If you are planning a trip to Japan and you want to visit more than just Tokyo (although it would take at least a year to fully get to know Tokyo!), you will have to think about your means of transportation. Public transportation and accommodation are the two main factors to tear up your budget in Japan, so it’s worth the while to plan accordingly. If you are visiting more cities than just one, you should probably think about getting the Japan Rail Pass to save some money.
The Japan Rail Pass covers all Japan Rail Lines (JR Lines) in Japan. Not only does it cover some of the most important lines in Tokyo (like the Yamanote line), but it also covers the domestic train lines. You also get to use the Shinkansen (bullet trains; with the exception of the Nozomi and Mizuho Shinkansen) trains to get, for example, from Tokyo to Osaka. You save a lot of time with the Shinkansen and the reservation fee for seats is also included.
Before you go off and get yourself the Japan Rail Pass, however, take some time to research whether or not it would really save you some money. If you have already set your itinerary you can use this site to find out the timetables and fares. Please note that some of the connections shown on this site may not be covered by the Japan Rail Pass.
Before our trip to Japan in 2015 I had already made plans on which places outside of Tokyo and Kyoto I wanted us to visit. We were four people (my boyfriend, his sister and her boyfriend, and me, of course), and since I had lived in Tokyo before, and traveled through Japan by myself before as well (hurray for solo female traveling!), I was able to pick some places that I thought would be nice for foreigners to visit. My places of choice were: Hakone, Takao-san, Nikkô, Nara, and Himeji. It’s a nice mix between places to go for a hike or visit temples and shrines.
Since my boyfriend mentioned that he wanted to take a Shinkansen train at least once in his life, I looked into our options. One train ride from Tokyo to Kyoto would be ¥ 13,600 (that’s 100,- €), quite expensive for just one ride. But since we were only planning to be in Japan for such a short time, I wanted to make the most of it and decided to look into better transportation possibilities.
The Japan Rail Pass costs ¥ 46,390 (around 343,- €) and is valid for two weeks. You can also get one for one week, which is ¥ 29,110 (215,- €), and one for three weeks, which is ¥ 59,350 (439,- €). Children get a discount. So now I had to take into account all the rides we were going to make within Tokyo and Kyoto plus all the day trips that I was planning to do.
Getting the numbers
We ended up doing the following trips:
Haneda – Shinjuku: ¥ 690 (via Tokyo Monorail)
Shinjuku – Nikko: ¥ 2,590 Fare + ¥ 2,160 Seat Fee = ¥ 4,750
Shinjuku – Takao: ¥ 550
Tokyo – Kyoto: ¥ 8,210 Fare + ¥ 5,390 Seat Fee = ¥ 13,600
Tokyo – Hakone: ¥ 1,490 Fare + ¥ 2,250 Seat Fee = ¥ 3,740
Kyoto – Himeji: ¥ 2,270 Fare + ¥ 3,000 Seat Fee = ¥ 5,270
Kyoto – Nara: ¥ 710
Not included are all the other rides we took, using the JR lines within Tokyo.
…and the result!
These are just the one-way fares, so if you double it (since it is going to be round-trips), I came up with about ¥ 58,620 with only the day trips included. But don’t forget that the Japan Rail Pass also includes all the JR lines within Tokyo! And since we were located in Shinjuku and afterward in Shibuya, we would be mainly using the Yamanote line, which is JR. But by experience I can say that getting around in Tokyo would cost about ¥ 10,000 using all JR lines and subway lines in two weeks when you want to visit many sightseeing spots.
So, compared to buying the tickets individually, it made a lot more sense for us to just get the Japan Rail Pass, and I’m really glad we did. Even if we had to buy extra tickets, as soon as we wanted to use other lines, we would still be saving a lot of money. Keep in mind, though, that we are “normal” travelers, not backpackers, and we do not have to mind a tight budget. When I was a student I didn’t have the budget I have nowadays, so I chose night buses and long train rides. Now I like to travel more comfortably.
If you are planning your trip to Japan, I recommend getting the Lonely Planet Japan (Travel Guide)*, which is my favorite. I had it when I moved to Japan, and I bought a new one this year because it has lots of new updates and tips!