Save Money Using Train Passes While in Japan

Public transport in Japan is great. I will even go as far as saying that the train service in Japan is the best in the world. Trains run smooth and they are always on time. The only caveat is that the price of a shinkansen ride (most of the time) is more expensive than a good deal on an airline. To give an example, a shinkansen ride from Tokyo to Shin-Kobe in about 3 hours, is 15,110 yen via Nozomi, the fastest and most expensive shinkansen line. An air ticket from Haneda to Kobe via Skymark is only at 8,900 yen. An ANA deal offers about 10,000 yen airfare. While trains are convenient, it is no doubt expensive. Good news is that in Japan there are different types of train passes that lets you save more of your hard earned yen. Information below is based on my trip to Japan for 15 days and the train passes I used.

Japan Rail Pass

JR Pass, Kintetsu Rail Pass, and ICOCA card
JR Pass, Kintetsu Rail Pass, and ICOCA card

When you are traveling with a tourist visa,  Japan Rail offers the Japan Rail Pass for 7-day, 14-day, and 21-day duration. During my 15-day Japan trip covering cities of Kansai region (Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, Kobe), Chubu region (Takayama, Shirakawa-go), Kantou region (Tokyo, Kanagawa) in the island of Honshu and the northernmost island of Hokkaido (Sapporo, Otaru, Asahikawa, Hakodate), I bought the 7-day JR Pass. Why 7 days for a 15-day trip? It’s because I used a combination of train passes. I used 3 passes – the ICOCA-Haruka pass of JR West, Kintetsu Rail Pass and JR Pass. Attached below is my detailed train itinerary with the actual cost of the train fare. As you can see in the table, I saved 60,000 yen (about $600) because of using these train passes.

Train Itinerary - Day 1 to 7
Train Itinerary – Day 1 to 7

ICOCA-Haruka is a pass offered by JR West, which includes ICOCA IC card pre-charged with 1500 yen and reduced fare for Kansai Airport Express “Haruka”. The Kansai-Airport Express HARUKA provides direct access from Kansai Airport to Tennoji, Shin-Osaka and Kyoto.

Train Itinerary - Day 8 to 12
Train Itinerary – Day 8 to 12
Train Itinerary - Day 12 to 15
Train Itinerary – Day 13 to 15

As you can see from the table, my first day of use for the 7-day JR Pass is on Day 7 of my trip. This is because I opted to use a different rail pass from Kintetsu Railways to explore Kansai and Chubu regions. I used Kintetsu Rail to go to Nara and Nagoya.

You can plan your train rides using websites like hyperdia.com. This website publishes train times and indicates fare. I’ve used this site all the time and it is very accurate.

You can view the excel file here – Japan Trip-29Jan-12 Feb Train Itinerary

Plan your itinerary in such way that you can make full use of your train pass. To do this, get information on train passes offered by major railway companies like, Japan Rail or Kintetsu Rail. Also, check out the main railway company in the region you’re visiting and see if the train pass they offer are valuable for your chosen itinerary. If you are planning to stay on only one area, you can opt to use regional train passes for that area. Buy only the JR Pass if your itinerary involves long distance trips to two different areas, specially areas only serviced by JR train.

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