Travel distances in Japan are greater than would-be visitors often think which leads to over-estimating how much can be fitted into the trip. A common mental image is that they will arrive and be whisked by shinkansen (bullet train) from the airport to Tokyo and then on to Mount Fuji.
The shinkansen doesn’t go everywhere in Japan, just between major cities. There are other trains on Japan’s extensive rail network, including limited express and local trains. These are slower than shinkansen, but very useful for getting around.
Limited express trains go from Narita Airport to Tokyo and from Kansai Airport to Kyoto. Going to Mount Fuji most likely means going to Hakone or Kawaguchiko, with travel on a local train or limited express for part of the way.
Transport options are not limited to trains. There are also buses and planes to many cities. Buses are economical but often the slowest option. Air can be a good time-saver for long distances, particularly to Sapporo which isn’t served by the shinkansen. Here are some examples of travel times between Tokyo and other destinations.
|From Tokyo to||Rail (from Tokyo station)||Air (from Haneda airport)||Bus|
|Fukuoka||4 hours 55 minutes||1 hour 55 minutes|
|Hiroshima||3 hours 50 minutes||1 hour 25 minutes||11 hours|
|Kanazawa||2 hours 30 minutes||1 hour||7 hours 30 minutes|
|Kyoto||2 hours 15 minutes||1 hour 10 minutes||6 hours 30 minutes|
|Nagano||1 hour 25 minutes||4 hours|
|Sapporo||7 hours 35 minutes||1 hour 30 minutes|
The times are minimums for rail, air and bus travel where applicable. Travel might take longer, depending on the time of day and connection times, but this is a starting point for your planning. Hyperdia is a very useful website for researching train travel times.
If you’re planning to base yourself in one place and do day trips, careful consider how feasible the proposed trip is. Here are a couple of examples.
It is possible to do a day trip to Kyoto from Tokyo but it is a very expensive option for 8 to 10 hours sightseeing. The speed and comfort of the shinkansen comes at a price.
Going from Tokyo to see the snow monkeys at Jigokudani Monkey Park is a very long day with more travelling than sightseeing. It requires taking a shinkansen to Nagano first. From there, the options are a direct bus (50 minutes) or a combination of train and bus (about 1 hour 15 minutes). This is followed by a 20-30 minute walk along a forest path to the snow monkeys. Even with good connections, you’re looking at over 6 hours travel time.
I don’t wish to discourage you from exploring some of the smaller and less easily accessed places in Japan. These can give you some of the most memorable experiences of your trip, if you allow enough time to enjoy them. Key to that is factoring in the travel time at the planning stage.
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For further information, the ebook Japan Just for You is a practical step-by-step guide to planning your trip to Japan, starting with developing your own personal trip concept. It’s now available on Apple, Amazon and Kobo, with other ebook stores to come soon.