With much of the Olympics out of the way, and with my job off tomorrow because of our third (?) big snowstorm of the year, I figured I would chip in on my MONTHLY post to this blog… wow I don’t post much do I? But I hope that by now the advice that I have published here so far has helped at least one person in their trip plans for Japan.
I’d like to share with you some tips on the Japan Rail Pass. This came about as I came across a posting on a Japan Travel bulletin board with regards to itinerary help. The person who wrote, whose name I shall keep anonymous for obvious reasons, wanted to know if, with her itinerary, the Japan Rail Pass was right for her.
First, another recap: The Japan Rail Pass covers just about all train travel in Japan that is operated by Japan Railways, with a few exceptions, notably the “Nozomi” service which is the fastest service operating on the Tokaido and San’yo Shinkansen – the line that links Tokyo with Kyoto and Osaka, and continues onward to Hiroshima and Fukuoka. It is essentially available in six different versions: There are 7-day, 14-day and 21-day passes, all consecutive, and each of these has a standard class version and a first class version (in Japan first class is called the Green Car).
To see if the Japan Rail Pass is right for you, there are a few things in my opinion that must be established. Namely, your travel dates, and the long-distance travel that you intend to make. There will be some local rail travel that you might take around big cities, especially around Tokyo, but unless you do LOTS and LOTS of trips on the Yamanote Line, local trains within a specific area are just a very small slice of the big pie. With a little bit of research you can find out if it’s worth purchasing a Japan Rail Pass. In one specific area, you can see if the cost of purchasing a Rail Pass would be less than purchasing rail tickets individually. And as pointed out, your travel dates also play a factor.
This person’s itinerary consists of the following: Tokyo from Mar 27 – Apr 2, Kyoto from Apr 2-9, Tokyo from Apr 9 – 13. Her travel dates are fixed, so they cannot be changed. She would like to take day trips to Nikko and Kamakura (both near Tokyo) and Nara (near Kyoto). She was concerned about her budget and wondered if it was worth paying about $500 to get a 14-day rail pass. Perhaps she would be able to save more if she went for a 7-day rail pass?
So let’s see what sort of long-distance travel she’ll be using. Well in this itinerary I only see 2: Tokyo to Kyoto, and Kyoto to Tokyo, which would be done on the bullet train. The Nozomi costs 13,500 yen each way, so that’s 27,000 yen round-trip. A 7-day ordinary rail pass costs 28,300 yen so with some expected local travel in Tokyo and Kyoto she’s all set, right? WRONG. Look at the dates that she will travel: Tokyo to Kyoto April 2, and then Kyoto to Tokyo April 8. That’s eight days, and the travel days are fixed. Which means that a 7-day rail pass would be no good since one of her trips would not be covered. A 14-day pass would cost 45,100 yen for ordinary class, which would be too much. Also factoring into this call are the three side trips, all of which could be done by taking cheaper private railways.
My recommendation to her therefore was to purchase regular tickets. Nozomi tickets both ways from Tokyo to Kyoto, side trip Kyoto to Nara by Kintetsu Railway, Tokyo to Kamakura by the Odakyu Railway Enoshima/Kamakura Free Pass and Tokyo to Nikko by Tobu Railway’s World Heritage Pass. The total budget comes to 37,000 yen which is right now around $410 in US Dollars. If she’s willing to sacrifice a little speed and willing to test some Japanese ability, she could opt for the discounted Puratto Kodama Economy Plan, mentioned in an earlier blog article. This will cut about 7,000 yen, or almost $80, out of her travel budget. As for local travel… I suggested to her (and to you as well) a stored fare card. No need to figure out fares on a chart and go to the ticket machines every time. Simply buy a stored fare card and tap your way in and out of the trains – the cards act as a debit card and deduct the appropriate fares automatically. In Tokyo the stored fare cards in use are SUICA and PASMO.
The moral of the story: Travel research helps in many different ways! You can learn more about the places you are going – before you get there, and while you are there – and you can save some cash too. Of course in the Japanese tradition, that means you have to use that cash to buy gifts for your relatives back home! 🙂
For more information on what I have discussed in this article, just click on the respective links.