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HOW TO GET AROUND JAPAN ON A BUDGET

(cheaper in japanese)I must admit that I held off visiting Japan for a long time due to the false belief that it would be too costly.(cheaper in japanese)

Everyone warned me that Japan would be one of the most costly nations to visit. That’s what the group decided.

But there were two things I saw once I arrived: To begin, Japan is one of my favourite countries. Among the world’s countries, it ranks among the most fascinating, stunning, and welcoming. It’s as good as everyone says it is.

Second, although Japan is costly, it is still within the grasp of those on a tighter budget.

You may have a wonderful time in Japan without breaking the bank.

You can have a good time without spending a fortune on things like food, lodging, and entertainment.

The one thing that really breaks the bank in Japan, though? getting places quickly.

The small island nation’s transportation options are limited to either very expensive, very fast travel or very cheap, very slow travel. Only extremes can be found here; intermediates are scarce. It takes three hours by train or twelve hours by bus to get there.

In that case, what are the most cost-effective means of getting from one place to another in Japan?


In this article, I’ll explain how to do so, as it does require effort.

Traveling by train in Japan

train in Japan
Japan’s high-speed Shinkansen bullet train, located in Tokyo


Known as shinkansen, the bullet trains of Japan are renowned for being aesthetically pleasing, luxurious, user-friendly, and quick. They are a technological marvel, capable of reaching speeds of up to 320 kilometres per hour (200 miles per hour).Separate from the regular train tracks, these are where these trains travel.(cheaper in japanese)

They are an impressive piece of engineering that glides effortlessly across the ground. As far as train rides go, this one is tops.

But the price is astronomical for them.

There are times when a single ticket costs more than a round-trip plane fare. If you want to take the bullet train, you’ll have to pay the regular cost plus an extra “super express fee” of 800 to 11,000 yen.

From Kyoto to Hiroshima, for instance, you can expect to pay around 10,570 yen for a one-way ticket; from Tokyo to Kyoto, you can expect to pay around 13,320 yen; from Osaka to Tokyo, you can expect to pay around 15,880 yen; and from Tokyo to Nagasaki, you can expect to pay over 27,000 yen.

Even worse, sales and discounts are quite unusual. and locating one is next to impossible unless you can read and speak Japanese.

Thank goodness, there are alternate routes to take. It’s also possible to take a regional or limited-express train in Japan on a regular basis. They are slower than the Shinkansen, but they cost less.

From Kyoto to Tokyo, a local train ticket will cost you about 8,360 yen, compared to the bullet train fare of 13,320 yen. It’s true that using the local train is cheaper than flying, but at 9 hours compared to 3, it’s not exactly the most convenient option for most passengers.(cheaper in japanese)


I believe that taking a train across the country, be it a bullet train or a regional train, is the most enjoyable method to do so. Buying tickets one at a time is a bad idea. If you want to save money on train travel in Japan, you must purchase a Japan Rail Pass.

The passes can be used on any JR train, including the bullet trains, which travel to practically every city and area in Japan. The fact that these JR trains can be used within cities is a huge plus for me. When I was there before, I used my pass instead of buying individual metro tickets to navigate around Kyoto and Tokyo.

plan on exploring Japan

If you plan on exploring Japan, the JR Pass is a must-have. A number of variations on the regular pass are available (all of which are valid for a set number of days regardless of actual travel needs):

  • 29,650 JPY for 7 days
  • 47,250 JPY for 14 days
  • 60,450 JPY for 21 days


There is also a first-class option for each of these tickets. In Japan, premium vehicles are known as “green automobiles.” The price of a Green Car JR Pass is roughly 10,000–20,000 yen higher than that of a standard JR Pass. In all likelihood, you won’t need to spring for the Green Car pass unless you’re planning to spend a lot of time on the trains in Japan.(cheaper in japanese)

You can ride various different kinds of JR trains with your pass. The tokkyu is Japan’s second-fastest bullet train after the shinkansen (limited express). Immediately following the Kaisoku and Futsu-densha express trains are the Kyuko (local trains that make every stop).

