#cheap train travel
A complete guide to budget travel in Japan
The information on this page has been updated for 2009.
The Japanese rail network is well known for its speed and efficiency. Train travel in Japan, whether on a super-fast Shinkansen (bullet train) or a more sleepy local train, is one of the best ways to see the country.
- JR East have an excellent internet site for reserving select train seats from overseas. Visit ‘JR-East Shinkansen Reservation’ .
It is generally expensive to travel around by train unless you take advantage of the rail passes and other discount tickets. Choosing which Rail Pass to purchase will depend on your budget, your length of stay in Japan, and which regions you plan to visit.
- www.hyperdia.com is a really powerful and easy-to-use search tool for browsing all train timetables and train fares in Japan.
Japan Rail Pass
The famed Japan rail pass is excellent for visitors and backpackers who will be doing a lot of travelling around for trips up to three weeks. The JR Pass must be purchased outside of Japan. For a certain number of consecutive days, the JR Pass offers unlimited travel on all trains, except the fastest Shinkansen.
The cost is 28,300 Yen for 7 days; 45,100 Yen for 14 days; and 57,700 Yen for 21 days. More information on the Japan Rail Pass can be found on the Official JR Pass website.
Cheaper and more flexible options
Travellers on a tighter budget, staying for longer periods, or those not travelling around constantly, may be better served by some of the other tickets and passes available.
Foremost among these is the bargain basement Seishun 18 Kippu offering unlimited travel for five days on the slower trains. This is a very cheap ticket, and the five days need not be used consecutively. It is, however, only available at certain times of the year. For more information see our section on this ticket.
Regional Rail Passes
Each region in Japan also has it’s own version of the Japan rail pass. The Japan-guide website has an exhaustive list of them here.
For travellers staying longer in Japan and planning to travel north of Tokyo, perhaps the most interesting of these is the JR East pass. This offers unlimited travel on JR trains in the region from Tokyo up to the top of Honshu (main island). This includes Nagano and the spectacular Japanese alps.
This pass is available for 5 or 10 consecutive days or for 4 flexible days within one month. The latter option is great if you are planning to spend some time in different locations in between train rides. This version costs 20,000 yen for those older than 26 and 16,000 Yen for people under 26. Further details of this pass can be found on the JR East website.