A Japan Rail Pass is a huge investment – at least for someone who’d like to stretch her ringgits like me. Thus, after working on my itinerary many many times, and considering various options, I dived in and purchased a 7-day Japan Rail Pass for my 2nd trip to Japan back in 2014. It cost me JPY 29, 110 (almost RM 1000 based on the currency exchange rate at the time), and I must admit that it took a lot of guts to ignore the voices in my head, listing and calculating the opportunity cost away.
There were a few “justifications” (aren’t we girls good at these!) that persuaded me; first being my infatuation with Japanese trains. I did some long distance train travel during my first trip, so for my return, I wanted to do more. In my imagination, dozing off on the seat rocked by the rolling train with head on the window overlooking mountains and paddy fields, was romantic.
I also wanted to go farther. In Japan, particularly in the different areas where I intended to go, trains would be the most convenient and efficient mode of transportation. Apart from that, I might be a trip planner, but I had a penchant for taking detour. I knew that there would be times when I would just take the train to a place (or places) that I just heard about. The pass would allow this flexibility without costing me more in train fares.
Justified or not, I flew from my home city of Kuala Lumpur to Osaka with the purchase order of the rail pass in hand, and exchanged it for the real thing at the Midori-no-Madoguchi (ticket counter) at the Kansai International Airport train station upon arrival. The pass’ first utilization was a ride to my hostel (J Hoppers Osaka Central – my favorite!) in Fukushima, a station away from Osaka City Station.
#1: Kansai International Airport – Fukushima: JPY 1,190
It was then put into further good use by taking a few trips on the Osaka Loop Line from Fukushima to the main train station. The distance was walkable (I walked almost every time during my next trip, to save money because I didn’t have a pass), but having a pass made me lazy. I would estimate around 6 trips made between these two points.
#2: Fukushima – Osaka (and vice versa): 6 x JPY 120 = JPY 720
I would only start my long distance journey the next day so on the evening of my Day 1 in Osaka, I went to the Midori-no-Madoguchi in Osaka City Station to book seats for the journey:
#3: Osaka – Shin Osaka – Hiroshima: JPY 10,230
Once in Hiroshima, I used the pass to go to Miyajima, a sacred island just off the mainland in the inland Sea of Japan, from my hostel in Dobashi. I made a transfer at Yokogawa station so I wouldn’t have to use the tram (not covered by pass). The best thing was, the pass was also valid for the short ferry ride from Miyajima-guchi to Miyajima:
#4: Dobashi – Yokogawa – Miyajimaguchi – Miyajima (return): JPY 1,340
That evening, I went to Midori-no-Madoguchi in Hiroshima station and booked an impulsive trip to — Nagasaki. It was my second time in Hiroshima, and I really didn’t feel like exploring it more. Since I already paid for the hostel in Hiroshima (J Hoppers Hiroshima), it had to be a day trip. My main purpose was to visit the Atomic Bomb Peace Park.
#5: Hiroshima – Hakata – Nagasaki (return): JPY 27,380
There was another change I made while in Nagasaki, actually. I rushed through my itinerary in Nagasaki and while finding myself making the time for my train back to Hakata, I decided to cancel my ticket from Hakata to Hiroshima. The reason being I wanted to have a meal in that city, before returning. Since my initial ticket had a short transit time, it was safer for me to cancel it, and just book another one after a late lunch in Hakata instead. It was free (come with pass), anyway. So I explained my intention to the staff at the ticket counter, handed the ticket and ran to the platform to board the Kamome Express to Hakata, which was about to depart.
The next day was the day I took my longest train journey on this trip, which started just slightly after 6 am and ended almost 5 hours later requiring transfers in between. After a few days of traveling, I was tired. Thus even with strong canned coffee as breakfast, I found myself dozing on and off along the way. Still, I tried to catch the views that I was really seeking for here and there. The best thing was, the intermittent rest left me refreshed after the major transfer to Wide View Hida in Nagoya. The ride up the mountains into the Gifu Valley was dotted with breathtakingly beautiful landscapes of mountain cliffs, autumn leaves and emerald green river!
#6: Hiroshima – Okayama – Nagoya – Takayama: JPY 17, 000
I spent two night in Takayama (at J Hoppers Hida Takayama), and didn’t take any trains during my stay. At this point it was already 5 consecutive days since I first used my rail pass. On the 6th day, after a revitalizing escapade in the countryside, I made my way back into the city:
#7: Takayama – Nagoya – Kyoto: JPY 8,370
And also to get to the place I wanted to visit so much in Kyoto:
#8: Kyoto – Arashiyama (return): JPY 480
Also to return to Osaka later that evening:
#9: Kyoto – Osaka: JPY 560
After staying up late trying to postpone sleep in my futile attempt to prolong the trip, I checked out from J Hoppers Osaka Central and headed to the airport, putting the pass for one last good use:
#10: Fukushima – Kansai International Airport: JPY 1,190
In summary, the comparison is as of the following:
Total individual train fares: JPY 68,910
Total 7-Day Japan Rail Pass: JPY 29,110
Savings: JPY 39,800
Verdict: Totally worth it
I did spend more than just the rail pass to travel along this itinerary as cities such as Hiroshima and Osaka were better navigated using its local tram and subway systems, respectively. But for the pass itself – now I understood why travelers loved it so much. It is truly a bang for your money if you plan your trip right, and if you’re okay at letting go of some imperfections.
For me personally, I did feel my trip was a little too rush. I prefer slower pace and spending more time soaking in the ambiance of each stop, but I acknowledged early on that it was the price that I had to pay in order to ride more trains and get to more places.
So as long as you’re prepared, then by all means – get yourself one for your next Japan trip!