JR passes

If you aren’t planning on seeing the entire country, regional choices are available as well. These alternatives are less expensive than standard JR passes and will help you save even more money. JR Passes are available for travel in six distinct areas of the country:

  • JR East
  • JR West
  • JR Central
  • JR Hokkaido (the northern island)
  • JR Kyushu (the southwestern island)
  • JR Shikoku (the southeastern island)


There are usually a few different pass options in each location, and their durations range from one day to seven days. Consider getting a JR regional pass if you plan to stay in one area of the nation for the duration of your trip. Purchase the basic JR Pass if you intend to travel extensively. (The standard JR Pass is the best option for first-time visitors to Japan because it allows unlimited travel between all the major cities.)(cheaper in japanese)


Remember that you must purchase your JR Pass in advance of your trip to Japan. The reason for this is that the pass is only valid for short-term visitors who are not Japanese citizens. A written “exchange order” is sent to you when you buy the pass and indicate your nationality and trip details. You’ll need the exchange order to get your hands on a JR Pass once you are in Japan, so don’t forget to bring it with you. To ensure that the agent can validate your temporary visitor stamp, you should bring your actual passport with you when you go to pick it up.

At present, you can purchase a pass upon arrival in Japan at certain sites (see the official JR website for the full list); however, this is only a trial that will conclude in March 2023. Buying a pass in person is also much more expensive (by about 5,000–6,000 yen), so it’s advisable to do so before you go.

The following are the approximate costs of one-way, non-reserved, ordinary (non-green car) class train tickets if you do not purchase a Japan Rail Pass and instead wish to purchase tickets between specific stations:(cheaper in japanese)

train tickets

  • Hiroshima-Tokyo: 18,380 JPY
  • Tokyo-Kyoto: 13,320 JPY
  • Kyoto-Hiroshima: 10,570 JPY
  • Tokyo-Nagoya: 17,200 JPY
  • Nagoya-Kyoto: 4,500 JPY
  • Kyoto-Osaka: 4,230 JPY
  • Hiroshima-Fukuoka: 9,000 JPY
  • Nagano-Kanazawa: 8,440 JPY
  • Tokyo-Yokohama: 3,210 JPY
  • Hakodate-Tokyo: 23,500 JPY
  • Nara-Kyoto: 1,100 JPY
  • Tokyo-Odawara: 3,200 JPY

 

Bus travel in Japan

Bus travel in Japan
The Japanese version of the ubiquitous school bus parks in a lot.
The time and money savings from using a bus instead of a train are negligible. In comparison to taking the bus from Tokyo to Osaka, which takes nine hours, taking the bullet train just takes three.


That seat costs 4,500 yen, but you have to ask yourself how much your time is worth. My time was restricted, so I couldn’t justify spending an extra six hours in transit to save money on my most recent trip.

Taking the bus would have been preferable if I’d had more time because there are many interesting places to visit along the route.

Bus passes with unlimited rides on Willer Express and Japan Bus Lines start at 10,200 yen for three consecutive days of travel. For a list of available choices, visit willerexpress.com.

Check out these sample bus ticket prices between some of the most visited cities in the world:

  • 8 hours, 4,800 JPY, from Tokyo to Kyoto
  • Cost: 3,360 yen; time required: 6.5 hours; Tokyo-Nagoya
  • Costing 2,500 yen and taking 2.5 hours, the trip from Nagoya to Kyoto is well worth it.
  • It costs 3,400 yen and takes 7 hours to get from Kyoto to Hiroshima.
  • 13,50 minutes and 7,900 yen to get from Hiroshima to Tokyo.
  • 3.5 hours and 3,600 yen between Hiroshima and Fukuoka.
  • 2.5 hours and 1,200 yen between Nagano and Niigata.
  • Flight time between Aomori and Tokyo is 11 hours and costs 5,500 yen.

You can see that taking the bus is the most cost-effective option but also the most time-consuming.

