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Chureito Pagoda And Mount Fuji

How to save on transportation in Japan?

To the point Here are my tips to save on your transportation during a trip in Japan: Japan Rail Pass, regional or local passes, airports.

Japan Rail Pass

Is purchasing the Japan Rail Pass (JRP) cost-effective?

This question arises very often. The answer is not that simple: yes and no. It depends on your ability to make it cost-effective, because it is quite expensive!

Duration Standard Green Pass
7 days ¥29,110 (CA$ 384) ¥38,880 (CA$513)
14 days ¥46,390 (CA$612) ¥62,950 (CA$830)
21 days ¥59,350 (CA$783) ¥81,870 (C$1080)

Advantages of the Japan Rail Pass

The Japan Rail Pass has many advantages:

  • valid throughout the country
  • valid on Narita Express routes between Narita Airport and Tokyo
  • valid on Haruka Express or Kansai Airport Rapid routes between Kansai Airport and Osaka
  • flexibility (no need for tickets with reserved seats in unreserved cars)
  • possibility to book tickets with unlimited free seats
  • ease of use (simply show it to the controller at the ticket office and on the train)
  • very profitable over long distances
Worth it

A round trip between Tokyo and Osaka costs ¥28,000. If we add the use of the JRP in Tokyo and the Osaka area during your 7-day stay, you’re a winner!

Shibuya Crossing
Shibuya Crossing
Not worth it

If you consider using it to cover the cost of your transportation to Tokyo only for your 7-day stay, it won’t be worth it.

I advise you to prepare a draft of your itinerary and then calculate the cost of your trip. For example, the cost-effectiveness of the JRP is maximized with this fairly popular route:

Day Destination Duration Cost
1 Tokyo-Osaka 174 min. ¥ 13,870
2 Osaka
3 Osaka-Kyoto 13 min. ¥ 1,440
4 Kyoto
5 Kyoto-Hiroshima (et Himeji Castle) 56 min. / 59 min. ¥ 4,840 / ¥ 7,910
6 Hiroshima et Miyajima (Ferry) 10 min. ¥360 round trip
7 Hiroshima-Narita 363 min. ¥ 20,970 with 2 transfers
¥49,390

By purchasing the JRP at a cost of ¥29,110, you get a value of at least ¥49,390 out of it.

These prices are for unreserved seats that can be purchased as cheaper à la carte tickets. If you take reserved seats and use the JRP to travel to Osaka and Kyoto as well, you save more money.

On the other hand, in the case of a multi-city itinerary with an arrival flight in Tokyo and a departure from Osaka, it is preferable to take a long distance ticket à la carte and combine it with local passes to save money.

Peak season

You should buy tickets with reserved seats especially during peak tourist season (March-April) because the unreserved cars fill up quickly! The Golden Week (early May) and holiday periods are also very busy.

I recommend that you do the same exercise regardless of the length of your trip and determine whether long-distance trips can be condensed into 7, 14 or 21 days.

A two-week trip to Japan may only require a 7-day pass instead of 14 days depending on the trips you have planned.

3 months

The JRP should not be purchased more than 3 months before the intended date of use!

Disadvantages of the Japan Rail Pass

Although it greatly facilitates the organization of a trip to Japan, it is not without disadvantages:

  • must be used for consecutive days only
  • must be purchased BEFORE arriving in Japan
  • only valid on JR train and bus lines
  • not valid on the faster Nozomi trains
  • is not cost-effective for local use
  • it is very easy to buy JR or non-JR tickets on demand at the stations

Some destinations are not served by a JR line or can be reached much faster and cheaper by subway.

Night bus

Finally, it is also possible to take night buses to cover the long distances between major cities. This method is less expensive than all the others in addition to saving you the cost of a night in a hotel.

The JR Regional Pass

Then, to visit certain regions, one must also consider the JR Regional Pass. I usually go to this site to see exactly what region is covered by each pass.

