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23 days Japan: which rail pass?

Thank you in advance for your advice. We are travelling to Japan this summer with our 2 children (age 9 and 7). Here is our schedule:
8-10 July Osaka
11-13 July Hiroshima & Miyajima
13-19 July Kyoto
20-21 July Ancient Postal route Magome-Tsumago
22 July Matsumoto
23-25 July Hakone National Park
25-31 July Tokyo

What JR Pass do you recommend?
Thank you for your help!
Best regards,
The Netherlands


  • edited March 2018
    With the length of your trip and plans, I just don't see you making any full JR pass pay off for you.
    You may be able to make a 7 day pass barely pay off if you are willing to entirely rearrange your plans and do the side trip to Hiroshima at the end of your Kansai stay, then go to Magome-Tsumago, Matsumoto and Tokyo within 7 days. You could then go to Hakone from Tokyo as a side trip. Going from Matsumoto to Hakone in one shot would take close to 4 hours, and your kids probably will be going nuts.

    If you don't want to rearrange things, then some regional passes might help though. For Hiroshima, you might look at the JR Kansai Hiroshima Area Pass.

    Regardless, the JR Pass is useless for Hakone. For the Hakone area, there is the Hakone Free Pass.
    The Loop Course is a common way to see all the sights and takes a full day.
    You can get the Hakone Free Pass to use from Shinjuku in Tokyo, or Odawara near Hakone.

    To get around the Kansai area, a Hankyu Tourist Pass might help somewhat.

    And if you might look at the Kintetsu Rail Pass, which can get you around the area, plus most of the way (up to Nagoya) to go see Magome and Tsumago. You cannot take bullet trains or ltd express trains with it though, so while it is quite economical, it is also more time consuming.

    Since you are already seeing Tokyo, you can largely skip Osaka during the day. After the temples of Kyoto close down around 5 PM, 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.
    On another evening, you could also go and see Kobe.

    Instead, I suggest you take at least half a day and see Nara - 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, the Isuien and Yoshikien Gardens, and feeding the many deer in the area.

    Another worthwhile day trip from Osaka is seeing Himeji, with Japan's best surviving original castle. The Kokoen Garden next door is also very beautiful and worthwhile.

    The start of July is still the rainy season and you might run into several days of heavy rain. Have a back up plan (like some indoor museums, aquariums, etc) and be sure to check the weather forecast every morning. If you need an umbrella, you can get a cheap one at any convenience store like 7-11.
    It will also be extremely muggy and humid in July. Bring enough deodorant and sunblock.
    There are a lot of kid friendly places as well if you like. Aside from the American theme parks (Universal Studios in Osaka and Disney in Tokyo), there are a number of Japanese places too. Really, why would you fly around the world just to go to an American theme park? Wouldn't you rather prefer to experience Japan?
    There are Japanese places to enjoy a lot. In the Tokyo area, there is Edo Wonderland near Nikko.
    Or the Tobu World Square:
    Just west of Tokyo is the Ghibli museum

    In Kansai, you could try in Kyoto - the Kyoto Railway Museum
    Toei Eigamura
    The Sagano scenic railway, and river rafting coming back
    in Ise, Mie, is the Azuchi Momoyama Bunka Mura

    The oldest amusement park in Tokyo from 1853: https://www.hanayashiki.net/en
    Plus the aquarium at a hotel

    The Osaka area is famous for the author as a director of this museum http://www.bigbang-osaka.or.jp.e.abp.hp.transer.com/
    The oldest amusement park in Kansai since 1910: http://www.hirakatapark.co.jp/en/

    Both Tokyo & Kansai have some top notch aquariums, which also are great if the weather sucks (and sometimes it does).
    There are also some Anpanman museums or Hello Kitty Puroland parks
    and Anpanman:
    if you are near the area. Everything is pretty much in Japanese though. And don't overlook a number of giant ferris wheels as well as some pretty good city views and lights, such as in Osaka there is Dotonbori, the Umeda Sky Bldg and Abeno Harukas. Tokyo has the Sky Tree, Tokyo Tower, and Roppongi Hills, but also many that are free.
    And the usual cat cafes, owl cafes, and so on.

