How to navigate Japan's railway system like a pro
Getting lost in translation while holidaying in Japan might seem like a romantic idea to fall back on, but we assure you it's never quite like the movies. While the Land of the Rising Sun's efficient railway system is touted as one of the world's best rail systems, it can be an arduous task to navigate — especially if you don't speak the language.
The last thing you want is to be surrounded by intertwining train tracks, heavy luggage in tow, while worrying what the best ticket to get is without getting ripped off by the complex railway system. To spare you from going through that (potential) nightmare, our friends over at Flight Centre have kindly put together a few nifty tips to make travelling by rail in Japan an effortlessly enjoyable experience.
1. Choose the right pass for your itinerary
The JR (Japan Railway) Pass is a great choice for those who plan to visit multiple cities like Tokyo, Hokkaido and Osaka. It's an all-encompassing pass that can be purchased for a period of 7, 14 or 21 days, and provides nationwide access to services like the Shinkansen (bullet train), limited express, express, rapid and local trains — and even some non-JR trains to access isolated JR lines. However, if you're planning to just stay within one specific city, purchase the JR Tokyo Wide Pass instead. Aside from Tokyo, it also covers popular tourist spots outside the city, including Nikko, Fuji Five Lakes, the Izu Peninsula, Karuizawa, and the onsen towns of Gunma Prefecture. Similar passes are available for Hokkaido, Kansai (covering Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Kobe, and Himeji) and various other key regions.
2. Purchase your pass before leaving for Japan
As the JR pass is only available to temporary visitors or tourists, it is best to purchase your pass in your home country before you fly off to Japan. While the pass is now available at selected JR stations within the country, they are sold at a higher price.
3. Maximise your JR pass with multiple stopovers — otherwise, don't bother getting it at all
If you decide to purchase the JR Pass, start planning how you can maximise your pass to get the best bang for your buck. For example, if you are travelling between Tokyo and Osaka, you may want to make time for stopovers at Yokohama, Hakone, Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Koyasan. If you're not planning to make multiple stops within your route, it's best to stick to a standard pass that zips you to a single destination — this can be easily purchased at any Shinkansen station.