Here are a few of them:

JR Regional Pass Zone Duration Cost
JR Kansai Pass Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Himeji, Nara, Kansai Airport 1 – 4 days ¥2,300 – ¥6,600
JR Hokkaido Pass Hokkaido, Sapporo 3 – 4 days (flexible) ¥17,400 – ¥23,480
JR West Sanyo San’in Pass Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Kansai Airport,Wakayama, Kobe, Himeji, Okayama, Kurashiki,
Takamatsu, Hiroshima, Miyajima, Tottori, Matsue, Hakata (Fukuoka)
7 days ¥19,400
JR Central Takayama Hokuriku Pass Hokuriku, Shirakawa-go, Takayama, Kanazawa 5 days ¥14,260
JR East-South Hokkaido Pass Sapporo, Sendai, Miyagi, Yamanashi, Nagano, Niigata, Kanto 6 days (flexible) ¥26,900
JR Kyushu Pass Kyushu 3 or 5 days ¥15,280 – ¥18,330
JR Shikoku Pass Shikoku 3 – 7 days ¥9,000 – ¥13,000
Kanazawa
Kanazawa
JRP

You should not purchase a JRP blindly. You should take care to break down the costs specific to your trip. However, the JR Regional Pass is worth it in the vast majority of cases!

The best sites to calculate the cost of your trips

Markings

The unreserved cars are very well marked on the ground on the platform.

Websites to purchase a JRP or regional passes

Day passes in Japanese cities

You’re travelling only to Osaka or Tokyo? I hope you won’t go to Japan just to spend a few days in Tokyo! However, it is an excellent strategy to combine these day passes with the JRP.

For example for a 10-day trip:

  • pay for transportation from the airport to Tokyo on an à la carte basis (¥1050; see below for details)
  • 3 days in Tokyo (3 days Pass ¥1,500)
  • 7 days to travel the rest of Japan (JRP ¥29,110)

In this situation, the total transportation cost would be ¥31,660 instead of the 14-day JRP for ¥46,390 in order to cover the entire trip. You would save ¥14,730 or $193 CAD!

There’s a whole range of them, but I’m going to talk about the most useful passes.

Points of sale

All the following passes can be purchased on site. The points of sale are varied and mostly payable in cash only: hotel reception, tourist information office, automated machine at the station, at the counter at the station, etc…

Tokyo Area

Tokyo Metro Pass

Most of Tokyo’s sights can be reached by subway so I recommend the Tokyo Metro Pass.

It is valid for a number of hours and not a number of days. The date and time of ticket expiry will be printed on the back of the ticket after the first use:

  • ¥800 (24h)
  • ¥1,200 (48h)
  • ¥1,500 (72h)
Tokyo Metro Pass

In my opinion, this is the best pass to visit Tokyo.

Example of use for sightseeing to make a 48-hour Tokyo Metro Pass profitable (value of ¥1,200):

Day 1 Metro Line Attractions Cost of a one-way ticket
Asakusa to Higashi Ginza Asakusa Line Kabuki Theater, Ginza window shopping ¥220.00
Higashi Ginza to Tsukijishijo (walking) Tsukiji Fish Market
Tsukijishijo to Ryogoku Oedo Line Edo Tokyo Museum, Sumo Museum ¥220.00
Ryogoku to Kasuga Oedo Line Tokyo Dome City ¥220.00
Kasuga to Tochomae Oedo Line Metropolitan Government Building Observatory ¥220.00
Tochomae to Shinjuki (walking) Shopping, Kabuki-cho
Shinjuku to Roppongi Oedo Line Roppongi Hills, Bars & Clubs, Mori Museum ¥220.00
Roppongi to Asakusa Oedo & Asakusa Line ¥280.00
Subtotal ¥1,380.00
Tsukiji Outer Market
Tsukiji Outer Market
Day 2 Metro Line Attractions Cost of a one-way ticket
Asakusa to Shibuya Ginza line Shibuya crossing, Shopping ¥250.00
Shibuya to Meiji-jingumae Fukutoshin Line Harajuku, Takeshita street, Omotesando, Meiji Shrine ¥170.00
Omotesando to Akabanebashi Hanzomon & Oedo Line Tokyo Tower ¥280.00
Onarimon to Akihabara Mita & Hibiya Line Akihabara ¥280.00
Akihabara to Ueno Hibiya Line Ueno zoo ¥170.00
Ueno to Asakusa Oedo Line ¥170.00
Subtotal ¥1,320.00
Total ¥2,700.00
Asakusa
Asakusa

Tokyo Free Kippu One-day Pass

The Tokyo Free Kippu One-day Pass is valid on all Tokyo Metro and JR lines within Tokyo’s 23 districts.

Cost: ¥1,600

Tokyo Metropolitan District Pass (Tokunai Pass)

The Tokyo Metropolitan District Pass (Tokunai Pass) is valid on all JR routes within Tokyo’s 23 districts.

