Whether you are going for a short trip to Japan or one that takes up 2 months, there are some things you need to know- But don’t worry, we’ve got you! Our Euroventure experts have traveled all over this amazing country and created this guide so you are even better prepared for your first (or second or third) Japanese journey!
Japan Rail Pass explained :
Whilst planning your trip around Japan, think twice before you buy all those full fare tickets! Since Japan has its own Rail Pass, it is super easy to get about. Below we explain to you what exactly this pass is and why you should use it!
So, what is a Japan Rail pass?
The JR Pass or Japan Rail Pass is a rail pass which enables overseas tourists to travel around Japan. The Passes are valid on all major forms of transportation. Weirdly enough, these passes are not available for Japanese themselves! These passes can be compared, to some extent, to the Interrail Pass.
Which trains can you go on with the JR Pass?:
- All Japan Rail Bullet trains (Shinkansen). The only exception here will be the NOZOMI & MIZUMO bullet trains. There are 3 different types of train running on the Shinkansen Line: express trains, semi-express, and local trains. The Japan Rail Pass does not include the express trains, though it does allow you to make a free reservation.
- Rapid & Local trains
- JR bus services
- Selected Ferry services
- Night Trains (pass not valid for the sleeper wagon though)
- Narita Express Trains
- Tokyo’s 5 main rail lines: Yamanote Line, Keihin-Tohoku Line, the Rapid Chuo Line, the local Chuo-Sobu Line, the Shonan-Shinjuku Line and some other metropolitan lines that circulate on the outskirts of the city.
Basically, most of the lines and trains from the JR Company!
Why should you use this pass?
First of all, it was created to stimulate tourism and travel in Japan. As transport in Japan can be very expensive, the JR Pass can help you travel all around Japan for a low cost; Which is great, because it will help you save some of that hard needed money.
Who exactly is the JR Pass for?
The JR Pass is reserved for outsiders only, which means Japanese people can’t ask for the JR Pass. Plus, to be eligible to the JR Pass, you MUST have the “temporary visitor” entry status on your passport which you receive if you are staying for less than 3 months! All you need to do is present yourself at the compulsory immigration passage in the airport where you’ll this landing permission stamp with the “temporary visitor status” which allows you to stay in the country for 3 months – See picture on the right for an example
What JR Pass Categories are there?
Unlike the Interrail Pass which is categorised by the length of travel, the JR Pass’ categories are based on the region and areas in Japan.
There are 6 major regional categories :
- JR Hokkaido (northern island)
- JR East (east region of the main Island Honshu)
- JR West (west region of the main island Honshu)
- JR Central (central region of the main island Honshu)
- JR Shikoku (southern small island)
- JR Kyushu (south-western island)
- JR Global Pass (all Japan)
Then in each of those categories, you can have different types of rail passes which are more located-based. For instance, you have a pass for just the region of Tokyo and Fuji Mount, or just the northern part of the island Kyushu.
How about train reservations with the JR Pass?
You have to go to the JR Ticket Office at the train station in Japan to make the reservation, before the departure of the train. You can make a reservation up to 1 month in advance, which means you can buy all the reservations at once if you have the itinerary all mapped out.
What else you need to know when travelling to Japan?
As you probably know, different countries have different cultures and customs. When travelling abroad things will be different than what you are used to- this is a great thing! When you experience things that you are not used to remember to always respect the way of living of the people of the country you are visiting. Below we have listed some of the different Japanese customs that you should keep in mind:
Cash is king – Japanese people almost never use credit cards, and a lot of stores/shops actually don’t accept them. Especially if you’re going to the restaurant, a local shop or small towns. Therefore the number one rule is to ALWAYS have cash on you. Don’t worry, if you act like you normally do, you will not get robbed. It is actually very normal to have hundreds of euros worth of cash on you. In fact, it’s so common to use cash in Japan that most Japanese people pay their rent in cash as well!
