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Do we need to pre-purchase a 7 Day JR pass?

Hello there,
My husband and I will be visiting Japan later this month after Christmas. We are from Sydney, Australia.
We arrive at Kansai Airport on 26 Dec.
Day 1 - OSAKA 26th Dec 2017 : Arrive at Kansai International Airport
Day 2 - OSAKA 27th Dec 2017
visiting Dotoburi night scene, Osaka Castle, Umeda Sky Building, Abeno Harukas Tower

Day 3 – KYOTO 28th Dec 2017
Day 4 – KYOTO 29th Dec 2017
Day 5 – KYOTO 30th Dec 2017
visiting Kyoto Imperial Palace, Sento Imperial Palace, Nijo Castle
Fushimi Inari-Taisha shrine, Kinkaku-Ji, Kiyomizu-dera Temple
Arashiyama bamboo forest, Monkey park Iwatayama, Gion, Nishiki Market

Day 6 – Kumamoto 31st Dec 2017
Day 7 – Kumamoto 1st Jan 2018 : day trip to Takachiho Gorge
(or PLAN B for Day 6 & 7) - visit Hiroshima instead of Kumamoto
From Kyoto to Kumamoto (or Hiroshima) and then to Tokyo - should we travel by train or fly? Please advise.

Day 8 – Tokyo 2nd Jan 2018
Day 9 – Tokyo 3rd Jan 2018
Day 10 – Tokyo 4th Jan 2018 : Day trip to Mt Fuji
Day 11 – Tokyo 5th Jan 2018
Day 12 – Tokyo 6th Jan 2018
Day 13 – Tokyo 7th Jan 2018
Day 14 – Tokyo 8th Jan 2018
visiting Tokyo Tower, Tokyo Sky Tree, Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, Nacagin capsule apartment block
Imperial Palace, Meiji Shrine, Shibuya crossing, Shinjuku, Tochigi

Day 15 – Tokyo 9th Jan 2018 : Depart Tokyo from Haneda International Airport.

I would be most grateful if anyone could offer some advise on whether we would require to pre-purchase JR Passes based our itinerary. Also,
Days 6 & 7 are still open to suggestions as we have yet to book that segment of our trip. Thanks in advance.

Comments

  • Hi,
    You never "need" to buy any pass - the question is if it will pay off for you.
    There are a few big issues with your plans here. Since you are traveling as an open jaw, a 14 day JR Pass would not pay off for you (unless you added some more extensive side trips). You could though get a 7 day pass to pay off well if you travel from Kansai to Hiroshima or Kumamoto and back up to Tokyo within 7 days. It is also highly advisable that you make seat reservations since it's no fun standing on trains for hours at a time. Seat reservations are free with the JR Pass.
    You can see regular fares, routes and schedules on Hyperdia.
    http://www.hyperdia.com
    Under "More Options", be sure to uncheck the Nozomi box since you can't ride that train using the pass.

    The next issue is your timing. You will be going to Japan during one of the peak travel seasons of the year. Popular routes will be very crowded - typically with huge numbers of people leaving the big cities at the end of the year, and returning after New Year's. Some of your destinations simply will not work - the Imperial Family related sights are all closed from Dec 28-Jan 4, so both the Kyoto Imperial Palace and Sento Imperial Palace are out. Nijo Castle is closed Dec 26-Jan 4 so that's no good either. Nishiki Market will be mostly empty and closed. Any places like museums are out as well. Many restaurants will be closed also, but at least the convenience stores will all be open throughout.
    I can't tell if the monkey park will be open or not - you might have better luck, but if you don't know about the places you plan to go to, as soon as you arrive at Kyoto Station go to the 2nd floor and ask at the tourist info office. I STRONGLY advise you to check on where you are going before you go there to avoid disappointment and wasting hours of precious time. Having a back up plan would be wise too.

    Many temples and shrines will be open (though a few may be closed as well), but here again you have a problem that if all you do is see temples and shrines, and temples and shrines, and temples and shrines, by the end of the day you get "templed out" and everything is just a monotonous blur. The key is breaking up the monotony by adding some other places, but at the end/start of the year, it is not so easy.
    I highly recommend you spend at least half a day to see Nara also - it was also a former capital and has some of Japan's best sights. 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.

    On the positive side, you will be able to see New Year's in Japan, and while it is not fireworks and wild drinking parties, it is something to experience. There are some popular temples or shrines to see. Have a look here:
    https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2276.html

    For your next question, Kumamoto or Hiroshima? The main sights in Kumamoto are its castle and Suizenji Garden. But the castle now is closed due to severe earthquake damage from last year. Takachiho is very beautiful, but honestly, with all things considered it is probably more pain than gain with the long rides on trains and buses, and Hiroshima/Miyajima to me makes a better choice. You could even add Iwakuni just south of Miyajima if you have time.
    You can see both Hiroshima and Miyajima in a day with an early morning start. You can cover the the Peace Park/Museum, castle, Shukkeien Garden, Mitakidera Temple and Okonomiyaki-mura, and then go down to take the JR ferry to Miyajima. Aside from the Itsukushima Shrine with the giant "floating" torii, the Daishoin Temple is also a must-see place. There are several other pagodas and temples, and climbing Mt. Misen offers a fantastic view over the island and whole area. However...here we go again - some of those places may be closed. I suggest you check and verify first.

    For Tokyo, I would say that 3-4 days are quite enough for the city. For the rest, you could take some day trips - you already mention Mt Fuji, but you'll need to decide if you want to see Hakone, or the the Fuji 5 Lakes area (or take 2 days and see both). There are several regional passes or discount tickets that can help.
    http://www.odakyu.jp/english/deels/
    http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e5200.html
    http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6900.html
    The Hakone Loop Course
    http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e5210.html
    is a common way to see the area and takes a full day.

    For the Tokyo area, you can save some money with a Tokyo Wide Pass
    http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2361_06.html
    (or even 2). There is no shortage of great places in the area - Nikko, Karuizawa, Kusatsu, Kamakura-Enoshima, Takao, Mitake, the Hitachi Seaside Park, Izu, Kawagoe, Nokogiriyama (in Chiba), plus partway to the Mt Fuji area, and many more. You can look up all these places on www.jnto.go.jp or www.japan-guide.com

    Spending at least some time at a hot spring (such as at Hakone, Kusatsu, or Nikko, but nearly anywhere) is also highly recommended.

    For the JR Pass, please remember that the day you activate it for to use counts as Day One - which starts and ends at midnight. So if you activate it to use it that day at 6 PM, your first "day" is just 6 hours long.

    You can also exchange your order for the pass and designate a future date to start on it - so for example to start using your pass from the earliest train possible (sometimes departing before the office even opens) or to leave from another station where you can't exchange your order for the pass, you can set the first day as tomorrow, or 3 days from today, or whenever up to a month in advance.

    You can see previews of some of the best places to see in Japan on:
    https://www.youtube.com/user/thejapanfaq/videos

    Hope that helps.
  • Hi Tenjin, thank you so much for such comprehensive and priceless wealth of information. I will take up on your recommendations to visit Nara and Hiroshima/Miyajima. You are without doubt the absolute BEST go-to person for tourist advice on Japan. Keep up your awesome work ! !
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