    And contrary to its reputation as a concrete jungle, Tokyo actually has some very nice parks and traditional gardens:

    If using a full JR Pass, you can use it for the Loop Bus in Hiroshima City. It's about the only place you can do that. You cannot use the pass on city subways and nearly all non-JR lines.
    You can see both Hiroshima and Miyajima as a day trip with an early morning start, if you like. You can cover the Peace Park/Museum, castle, Shukkeien Garden, Mitakidera Temple, and Okonomiyaki-mura, and then go down to take the JR ferry to the island.
    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.
    If you can see Itsukushima Shrine at both high and low tides, you're in for a bonus. The shrine looks better at high tide, and at low tide you can walk out on to the beach right up to the giant torii gate.

    Just beyond Miyajima is Iwakuni, which is another picturesque place with its iconic bridge and mountaintop castle.

    If flying out of Japan from Narita, the cheapest way to Narita after seeing Tokyo is the 1000 yen bus.

    You can see regular fares, routes and schedules on Hyperdia.
    Under "More Options", be sure to uncheck the Nozomi box if on a full JR Pass since you can't ride that train using the JR pass. If a regional pass however that allows using the bullet train, frequently you can use the Nozomi.

    You can see previews of some of the best places to see in Japan on:

    There are also loads of other tips on

    Best wishes.

  • Thank you for your reply! Yes, we will do daytrips to Nara and Himeji from Kyoto. I will study your advice and see how we can change our plans. Will come back to you with more questions I guess...
    best wishes
  • Hello,
    Thank you for your usefull tips! You advised me to change our plans. And we did.

    Here's the new plan:
    7 - 10 July Osaka, including 1 day Universal Studios
    10 -18 July Kyoto (10 & 11 July: Fushimi Inari-Taisha, Arashiyama bamboo forest, Kinkaku-ji, Tenryuji Temple)
    12 juli: trip to Iga Uena (Kansai Area Pass)
    13 juli: trip to Himeji (Kansai Area Pass) and trip to Hozu-gawa river
    14 juli: trip to Nara (Kansai Area Pass)
    15 juli: Kyoto (biking tour)
    16 July: Kyoto (Nijo, Imperial Palace, Philosopher’s Path)
    17 juli: Kyoto, Gion Matsuri Festival, Yamaboko Junkō parade
    18 juli: JR Pass. Go to Hiroshima
    19 juli: Trip to Miyajima (stay in Hiroshima)
    20 juli: Hiroshima -> Nagiso -> Hanaya
    21 July: Walk ancient postal route Magome-Tsumago
    22 July: Tokyo
    23 July: trip to Nikko, Edo Wonderland 24 juli
    24 July: trip to Kamakura (last day JR Pass)
    25 July: stay in Hakone (Hakone Free Pass)
    26 July: Hakone National Park
    27 July - 1 August: Tokyo (Ghibli museum, Sensoji tempel, Imperial palace & east gardens, Meiji Shrine, Yoyogi Park, Tsukiji Fishmarket, Asakusa, maybe Disney Sea)

    Do you think this is a better schedule for us? we buy 1 Kansai Region Pass, 1 7-day JR-Pass and 1 2-day Hakone Free Pass.

    What's the best way to reach Magome? Through Nagiso/Hanaya, like I read somewhere?

    Looking forward to your advice!
    Best regards,
    Cindy & Aafko
    The Netherlands
  • Hi,
    I think it looks pretty good, as long as you are happy with the pace and priorities.
    You give a good amount of time for Kyoto, and you can use the JR Pass to go to the Fushimi Inari Shrine and then to Arashiyama via Kyoto Station.
    If you like you can also take a few extended trips in Kyoto. In Ohara just a bit north of the city is Sanzenin which is not as well known by the mobs and very beautiful.
    And if you find the heat difficult (you likely will), there is also Kibune and Kurama in the mountains for some relief.
    Further along there is also Miyama for a taste of Japan from centuries ago, as well as Amanohashidate which is one of Japan's Top 3 most beautiful views.

    And no Japan visit would be complete without visiting a hot spring (onsen) at least once. They are all over the country, and there are some popular ones at Hakone, but if you want to see one of the country's most popular areas, there is Kinosaki.

    For Magome/Tsmago, the easiest way is from Kansai via Nagoya to Nakatsugawa.

    In Tokyo, if you are going to Harajuku, Meiji Shrine, and Yoyogi Park, the ideal time to go is on a Sunday afternoon. Also on Sunday in Ginza some major areas are closed to cars and they open the streets up to pedestrians. For Tsukiji, if you want the tour you will need to be there about 3 - 4 AM to sign up. If not staying near there, you will need to go by taxi - buses and subways don't operate then. Bring a coat.
    This guide has more info:

    Bon voyage.
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