The transportation system in Japan is one of the most advanced transportation systems in the world, enabling to travel around in Japan easily and quickly from one place to another through roads, tunnels and bridges systems which are among the most developed in the world, an advanced and efficient public transportation system, and the option to rent cars everywhere.
When it comes to long drives between Japan’s main cities, it is very comfortable to travel around using the train network which is known for its high frequency and great precision. The trains ride with high velocity to travel great distances in a reasonable travel time. For example, train travel time from Tokyo to Kyoto is 2:51 hours, compared to 4:51 hours by car and 8:20 hours by bus. The price, however, is in accordance with the high-level service: whereas train travel costs 150$, the same drive by car costs 80$, and by bus – 70$.
Trains are the fastest option for inter-city travels, and saves precious time in short trips to Japan. The comfortable train ride also lets you arrive much fresher at your destination than after a long bus ride or a tiring drive in a rental car (which requires finding a parking place that is also very expensive). The efficiency of the trains, however, costs a lot of money, and a single family drive might even cost a few hundred dollars, compared to a much lower price of a one-day car rental – only a few dozen dollars for the whole family (depending on the vehicle type, of course).
To lower the high train travel prices, it is very recommended to check the JR PASS (Japan Rail Pass) option – a card which allows free travel for 7, 14 or 21 days in JR train network for tourists, including the fast Shinkansen trains and other transportation methods of JR also, such as the Yamanote line surrounding Tokyo, the bus system in Hiroshima and the ferry from Hiroshima to Miyajima. The JAPAN PASS costs 271/432/552 dollars for an adult in accordance with the amount of days in the package. There is a 50% discount for children when ordering the tickets ahead. After ordering, you will receive a coupon to show at the train station in order to get the PASS itself. Note that the PASS is activated only when you use it in the train station for the first time. It is recommended to check which lines and transportation means are included in the JR network ahead using the website of JR PASS.
It is also recommended to check if purchasing the JR PASS is preferable, using Rome2rio website which compares travel prices in Japan with and without the PASS. It is not always preferable to order the JR PASS, as a few rides may cost less than the JR PASS packages. Note that children under the age of 6 are exempt from paying for travels in the train network.
If you’ve decided to order the JAPAN PASS, plan your trip so that it costs you the minimum. For example, in a 21-day trip to Japan, you may start or finish your trip staying in one of the big cities, in which there is no need for the JAPAN PASS, so you will only have to purchase the 14-day package and spend another week in another city in the beginning of your trip. For example, you can spend the first four days in Tokyo, after which you will activate your JAPAN PASS, and then spend the last three days in Osaka without the PASS.
In addition to the JAPAN PASS, there are other regional transportation packages such as the NIKKO PASS which includes a round trip from Askusa train station in Tokyo to Nikko, free rides with the local buses for two days, and a discount for the entrance prices of tourist attractions. This ticket costs 2600 Yens for adults and 1300 Yens for children and will save you a lot of money. Another worthy package is the Hakone Free Pass which allows you to take a roundtrip from Shinjuku station in Tokyo to Hakone including free travel with all of Hakone transportation methods and a free entrance to the attractions in Hakone for two or three days, in a price of 5000/5500 Yens for adults and 1500/1750 Yens for children, respectively. It is recommended to check additional packages in the Odakyu or JAPAN RAIL websites.
Rental cars are preferable to trains and buses when it comes to traveling to the distant sticks and nature sites. If you decide to rent a car, note that Japan drives on the left side of the road, the toll roads are relatively expensive and there is a strict enforcement of the driving law which limits the driving speed to 100 km/h. Check if your rental price includes an ETC sticker – a toll roads member which saves time when entering and leaving toll roads by skipping the lines, and saves also 30% of the travel fee.
When it comes to traveling within the city, it is recommended to use the subway system in Japan cities which are networked with frequent and on-time trains and buses that arrive at their stations very precisely.
When traveling with bags from one city to another, the distance between the inter-city train station and the subway station or the bus station may be a few hundred meters and even more. In this case it is recommended to use a taxi. Taxies in Japan are not really expensive within the cities and a 10-minute drive costs about 15$, which is a good price for a whole family riding in the same taxi.
There are bus shuttles and special train lines from the different Japan airports to the cities and back.
By Maayan Hess Ashkenazi