Can’t buy the JR Pass?

You’ve got some sort of long-term visa in Japan and thus ineligible for the JR pass – what are your options?

  • Airplanes
  • Buses
  • Trains

Airplanes
You can use your typical flight arrangement websites to set you up, but if you aren’t made of money then you’ll might want to look into budget airlines in Japan.  This is a news article for 2012 and thus a bit outdated but it comes in handy.  These budget airlines are always providing promotions, sales, and the initial ticket price is usually extremely cheap, and thus difficult to obtain.  It may be worth to subscribe to their promotional emails.

Buses
There are many kinds of buses available to travel within Japan, but I would like to briefly mention just one specific kind for travelers on a budget.  Overnight buses (夜行バス / yakou basu) are generally cheaper than airplane tickets but sometimes budget airline ticket prices are cheaper than these overnight buses.  Many people rely on overnight buses and therefore the prices increase due to that demand and you’ll especially see this for weekends; if you can, it would be best to look to take these overnight buses on Tuesday, Wednesday, and/or Thursday.  Since you’ve probably lived in Japan for some time now, you probably noticed that there are some shops around selling a lot of tickets to crowds of people at a time; these places hold tickets for overnight buses as well!

Trains
Obviously you can pay an arm and a leg for a bullet train (新幹線 / shinkansen) or you can take the normal trains at the respective fixed prices, or you can purchase a Youth 18 Ticket (精神18切符 / seishin jyuuhachi kippu)!  Japan Guide has loads of information on this useful and amazing opportunity.  But to answer a few FAQs that might have popped up into your mind:

  • Anyone can purchase this ticket!  Yes, that includes people younger and older than 18…
  • It costs around 12,000 yen (<$120) and may be used up to 5 times (5 days, once used that day, you can continue using it as much as you want that day without consequence).
  • Only available 3 times a year – corresponds to the school’s vacation periods.
  • You may purchase as many tickets as you want.
  • You may share the ticket with other people.
  • If used at 11pm and then again during the same night at 12am, it will count as TWO times as it resets at midnight – in other words you can use it the same day from 12am to 11:59pm.
  • Can be purchased at any JR office.
  • These tickets are not meant to be inserted into the regular gateways but rather to be inspected by a clerk next to the gateways.
  • This ticket limits you to certain trains, local (普通電車 / futsuu densha) and rapid trains (快速電車 / kaisoku densha).  What does this mean?  It will take longer, sometimes much much longer, to get to your desired destination.  For example it took me 3 full days of traveling from Kyoto (京都) to reach the southern most port city in Hokkaido (北海道), Hakodate (函館).  Also took me the same amount of time from Kyuushuu’s Kagoshima (九州・鹿児島) to Kyoto.

For more information, I would always recommend Japan Guide and Wikitravel.

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TT – How to plan a trip

Quick review on how to plan a trip!

  1. Who are you going with?  Why go with anyone, go solo!  If you can’t go solo, make sure you pick people that you can travel with; people who are like you when you travel.  So that means if you’re like me on vacations and like to rise early and make the most out of your day, sleeping late too, make sure your travel partner(s) does too!  This also entails activities, sights, capabilities and whatnot.
  2. When are you going?  Peak or non-peak season?  Make sure you research the climates, weather, activities, seasonal differences, prices, natural disasters, and limitations.  This is very important because if you decide to go during non-peak season to save money or whatnot, you may be expecting paradise but it could actually be a nightmare thus being the non-peak season; not always the case though, but it can be!  Also, activities and sights may be unavailable during non-peak seasons so be wise and research thoroughly!
  3. Where are you going?  By the way, these are not in any particular order!  I usually start with one and move onto another.  If you’re like me and want to go everywhere, then just pick a spot and start planning!  Of course during your research if it’s not the best idea, you can always switch and continue to do so until you find the perfect trip for your preferred time period.  Pay attention to location, climate, culture, environment and customs!
  4. Why are you going?  This is quite essential to any trip, especially if it isn’t open-ended!  I think that only open-ended trips can have an open-ended reason for going!  Try to match your location and activities with your purpose, if that wasn’t obvious enough.
  5. What are you going to do?  Kick back on the beach, drink/smoke all night long and party, outdoor activities like rafting and hiking, or maybe just sightseeing?  These should be match everyone’s tastes in your group, unless sometimes you split up; which is completely fine and actually preferable if you know each other well enough!
  6. How? How will you pay for the trip?  How will you get to your destination/what form of transportation suits your needs?  How will you get to the airport or station?  How will you get around your destination?
  7. Book the trip!  Use several sights to look at flights like Hipmunk, BookingBuddy, Expedia, Orbitz, CheapTickets, Priceline, etc.  Same goes for accommodation, there are many options like Couchsurfing, House Sitting, Pet Sitting, renting apartments from others like on Airbnb, hostels, hotels, motels, friends and family.  Think about your trip purpose, group and activities as everything should complement one another.
  8. Post-booking preparation entails little significant details like:
  • Whether or not to use cash or credit cards
  • Getting your passport, papers and documents required to leave (your country and enter another).  Make sure your passport doesn’t expire during your trip, you may not be allowed to even leave.
  • Take off from work!
  • Do you know how much you’ll be charged, if any, if you use your card internationally?  Can you even use your cards internationally?  Tell your bank/institution of your trip and make sure that they’re capable of being used, even if you don’t need them; you never know what may happen!
  • Also, as mentioned above make sure to look into tips, customs, culture of the destination so you’re not an ignorant tourist pissing off locals; you want to be friends with the locals as you get the best tips from them on food, activities, locations, etc.

Hopefully you found something you didn’t know about earlier or maybe the whole thing is useful for you!  This post more or less represents what goes through my mind when thinking or planning a trip of any sort.

Is there anything that I missed?  Maybe you plan your trips a bit differently?  If so, let me know! 🙂