Japan 2017: 15 Days & 14 Nights Intinerary

Friday, 4 May 2018

As much as I love to plan all my overseas trips, Japan was probably one of the most difficult destinations to plan (to date) due to its complicated transit system. Take trains for example, they are collectively owned by the government and a number of different private companies—but instead of adopting one uniform set of rules, each operator has their own fare structure and passes—thus making it very confusing for foreigners.

How did I decide which pass to buy?

Once I had an idea of what we were doing on each day of our itinerary, I used Google Maps and Hyderdia to provide me the best route to travel from one place to another. (In fact, doing that alone really helped me understand the different train and subway lines of Kyoto and Osaka.) After I determined the best route, I jotted down the fare amount for that trip and continued doing so for the remainder of the trips I would take according to my itinerary that day. Then, I added up all those fare amounts to give me an idea of how much I should expect to pay for that day.

For example, day 2 of my itinerary in Kyoto looked like this:

Airbnb Nishiki Market ¥210
Nishiki Market Kiyomizdera Temple ¥230
Kiyomizdera Temple Gion ¥230
Gion Airbnb ¥150
Total ¥820

And Day 5 of my itinerary in Kyoto looked like this:

Airbnb → Arashiyama
ArashiyamaShinkyogoku Shopping District
Shinkyogoku Shopping District → Airbnb ¥230

A "Kyoto Sightseeing Pass Card" will give you unlimited use of the Kyoto subway or the City bus networks with the fee structure as follows:
  • 1-day Pass: ¥1,200 (adults) ¥600 (children)
  • 2-day Pass: ¥2,000 (adults), ¥1,000 (children) *Available to use for non-consecutive days.

Unfortunately, Kyoto only has two subway lines, so I figured that it would be very time-consuming and frustrating if we limited ourselves to those two modes of transportation only when there are other trains available. (While buses are not as convenient as trains/subways, it is actually the mode of transportation for Kyoto.)

As you can see, I wouldn't have spent ¥1,200 on either days to make the most of my 1-day pass. In fact, I only spent about ¥1,510 for transport in the two days. However, if you've managed to plan your itinerary by using only the subway lines and city buses, and you would spend more than ¥1,200 for the 1-day pass, ¥1000 a day for the 2-day pass, the Kyoto Sightseeing Pass Card could be a suitable pass for you.

OK, I know this seems very OTT, but you can see why I've done my calculations in such a way to save money. Plus, we were only visiting the Kansai Area (spending most of our time in Kyoto and Osaka), so I wanted to make sure that we were getting and using the most appropriate pass since most train/subway fares are so so steep.

What passes I end up buying?

The main "pass" we used for the majority of our trip was the rechargeable ICOCA Card. Think Opal in Sydney, Myki in Melbourne, Octopus in Hong Kong, and T-Money in South Korea. There are ten major prepaid IC cards in Japan, but we got the ICOCA because it was the one for Western Japan. I don't think there's a nation-wide prepaid card, so there may be some limitations if you travel outside or between IC card areas—bear that in mind.

The other pass we bought in Kyoto was the Kyoto Bus Pass which allows you to take unlimited bus rides for the day. It only costs ¥500, so we used it on days when I knew that we would be taking many bus trips and the total cost of those trips exceeded ¥500.

If you intend to visit many places in the Kansai Region in a short period of time, the Surutto Kansai Thru Pass may be the most appropriate pass for you because it offers unlimited access to most non-JR rail and bus networks in the Kansai Area (Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe and Nara). I personally don't like to cram too many cities in a short period of time, so we didn't get that Pass either. For 2 days, it costs ¥4,000 for adults and ¥2,000 for children, and for 3 days, it's ¥5,200 for adults and ¥2,600 for children. I guess it would only be suitable for people passing through the Kansai Region and just want to tackle the very main points of interest in each city.

I won't go into detail with the Osaka passes, but I went through the same logic to determine which pass to get in Osaka. In the end, we didn't even need to buy any passes because using our ICOCA cards was cheap enough to travel around the city, and even to cities outside of Osaka on one-day trips.

What about the JR Pass?

The JR Pass (Japan Rail Pass) is probably the pass that everyone talks about. This is because the JR pass gives you unlimited travel on Japan Railways (JR) transportation across the country. However, you can also buy JR Passes for a particular region/area only (so you don't need to fork out hundreds for a pass that covers an area you won't even be visiting). Do note that the validity date for different passes may also vary. For example, you can buy a National JR Pass that's valid for 7, 14 or 21 days. But for the JR West Rail Pass (which covers the Kansai Region), you can only buy a 1-day ($27), 2-day ($52), 3-day ($64) or 4-day ($76) pass.

The JR Passes are only cost effective if you're travelling long distances. For example, if your itinerary involves training it from Tokyo to Osaka, which is about ¥13,620 (a whopping ~$160.00), then from Osaka to Nagasaki, which is about ¥9,710 (~$113.00), and then back again to Tokyo within that same week. With this route, you'd be getting your money's worth because a JR pass for 7 days is $327.00, but you would've spent more had you bought single JR tickets for the same route.

Evidently, the JR Pass wasn't ideal for us because we were in the Kansai Region for 2 weeks and it didn't cost us that much more to ride on a non-JR train to nearby cities like Kobe or Nara. Plus, there are not that many JR lines running through Kyoto or Osaka where we were spending most of our time. Had we bought a JR Pass, we would've had to ride other trains, take the subway or bus as well, which would've increased our overall costs of transportation for the trip.

My Itinerary

You may download my itinerary or restaurant list by clicking on their respective hyperlinks. However, please note the following points before you download:
  1. Please use my itinerary as a guide only. I cannot and do not vouch for the accuracy for the information I have gathered online, which I do not claim ownership for. I created the itinerary for my personal use as an aid on my travels.
  2. If the words "Address" and/or "Directions" is bold and/or underlined, they are hyperlinks. If you use Google Maps, clicking on those links will automatically bring up the map or the webpage showing you exactly where the destination is or how to get to the destination.
  3. The stations or bus stops highlighted in light blue are the start and ending destination. Each subway or train line are also colour-coded according. For example, Keihan Main Line is red and the San-In Line is purple.
  4. For most "Directions" to the first attraction of the day, I have redirected all Google Map routes to a closer landmark (such as a station or bus stop), rather than the actual address of the Airbnb apartment we stayed at. Therefore, the "time" to get to the first attraction will slightly vary.
  5. My "restaurant list" list is only a list of suggestions.
Please let me know if you have any questions. Safe and happy travels! ✈

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