Howie visits Japan – Initial planning: travel arrangements.

Getting to Japan is probably the most expensive thing for which you’ll need to pay in relation to a holiday there. A London to / from Tokyo return flight off-peak should cost you around £400 to £500. To give you all an idea of seasonal variations I headed out during half-term holidays, and returned afterwards with my fare costing between £700 to £800 (although I will also add that I did stop off in Hong Kong for a couple of days as I had something to do there before flying from Hong Kong to Tokyo, but the airfare was only around £30 on top than if I just simply did London to / from Hong Kong alone, which of course made the added holiday a no-brainer).

Another thing to consider in relation to flights is whether you would like to visit other places in Japan, and how you would like to get there. For example, it is possible to travel from Tokyo to / from Osaka by both internal flight, or train.

If you are looking into train travel  within Japan, I would  recommend getting a JR Rail Pass. A JR Rail Pass allows for unlimited travel on the JR network within the duration of the rail pass’s validity. At the time of my travels in October / November 2017, a seven-day rail pass cost ¥29,110 (approximately £190 / US$260). If you wanted a seven day rail pass which allowed for green car (the Japanese equivalent of first class) travel, it would cost ¥38,880 (approximately £257 / US$340). Personally, I do not think it is worth the extra money to get a green car rail pass, as even standard class travel is pretty damn comfortable!

You can get rail passes for 14 days, or 21 days too. The cost of these rail passes for standard class travel are ¥46,390 (approximately £307 / US$409), and ¥59,350 (approximately £393 / US$523) respectively.

The two most important documents for me on my trip to Japan: my passport, and my JR Rail Pass.

To put the prices of the JR Rail Pass into perspective, a train ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto costs ¥8,210 without the seat fee. If you have an unreserved seat, the seat fee is ¥4,870 on top of the ¥8,210, totalling ¥13,080, with a return trip costing a total of ¥26,160 (approximately £173 / US$230), which as you can see is actually not far off from the price of the seven-day rail pass. The great thing about the JR Rail Pass is that it also allows you to make seat reservations for free. But I will discuss more about the JR Rail Pass in later posts in the series.

I recommend working out a basic itinerary to begin with as it is worth comparing the price of the rail passes to the cost of any internal flights which you may be planning to take. I always find trains so much more convenient as train termini are usually in city centres, rather than on the outskirts, which cut out the city to / from airport transit times.

Plus, a trip from Tokyo on the Tokaido Shinkansen (for example from Tokyo to Kyoto) brings you hurtling along at 175mph past Mount Fuji, which is a humbling sight to behold.

Mount Fuji with orographic clouds, taken at 175mph on the Tokaido Shinkansen from Tokyo to Osaka.

Please do note that the JR Rail Pass only allows for unlimited travel on lines which are owned by JR. Whilst planning your holiday, have a look at HyperDia, which is a train timetabling website by Hitachi. You will want to click on ‘more options‘ to bring out a list of tick boxes. Untick the boxes which say “NOZOMI / MIZUHO / HAYABUSA (SHINKANSEN)” and “Private Railway” before you search so you can see if your intended journey can be done entirely on a JR Rail Pass.

For example, my journeys from Tokyo to / from Osaka, and Tokyo to / from Kyoto were covered entirely by my JR Rail Pass. However, my journey from Tokyo to / from Oarai wasn’t entirely covered by my JR Rail Pass. This is because to get from Tokyo to Oarai, I could only make the journey from Tokyo to Mito on my JR Rail Pass. To get from Mito to Oarai and back to Mito again, I needed to journey on a separate private line. A journey each way from Mito to / from Oarai only cost ¥320 (approximately £2.10 / US$2.80).

I paid for my JR Rail Pass before I left London, buying it from Japan Experience, which has an office based in Central London allowing me the convenience of collecting it in person. Please note that there are other authorised vendors of the JR Rail Pass, and my mention of Japan Experience is not an endorsement of that company against other vendors, but merely mentioned for information only as that was where I bought mine. You can easily find other vendors of the JR Rail Pass by going a quick search on the interweb.

When you pay for your JR Rail Pass, your vendor will provide you with an exchange order so you can collect the your JR Rail Pass when you arrive in Japan (I will talk more about the JR Rail Pass later in this series). Make sure when you place your order your name is correct, and matches your passport as it will be checked when you collect the real deal after arrival in Japan. Let me finish here with one final piece of wisdom: DO NOT lose that exchange order!!!

DO NOT lose this exchange order! You will need this to obtain the real JR Rail Pass after arrival in Japan.