sashimi slices from Toyama are said to be among the best in the country.

Many sushi shops in the area participate in the Toyamawan Sushi program, which offers a set course of 10 pieces of freshly-caught sushi for between 2,000 and 3,500 yen. There is also a unique bento box from Toyama that uses fatty trout, called Masunosushi. It is pressed trout over rice, wrapped in bamboo leaves and packed in a wooden box. I was given a used box from a friend in Japan as a gift to take home in my 2004 trip, and even when empty the lovely trout smell lingered for weeks. I would breathe it a few times a day.

ANYWAY, I want to try this box for real on my next visit :)

The aforementioned Toyama Chiho Railway terminates here, at the nearby Dentetsu-Toyama Station. This, plus a series of tram lines, are great ways to get around Toyama and visit the cultural areas. Taking the Toyama Chiho Railway to Tateyama will bring you to the opposite end of the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route mentioned earlier. More information: Toyama Prefectural Tourism Association

Flag_of_Takaoka_ToyamaShin-Takaoka – This next city has more of a traditional flair. The new station is on the south side of town as opposed to the regular Takaoka station, though the two stations are connected with a brief trip on the JR Johanna line. On the north side of town is Kanaya-machi, a street filled with lattice houses from when iron and copper makers set up shop in the 1600s. A short distance from the south of Takaoka station, and from around the same time period as Kanaya-machi, is Zuiryuji Temple. North of Takaoka and directly on the coast is where weekly ferry services to Vladivostok, Russia operate from.

Flag_of_Kanazawa,_IshikawaKanazawa – The terminating station on the Hokuriku Shinkansen (for now) is a marvel to behold on the outside, with a new main entrance resembling a shinto torii gate. It is a popular city, and the primary reason is Kenroku-en, a large Japanese garden that is regarded as one of the three best in the country. There are also various museums and shopping districts in the area. Kanazawa and Toyama are good starting points for trips to Takayama, and the nearby UNESCO World Heritage site of Shirakawa. More information: Kanazawa City Tourism Association

Of course, Stefan and the folks over at japan-guide.com have a more comprehensive breakdown of what you can find in these cities. They also revamped their website, so be sure to check them out.

After Kanazawa? You can ride the JR Thunderbird limited express to south and west, passing Fukui and skirting Lake Biwa until you reach Kyoto and Osaka. The Shirasagi limited express will bring you to Maibara and Nagoya. If you have already traveled by direct bullet train between Tokyo and Kansai, or you just want something more from your first trip, a little detour through Toyama and Kanazawa (or any of the other places) is a different and potentially rewarding experience.

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

For example, you could opt to travel from Tokyo to Kanazawa, spend the day there, head to Kyoto in the evening, and then return to Tokyo by direct bullet train. Or you could spend a night at any of these stations if you want to pace yourself a bit… in this way, for example, you could try visiting Kanazawa’s Kenroku-en in the early morning before the tour groups arrive. Whether or not you visit any attractions, you can potentially save some money on accommodations compared to big cities like Tokyo and Kyoto by stopping over at one of these cities. Remember that the Japan Rail Pass will cover pretty much everything for your travels, except for Nozomi trains and for any service with the GranClass premium cabin.

As a general rule, Tokyo to Kanazawa is 2 1/2 hours on the fastest shinkansen service, and Tokyo to Toyama is 2 hours. Kanazawa to Kyoto by Thunderbird limited express service is around 2 hours 15 minutes, with Osaka a further 30 minutes down the line.

I hope I have given you a few ideas. Have fun exploring the new train route and unlocking all of the new secrets along it!

Note: All flags in this article are taken from Wikimedia Commons. Since there is no original ownership they are in the public domain. As per usual, all advice is given pursuant to the Japan Tips DISCLAIMER.

Update 4/9/15: Looks like the deals are now gone, and at the current time the below flights can be had for just around $1,000 round-trip.

The amazingly cheap airfares that Delta has maintained on flights to Tokyo, Japan over the last few days are now… ridiculously cheaper. However, as the saying goes, “certain restrictions apply.”

Delta now has cheap airfares from select US cities… most of which have already been mentioned on this blog… connecting to their late-night flights to Haneda Airport. Depending on the arrival and timing, there are more limited travel options out of Haneda in the late night hours compared to an afternoon arrival at Narita, so keep this in mind… unless of course you’re willing to spend night #1 at the hotel inside the terminal :)

Delta’s fares connecting to Haneda are now under $700 round trip. Found this morning:

Philadelphia to Tokyo Haneda: $674 round trip.
Charlotte to Tokyo Haneda: $668 round trip.
Miami to Tokyo Haneda: $670 round trip.
Dallas to Tokyo Haneda: $665 round trip.
Phoenix to Tokyo Haneda: $665 round trip.

