Someone recently asked what kind of Japan train travel deals are available for people living in Japan, as the Japan Rail Pass and some other passes are only for people with a tourist visa. Lucky for those of us living here, there are numerous options to save anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand yen, depending on where you want to go, when and how you want to get there. The only caveat is that most information for these is in Japanese.
Regardless, let’s look at a few ways you might be able to save money riding the rails in Japan.
Note: “JR” used below refers to “Japan Railways” and “shinkansen” refers to the “bullet train.”
Seishun 18 Ticket
This ticket might be one of the most well known amongst non-Japanese aside from the Japan Rail Pass. With the Seishun 18 you can travel anywhere in Japan, including unlimited rides for five days on local and rapid JR trains in unreserved seats during a specified period. The ticket is worth five days of travel, and can be split amongst different people. For example, one person can use it for the whole five days, or use it for two and let someone else use it for three. Or five different people can use it for one day each.
Cost: 11,500 yen. The ticket is only sold during certain times of the year, which usually coincide with school holidays. The next two sales periods are: July 1 to August 31, 2012 and December 1 to December 31, 2012. The corresponding travel periods with the ticket are July 20 to September 10, 2012 and December 10, 2012 to January 10, 2013, respectively.
You can find out more about the Seishun 18 ticket, in English, here.
Online Shinkansen Ticket Reservation Discounts
Though doing this requires the ability to read some Japanese, you can reserve shinkansen tickets online and receive a discount. Note that online tickets are generally limited, so once they’re sold out online, you’ll have to go buy them in person.
JR West/Central — You can purchase tickets online; however, you must use a credit card and unless you’re a member (meaning you have a J-West or Express credit card), you won’t receive any discounts. So if you want to save a few hundred yen on JR West or Central tickets, you could try signing up for either of those cards.
JR East — Once you make an account with “Eki Net”, you can get anywhere from 5% to 50% off the price of tickets depending on your travel route. You must have a credit card to make reservations online with Eki Net and the tickets can only be picked up at JR East stations.
Round Trip “Zone” Tickets
This particular ticket, called 周遊きっぷ (shuyuu kippu), may discount round trip train fare, depending on where you go, but it will give you an area pass (or “zone pass”) for a particular area if you travel more than 201 kilometers to get there. You must buy the round trip ticket from a JR station outside of the zone or from a travel agent. You will receive a departure ticket, a return ticket, and an area ticket. During the valid period of the area ticket (usually five days) you can ride JR trains and buses for free, excluding shinkansen. You must make sure to keep your return ticket and area ticket together as you need both for the area ticket to work.
The 13 zones currently include:
Hokkaido (all – 5 days)
Eastern Hokkaido and Sapporo
Northern Hokkaido and Sapporo
Central Hokkaido and Sapporo
Southern Hokkaido and Sapporo
Shimanto and Uwakai (Shikoku)
Saga and Nagasaki
Though this might sound like a good deal, it really does depend on where you’re going and what you plan to do. If you’re going to get around primarily by JR trains and buses, and there are a lot of them, it might be worth getting, but otherwise, your money might be better spent elsewhere.
Toku tickets or “Special Tickets”
Every region lists their current “special tickets” on their website for residents of Japan, which cover a wide variety of scenarios and areas, ranging from very specific place-to-place tickets or a regional “free pass”. You’ll want to look for 得, トク or とく plus きっぷ. For example, トクきっぷ.
I’ve provided a few examples below, but there are far too many options for me to include here. (Each region name is linked to its corresponding special ticket list in Japanese).
This ticket applies to Sanyo Kodama trains and some Hikari trains, for reserved round-trip tickets for two or more people. Everyone must get on and off at the same stations. The tickets must be reserved ahead of time and can only be used once. Period of validity is seven days, and this ticket will be offered until September 30, 2012 (can only be purchased until September 23). Savings are around 40% of normal round trip tickets. Can be purchased at major JR West and Kyushu train stations, major travel agencies, and major travel agencies in Kyushu.
