We recently went to Japan and were absolutely obsessed. We explored Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka over a 10-day period, and already planning our next trip back. While we were there, we made a point to splurge on hotels (the Japanese take service to the next level) and food (again, amazing). Because Japan is not the cheapest place to visit, we needed to find other areas to save money. After doing some research, train travel seemed to be the most cost-efficient way for us to get all around the country. Here are some tips we learned along the way!
1. Get a Rail Pass
If you are traveling around Japan in a relatively short amount of time, we would highly recommend getting the Japan Rail (JR) Pass. This pass must be purchased outside of Japan! If you are only visiting Tokyo or another major city, then the pass may not be for you. But if you are traveling across the country and visiting multiple places, get a pass. The best website (with the best prices) is www.japan-rail-pass.com, and you need to book early. Deciding on first or second class really just depends on your budget and preference. We were fine riding second class, and sometimes the rides were so fast/short that we would stand.
2. Be on Time
Japan’s train lines are extremely punctual, so you need to be on time. If a train is supposed to depart at 10:07, it will, so give yourself a little time. Many train stations have very efficient setups where they show you where to stand to wait in line. The line-up area often even labels at which point in the line the car will be full, so you can either beg somebody to give you their seat, or patiently wait for the following train. All that to say, if you need to be somewhere, just get to the station on time (early).
3. For Short Routes, Stand!
We stayed in Osaka and branched out from there, so we were often taking day trips to places like Kyoto. Understand that the Shinkansen bullet trains are FAST, and by the time you find a seat on a busy afternoon, you’ll probably be there. Osaka to Kyoto is 40 miles, and takes 15 minutes! If you’ve been walking a lot and want to rest your legs, fair enough, but we enjoyed beating the traffic getting off the train by standing right by the door on short journeys.
4. Bring Food! Bento Box!
Most trains will have food on board, but it will be way more expensive (and not as good). We would highly recommend that you get snacks on the street or in the station before you board the train. We are HUGE fans of Bento Boxes. Ekiben, aka Bento Boxes, are boxes of food that contain delicious Japanese cuisine. Our favorite is the Tonkatsu (deep-fried breaded pork cutlet) Bento Box! Get one (or two)!
5. Have a Wi-Fi device
For the longer trips, we recommend having a Wi-Fi device so you can get some work done, stream movies, or catch up on your Instagram. The views from the trains are spectacular, so don’t be glued to a screen the whole time. We were super thankful to have the Wi-Fi device so that Alli (and maybe Bobby) could catch up on the Bachelor. We were able to bundle our train passes with a pocket Wi-Fi device from Japan Experience. It was a lifesaver. Especially when we had to find out who Nick took on his hometown dates.
Please go to Japan. It is incredible. And if you travel by train, hopefully this helps you navigate. Where have you traveled by train? Can you give us any tips? Happy travels!