Yes, these fares to Japan were found from American Airlines hubs.

Flying on Delta, with the exception of Phoenix, you will have to take TWO flights to connect to the Haneda flight out of Seattle. The start of the return trip goes to the US on a Haneda flight to either Seattle or Los Angeles. The fare is good for all Monday-Thursday flights throughout the year, except for some summer dates.

I am wondering if these fare sales are going on because of the US Department of Transportation’s recent ruling concerning the slot, or authority, awarded to Delta for flights between Seattle and Tokyo Haneda. Delta only operated this flight on occasion over the last few months, and while I won’t get into more specifics, the US DOT is requiring that Delta maintain a daily service on this route or else their slot will be forfeited and handed over to… surprise! – American Airlines. Maybe this is a way for them to desperately fill seats on that Seattle to Haneda flight?

In any case, you are the winner. If you’re willing to do a few hops to reach Tokyo, this is a ridiculously low airfare, so go ahead and book while it’s hot!

Posted by: jrhorse | April 5, 2015

Low Fares to Japan continue – Sort of

This post is now out of date

Did you bite on those low airfares to Japan that the major US airlines posted a few days ago?

Most of the cheap airfares are now gone… so if you were hoping to fly out of Abilene Airport and fly to Tokyo, you’re now out of luck unless you drive to Dallas.

That’s because a few cheap airfares still remain from a few cities. Given their volatility (availability might be a better word), you will want to pounce on these pretty soon.

While American and United have mostly dropped their sale fares, airfare on Delta Air Lines is still available in the low to mid $800 range from hubs of their competitors. This includes:

Philadelphia (PHL) $820 r/t
Charlotte (CLT) $818 r/t
Miami (MIA) $820 r/t
Dallas (DFW) $820 r/t

From Los Angeles (LAX), several carriers including United, ANA, Delta and Singapore are offering flights for $756 round trip.

If you are in Boston (BOS), United doesn’t want you to fly the nonstop Japan Airlines service to Tokyo. Book with them for spring travel to Japan (connection required) for as low as $771 round trip.

Be sure to check the rules for your airfare as some are now more restrictive on time compared to the previous sale fares.

Posted by: jrhorse | April 2, 2015

FARE WAR! Buy your Japan Airfare NOW!

This post is now out of date

In the last 24 hours (since my last airfare post), prices on airfare to Tokyo have dropped significantly from a number of North American destinations. American, Delta and United are now in on the fare war for flights pretty much any time in 2015.

Low fares were found from the following cities – connections may or may not be required

Abilene ABI – $871 r/t
Atlanta ATL – $920 r/t
Boston BOS – $871 r/t
Charlotte CLT – $869 r/t
Chicago O’Hare ORD – $785 r/t
Dallas DFW – $856 r/t
Detroit DTW – $920 r/t
El Paso ELP – $851 r/t
Miami MIA – $862 r/t
Memphis MEM – $915 r/t
Los Angeles LAX – $765 r/t
New Orleans MSY – $989 r/t
Philadelphia PHL – $871 r/t
San Antonio SAT – $871 r/t

There might be more cities on sale… Heck, ABILENE which is only served by ONE AIRLINE in the middle of Texas is on sale for $871 round trip??

I say BOOK NOW. You never know how long these prices will last.

Posted by: jrhorse | March 31, 2015

Airfare Alert – $971 R/t on Delta from Dallas to Tokyo

This post is now out of date

Discovered today is a $971 round/trip airfare from Dallas-Ft Worth to Tokyo on Delta Airlines.

The good news about this airfare is that it only requires a 3 day advance purchase. Want to do a spur of the moment trip to Japan? Buy this airfare!

It is also valid for travel until the end of the year, and into early NEXT YEAR, on pretty much any day except for a few dates over the summer. Want to experience a Japan Christmas or New Year? Buy this airfare!

I am not sure how long this fare will be around. A change of planes will be required, but you do have the option to arrive/depart from Tokyo on an afternoon Narita flight or a late night Haneda flight.

If you are from around Dallas and want to experience Japan, book this trip while it lasts! Otherwise you are then looking at around $1,800-$2,000 round/trip for nonstop flights.

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