Nov 14, 2016
Japan Rail Pass
Days before our trip, we bought 7-day Japan Rail (JR) Passes for each of us. It’s basically unlimited rides on JR trains, including Shinkansen or bullet trains, for 7-days, from/to anywhere in Japan. Aside from the airfare and Tokyo accommodation, this takes one of the biggest cuts from our budget pie chart at a whopping Php 14500 each pass. The pass can’t be bought by Japanese residents nor can it be bought inside Japan. Exchange order is only available online for delivery outside Japan, or through accredited travel agencies, and is designed for tourists.
In our case, we bought the exchange orders in Friendship Tours in Dusit Thani Hotel in Makati. These are not the actual train tickets – these needed to be exchanged for actual JR Pass booklets in any JR station when you get to Japan. We did it when we arrived in KIX. JR Office is located outside but adjacent to the main airport building. We picked our day 2 as the start of our 7-day JR pass.
So there goes this common question: Is it worth it to buy JR Pass? If you are to ask me, the answer is “it depends on your itinerary and who you’re traveling with”. You can skip this part, because there is a long story behind why I needlessly spent a lot of money due to lack of proper planning.
First, I booked a roundtrip flight from Manila-Osaka, with only one 15 kilos of baggage for Mama and me. November is a very cold autumn month which means more jackets. Initial plan is to tour Osaka only. Second, the sister joined in, and we solidified our plan to include Tokyo (because “mas mahal bumalik” + “YOLO” + other excuses) which made me modify our flight details from 4 days to 8 days stay and add more baggage allowance. I contemplated on changing the airport of return flight, from KIX to Tokyo, but it costs like buying another flight. So, this whole trip means arriving in Osaka, going to Tokyo, and then going back to Osaka for our flight home. For this, our choices would be: 1-hour flight ($$$$$), 8-hour night bus ($ + major inconvenience for Mama) or 2.5-hour bullet train ($$$ + roundtrip bullet train experience + chance to see Mt. Fuji). We chose the latter, hence the JR Pass. JR Pass is worth it IF, aside from the regular JR train rides, you need to ride the bullet train at least twice, because a ride from Osaka to Tokyo already costs around Php 6500.
- Don’t be a lazy trip planner. As of writing, I’m proud to say that I have applied in my recent travels what I have learned from my past travels. (More mindful of spending + more comfortable OOTDs – slightly off-topic, I will forever grudge on the fact that I haven’t worn a nice OOTD during my whole Europe trip.)
- Being indecisive is expensive. Before clicking on that “Pay Now” button, decide on the dates of your flight and which cities to go. For Japan and other multi-city destinations, make it a point NOT to book roundtrip flights on the SAME airport.
- Plan your OOTD according to your destination’s weather. Don’t think twice about packing thick clothes and jackets for autumn season. Chances are, you’re not gonna fully enjoy the trip with cold hands and trembling body.
Sorry for the long intro, but there’s a reason why this blog is called virtually talkative. 😀
A brief background about Japan trains and stations as far as I know: there are A LOT of them. The subway maps are insane. The trains are color coded because they are of different train providers (JR is one of them) and are bound to different routes. You must be in the correct queue (triangles and circles on the ground) – because again you might be queuing for the wrong destination.
Consider yourself warned – just don’t hop on any train that stops in front of you (unless you’re 100% sure that it’s the right train, and/or you’re willing to be lost). The first time I saw the subway maps of Osaka and Tokyo, I was strongly intimidated. The lines and loops and different color coding are as complicated as a woman’s brain. (Ha, you found a match in me.) Thankfully there are digital monitors around the station to help us confused tourists. I’d still prefer this problem over the lack of actual trains in Metro Manila.
The agenda for that day was temple-hopping in Kyoto, one of the cities in Kansai region and one hour away from Osaka via train. In contrast to the current capital Tokyo – modern and vibrant urban concrete jungle; Kyoto is the rural, quiet former capital of Japan and features the more historical and traditional side of the country. First on the list: Fushimi Inari Shrine. With JR Passes + pocket wifi + HyperDia (train route web app) in hand, we aimed to reach our destinations via JR trains only. From JR-Namba (Osaka) we had to get to JR Kyoto Station – a major station, then change trains going to Inari Station. The trip took about an hour.
Second stop: Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavilion. Unfortunately, most tourist destinations in Kyoto are not directly reachable by train so we had to take a bus. We went to Kyoto Tourist Information Center somewhere in Kyoto Station and bought a Kyoto Bus One-day Pass (500 JPY each). Fret not, there are plenty of signage in the station to help commuters.
Third stop: Kiyomizu-dera Temple. There’s an entrance fee of JPY 300. It is 15-minutes from Kyoto Station by bus. From the bus stop, we just went along with the crowds of tourists going up to the temple. It was a long 15-minute walk. When you reach the Y-path, do yourself a favor and take the left path with all the lights and stores and people. We took the right path which was dark and boring.
A day is simply not enough to visit all of the temples in Kyoto. Exhausted, we made our way back to Osaka.
You can read Part 1 here, which was written nearly 4 months ago. One of my life goals is to document my travels before their 1st anniversary. Kidding! Or maybe not. 😀 Stay tuned for parts 3-8 of Japan 2016 series, a 5-part Taiwan 2017 series, and a 4-part Hong Kong 2017 series. Hopefully before the year ends. LOL