Kyoto Sightseeing + Round Trip Ticket
Includes the cost of round trip shinkansen reserved tickets via the Nozomi, Hikari or Kodama from all stations on the Tokaido line from Tokyo, except for those after Gifu-Hashima. Ticket includes a one-day, free-ride pass on Kyoto City buses (excluding some lines) and subway trains. Ticket does not include regular JR trains aside from the shinkansen mentioned above. Cost: Varies depending on departure station. From Tokyo, it’s 27,100 yen per adult and 13,550 yen for children. Can be purchased at major stations and travel agencies.
JR Central One Way Ticket (片道タイプ) discounts reserved seats on the Tokaido Hikari trains between major cities on Tokaido line if bought at least a week early (can be bought from a month before). For example, between Tokyo and Nagoya is only 9200 yen instead of just over 10,000 yen, which is the normal price. Can be purchased at JR ticket window — ask for ひかり早特きっぷ (hikari hayatoku kippu).
To be used during your birth month for up to three consecutive days. Free travel around Shikoku on JR lines and some buses during that time. Cost: 10,000 yen. Can bring up to three people with you for 10,000 per person.
Shikoku Free Ticket
Free travel around Shikoku on JR lines and some buses – valid for three days. Cost: 15,700 yen.
Both tickets can be purchased at major JR Shikoku Stations, Warp branches, Warp plazas and major Shikoku travel agents.
Discounted round trip tickets to Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Kyoto, among other popular destinations. For example, from Nagasaki to Tokyo and back the round trip ticket is 42,800 yen for an adult, whereas if you paid the regular price for each way, it would cost closer to or about 46,000 to 50,000 yen (depending on your exact itinerary). Kyushu Shinkansen is excluded, but limited express trains are ok, and trip must be started from the Kyushu area. Getting off anywhere in between Kyushu and destination will void the tickets. Can be purchased at major stations, JR Kyushu travel branches, train station travel centers, and major travel agencies.
All-Kyushu Ride Pass
A free pass to ride any regular train lines in Kyushu. Valid for one day on most forms of transportation in Kyushu, except shinkansen, express trains and buses. Although it’s valid for one day, you may use it up to three times (not consecutively) within three months, when it expires. 10,500 yen for adults and kids. Can be purchased at travel agencies within Kyushu, travel centers, and JR Kyushu stations.
Hokkaido Free Pass
Can ride all JR Hokkaido trains (unreserved seats) and buses for seven days. You can also get reserved seats on regular trains up to six times. Can’t be used between August 11 and 15, or December 29 through January 6. Cost: 25,500 yen. Can be purchased at JR Hokkaido stations, Twinkle Plaza branches, JR Hokkaido Plaza branches, and major Hokkaido travel agencies.
JR East Toku Tickets
Tohoku Free Pass
This pass allows you to ride regular trains from the Tokyo area to specific areas in Tohoku including Akita and Aomori, Iwate and Sanriku, Miyagi and Yamagata, Fukushima and Banetsu, and Shonai. It also allows you to travel around those areas on participating train lines in those areas during your stay. Shinkansen ticket fares are not included, but you can purchase them separately and use them with the pass.
The pass is valid for five days and can be used between July 21, 2012 and August 10, 2012, and between August 21 and 29 (2012) (but you can’t choose a “start date” after August 7th or August 26th). Cost varies between 8,600 yen to Shonai and up to 11,400 yen to Aomori and Akita. For children it’s a flat fee of 1000 yen. Can be purchased at major JR East stations, View Plaza branches, and cooperating travel agencies.
Another good place to search for JR-related special tickets is Toretabi.
Discount Ticket Shops
You also can often find discounted shinkansen tickets (among many other types of tickets and gift certificates) at ticket shops outside major train stations (usually those on a shinkansen line). You’ll want to search for チケットショップ (chiketto shoppu) or 金券ショップ (kinken shoppu), either as a regular web search plus the area name or in Google maps.
Have you used any of these passes or tickets? Do you have any other money-saving tips for finding train tickets in Japan? Let us know below!
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