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JR pass or regional passes?


My group is travelling Japan for 14 days. We will be landing in Osaka KIX airport then spending 3 nights in Osaka exploring the city, as well as doing day trips to Kobe and Himeji. Then we will be staying for 3 nights in Kyoto to visit Gion, shrines, bamboo forest, monkey park, etc. Finally, we booked 7 nights to stay in Tokyo to explore within the city and some day trips to Hakone, Mt. Fuji, possibly Nikko, possibly Shiraito falls (although not sure how we are going to get there).

We are struggling to decide between a 14 day JR pass and regional passes (Kansai region and one of the JR East pass- probably the East-South Hokkaido pass). If we do take the regional passes, we'd only need to buy ticket to Tokyo from Kyoto which is around $140 to get from one region to another. What is appealing with the regional passes, correct me if I'm wrong, is that it sounds like we would be able to use different lines within the city and not just a JR line whereas with the JR pass, we are limited to JR lines which don't run within the city. For example, if we were to travel from Dotonburi to HEP FIVE Ferris wheel in Osaka, there isn't a JR line that runs in between therefore a JR pass wouldn't be helpful but a regional pass is. So if we bought a JR pass, we'd be paying $500 plus bus fares that we would need to get around the city. Furthermore, is the Hakone Free Pass included in the JR pass?

Hope my question is clear and thanks in advance!


  • edited September 2017
    If I'm reading your question correctly, you are landing at KIX and planning to go one way to Tokyo, then leave Japan from Tokyo - is that correct?
    If you did the round trip to Himeji from Osaka, go to Tokyo, then do a round trip from Tokyo to Nikko within 7 days, you can barely make a 7 day pass pay off.
    A 14 day pass would lose a lot of money unless you significantly increased your travel. You could for example take a day off of Osaka and do a day trip with an early morning start to see most of Hiroshima & Miyajima. That alone would just about do it. And from Tokyo if you add a day trip to Kusatsu, Karuizawa, Izu, or Sendai, and you really start to rack up a lot of savings.
    It's also unclear why you'd be considering getting the South Hokkaido pass unless you're going to Hokkaido or the Tohoku region (northern Honshu).

    For lines within the big cities, on a JR Pass you can ride the JR trains of course, but not non-JR lines (with a few exceptions, like the Tokyo monorail to Haneda Airport). Some regional passes do cover some more non-JR lines than the full JR Pass, but none cover city subways or municipal buses. There are several JR regional passes as well as non-JR regional passes - so it all depends on which pass you are looking at.
    I suggest you browse through
    which explains most of the passes that are available.
    The Tokyo Wide Pass is a very versatile pass that might serve you very well (instead of the South Hokkaido pass).

    Travel within cities doesn't cost very much and gives little savings for any rail pass. Long distance travel, especially by bullet train, is where you really start to save a lot.
    Within Tokyo, there is also a good 3 days subway pass that is easy to make worthwhile.

    The JR Pass does not include the Hakone Free Pass.

    You really don't need to spend much daytime to see Osaka, since it's mainly a clone of Tokyo. After the temples of Kyoto close down around 5PM, you can zip over to Osaka for the evening. At night the city comes alive and has some great places to see, such as Dotonbori, plus the night views from the Umeda Sky Bldg and Abeno Harukas Bldg are wonderful.
    Instead, I suggest you take a day and see Nara - it was also a former capital and has some of Japan's best sights. Nara is often neglected by some tourists, which is a shame. Missing the Todaiji Great Buddha would be a tragedy. Nara Park has a lot of other great places, such as Kasuga Shrine, Kofukuji Temple, and feeding the many deer in the area.
    For Himeji, don't miss the Kokoen Garden next door.

    You can see previews of some of the best places to see in Japan on:
  • edited September 2017
    Hi Tenjin, thank you so much for your reply!
    Yes we will be landing in Osaka KIX and making our way to Tokyo where we will leave Japan from NRT.
    So, are you suggesting that if we cannot increase our travel for different reasons, it would be more cost effective if we bought the Kansai and Tokyo wide regional passes and then buy a separate ticket to take the bullet train from Kyoto to Tokyo? But if we do find time to somehow increase our travels, then definitely buy the JR pass? Either way, we would need to buy tickets to ride subways/buses within cities since they are not be covered by JR pass or regional passes (which is okay because they are cheap). Is that correct?
    Furthermore, we'll be in the Kansai region for a week, could we buy 2 Kansai wide passes since they're only 5 consecutive days? Or I guess we could plan it so that we're going out of Osaka and into Himeji, Kyoto, and Nara for example for 5 consecutive days. But for Tokyo we would need more than just a Tokyo Wide passes since they're only valid for 3 consecutive days and we're there for 7.
  • Hi,
    I thought I was being clear, but you don't appear to understand.

    I will repeat - if you are willing to go visit Himeji, then go to Tokyo, and do your day trip from Tokyo to Nikko within 7 days, then the 7 day JR pass is a good choice.

    I never mentioned the Kansai Wide Pass. You barely might be able to make one pay off if you used it for the Himeji trip as well as the travel between the Kansai cities (Osaka to Nara round trip, for example). But you won't need one if you use the 7 day JR Pass and use it as I wrote above.
    There are actually tons of regional Kansai passes, but they are difficult to make worthwhile since travel within Kansai is not really expensive. One you might look at is the Hankyu Tourist Pass.
    This requires you to use the Hankyu railways, not JR or Kintetsu or some other in the area. It is cheap though and might save you some money.

    Another good choice might be the Icoca & Haruka discount ticket.
    This gives a good discount for the speedy Haruka train from KIX into Osaka or Kyoto. You can then use the Icoca IC Card for the trains and subways. There is no real discounted fare for the IC card, although it is quite convenient for travel - you never need to line up for tickets. You can also add more money into the card at any time, and use it in Tokyo as well. The downside is that any balance would not be refundable for you after you left Kansai (but it's good for 10 years, if you ever return to Japan).

    One apparent misconception you need to overcome is that a rail pass is *not* a guaranteed money saver. You have to travel enough on it otherwise you will lose money.

    For Tokyo, the Tokyo Wide Pass is good for 3 days as you said. But like the other passes, it only makes sense to get one if you travel enough to justify it. Taking some lengthy day trips is required - otherwise you are likely wasting money. Getting more than 1 Tokyo Wide Pass is possible but why? Are you going to spend all your time outside Tokyo? You can use a Tokyo Wide Pass to some extent in Tokyo, but you won't get enough value from it.
    That's why I suggest you use the Tokyo Wide Pass for trips around Tokyo, and the 3 day subway pass for within Tokyo.

    I hope this clarifies things for you.
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