Getting Around Japan: Top Insider Tips to Choose The Best Transportation
Let me break down the best modes of transport for travelling in Japan based on your preferences and needs! After spending some time in Japan, I have some tips based on my experiences (and struggles) which I believe will help a lot if you are planning to conquer as many places as possible.
The lowdown: While spending a few months studying in Japan, I had the chance to travel up and down the country. I thought that if I’m moving within Japan, I should get a JR Pass. Little did I know this isn’t always the best thing to do if you intend to save some bucks.
So, don’t make the same mistakes I did. Here are all the tips and info I used that helped me save money and time on my trips within Japan.
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Domestic Travel Guide in Japan: What is the Best Way to Move Around?
|Mode of Transport||Price Range||Providers|
￥9,000 - ￥81,870 (JR Pass) (Approx S$110 - $1,006)
Japan Railways (JR)
￥5,400 - ￥10,800 (Approx. S$66 - S$133)
Japan Airlines (JAL)
All Nippon Airways (ANA)
￥10,000 - ￥15,000 (Bus Pass) (Approx. S$123 - S$184)
￥6,000 - ￥12,000 (Per day) (Approx. S$74 - S$148)
Toyota Rent a car
Nippon Rent a car
Times Car Rental
The JR Pass is a popular option for travellers to Japan who are looking to explore other prefectures by train. You can get from Tokyo to Osaka using the JR pass in just three hours and bullet trains run almost every half an hour.
However, the JR Pass should not always be your first choice for inter-city travel.
Top Insider Tips
- Travel light if you’re taking the Shinkansen. It is difficult to find ample luggage space. I recommend using a luggage forwarding service. If you’re returning, leave your luggage in lockers or luggage storage areas. Unfortunately, I injured my wrist from lugging my heavy stuff for over a month from travelling from place to place every four days.
- Use the Platt Kodama train for cheaper one-way train rides if you’re travelling from Tokyo to Nagoya or Osaka. The trains are slower but are cheap if you’re only looking to travel between Tokyo and Osaka in Japan. The Platt Kodama package can only be purchased at JR Tokai Tours offices/ counters.
- This tip does not have a 100 per cent success rate. If you miss your bullet train, you can try to go to the JR offices to ask if it is possible to change to a later timing. The bigger offices will have staff fluent in English and officially, they can provide you with an unreserved seat for your next preferred train with no additional charge. However, more often than not they will give you a reserved seat as long as the next train is not booked by many.
Prices: ￥9,000 – ￥81,870 (JR Pass) (Approx S$110 – $1,006)
Major Destinations: Aomori, Sendai, Niigata, Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, Fukuoka, Hiroshima
2. Domestic flights
With the Japan Airlines (JAL) Explorer Pass and All Nippon Airways (ANA) Experience Japan Fare, you can purchase fixed discounted tickets on domestic flights. All you need is a foreign passport and a return flight ticket to your home country.
Top Insider Tips
- Look for flights at least a month in advance and avoid flights during Japanese public holidays or celebrations as they may not be discounted due to popularity. Both air carriers have the same fare rates but may have different availability of flights.
- We personally prefer ANA for their better service but it has a bigger fleet which means longer check-in queues.
- Book morning flights and avoid flights at night. If the weather is unpredictable during Fall or Winter, night flights are occasionally delayed or cancelled due to poor visibility. I remember my flight being delayed for nearly an hour because the airport staff had to clear the ice on the runway and the plane wings over and over again while it was snowing.
Prices: ￥5,400 – ￥10,800 (Approx. S$66 – S$133)
Major Destinations: Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka, Okinawa, Akita, Sapporo
Website: https://www.ana-cooljapan.com/ejf/ and https://www.world.jal.co.jp/world/en/japan_explorer_pass/lp/
3. Highway buses
Travelling by bus is the cheapest option in Japan. I’ll be focusing on overnight highway buses which have become widely available and accessible throughout Japan.
At first glance, the cost of bus trips are slightly higher as compared to flights but overnight buses help save you the cost needed for accommodation overall. Personally, I slept better in a moving bus than a capsule hotel ‘room’. Capsule hotels, never again.
Top Insider Tips
- Look out for super cheap deals on bus booking websites during Japanese public holidays and grab them fast as they sell out quickly.
- Enquire directly at counters of bus terminals to find the best option as some routes are not listed online.
- Give twenty minutes of leeway in the time needed to travel to your boarding point. There were times I barely caught the bus or missed it because the boarding point was either isolated or inconvenient to get to from the train station.
Prices: ￥10,000 – ￥15,000 (Bus Pass) (Approx. S$123 – S$184)
Major Destinations: Destinations in neighbouring regions are most easily accessible by bus
Website: https://www.kousokubus.net/JpnBus/en and http://willerexpress.com/en/
4. Rental Cars
Put your driving license to good use by renting a car and exploring Japan freely. However, with Japan’s extensive transportation network within its cities, is it even worth mentioning?
Top Insider Tips
- Ensure you get an International Driving Permit (IDP)
- Some reliable companies are Toyota Rent a car, Nippon Rent a car, Times Car Rental and Tabirai Car Rental. Only rent if you have properly worked out the costs and benefits of renting a car. Using a car within cities can be a headache with constant traffic jams and limited parking lots.
- Ensure that your itinerary benefits from having a car. For example, driving around in the Tohoku region is greatly recommended as some landmarks cannot be reached easily by public transport.
Prices: ￥6,000 – ￥12,000 (Per day) (Approx. S$74 – S$148)
Major Destinations: Anywhere and everywhere (but we recommend not within crowded cities)
Car rental services: Rent Toyota, NRGroup-Global, TimesCar-Rental, Tabirai
Commonly Asked Questions
“I’m only travelling to Japan for about a week. Would the 7-day JR Pass be my best option?”
Again, it really depends on your itinerary and the number of destinations you plan on hitting. If you are only travelling in and around one major city, I recommend not getting a JR Pass.
“You forgot about taxis. Should I even consider them?”
For long distance travel, taxis will cost a bomb. Travelling from one prefecture to another neighbouring one can cost more than S$100 for a 20-30 min ride. Only consider this option if you really hate dragging your luggage on trains or buses. Fun fact: I took a 10-min taxi ride from one part of Shinjuku to another and it cost me S$55. However, the level of service of Japanese taxi drivers is top-notch.
“There is a Green Car JR Pass. Should I buy it?”
Green Cars are basically the business class carriages of trains in Japan. Unless you’re willing to splurge it is not needed. Ordinary cars in Shinkansens are already very comfortable and quiet.
It’s all up to you!
There is never a wrong way to travel, especially in Japan (just mind your manners). If you want to sit back and enjoy the scenery in comfort, take the Shinkansen by all means. I got to see Mount Fuji from a Shinkansen ride and it was breathtaking. But if you find comfort in having your luggage tucked away safely, try domestic flights. Save your wallet by taking overnight highway buses and rent a car to explore the path less travelled.
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