Thursday, January 16, 2014

Traveling in Japan: The JR Pass + Other Transportation Options

I really enjoyed Japan. I was there for three full days, two days in Kyoto and one day in Tokyo. I believe in "passes" of every kind, having been spoiled in Madison with the Student Bus Pass, taking pride in my Paris Metro Pass, and refilling my t-money card every two weeks in Korea. Hence, getting and using the Japan Rail Pass was automatically a smart and exciting feature of my trip. 

Costing about 269 USD, the ordinary 7-day Japan Rail or JR Pass, paid for itself traveling to Kyoto alone.

Getting the JR Pass, Preliminary:

If you decide it is worth the money to buy a JR Pass, buy it online at least a week in advance to your trip, keeping in mind that a "JR Pass Voucher" will be Fed Ex-ed to you within two business days (watch out for holidays). Choose a reliable address to have the voucher sent to, as you will need to sign for it and will need it in order to get the actual pass once you land in Japan. 

Coming from Korea, I read that you may be able to get the actual JR Pass from various locations within Korea before traveling to Japan, the Busan International Ferry Terminal for one. I didn't research past that name-drop however. Also, if you prefer to pick up the voucher in person, checking with Japan Airline Travel agencies in Seoul is an option my friends took and were happy with. 

When landed in Japan, take your voucher to the nearest JR Pass Office (look for green) to exchange it for your very own JR Pass (hooray!). 

Getting to Kyoto with the JR Pass:

We flew into Narita International Airport; the JR Pass Office was easy enough to find and the personal there were excellent. I was really impressed with how pleasant public transportation in Japan was with a huge language barrier. There were bi-tri-perhaps-quad-lingual workers stationed everywhere to help guide in the right direction. I traveled through some pretty popular stations, Narita Intn'l Airport, Tokyo-Shinagawa, Kyoto Station, and Shinjuku Station. 

At the Office, I was asked for my voucher and passport. I filled out a small information card that was then sealed onto my JR Pass. The worker asked my destination and after printing out the tickets for my trip to Kyoto, she handed it all - pass and tickets - to me. So much power in one hand! I was really grateful and a bit surprised at how smoothly it all went. Explaining using the "manned ticket gates," where an actual JR worker okays your passage when entering or transferring stations, and small tips for the trains, I could have kissed the woman she was so nice. 

Going from Narita Airport to Kyoto required two trains and two tickets. First, we took the Narita Express Train (N'EX) from the Narita Airport to Tokyo-Shinagawa (55 minutes). From Shinagawa, we took the Shinkansen-Hikari train directly to Kyoto Station (161 minutes). 

Getting to Tokyo and then "Home" with the JR Pass: 

From Kyoto Station to Shinjuku Station in Tokyo, we stopped by the Kyoto Station JR Pass Office and again got our tickets for Shinjuku directly from the JR Pass worker. I also asked to reserve a seat on the N'EX from Shinjuku Station to Narita Airport for my flight the next day (70 minutes). Narita Airport has two terminals, Terminal 1 and 2. I just checked online for the terminal number of my flight. 

Other Transportation in Kyoto & Tokyo:

The All Day Subway Pass in Kyoto cost around 7 USD and came in handy; you all know how I feel about passes but money really well spent. We did a lot of walking, too, which was fantastic. Kyoto is an excellent city to walk around in and stumble upon the many parks and temples (it was stumbling for me following the more directionally gifted members of our party). BUT, totally accessible city by foot. 

The sheer number of bikes available for rent (around 1,000 yen or about 10 USD a day) was something I loved about Kyoto. People biking everywhere on really great-looking bicycles with baskets attached to the fronts. My dad, mobility manager and biker extraordinaire, would have been rightfully geeking out. We talked about renting some bikes, but the cold got the better of us. 

We took a taxi to our traditional Japanese dinner at Kodaiji Doi, which is near the Kodaiji Temple. The amazing staff at our inn Ohanabo Ryokan set up everything. They called and made arrangements for our pick up and return home. It cost around 10 USD one way.

I was only in Tokyo for a day and bought two single-ride subway tickets for 190 yen each, or about 1.90 USD. The One-Day Subway Pass would have cost around 6 USD. The JR Pass would be valid only on trains operated by Japan Rail (there are several railway companies), so definitely check if your JR Pass can get you where you want to go. There are different types of single-ride and transfer tickets (varying prices), which depend on how far you need to go. We ended up going to the Ginza area from Shinjuku.


Perhaps my dad is rubbing off on me or perhaps it's just the fact that all this was continuously running through my head as I checked maps and train schedules; either way, "respect," good public transportation. You're wonderful. More personal accounts of Japan to follow ::

Some helpful sites:

Japan Rail Pass via Japan Guide 
Hyperdia: searching Japan's train & aviation timetable

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