Cost: ¥760

Teamlab Borderless Exhibition
Teamlab Borderless Exhibition

Yurikamome One-day Pass

The Yurikamome One-day Pass is valid only on the Yurikamome line.

Odaiba is only accessible through this line and since it is a private company, one-way tickets can be expensive (¥400) when you do it à la carte.

Cost: ¥820

Tokyu Line Minatomirai Ticket

The Tokyu Line Minatomirai Ticket is valid on Minatomirai trains as well as several stations between Tokyo and Yokohama.

Cost: ¥630 – ¥1100 (price depends on departure and arrival stations)

Kaisen Don
Kaisen Don

Odakyu Railway Hakone Freepass

The Odakyu Railway Hakone Freepass lets you visit the Hakone area from Tokyo.

Cost: ¥5,700 (2 days), ¥6,100 (3 days)

Mt Fuji Pass

The Mt Fuji Pass lets you visit the area of Mt Fuji and Fuji Five Lakes from Tokyo.

Cost: ¥5,500 (1 day), ¥8,000 (2 days), ¥10,000 (3 days)

Chureito Pagoda And Mount Fuji
Chureito Pagoda And Mount Fuji

Nikko Pass

The Nikko Pass lets you visit the Nikko area from Tokyo; there are two variations depending on the size of the area you want to visit.

A supplement must be paid separately from the pass to use the limited express trains that make fewer stops between Tokyo and Nikko.

Cost:

  • World Heritage Area Pass ¥2000 (2 days),
  • All Area Pass ¥4,500 (4 days),
  • Limited express free ~¥1,200 for a one-way ticket.

Osaka and Kyoto Area

Kansai Thru Pass

The Kansai Thru Pass is valid for the entire region and allows you to visit Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Kobe, Wakayama, Koyasan, Himeji for 2 or 3 days which can be non-consecutive.

Also valid on the link with the KIX and ITM airports.

Cost:

  • ¥4,400 (2 days)
  • ¥5,500 (3 days)
Geisha in Kyoto
Geisha in Kyoto

Hankyu Tourist Pass

The Hankyu Tourist Pass is valid on all Hankyu Railways lines visiting Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto for 1 day or 2 days, which can be non-consecutive.

Cost:

  • ¥700 (1 day)
  • ¥1,200 (2 days)
Tajima Kobe Beef
Tajima Kobe Beef

Kyoto Subway & Bus Pass

The Kyoto Subway & Bus Pass: you need to take a bus to get to the majority of the tourist sites.

Cost:

  • ¥900 (1 day),
  • ¥1,700 (2 days)
  • or ¥600 for bus pass only
The best pass for you

How to choose the best pass for your needs? First, draw up a list of places to visit, the days required, and determine which stations serve these places.

Then check if these stations are covered on the pass you want to buy. You can find a map of the stations specific to each pass with a quick Google search.

Payment cards (IC Cards)

In Japan, there are several cards that make it easy to pay for your short trips (single journeys).

Having lived in Tokyo, you’ll understand that I didn’t visit 3-4 places of interest in the same day! I used an IC Card on a daily basis as a local, but I always calculated whether I should buy a day pass or just go à la carte.

For example, if the only activity was to go for a picnic under the sakuras and spend the day with friends at Shinjuku Gyoen Park, I would take out my IC Card to go there.

Picnic in Shinjuku Gyoen
Picnic in Shinjuku Gyoen
IC Card

The name of the card is specific to each city and company, but they are used in the same way all over Japan as IC Card. So you don’t need to buy a card for each region:

  • Suica (Tokyo)
  • Pasmo (Tokyo)
  • Icoca (Osaka)
  • Kitaca (Sapporo)
  • Sugoca (Fukuoka)
Suica Cards Tourist and Local Version
Suica Cards Tourist and Local Version

About the IC Card:

  • There is a ¥500 deposit for the card itself; it sells for ¥1,000, ¥2,000, ¥3,000, ¥4,000, ¥5,000 and ¥10,000.
  • The deposit will be deducted from your available balance on the card.
  • It is rechargeable, in cash, at all stations.
  • The deposit is refundable as well as your residual balance.
  • Scan it on the reader when entering and leaving a station (or a bus)
  • Since prices for one-way trips are based on the distance travelled, the exact amount will be deducted from your card.
  • This saves you from having to look up the price you have to pay for a ticket; sometimes, on a board just in Japanese!
  • There are sometimes discounts on certain routes and companies when you pay with one of these cards
  • It is possible to use it in vending machines, convenience stores, most restaurant chains, some shops, etc.
  • You must have one per person.
  • Expiration: 10 years (so you can keep it for your next visit to Japan!)
Ic Cards around the world
Ic Cards around the world
Keep your cards!