 

Using Planes to Explore Japan

Planes to Explore Japan
early morning view of Mount Fuji from above.
As more low-cost airlines have begun serving the country, flying has become an increasingly attractive choice for Japanese travelers. Flights are typically priced similarly to those for high-speed trains. The two largest airlines in the industry are Japan Airlines (JAL) and All Nippon Airways (ANA). Peach and Jetstar Japan are the two primary “budget” airlines in the country.


Japan is not a particularly large country, and I much prefer using the train or bus to get around the country. However, if you are pressed for time and don’t want to take the ferry or the bullet train to get from island to island, you can always just fly.

Listed below are some examples of one-way ticket prices between a few of Japan’s most popular cities (price ranges reflect off-peak versus peak pricing, with tickets costing more in the summer months of June, July, and August):

  • It costs between 4,800 and 5,950 yen to fly between Tokyo and Kyoto.
  • The fare from Tokyo to Nagoya ranges from 7,600 to 9,100 yen.
  • 7-10,000 JPY between Hiroshima and Tokyo
  • 7,100–11,600 JPY, Tokyo–Naha (Okinawa).
  • 6 490–10 400 JPY, Sapporo–Osaka
  • 6,000-99,000 JPY, Fukuoka to Tokyo

Using Ferry to Explore Japan

Ferry to Explore Japan
Getting to Miyajima Island from the Japanese mainland via ferry
Bridges and tunnels link the four main islands of Japan, although many of the smaller islands are accessible only by boat. Interisland ferries provide convenient access to all of these locations, as well as the rest of the country.

Ferries frequently transport people, cars, and goods. There are three different travel options available to passengers: second class (with or without a bed), first class, and special. Even in first class, where there are only two beds in a room, there is no privacy on a ship. Booking a ferry in advance is always required.

If you choose this option, know that your journeys could be quite lengthy! Listed below are some illustrative itineraries, times, and prices:

 

Moving Around Japan by Automobile

Moving Around Japan
the hazy glow of a deserted Japanese highway at night, I would not advise renting a car and exploring the country on your own. To start, it’s a lot more costly to rent a car than to take public transportation. Unless you speak Japanese, navigating the city will be incredibly challenging due to the irritating traffic, the enormous difficulty of finding a parking spot, and the lack of English signage.

If you’re set on renting a car, the best place to look for deals is Discover Cars.


Hitchhiking in Japan: Your Guide to a Free Vacation


Hiking is an exciting option if you’re feeling bold. Japan is a very secure country and a great place to hitch a ride for free. Almost no Japanese will hitch a ride, but many are willing to help out tourists. Don’t be shy; give them a chance to interact with native English speakers and experience something new.(cheaper in japanese)

You won’t have any trouble getting a ride, even in rural areas. People are so generous and friendly that they will pick you up even if they don’t speak English. Don’t be shocked if they invite you to a family gathering or invite you over for dinner.

Our Director of Content, Chris, recently returned from a month-long trip hitchhiking and backpacking across Japan. There was never a long wait for a ride, and everyone was quite kind. They treated him to meals and snacks, went out of their way to assist him, and even invited him to meet their families. It’s a great way to learn about other cultures if you’re feeling adventurous.

A sign indicating your intended destination is a good idea if you choose this path. In order to increase your chances of getting a ride, draw a cheerful face or some other cute picture. Hitchwiki is a helpful tool for figuring out where you can hitch a ride.(cheaper in japanese)


In how many hours can you travel throughout Japan?


Look at these distances and the approximate times it would take to get there. I hope this helps you see why taking the train is the best option.

table

The Most Efficient Method of Seeing All of Japan

The length of your trip is the most important factor in determining the mode of transportation that will serve you well. It is highly recommended that visitors with only a week or so in Japan purchase a rail pass and use it to travel throughout the country. It won’t be dirt cheap, but it will be the most effective. Consider taking the bus if your itinerary includes multiple stops within a relatively small area.

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