Yes, it’s true shinkansen, aka bullet train, is quite an expensive ride, perhaps the same cost as taking a plane, but no doubt it’s a wiser choice than the winged ride. Minus the airport pre-departure requirements, travel time is cut short and you get to enjoy your destination more.
Driving can be fun with the routes quite scenic, and you can stop at any point you want. If the allotted time for the vacation is not an issue, then go for it.
In my case, vacation time in Japan is limited. Tokyo is a favored city but I’ve always wanted to stray from the capital’s borders. Kyoto in autumn, when the Jidai Matsuri is celebrated, was on the bucket list. It was time to hop on the bullet train and check Kyoto out of the list.
When visiting Japan and planning to go to multiple destinations do get a Japan Rail Pass. The trick to beating its high cost is to maximize the use and head to as many destinations as you can within the given period the pass allows, be it 7, 14 or 21 days.
Check the official website of Japan Rail Pass (japanrailpass.net) for the conditions, eligibility, where to buy and its costs and other important information.
You need to order your shinkansen tickets ahead of time. If you’re Pinoy and have been granted a Japan tourist visa then you are eligible to purchase a pass. You need to buy it from designated agents before arriving in Japan.
For my 10-day visit to Japan, I availed of the 7-day pass via an ordinary car (the green car, comparable to business class of airplanes, are priced higher) and ordered it online. I received an Exchange Order (voucher) a few days after via FedEx.
In Japan, you must present the Exchange Voucher to obtain your Japan Rail Pass at the designated counter at the airport or at the JR train station exchange office. Only the JR Pass will be honored for travel. Day 1 will commence on your specified date of train travel and don’t lose the pass.
When traveling it’s best to book for a seat ahead if you have a seat preference, like a window seat. This guarantees your space, or you can opt to take your chance and grab any seat in the non-reserved cars of the train. This is risky especially during peak hours.
I exchanged my voucher for a pass at the Shinagawa Station’s JR Pass exchange office and went across to the shinkansen ticket office to book time and seat on my preferred travel date to Kyoto.
Shinkansen trains are very punctual. If you’re a first time to use this ride, head to the station early. Navigating through the huge stations can be a bit tricky chances are you’ll lose your way. Always ask for directions.
Once you have found your track, your car and your seat, enjoy the 320 km/hr ride to your destination. Enjoy it as you admire the countryside while nibbling on your Japanese meal. They sell food on board or you can bring your own.
Have a great time exploring Japan!
Also published in the SunStar Davao newspaper.