This concept is used in several cities around the world. Keep your cards if you visit these cities often!

Transportation to/from Japanese airports

Narita (NRT) - Tokyo

The Narita Express is the fastest and most comfortable way to get to Tokyo from Narita Airport (NRT). However, there are ways to save money on this trip if you are willing to make transfers.

Time to Tokyo

(main stations)

Cost Frequency
NEX (Narita Express) 60 – 75 min. ¥3,070 or ¥4,070 return

(if the return is within 14 days)

30-60 min.
Keisei Sky Liner 45 min.

then a transfer to Nippori

¥2,200 20-40 min.
Keisei Limited Express 75 min.

then a transfer to Nippori

¥1,050 20 min.
Keisei Narita Sky Access 60 min. ¥1,200 20-40 min.
JR Sobu Line 90 min. ¥1,340 60 min.
Limousine Bus

goes to several hotels as well

100 min. ¥2,800 or ¥4,500 return 15-20 min.
Airport Bus TYO-NRT 90 min. ¥1,050 by day or ¥2,100 by night fairly frequent
Short layover

It is therefore not advisable to visit Tokyo on a short layover at NRT (less than 8 hours). Again, I think it’s a lot of trouble for such a short time in Tokyo. I advise you to visit the town of Narita if you really want to get out of the airport during your layover.

Haneda (HND) - Tokyo

Although there are direct flights between Montreal and Tokyo Narita, Haneda International Airport (reachable from Toronto) is much closer to the city.

Time to Tokyo

(main stations)

Cost Frequency
Tokyo Monorail 30 min. ¥660 fairly frequent
Keykyu Railways 35 min. ¥470 fairly frequent
Limousine bus 40-55 min. ¥1,000 30-60 min.
All Nippon Airways

Positive experience with All Nippon Airways: following a delay of an OKA-HND flight, the company offered ¥25,000 in cash per person to cover the cost of a taxi from Haneda to Tokyo.

The delay resulted in landing too late to take public transit to the city.

Haneda (HND) - Narita (NRT)

Stuck with an unavoidable airport transfer to make?

Duration Cost Frequency
Keikyu Airport Line 90 min. ¥1760 40 min.
Limousine bus 65-90 min. ¥3200 15-20 min.

Kansai (KIX) - Osaka

Stuck with an unavoidable airport transfer to make?

Duration Cost Frequency
JR Haruka

goes to Kyoto

50-75 min. ¥2,380 – ¥3,000

(covered by JRP)

30 min.
JR Airport Rapid 70 min. ¥1,210

(covered by JRP)

20-30 min.
Nankai Express 90 min. ¥930 15 min.
Nankai Rapid 35 min. ¥1450 30 min.
Limousine bus

goes to several hotels in Osaka or Kyoto

45-100 min. ¥1,100 – ¥2,600 fairly frequent

Itami (ITM) - Osaka

Stuck with an unavoidable airport transfer to make?

Duration Cost Frequency
Bus 25 min. ¥500 – ¥640 fairly frequent
Osaka Monorail + Hankyu Line 20-25 min. ¥420 fairly frequent

How to choose your transport from / to the airport?

How to choose THE best way (efficiency, cost, comfort, etc.) to get from the airport to the city?

It will depend on your final destination and how many transfers you are willing to make. The final cost of the trip also depends on the location of your hotel.

In short, if you’re willing to take out the calculator, the savings can be considerable. Japan has put a multitude of deals at our disposal, it’s up to us to take advantage of them!

ありがとう! Arigatou!

Conclusion

Please know that all prices for this article are approximate. I have tried to find the current and most accurate prices possible, but they can change. The order of magnitude of the prices is, however, correct.

Other little tips and tricks for transportation in Japan:

  • long journeys on board Shinkansen trains can be paid by credit card.
  • it’s impolite to talk on the phone in train and subway cars.
  • pay attention to cars that are solely reserved for women during peak hours (indicated on the platform floor and on the doors)
  • there’s always someone who speaks English in the big train stations and at touristic attractions.

If you want to follow my adventures on Instagram, my account is @wanderingaline!

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