One of the best and most popular methods of traveling in Japan for foreign travelers is to invest in a Japan Rail Pass, or JR Pass. The JR Pass is essentially a rail pass that allows unlimited travels on all major forms of transportation provided by the JR Group in Japan (with some exceptions) for a limited amount of time. This is perfect for restless travelers who want to see everything and jump from prefecture to prefecture. They will have the choice to purchase a rail pass that could last seven days, 14 days, or even 21 days; however, since this is an option for overseas visitors only, the rail pass has to be purchased prior to the trip. At the moment, the pass is also being sold at some sales offices in Japan, but this is temporary until March 31, 2019, according to its official website. When you want to activate the JR Pass and begin your trip, you can head to any of the exchange offices and exchange your voucher in Japan.
I personally didn’t get the JR Pass because I had the opportunity to stay in Japan for months as a study-abroad student in Akita International University. Whenever I traveled to a prefecture, I wanted to stay for at least a couple of days to soak in the atmosphere and see everything the place had to offer. The best option that I found for any individual like myself was air travel. As a foreigner, we even had discounts from certain airlines. For example, I often took ANA to go back and forth between Akita and Tokyo, or Akita and Osaka. The prices are typically as low as ¥5,000 (US$50) if you travel to major airports like Narita or Kansai.
Other airlines, like JAL, also offer foreigner discounts, but there are some budget airlines that can provide better options than those with foreigner discounts. Some of these airlines include Peach Aviation, Vanilla Air, Jetstar Japan, Skymark Airlines, just to name a few. They can also be great for traveling in and out of Japan. I took Peach Aviation to travel back and forth between Japan and Korea, and it was the most cost-effective option out of all of my choices at the time.
Trains and buses
Another way to travel on a budget is by taking the public transportation system: the trains and buses. I definitely suggest investing in a ¥500 (US$5) Suica or PASMO card, which are prepaid IC cards that can be used to travel around Japan. You can receive the money back if you decide to return the card at the end of your trip. These IC cards can be used not only for most public transport (metro, trains, buses, monorail) around Japan, but also for payments in most convenience stores and many other shops and stores. They can be bought and charged at any Suica/PASMO machine located in most train stations.
If you are interested in staying in Tokyo and are planning to explore the many different areas of the city, I suggest getting an unlimited Tokyo Subway Ticket for Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway lines. The rates are as follows:
- Tokyo Subway 24-hour Ticket: ¥800 (Adult) / ¥400 (Child)
- Tokyo Subway 48-hour Ticket: ¥1,200 (Adult) / ¥600 (Child)
- Tokyo Subway 72-hour Ticket: ¥1,500 (Adult) / ¥ 750 (Child)
As a busy traveler who didn’t know about this pass at the time, I found myself spending about ¥2,000 every day just on traveling around Tokyo.
There’s a similar opportunity in the Kansai region. The Kintetsu Rail Pass provides unlimited rides on the Kintetsu Railway and Nara Kotsu Bus within designated zones. This is a convenient pass for those hoping to visit Kyoto, Osaka, and Nara.
- One-day pass: ¥1,500 (Adult) / ¥750 (Child)
- Two-day pass: ¥2,500 (Adult) / ¥1,250 (Child)
These are two of my recommendations, but there are many other discount tickets issued by various railway and bus companies. JNTO (Japan National Tourism Organization) has comprehensive lists of discount passes in Tokyo and Kansai.
One of the most expensive traveling methods were taxis, but they were inevitable and convenient when I found myself stranded in the middle of the city after the trains stopped running at 1 a.m. I also took a taxi when I had a lot of luggage to carry. Though expensive, they would accommodate to our needs by bringing a bigger vehicle our way if we had too many things. I found myself spending at least ¥5,000 (US$50) per ride and at most ¥12,000 (US$120) if I took the taxi all the way to Haneda Airport from the city center.
Getting from/to the airports in Tokyo
In contrast to my actions and experiences, there are much more affordable options than taxis to go and come from airports.
One of the most affordable options from/to Narita Airport is Keisei Bus’ Tokyo Shuttle that runs between Narita and Tokyo Station for ¥1,000 (US$10).
For other routes, there are Airport Limousine and Keikyu buses that can drop you off at various spots throughout Tokyo and neighboring prefectures, as well as trains. While these vary in cost depending on the distance you are traveling, in general local trains tend to be cheaper than buses. On the other hand, buses can offer you a more comfortable and hassle-free trip especially if you have a lot of luggage.