No smoking outside – for all the smokers out there, sorry, but smoking on the street is NOT allowed. Japan actually has the opposite rules to much of Europe: You can’t smoke outside (except in special small smoking areas). You’re actually encouraged to smoke inside! Most restaurants, bars, clubs or hotels allow smoking inside or have smoking seats/rooms.
No garbage bins in the streets. You might probably want to think twice before eating street food because once you’re done, you’ll need to keep all your garbage in your bag! Despite the absence of bins, you’ll notice that everyone is respectful and the streets are super clean, even in the major cities!
Public Transport is expensive: Daily life cost in Japan is, on the whole, quite expensive, with transport being one of the most expensive things there. Whether it’s subway, train, bus or taxi, don’t be surprised! Taking the bus might cost you £5-6 for a 30-45 min drive within the city. The reason for this is the Japanese system of transport prices- the further you’re going, the more expensive it will get. Make sure you account for this if you are travelling on a budget!
Convenience Stores – also called “konbini” in Japanese, you’ll find them in every corner of the street, open 24/7, they’ll always be there for you whenever you feel hungry after a crazy night, thirsty after a hot day, or even if you need free WiFi. Lawson, 7/11 or Family Mart are everywhere in Japan!
Visible tattoos are a no-no – Tattoos were introduced as a punishment for prisoners centuries ago, but even today tattoos are still a taboo subject as they are associated with Yakuza, the Japanese mafia. So if you are have tattoos (especially big ones), be aware that most of the Onsen (Japanese traditional public baths or hot springs) do not allow tattooed people. Even though the younger generations probably won’t bother about it, don’t be surprised if you feel some judging eyes on you from Japanese elders.
Air conditioners are everywhere – Gas or electric radiator? Fireplace? No, no, no. Japanese people are the masters of the A/C. So don’t be surprised when in summer you’re feeling super hot as it’s 30°C outside, but when you get in a store you’re instantly freezing.
Thermal insulation is bad – Japanese culture has a real impact on Japanese people’s daily life. You’ll definitely notice that a lot of accommodation in Japan have awful thermal or soundproof insulation. The main reason is that Japan’s main religion, Shintoism, is based on the harmony, communication, and cohabitation between humans and nature. The 4 seasons are very important in the Japanese culture, and feeling the seasons and nature even in your house is important. So it might be you have to bring an extra blanket or an extra fan!
Japanese drinking culture – The age when you can start drinking is 20 and it is legally allowed to consume beer almost everywhere publicly. Japan has a big drinking culture, where it is a big part of social and even business culture. It is not strange for a group of Japanese Businessmen to go drinking after work, until the early hours. So don’t be surprised if you bump into a group of drunk businessmen, still wearing their suits!
Annual Events and seasons – Japan has four distinct seasons, which each its own annual events which are regarded as very important for the Japanese. Spring and Autumn are considered the most comfortable seasons, with spring cherry blossoms everywhere and in autumn the exact opposite – the colourful leaves (Kōyō or Momiji), draw a lot of visitors. Typhoon season – from August till September hard winds and a lot of rain terrorise Japan and may cause delays in public transport or even paralyse it.
Japanese people are also very fond of annual cultural event, whether it’s Halloween, Christmas or Valentine’s Day. They definitely like to make things bigger, so don’t be surprised if the whole city is decorated and illuminated
Japan is very safe! – Japan is regarded as one of the safest places in the world. The country has low crime rates, but of course, the country still has some crime and you should take the usual precautions you would take anywhere else. One thing you should watch out for, however, is air pollution. Although it’s rarely pollution from Japan itself but rather from Chinese pollution spikes. Walking around with a protective masks is not a strange sight.
There will, of course, be more things that you might want to be mindful of. For example, try learning a few basic words in Japanese when you visit Japan. As we all know, it is nice to be greeted in your own language, or when people try to speak it!
Written by Lydiane Audouit – She has lived in Japan for a year, speaks Japanese and knows everything you need to know about travelling to this country!