Why we didn’t need a JR pass and budget planning

1 Dec

When we were still young and weren’t married yet we’d never plan anything but the dates whenever we’d go on holiday. We’d just show up at some random hostel and check in. It also helped that we only traveled to not too expensive places. But now that we’re married I prefer to do it the adult way. Take note of the ‘I’. I want to know where I’m going to sleep that night without having to haul 10 kilos of backpack throughout the city – especially if we’re traveling to an expensive country (read: Japan).

If you follow my blog, you already know that Filipinos need a visa to go to Japan. Check out this post here to know more details. One of the requirements for the visa is the full itinerary with hotel reservations.

This fact helped me convince the husband to book the hotels waaaayyy in advance. That didn’t stop us from booking only 3 weeks before the trip though – it’s the backpacker soul rebelling. This also meant that we needed to know where we’ll be going on each day for 2 weeks. That meant mega planning. Checking the fastest routes between cities, checking train schedules, checking hotel availability, checking things to see and how long we’ll stay in a city, etc. etc. All of that of course without exploding our budget.

After going over the cities we wanted to go to, we started on to the next important aspect: the train pass. Should we get a 7/14 day JR pass?

We noticed that 1/3 of our fixed expenses would go to transportation. So we wanted to get the best deals possible in order to lessen the transpo costs.

Here’s the breakdown of the places we went to (that needed the train or bus)

KIX -Kyoto JR day pass 2000
Nankai/Subway/JR Special Rapid Service 890/230/540 1660
Kyoto – Takayama JR/Hida 5460/4220 9680
Nohi bus 4175
Takayama – Shirakawago Nohi bus 4300
Shirakawago – Ainokura Local bus 2500
Takayama – Kyoto Hida/JR 9680
Nohi bus 4175
Kyoto – Nara JR 690
Kintetsu 610
Nara – Osaka Nankai/JR 150/540 690
Kintetsu 540
Osaka – Koyasan Nankai 2460
Osaka – KIX Nankai 890

The ones in bold are what we got and the prices are in JPY. As you can see, the only JR trains we used was the one from the Kansai. Airport to Kyoto and Kyoto to Arashiyama and back. For the other towns other train companies were cheaper and sometimes faster. The time difference between the JR trains and the other ones were not huge. Usually just 15-20 minutes. I’d rather buy a mochi with the money saved than pay for 20 minutes.

The bus was comfortable enough and the trip to Takayama would have taken the same amount of time on a train.

So we did get a JR pass – but only for 1 day. There were other trains from the airport into Kyoto but it’s such a hassle to change trains when you’ve just arrived to unknown territory. We did need to wait for an hour because we missed the train by an inch.

Hyperdia.com was very helpful in our search for transpo options (I even downloaded the application) and so were forums on Japan travel. We were very pleased with our transpo budget. It could have been waaay less than planned because I saw a bus for Takayama that offered 2900 JPY per way only – but no one seemed to know where to reserve/buy tickets and when we asked our hotel owner if he can book for us, he said there were no seats left.

So anyway, my advice is not to jump on the rail passes until you’ve figured out where you want to go. Maybe if we did Tokyo and Hiroshima, a JR pass would have been worth it. But who knows. I’ll have to check that for our next trip. *Insert evil grin here*.

Next question: Ryokan, Machiya, Hotel, Hostel – where to sleep tonight?

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