Cheap Transportation In Japan!

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So you’ve made it to Japan, and now you need to get to all of the cool, fun places in your schedule. Well, there are several “cheap” options for transportation in Japan, but it all depends on where you want to go and how far you want to travel.

JR PASS

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For those that don’t know, the JR Pass is the Japan Rail Pass. It is a pass that allows you to travel on all Japan Railway trains, including shinkansen (bullet trains), JR Buses, and JR ferries.

You can buy the JR Pass for periods of one week, two weeks, or three weeks. Here is the pricing for each:

  • One week:  $255.59 US Dollars (29,110 yen)
  • Two weeks: $407.31 US Dollars (46,390 yen)
  • Three weeks:  $521.10 US Dollars (59,350 yen)

Note: These are prices for the Ordinary JR Pass. There is also a Green JR Pass which is more expensive. The main difference is that the Green JR Pass allows you into the first-class areas–which really aren’t worth the price difference.

The really great thing about the JR Pass is that you can ride all JR trains for as many times as you want during the set period. This means that you can travel between cities like Kyoto and Osaka on a daily basis—they are only 20-30 minutes apart via shinkansen.  Note that you can only ride the Hikari Shinkansen—the second fastest bullet train—and not the Nozomi. So don’t get on the wrong one!

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The goal is to get the most bang for your buck.

In Tokyo, the JR Pass allows you to travel via the JR Yamanote line. This is the JR train with a lime-green stripe which allows you to travel to all major areas of Tokyo—Shibuya, Akihabara, Ueno, Tokyo Station, Ikebukuro, Yoyogi, and more!

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But the JR Pass also has certain rules:

  • Only foreigners can buy a JR Pass, when they are tourists or staying in Japan on a temporary basis—make sure you get the right stamp at immigration
    • So if you are in Japan as a student, or working for an extended period you are not eligible
  • You can only buy it when you are outside of Japan—YOU CANNOT BUY IT WHEN YOU ARE IN JAPAN
  • You have to bring the magical exchange order they send you via mail, so that you can exchange it for your pass in Japan.

I really think that the JR Pass is a great value if you will be traveling between cities, and using a shinkansen more than once. For example, on my very first trip to Japan, I wanted to experience as many cities as I could in the least amount of time. My goal, was to travel to Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, and Kamakura. For this much travel between Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, the most efficient form of travel was via shinkansen. But at $134 for a one way ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto, it would have been super expensive. This is where the JR Pass saved my day.

RECOMMENDATION: Use the JR Pass if you will be traveling via shinkansen more than once.

You can purchase your JR Pass here: JR PASS

SUICA/PASMO

Now, if you want to save a bit more money, then I would recommend staying in the Tokyo-area for your first trip. Trust me, there are plenty of things for you to do in one week, and you will still have plenty more to do on your next trip.

So if you are staying in the Tokyo-area, then I would not recommend the JR Pass—it just isn’t worth the money. Instead, the first thing you should do is get a Suica Card or PASMO card.

These are rechargeable cards that you scan to ride trains, subways, and buses all over Tokyo. Plus, you can go shopping with them too. This includes fast food restaurants, convenience stores, malls, and vending machines!

Most train rides from one station to another range from about $1.25 to $1.60. So for normal sight-seeing in Japan you won’t travel more than about 3-4 major stations in one day. Just charge your card with about $10 and you should be fine on most days.

If you think you will be traveling all around Tokyo, hitting multiple stations each day—via multiple forms of transportation—then you shuld buy the Tokyo Free Kippu pass.

RECOMMENDATION: Use Suica or PASMO if you know you will be staying in one city, such as the Tokyo-area, for your entire trip.

Tokyo Free Kippu Pass

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Don’t let the name fool you, as it is not free. Still, the Tokyo Free Kippu, or Tokyo One-Day Pass, is a great value at about $14 US Dollars (1,590 yen).

This ticket allows you to use all subways lines (Toei and Tokyo Metro), all trains (JR and non-JR), and all buses, in Tokyo—as many times as you want. The catch—it is only valid from midnight to midnight on one day. So if you buy it at 10 pm at night, then you can only use it until midnight of that same day. So, if you are planning to use this ticket, buy it early in the morning so you can get the most value.

RECOMMENDATION: Buy the Tokyo Free Kippu Pass if you intend to travel to many different train and subway stations in Tokyo in one day.

BUS

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Any of the various methods of transportation mentioned above–JR Pass, Suica, PASMO, and Tokyo Free Kippu–will allow you to use the bus system; however, trains and subways are really the most efficient way of getting around Tokyo and Japan in general.

However, if you have some extra time to spend in Tokyo, and want to be able to see Tokyo at street-level, then don’t hesitate to take the bus. Japan’s bus system is really good, and the buses are always on schedule (of course!). Be aware that the bus system can be a bit confusing, so be sure to research the buses you want to take before you go.

Buses are also a very cheap method of traveling between cities, as the average cost of a bus from Tokyo to Osaka is about $30.73 US Dollars (3,500 yen). The main problem is that this trip will usually take about 8 hours–the shinkansen will get you there in about 3 hours 40 minutes. So if you have to go by bus, then you should try and take the overnight buses. This way, you are at least getting some sleep on the long drive.

RECOMMENDATION: Don’t take the bus unless you have some ( or a lot) extra time to spare.

TAXIS

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Taxis are not a cheap method of travel in Japan. This shouldn’t be a surprise.

However, there was a change in taxi pricing this year, which lowered the “starting fare” to $3.34 to $3.60 US Dollars (380-410 yen) for the first 1.052 kilometers. Which is great if you intend to take a really short trip–but still not cheaper than a bus, train, or subway.

Also, most Japanese taxi drivers do not speak English very well, so expect that the usual language barrier will be there. So know how to say where you want to go in Japanese, or at least take a picture of the Japanese address you want to travel to—this will allow the driver to see exactly where you want to go in Japanese.

The only time I actually used a taxi was when I traveled to Tsukiji Market at 4 am, since I had never been to that area of Japan and had to arrive early enough to join the Tsukiji Market tour.

RECOMMENDATION: Don’t take taxis, unless there isn’t a train available or you just want to throw-away some of your maid cafe and manga money.

GO KARTS

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OK, so this isn’t a legitimate way to travel around Japan, but its a great way to have some fun in Akihabara.

Yes, you can travel around Tokyo in your very own Mario Kart thanks to MariCar, a company that has made many peoples’ video game dreams come true.

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You need to have a valid driver’s license—Japanese or International—in order to hop in on the fun. But aside from that, Akiba Cart supplies everything else…including the awesome cosplay costumes.

Prices at MariCar are about $60 US Dollars (7,000 yen) for two hours, and $40 US Dollars (5,000 yen) if you join their Facebook page. These prices are a bit more expensive than its counterpart in Akihabara—”Akiba Cart”, where the prices per hour are $23 US Dollars (2,700 yen).

MariCar can be found here: MariCar

Akiba Kart can be found here: Akiba Kart

RECOMMENDATION: Definitely try these out if you are in Akihabara, so you can live-out your Mario Kart dreams.

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