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How to Save Money While Traveling Around Japan

Simple ways to reduce travel costs using cards and points schemes.

By 5 min read 1

Although Japan is relatively cheap for some things, one thing that isn’t cheap is travel. Even a simple trip to a neighboring town can soon make it feel like your ¥1,000 notes are dollar bills.

Luckily, for people who want to see everything that Japan offers but don’t want to empty their accounts, there are easy ways to save little bits of money that soon add up.

Save on the Shinkansen with an EX-IC card

The card has further benefits as it allows you to bypass the lines at the shinkansen entrances.

With its quick, easy, and convenient service, the bullet train (shinkansen) is easily the best way to get between the major cities in Japan. However, this convenience comes at a cost and regularly riding the shinkansen is a sure way to break the bank. In many cases, flying is cheaper than riding there by bullet train.

The easiest way to save on shinkansen costs is with an EX-IC card. You pay a deposit to get issued the card. Then, you download the EX App to your phone. Now, you can buy shinkansen tickets online using the app at discounts of ¥1,000-¥4,000.

The card has further benefits as it allows you to bypass the lines at the shinkansen entrances. To use your card, simply press the EX-IC card on the glass panels at the entrance, and your ticket will come out with the number of your train and the seat reservation number listed. Then, use the shinkansen number to look up the platform, and you are ready to go.

Savings vary. There is an annual fee of ¥1,100 to use the card.
www.expy.jp/product/card/ (Japanese only)
Available for purchase online.
Those that use the shinkansen more than a few times a year

Highway discounts with ETC card

The best thing is that the card is transferable, so you can use it in a friend’s car or a rent-a-car.

Driving is one of the most expensive ways to get around Japan. One of the reasons for this is that as well as gas and renting/maintaining the car itself, drivers also have to pay for highway tolls. As many areas, especially the smaller islands, can only be accessed via the highways, the prices soon increase.

Therefore, drivers are advised to get an ETC card to save on these constant expenses. This card is placed in a location where it can be read by the scanners at the toll booths—look for the special ETC card lanes on the highway entrances and exits—and the money is automatically downloaded from your account. Considering the hassle of getting money out and giving it to the person manning the tollbooth, this allows you to drive on the highway with less hassle. The best thing is that the card is transferable, so you can use it in a friend’s car or a rent-a-car.

Discounts apply every time you use it. 
Available for purchase online.
Those that are driving a lot in Japan.

Kintetsu points scheme

This ticket is useful as the Kintetsu covers the trip from Kyoto to Nara, so you can visit all the sites in Nara on a long day trip.

While a lot of attention is placed on taking the shinkansen between major cities, an option that is often overlooked is the Kintetsu line. While there are fewer options for trains and times, Kintetsu line tickets generally come out a lot cheaper than the shinkansen, although they have less coverage.

If you often ride the Kintetsu line, it is worth buying online as the Kintetsu website offers a points scheme for every ride, meaning that the tenth trip or so is free. Coupled with their generally cheaper tickets, this can add to some big savings.

Another option is the unlimited ride ticket, which costs ¥1,500. This ticket is useful as the Kintetsu covers the trip from Kyoto to Nara, so you can visit all the sites in Nara on a long day trip.

Varies depending on the destination. The most common trip is from Osaka to Nagoya using the luxurious Hi-no-tori service, which costs ¥4,340.
Available for purchase online.
Recommended for those who are often commuting or live on a Kintetsu line.

Puratto Kodama

Kodama trains booked online using Puratto Kodama packages are cheaper and include benefits like free refreshments.

As anyone that has ridden the shinkansen knows, not all shinkansen trains are created equal. While some will get you to your destination so fast, you will be able to have takoyaki dumplings in Osaka for lunch and misokatsu in Nagoya for dinner, others seem to take forever to reach their destination.

So why would anyone subject themselves to the torture of taking much longer to reach their destination, you may ask? For savers that prioritize cheap fares over their time, these slower trains, known as Kodama trains, are a great way to save money. Kodama trains are booked online using Puratto Kodama packages that are not only cheaper but include benefits like free refreshments as part of the package.

Of course, you are limited by the schedule of the Kodama trains as they don’t leave early in the morning or late at night, so plan accordingly.

Varies depending on the destination.
www.jrtours.co.jp/kodama (Japanese only)
Available for purchase online.
Recommended for those that like to take it slow.

Seishun 18-Kippu

The cards are only issued three times a year, which coincides with the school holidays.

One problem with riding many trains in a short period is that all those small expenses soon add up. One option for people who intend to experience many sites in a small area is the Seishun 18-kip, a ride-all-you-like ticket popular with locals.

The cards are only issued three times a year, which coincides with the school holidays. The usual dates for using the ticket are March 1 to April 10, July 20 to September 10, and December 10 to January 10. Tickets usually go on sale two weeks before these periods.

The catch is that you can only ride the futsuu (local trains) or kaisokuressha (rapid trains) services, JR buses, and JR ferries, so to get the most out of your ticket, you will have to plan routes that use these services.

Also, the card has to be shown to the station staff at the ticket gates, so add a little extra time for some areas that are likely not to be manned. It does, however, give you a discount on the Hokkaido shinkansen for people traveling north called the “Seishun 18 Kippu Hokkaido Shinkansen Ticket”.

From most JR stations directly
Recommended for those that can take a week off work or school.

Tokyo Wide Pass

Take a day trip to Karuizawa, home to cozy lodges, a ski resort and a premier outlet shopping center.

For visitors to Tokyo that would like to see the sights, JR has recently introduced the Tokyo Wide Pass, which allows three days of unlimited travel on all JR and shinkansen lines. The catch is that it is only available for Tokyo and a few other locations in the Kanto area.

One advantage of this is that you can visit many must-see sights without all the short trips adding up in cost. The ticket covers Nikko with its famous Toshogu shrine, the Mt. Fuji area, Gunma with its world-class hot springs, Izu’s natural areas, and Ibaraki’s waterfalls and seafront.

¥10,180 for adults (half-price for children)
You can purchase it only or from most JR stations directly.
People who want to use Tokyo as a base to explore the surrounding area.
With these discounts, you can save money no matter what way you travel.

Are there any other tips you would like to share with our readers? Let us know in the comments.

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  • Wanda Stetson says:

    We are planning a 17 day trip to Japan April 2024. Arriving at Haneda for 8 days of sightseeing in the Tokyo area, followed by an 8 day trip to Kanazawa via Shinkansen. We’ll return to Tokyo via Shinkansen for one night and travel back to Haneda for our flight to the US. While in Kanazawa we’ll be with friends and travel to Noto and Takayama in their van. In light of the big increase in the JR 21 day pass can you suggest alternatives or should we purchase the JR pass?



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