There’s conflicting advice out there about the JR Pass, with some people saying you have to get one, while others say it’s a waste of money. As I’ve said previously, it can be very worthwhile if used in the right way. To help you understand this, here’s one trip I have done using a 7 day JR Pass.
Day 1 Tokyo to Kanazawa
Take a morning shinkansen to Kanazawa, and you’ll be there by lunchtime. The Omicho market is a great place for food. In the afternoon, walk around Higashi Chaya, a traditional quarter where you can see gold leaf being made and explore an old geisha house.
Day 2 Kanazawa
Kenrokuen is one of Japan’s three greatest gardens, and it’s beautiful in all seasons. It’s easy to spend the morning there with perhaps a visit to Kanazawa castle or Seisonkaku villa.
In the afternoon possible options are the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, or the Nagamachi samurai district.
Day 3 Kanazawa to Takayama
Take a morning bus to Shirakawago, a traditional thatched roof village. After looking around for 2-3 hours, continue by bus to Takayama. Note that these buses are not included in the JR Pass and will cost an additional 4,600 yen. You’ll have plenty of time to explore Takayama’s traditional streets in the afternoon. If you can, stay in a ryokan or hotel with an onsen, which is a great way to relax in the evening.
Day 4 Takayama to Kyoto
Visit the morning markets in Takayama, then mid to late morning, catch the train to Kyoto via Nagoya. You’ll get to Kyoto mid to late afternoon, leaving time for a little bit of sightseeing that day.
Day 5 Kyoto
You have all day for sightseeing in Kyoto, with lots to see there. Your JR Pass will have a rest day, as it’s not useful for Kyoto buses and subways.
Day 6 Kyoto
This is another full day for sightseeing, either in Kyoto, or using the JR Pass to go to Nara and Osaka.
Day 7 Kyoto to Tokyo
This is the final day for using the JR Pass. Make the most of your time by staying in Kyoto until late afternoon, then take an evening train back to Tokyo.
The important details
A 7 day JR Pass costs 29,110 yen and includes free reservations. The fares for Tokyo-Kanazawa, Takayama-Kyoto, and Kyoto-Tokyo add up to 35,860 yen for non-reserved seats. A day trip to Nara and/or Osaka would add roughly another 1500 yen of train fares.
If you want to reduce overall travel costs, it is possible to go from Kanazawa to Takayama by train via Toyama, instaed of taking the bus. The travel time is similar, but this route will miss out Shirakawago.
This itinerary is not only cost-effective, it also gives you time to sightsee. There is the temptation with a JR Pass to make as many trips as possible to ‘make it pay’. This can mean spending a lot of time travelling and staying in a new place every night. That makes for a tiring and less satisfying trip. Used wisely, the JR Pass will save money and allow you to enjoy your trip.
This is the first in an occasional series about using the JR Pass effectively. Do you have any questions about using the JR Pass? Or suggestions about what you’d like me to cover? Please feel free to contact me.
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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, and other stores.