Visiting Japan without a JR Pass

This trip is ideal for the first time visitor who has a week to 10 days and wants to see a bit of Japan. I’ve said previously that a JR Pass is not essential for travelling in Japan and this itinerary shows you how to see a reasonable amount without buying a JR Pass. It makes use of an “open jaw” plane ticket, that is, flying into Kansai and out of one of the Tokyo airports.

The itinerary takes you to Tokyo and Kyoto, which are high on the list for first time visitors, and suggests possible day trips. These include Nara, Osaka and Hakone, which are also popular with first-time visitors.

The itinerary

Day 1

Land at Kansai Airport. Get the Haruka-ICOCA ticket combo, and catch the Haruka train to Kyoto. This is where you’ll be staying for the next few nights.

Days 2-4

You’ll have three full days to sightsee in Kyoto.

On one of these days you could go to Nara and Osaka, using the Kintetsu 1 day rail pass. Nara is popular for its World Heritage listed temples and for the deer that roam freely around the town. It’s easy to travel from Kyoto to Nara in the morning, spend a few hours there, and then travel from Nara to Osaka in the afternoon, returning to Kyoto in the evening.

Day 5

Travel to Tokyo. This could be by shinkansen but if you’re on a budget, there are low cost airlines which may work out cheaper. Domestic flights are often from Itami airport rather than Kansai airport. Itami is easy to get to by bus from Kyoto.

Day 6-9

You’ll have four full days to sightsee in Tokyo. It’s useful to buy a Suica or Pasmo card to travel around the city.

One of these days could be used for a day trip, perhaps to Hakone to see Mt Fuji and the surrounding area. The Hakone Freepass is a good option for this, as it covers transport to Hakone from Tokyo, and around the Hakone area. It also provides discounts on sightseeing, dining and activities.

Other possible day trip options are Nikko, Kamakura or Yokohama, all of which have cheaper transport costs than Hakone.

Day 10

Depart Tokyo. Depending on where you’re staying and which airport you are leaving from, there are various options for getting to the airport – JR trains, Keisei trains, limousine buses. Check your hotel’s website to find out what is the best means of transport.

The important details

The total cost for transport from Kansai airport right through to leaving Tokyo will be around 30,000 yen depending on the amount of travelling around Kyoto and Tokyo, and the type of airport transport used in Tokyo.

The shinkansen from Kyoto to Tokyo is 14,170 yen or, if you wanted to reduce costs, flights are often available in the 7,000 to 10,000 yen range.

Allow 3000 yen for travelling around Tokyo. The Icoca/Haruka package should be enough to cover the time you are in Kyoto.

The JR Pass starts at 29,650 yen for 7 days, so it won’t cover all days of this trip. It also doesn’t cover subways and buses in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, nor does it cover Hakone area transport. If you were looking at doing a similar trip using the JR Pass, you would pay about an extra 10,000 for transport not covered by the JR Pass, bringing the total transport cost to around 40,000 yen.

If you are able to organise flights to arrive at Kansai and depart from Tokyo (or vice versa), then you can save money by not buying the JR Pass. You also save time by eliminating one train journey between Tokyo and Kyoto.

Is this itinerary not quite you? Take a look at other itinerary ideas

Do you have any questions about travelling around Japan? 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.